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Tuesday, 3 June 2003
Page: 15753

Mr BILLSON (3:08 PM) —My question is to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage. Would the minister outline to the House the government's plan to properly protect the Great Barrier Reef for future generations? Would he also advise whether there have been any responses to this plan?

Dr KEMP (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) —I thank the honourable member for Dunkley for his question. In lifting the highly protected areas of the reef from 4.5 per cent of the total area to around 30 per cent, the government's goal is to secure a healthy reef that will be good for tourism, good for fishing, good for the communities, good for Australia and good for Australia's international reputation as a guardian of World Heritage.

Two very major industries rely almost entirely on the health of the reef for their future, and they are the tourism industry and the combination of recreational and commercial fisheries. Tourism is the giant of the reef economy. Including the onshore flow to the tourist industry, it is a $4.3 billion industry. It employs almost 48,000 people. It dwarfs the other major reef industries, the recreational and commercial fisheries. According to the Productivity Commission, the recreational fisheries have a gross value of production of $240 million and it is around $120 million for commercial fisheries. Clearly these industries are almost entirely dependent on the reef remaining healthy. Without a healthy reef, none of these industries can be sustainable. It is crucial for the communities that live adjacent to the reef, from Bundaberg through Gladstone, Mackay, the Whitsundays, Townsville and Cairns, that the reef remain as healthy as possible.

There has been a very positive response to the government's proposal, reflecting the recognition by the communities and industries along the reef that what the government is aiming at is fundamental to their future. The Tourism Task Force Australia, I see, was reported this morning in the Financial Review saying the following:

For the overall economy and the health and viability of the Great Barrier Reef we think it is a good thing.

As tourism operator Jason Brown said on ABC News last night:

There's going to be a lot more marine life, which is certainly an increase for tourism.

I must say that I was very pleased to read the comment of David Bateman, Chief Executive Officer of Sunfish, the principal recreational fishers organisation, when he said:

We're extremely happy with the way it's been done. What they've come up with, with the increased yellow zones throughout the marine park, will give our members the space to go fishing, and we consider it very reasonable.

I was also pleased to see that the World Wide Fund for Nature is reported as saying, `We think it's a fantastic step forward.'

The interests of commercial fishers have also been taken into account, and some 95 per cent of the areas currently open to commercial fishing are unaffected by the plan. Even in the relatively short term, we believe that commercial and recreational fishers will benefit from increased numbers of fish and the increased size of fish that result from the protection of healthy populations. I invite everybody interested in the draft proposal to put in submissions over the next nine weeks before the closing date of 4 August.