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Thursday, 10 March 2005
Page: 162


Senator BARTLETT (6:11 PM) —As sharp observers would be aware, this is again a Queensland focused report. The Wet Tropics Management Authority covers that area that famously adjoins the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park where the rainforest meets the reef. Of course, the wet tropics is a lot more than just the rainforest. It is a lot of other incredibly diverse and environmentally crucial ecosystems. It is an area that is critical to the economic prospects and prosperity of particularly the far north region of my own state of Queensland. My assessment on this one is not as rosy as my recent assessment of the Barrier Reef. I am sure that the Minister for the Environment and Heritage is listening absolutely intently and not being distracted at all, and he will take on board my comments in this area. As was said in this chamber a couple of days ago, the wet tropics area is a lot more than just the Daintree and sometimes it suffers from being seen just as the Daintree and that area north of the Daintree River. Having said that, the Daintree area is extraordinarily critical and extraordinarily beautiful. I have visited there many times. To anybody listening who has not been there, I would very much recommend it.

Whilst I am a strong supporter of protecting areas like the Tasmanian forests, occasionally I get tired of hearing about Tasmanian forests when we have areas of far more environmental significance in my own state, and the Daintree would be one of them, that do not get the acknowledgment and focus that they should. That area of the Daintree has been at risk for many years. It has biodiversity far in excess of most other areas of Australia, including the Tasmanian forests. A lot of people assume the Daintree has all been saved, but it has not. The reasons for that have been outlined before.

There has been some movement, as has been acknowledged previously, in providing the funds necessary to ensure that those areas of rainforest still freehold and at risk of being cleared can be bought back with adequate compensation provided to the individual owners of those blocks. There are proposals in place through the Wet Tropics Management Authority and based on funding from the shire council, the state government and, I believe, the federal government, which involve a map of some priority areas containing a certain number of properties and looking to purchase those properties.

I point out that the draft planning scheme for the biodiversity of the area affects over 400 properties. I believe they need to ensure that they are all protected. There has always been a problem with just trying to grab bits and pieces, putting together enough of a patchwork quilt to think that you have enough to get away with it. Part of it is ensuring that the clearing does not happen—that the trees are not cleared and the flow-on problems do not happen. Part of it is also ensuring that the residential population north of the river does not increase much more, because there are already massive pressures with tourism numbers. Adding to the residential population will simply compound that enormously. I appreciate that that is a source of frustration to some people, but it is nonetheless a simple, obvious, blatant matter that cannot be ignored.

I have concerns about whether the money that will be spent will be spent as effectively as possible and will guarantee the long-term protection of those areas in as complete a way as is necessary. That is something that still needs to happen. Failure to purchase or permanently negate development on the entire range of properties would defy all the studies to date and make a mockery of the precautionary principle that is highly applicable to the complex ecology of the Daintree. We really need assurance from the federal government, financial or otherwise, that that whole planning scheme will be implemented and achieved. I hope the Wet Tropics Management Authority is able to play a positive role in making sure that happens and that it will be a key part of the review of their ongoing management plan that commences towards the end of the year that that occurs.

Question agreed to.