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Thursday, 27 November 2014
Page: 9548

Great Barrier Reef

Senator WATERS (Queensland) (14:32): My question is to the minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Brandis. I refer to US President Obama's recent comments on the Great Barrier Reef and foreign minister Julie Bishop's briefing to the White House in response that:

… we are demonstrating word's best practice—

regarding the reef, and that President Obama should have:

… the facts and the detail of what we are doing …

Is Minister Bishop now going to update President Obama and the World Heritage Committee with the facts and details of what Premier Campbell Newman is this week doing to Queensland's water laws, which the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has said may lead to unacceptable impacts on reef ecosystems?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council, Minister for Arts and Attorney-General) (14:33): Thank you, Senator Waters. I am familiar with Ms Bishop's remarks and I agree with them. We know that the Great Barrier Reef is under pressure. We have made and continue to make significant progress in addressing those pressures. But the conclusion that the Great Barrier Reef is in danger is a technical assessment to be made by UNESCO's World Heritage Committee. The committee will make its decision on this in June next year in Bonn. We are demonstrating world's best practice in working with the World Heritage Committee to ensure that the Great Barrier Reef is preserved for generations to come.

Senator Milne interjecting

Senator BRANDIS: Senator Milne, you may not want to see the Australian government achieve its objectives in protecting the Great Barrier Reef.

The PRESIDENT: Through the chair!

Senator BRANDIS: I know you are a senator who only likes bad news, but I have good news for you. The Australian and the Queensland governments are jointly investing around $180 million a year to preserve and conserve the Great Barrier Reef.

The PRESIDENT: Pause the clock!

Senator Waters: I rise on a point of order regarding relevance. I appreciate the background, but I am actually interested in whether the minister will update her advice to the US President about the recent changes to Queensland's water laws.

The PRESIDENT: The minister has 48 seconds in which to answer the question. I remind him of the question.

Senator BRANDIS: I am addressing the very issue, Senator Waters, about which you asked me. We have prepared a draft Reef 2050 long-term sustainability plan that maps out the pathway for the next 35 years. This plan has been developed with relevant stakeholders, including WWF and the Australian Academy of Science. The government is working with stakeholders, including UNESCO's World Heritage Committee and the technical adviser to make sure we get this long-term plan right. The Australian government and the Queensland government are determined to preserve the Great Barrier Reef for the benefit of future generations. We are taking the steps necessary to do so and, as I said, we are cooperating with UNESCO in that regard. (Time expired)

Senator WATERS (Queensland) (14:35): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Those changes to Queensland's water laws this week remove ecologically sustainable development from the act's objects, which breaches the commitment made to the World Heritage Committee, and they give mining companies statutory rights to take billions of litres of water from reef catchments without a water licence. How is this world's best practice?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council, Minister for Arts and Attorney-General) (14:36): I can tell you how that is world's best practice. The Queensland Water Reform and Other Legislation Amendment Bill, which forms part of a whole-of-water business transformation, will amend the Queensland Water Act to provide an improved framework for the expansion of water markets across Queensland. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority's submission to the Queensland Agriculture, Resources and Environment Committee regarding the bill appropriately highlighted the need for safeguards to protect the water quality of the Great Barrier Reef. Water management reform provides an opportunity to deliver a net benefit to reef water quality and ecosystem health. It is critical that any changes to the water management of the reef and the reef catchment include safeguards to protect the reef, and the Queensland legislation does. To ensure the health of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, the Australian government expects that these reforms will consider ecosystem connectivity. (Time expired)

Senator WATERS (Queensland) (14:37): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. By the way, the bill is no longer a bill; it passed yesterday in the Queensland parliament.

The PRESIDENT: To the question, Senator Waters.

Senator WATERS: It was reported by Fairfax on 21 November that Minister Bishop said the Great Barrier Reef 'is not under threat from climate change'. The government's own Great Barrier Reef Outlook Reports of 2009 and 2014 unequivocally state:

Climate change remains the most serious threat to the Great Barrier Reef.

Does Minister Bishop reject the science from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority or will she now correct her advice to President Obama? (Time expired)

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council, Minister for Arts and Attorney-General) (14:37): Unless there has been an amendment to the Queensland Constitution of which I am unfamiliar, a bill remains a bill until it receives royal assent. We consider that, on any technical appraisal of the merits of our approach, the Great Barrier Reef does not warrant being listed on the List of World Heritage in Danger. We have made major improvements on all the issues where the World Heritage Committee has called for progress, including limits to dredging—

The PRESIDENT: Pause the clock. Senator Waters.

Senator Waters: Mr President, I rise on a point of order. I appreciate that Senator Brandis is only the minister representing, but I really would like an answer to the question. Will Minister Bishop actually read the reports from the GBRMPA or will she correct her advice to President Obama?

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Waters. The minister is answering the question. The minister has 28 seconds in which to respond.

Senator BRANDIS: Senator Waters, I have already told you in response to your primary question that I am familiar with what Ms Bishop had to say and I entirely agree with it. As I was telling you, Senator Waters, the limits to dredging, dredge disposal and improvements in water quality, including an announcement by Minister Hunt to bring into a law a ban on capital dredge material being dumped in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, are some of the measures that we have undertaken. (Time expired)