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Thursday, 22 March 2012
Page: 4078

Mr O'DOWD (Flynn) (09:41): Recently a UNESCO delegation visited my electorate, inspecting the conditions and development of the Gladstone Harbour and the Great Barrier Reef. The delegation met with many stakeholders. These included the Fitzroy Basin Association, the Capricorn Conservation Council, the Gladstone Local Marine Advisory Committee, recreational and commercial fishermen, Gladstone's Indigenous groups, the Gladstone port authority, various mining and gas industry representatives, and other environmental groups. It disturbs me somewhat that it was only at the eleventh hour and after some behind-the-scenes effort that I and the state member for Gladstone, Mrs Liz Cunningham, were to meet with the delegation.

This UNESCO mission is to hand down a report that will be an embarrassment to the state and federal governments on the handling particularly of the Gladstone port authority. Therefore I ask: was the delegation expected to gain complete perspectives of the situation without hearing the views and concerns of the broader community—that is, the people that Liz Cunningham and I represent? Fortunately, the delegation was more than happy to hear from our communities' elected representatives, but I would argue that 30 minutes was nowhere near long enough to convey the thoughts of all the people of our electorates.

Since this visit I have been alarmed by the short-sighted decision by the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Tony Burke, in regard to the proposed expansion of the Rio Tinto bauxite operations in North Queensland. I am told that he has made this decision based on a one-page submission by the World Wildlife Foundation, based on disinformation about the shipping activities throughout the reef. Doesn't Mr Burke realise that these operations have been taking place for over 40 years, that these operations employ some 3,000 people and that the government collects $10 million in royalties from these operations? Would it be possible that the minister is trying to appease UNESCO ahead of the delivery of the report, which will inevitably highlight the state and federal governments' mismanagement of the Gladstone port?

The fact that UNESCO has sent this mission highlights how important Central Queensland is to the welfare of Australia at at least these two levels: our mining and resource development is a fundamental part of the national economy, and our environmental assets, including the Great Barrier Reef, are a vital part of our past, present and future. Achieving a balance between these two is not impossible and should remain a high priority as we plan for the future.