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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 26151

Senator SANTORO (2:44 PM) —My question is to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell. Will the minister advise the Senate of the Howard government's commitment to the protection of the Great Barrier Reef? Is the minister aware of any alternative policies?

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) —I thank Senator Santoro, who I know takes a close interest in Great Barrier Reef Marine Park issues and in fact travelled to Townsville to be briefed on these issues only a few days ago. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park—which was proclaimed by Malcolm Fraser, an Australian Liberal Prime Minister, nearly 30 years ago—is of course one of Australia's and the world's most important environmental assets. This government have a very proud history of protecting the reef. Under Senator Robert Hill's stewardship of the portfolio we introduced the first dugong protection area within the marine park.

Under the most recent rezoning plan within the park, we have increased the level of protection from just under five per cent of the reef to in excess of 33? per cent of the marine park. That is an outstanding outcome not only for protecting the environmental values of the Great Barrier Reef and the marine park within which the reef is situated but also for providing long-term financial sustainability for all of the industries within the marine park area and, of course, for those who service those industries. It also provides some financial security going forward in terms of access to resource for commercial fishermen and clarity as to access to areas for recreational fishermen—who, we know, care deeply about the reef and its future.

We have also increased the budget resourcing of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park by $20 million over three years. We have incorporated a further 28 new areas within the marine park. These are areas that were excluded and were not acted on under 13 years of Labor, who basically did nothing in this regard. So it is a tremendously successful story of environmental protection by the Australian government—with, I might say, excellent cooperation from the Queensland government. Can I say, however, that there are—as Senator Santoro has asked about—alternative policies floating around that would put at risk all of these achievements and the financial security, sustainability and access to resource.

The process that led to this plan to protect over 33 per cent of the reef involved the community as never before. There were 31,000 submissions and massive consultations, so it engaged the community. Can I also say that my visit to the areas around the reef showed me that not everyone is happy with the plan. Commercial fishermen, in particular, have some major concerns about it and about their future livelihood—concerns which I am addressing through changes to the structural adjustment package and a number of other measures. Recreational fishermen and the industry that supports them also have some concerns. But none of them are seriously saying, `We want you to reopen the plan.'

Senator Santoro asks about the alternative policies. There is a party—the Australian Labor Party—putting forward an alternative policy that would in fact seek to reopen the plan. The Australian Labor Party, through their candidate for Hinkler and through the high jinks of Senator Jan McLucas in this place, are playing Labor politics with the protection of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. They are saying one thing in Gladstone, another thing in Mackay and of course another thing to the environmental groups down in the southern states, and they think they can get away with it. It is like that with the marriage bill—they are saying one thing to gay and lesbian couples about their support for gay and lesbian marriage and then going to Christian seminars and saying, `No, we really support marriage and we do not want that.' (Time expired)

Senator SANTORO —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Following the minister's recent extensive tour of North Queensland and, in particular, Great Barrier Reef sites, would he be able to further acquaint the Senate with the contradictory attitudes and remarks of ALP candidates and the deceitful policies of members opposite?

The PRESIDENT —Senator Santoro, that supplementary question is out of order.

Senator Ian Campbell —Mr President, I raise a point of order. It is clearly supplementary, because I was asked about alternative policies of Labor. It is the Labor Party that has a policy to overturn the plan. I have been asked, flowing from my answer, about that policy. I would like the opportunity to describe how that policy puts reef protection at risk.

The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order. The fact of the matter is, Senator Ian Campbell—as you are well aware—that you cannot directly ask questions regarding opposition policy. It could have been framed in a better way, and then it would have been in order. We have been through this exercise before.