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Wednesday, 16 August 2017
Page: 5755


Senator PRATT (Western Australia) (10:12): This morning, I am pleased to speak on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment Bill 2017 and to highlight the attributes of our Great Barrier Reef. It's an iconic and beautiful reef and, as we know, it's the world's largest. As custodians of it, as it is here on our doorstep, we must take extra special care of this wonderful asset. It's more than 2,300 kilometres long and has more than 2,900 individual reefs. It's critical that the government protect this pristine World Heritage listed area. We need it to be protected because its rich environment is home to so many ecosystems. Not only is it critical to the tourism industry in Queensland; it also underpins the choices that tourists make to visit the whole of our continent. It also underpins employment not only in Queensland but right around the country.

The bill before us, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment Bill, proposes a number of technical amendments to rectify an unintended consequence of the sunsetting regime within the substantive legislation. We support these amendments, and they're certainly necessary for the protection and ongoing management of our reef. The sunsetting regime was established in the Legislation Act 2003 and provided for the automatic repeal of some legislative instruments. As has been identified, steps must be taken to preserve some of these instruments. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Regulations (Amendment) 1993 sunset every 10 years and are due to sunset in April next year.

Under current legislative arrangements, when regulations are sunset and remade, plans of management within the reef are revoked. That means there are no substantive management arrangements in place in a really important area such as Cairns and the Whitsunday islands. As a tourist to Cairns, I know it's really important that tourism is controlled, monitored and managed so that any damage to the reef does not occur. So, if the management plans were to be revoked as a result of sunsetting, it would require the Senate and the House of Representative to go right through the legislative process again to remake those plans, taking up time and resources for something that's already working very well. This was not the intention of the sunsetting provisions, and these unintended consequences need to be resolved.

The amendments provided for this bill prevent plans of management of the Great Barrier Reef being automatically revoked if regulations giving effect to these plans are repealed. We can see how plans of management can be switched off so they have no effect, rather than being formally revoked. This will allow time for regulations to be updated without the management of the reef being impacted. We know that these plans support tourism industries in the area and are vital to operations. The plans of management assist with the implementation of effective environmental management and ecologically sustainable practices. They complement marine park zoning in that they specifically address issues that pertain to specific areas. This is critically important for at-risk or vulnerable species or ecosystems in need of protection in our reef. The Great Barrier Reef management plans operate in Cairns, Hinchinbrook Island, Shoalwater Bay and the Whitsundays. As I highlighted earlier, they are key tourist areas that need these tools to protect and support the reef.

This will ensure the ongoing effective management of the reef and surrounding areas. As we know, the Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest coral reef ecosystem, and Labor has a proud and strong record of defending and protecting the reef. Indeed, it was the Whitlam government that implemented Australia's first-ever marine reserve over the reef. I am proud that the last Labor government established Australia's marine reserve network, the largest network of marine protected areas in the world. These sorts of legacies are becoming even more important as the world's oceans are subject to increasing environmental degradation and decline.

We know our own reef is facing significant threats from climate change—threats that must be taken seriously by our government, but, apparently, you do not. We must do all we can to protect the health of our reef, and the plans of management are critically important to this work and are a very practical tool. So, while Labor support this bill which enables the legacy of the management plans to stay in place, we believe we can go further in protecting our reef and our environment. We can't simply act on these management plans, which deal with very specific acreage on the reef. There's a lot more that needs to be done.

We must have a government that is prepared to do more than this to protect our reef—and protect it from all sides—and this includes protecting the Coral Sea, which has such a rich biodiversity on the eastern side of the reef. That biodiversity corridor is incredibly important. However, the government is not protecting the Coral Sea. They're looking to wind back ocean protections in the Coral Sea, proposing to gut half of the area that was put into marine national parks by the Labor government. This is a terrible, terrible thing to do. It's a terrible shame. It takes the largest step backwards that this nation has ever seen when it comes to conservation in the Coral Sea.

We should also be protecting the Great Barrier Reef from the other side. I'm pleased to see that that's what the Queensland Labor government is doing by putting land clearing rules in place to ensure that run-off from land clearing doesn't negatively impact on the Great Barrier Reef. But the federal Liberal government have been supporting the Liberal-National Party in Queensland to not support these protections for our reef, which are aimed at halting the broadscale clearing of the trees and remnant vegetation that are incredibly important for controlling run-off.

Most importantly we need to protect our Great Barrier Reef from climate change. We can see that the government is completely missing in action when it comes to acting on climate change, and it is not doing anything real to tackle the causes of it. Indeed, some of those opposite don't even believe it's real. You are not fit guardians for our Great Barrier Reef. The Liberal government can't be trusted to protect Australia's unique environment, and it can't be trusted with the protection of our Great Barrier Reef.

I take this opportunity in the Senate today to urge the government to do better and to do more to protect one of Australia's most prized environmental assets. I urge the government to stop fighting against responsible land-clearing protections. I urge the government not to undo protections in the Coral Sea and I urge them to act on climate change and to stop the causes of decline in our reef in order to keep it healthy.

Labor can and will do these things. Our environmental commitments go much further in their protective efforts than these amendments before us in the parliament today. Labor has a Great Barrier Reef plan that involves a more coordinated and efficient long-term management of the reef, which is, importantly, properly funded and resourced. What we've put forward includes an investment of up to $100 million to review and improve current management practices in the reef and to consult with relevant stakeholders. This is further supported by Labor's comprehensive climate change action plan that delivers real action on climate change and, in doing so, contributes to global efforts to reduce the harmful effects of climate change on our reef, including the impact of coral bleaching.

As I conclude my remarks, I want to reflect on the fitness of the government to legislate on these important matters. There was an incident in the House of Representatives yesterday that made it clear that they could not manage their own legislative agenda on these matters. Last night the government lost a vote in the House on this very issue. One of Labor's amendments to this bill was carried by a majority of members, 69 to 61, and the government then sought to gag debate to hide their own incompetence in managing these issues in the House. It was only the second time in history that a government has lost a vote on a second reading amendment against itself.

We know it's not the first of the failures of the Turnbull government. We've seen many times in the House that they have come so close, and that they hold power in the House of Representatives, at times, by only one vote. Let's not forget that in the House of Representatives a bill to protect penalty rates was lost by only one vote, which meant that up to 700,000 Australians would have been better off had it not been for this government. Let's think about which vote it is that made the difference to votes like that in the House of Representatives. One Mr Barnaby Joyce, our Deputy Prime Minister, perhaps should not have even been voting. He is a dual citizen, as is patently clear, and he is not eligible to sit in the House of Representatives.

It's a disgrace to see from those opposite what double standards they have. We can see that Senator Canavan has done the right thing by stepping down from the ministry and agreeing not to vote until the matter of his citizenship is resolved, so why won't this government do the same and hold the Deputy Prime Minister to account?

What we have seen over the past few days or, in fact, over the entire term of government, is a government in absolute chaos. When we have such tight votes in the House of Representatives, how can any question before the parliament, including legislation such as this that we are debating now, be resolved with any legitimacy at all?