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Thursday, 24 November 2011
Page: 9459

Senator FARRELL (South AustraliaParliamentary Secretary for Sustainability and Urban Water) (09:42): I rise to speak on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Bioregional Plans) Bill 2011. Australia is home to some of the most unique, beautiful and rare ecosystems in the world. Like the stunning diversity of our great continent, with its desolate plains, its rainforests, its mountain peaks and its geological marvels—many of which are in my home state of South Australia—Australian seas are a treasure of great magnitude. Australia has the third largest marine environment of any nation in the world.

Just as precious environments on land are protected in national parks, our oceans contain many iconic, ecologically important and fragile places that also deserve protection. The Great Barrier Reef is a natural wonder. The marine park management that has been put in place protects the amazing diversity of its coral and marine life. It is also very critical to the tourism industry in Queensland. In the south-west of Australia, over 90 per cent of the marine species in our waters are not found anywhere else in the world. The Coral Sea is recognised globally for its diversity and significance.

Not all of these unique ecosystems are protected. The marine bioregional planning process aims to ensure their longer term survival. We have a responsibility to keep our oceans healthy, resilient and productive for current and future generations. Marine bioregional planning is about improving the way Australia's marine environment is managed. Marine bioregional plans describe the marine environment and conservation values of each marine region, set out broad biodiversity objectives, identify regional priorities and outline strategies and actions to address these priorities. The Commonwealth marine areas are protected as a matter of national environmental significance under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The Australian government's objectives for Commonwealth marine areas are as follows: to conserve biodiversity and maintain ecosystem health; to ensure the recovery and protection of threatened species; and, to improve our understanding of biodiversity and ecosystems and the pressures they face. Marine bioregional plans are designed to contribute to these objectives: first, by supporting strategic, consistent and informed decision making under Commonwealth environmental legislation in relation to Commonwealth marine areas; second, by supporting efficient administration of the EPBC Act to promote the conservation and ecologically sustainable use of the marine environment and its resources; and, third, by providing a framework for strategic intervention and investment by government to meet its policy objectives and statutory responsibilities.

The EPBC Act provides that a bioregional plan may include provisions about all or any of the following: components of biodiversity, their distribution and conservation status; important economic or social values; heritage values of places; objectives relating to biodiversity and other values; priorities, strategies and actions to achieve the objectives; mechanisms for community involvement in implementing the plan; and, measures for monitoring and reviewing the plan.

Better management of the marine environment will be achieved by: providing advice and information to industry, with proponents proposing to undertake activities that will have, or are likely to have, a significant impact on matters of national environmental significance; enabling strategic, consistent and informed decision making in environmental assessments and approvals and in longer term planning by government and industry; targeting environ­mental programs, conservation measures and other government interventions within a region towards regional priorities, and, focusing investment in research and monitor­ing to address critical data and knowledge gaps to increase our understanding of ecosystems and human interactions with them and to improve the government's ability to meet its statutory responsibilities and policy priorities.

Marine bioregional plans aim to support all of these components. The plans will increase our understanding of Australia's unique marine environment. This enhanced understanding will improve the way decisions are made under the EPBC Act, particularly in relation to the protection of marine biodiversity and the sustainable use of our oceans and their resources by our marine-based industries. Importantly, marine bioregional plans will contribute towards managing the environmental impacts of human activities by identifying and describing a region's conservation values and priorities for managing those values. This will enable decision makers within government and industry to consider the interactions between proposed activities and conservation values, and the cumulative impacts of activities on the Commonwealth marine environment.

Marine bioregional plans are being developed with input from scientific and other experts, and in consultation with stakeholders. Consultation on marine planning is ongoing and will continue throughout the development process. The government is committed to transparency and accountability and has met with a range of stakeholders including commercial fishers, conservation groups, the tourism industry, state governments, the shipping industry and other users of the marine environment such as divers and recreational and charter fishers. This is in addition to community meetings being held by the department. In the south-west alone consul­tations have included two information sessions in regional capitals, 10 information sessions in regional centres and 47 targeted meetings, including with individual sectors.

The plans will include a number of key elements that further improve our understanding of the marine environment and support more informed decision making. The key elements are as follows. Conservation values: those elements of the region that are either specifically protected under the EPBC Act, such as species or places, have heritage values for the purposes of the EPBC Act or have been identified through the planning process as key ecological features in the Commonwealth marine environment. Key ecological features: the parts of the marine ecosystem that are considered to be important for a region's biodiversity or ecosystem function and integrity. Biologically important areas: these are areas where a protected species displays biologically important behaviour, such as breeding, foraging, resting or migration. These areas are those parts of a marine region that are particularly important for the conservation of protected species. Regional pressure analysis: a review of current information on present and emerging pressures, their impact on conservation values, and the effectiveness of mitigation and management arrangements that are in place. Regional priorities: key areas of focus that should inform decision making about marine conservation and planning, as well as industry development and other human activities. Regional advice on environmental assessments and referrals: this will assist people who wish to undertake activities in, or potentially impacting on, the Common­wealth marine environment to better understand and meet their obligations under the EPBC Act. Through the marine bio­regional planning process, the Australian government is synthesising and consolidat­ing a range of information to act as a guide in the management of the Commonwealth marine environment. Information resources are being developed to make this knowledge publicly accessible and to inform decision making, both within and outside government. Marine bioregional plans will also provide direction by identifying regional priorities, strategies and actions and provide regional advice on environmental assessments and referrals. Marine bioregional planning is the right thing to do. It is right to protect these beautiful ecosystems and also sustain fish stocks into the future.

This bill, in opposing the principle and substance of marine bioregional planning, clearly illustrates that the opposition has no environmental conscience, no regard for the future of our environment and no idea when it comes to Australia's oceans. Just like with almost every other environmental issue they go near, they have no idea, they are wrong and they should leave it to the experts. It is the right thing to do to aim for substantial conservation outcomes for our unique marine environments whilst we continue to support our important coastal communities and their industries. Therefore, the government opposes this bill.