Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 5 May 1987
Page: 2597

Mr MILTON(4.40) —In speaking in support of the Sea Installations Bill 1987 and its supporting Bills-the Sea Installations Levy Bill 1987, the Sea Installations (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 1987, the Customs Tariff Amendment (Sea Installations) Bill 1987 and the Excise Tariff Amendment (Sea Installations) Bill 1987-I am most pleased to see that the Government has introduced legislation to regulate off-shore installations to ensure that they are technically sound and environmentally acceptable. Such legislation is particularly important in regard to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which extends 2,000 kilometres along Australia's east coast. The marine Park contains over 2,500 individual reefs ranging in size from one hectare to more than 100 square kilometres. It comprises the largest single collection of coral reefs in the world and supports the most diverse ecosystem known throughout the world. It is a unique and most delicately balanced system, and we must ensure that it is protected against uncontrolled development.

The Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation, of which I am Chairman, referred to the problem of off-shore installations in our November 1985 report on the crown of thorns starfish infestations in the Great Barrier Reef. I was most pleased that in that report our Committee indicated to the House and the Government our views on the development of the off-shore installations. I think it is worth reminding honourable members of the comments and the recommendation we made at that time. Accordingly, I quote from our report:

Recent years have seen significant and novel changes in tourist operations on the Great Barrier Reef. These have involved the permanent anchoring of pontoons and platforms and the stationing of semi-submersible coral viewing vessels over some reefs. Proposals have now been put forward which will bring this type of development to new levels. These involve the establishment of floating hotels and other semi-permanent offshore developments. The Committee recognises the very high value of the reef as a tourist and recreation facility and is satisfied that adequate environmental assessment procedures are in place to ensure that these proposed developments are properly planned and carried out.

There must be limits on the extent and type of these developments and it would be useful for potential developers to have some guidance as to the types of requirements and limitations which might apply. At present the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority appears to lack a specific comprehensive policy on offshore developments and appears to respond to such developments on an ad hoc basis. Whilst this has not diminished environmental controls or led to any inappropriate development a more consistent and long term approach would be useful. The Committee recommends that:

the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority develop and promulgate a policy on offshore development and issue guidelines to prospective developers.

I would like to think that those comments of the Committee and the recommendation we made played some part in influencing the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment (Mr Cohen) to put the present legislation before the House. There is no doubt that off-shore structures and installations should be acceptable only under strict conditions in respect of environmental impact statements, limits on the disposal of effluents, limits on the number of such structures and controls on their disposal at the end of their operating life, and the sound management of surrounding areas.

One of the matters which concerned the Standing Committee was the possibility that poor land use and the clearing of land on the Great Barrier Reef islands, which has resulted in the increase in run-off containing absorbed nutrients or chemicals, may play some part in the sudden infestations of the crown of thorns starfish. Whether the current crown of thorns starfish research program, which is presently being conducted under the auspices of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, will provide an answer to this question remains to be seen.

Whilst there has been considerable co-operation between the Queensland State Government and the Commonwealth Government in relation to the management of the Great Barrier Reef, the management of the islands of the reef, particularly the Whitsunday Islands, by the State Government leaves a lot to be desired. There was, for example, the development of the 607-hectare Hamilton Island by the developer, Keith Williams. When Mr Williams bought the property in 1976 it was a grazing lease. But now this island, which is in the middle of the Whitsunday group of islands and contained within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, is a multi-million dollar tourist resort. In the process of creating the resort many questions were asked regarding how Mr Williams was able to convert the grazing lease to a lucrative tourist resort at considerable profit to himself. These questions relate to the irregular nature-some might say seedy nature-of Queensland State National Party politics, with which we in this House are all familiar.

What I was more concerned about at the time, however, was how Mr Williams was able to build an airstrip across the bay by excavating filling material from the top of a hillside on the island. Commonwealth government approval was never obtained for the work. Whilst the project may have gained such approval, it was an appalling example of the State Government and Mr Williams ignoring the constitutional powers of the Commonwealth Government to control development in the Great Barrier Reef. The legislation that is at present before the House, along with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act and its various management plans, and the World Heritage Properties Conservation Act, will enable the Commonwealth Government to exercise its constitutional powers to override any future attempts by private developers to evade Commonwealth powers by sheltering under the patronage of the Queensland State Government.

We now have the added threat to the Great Barrier Reef with the proposal by the Queensland State Government to sell the freehold title to the islands of the Great Barrier Reef to the leaseholders. There are about 1,400 islands in the Great Barrier Reef, of which about 140 are protected by national park status. However, there is some doubt whether the Queensland State Government legislation will protect the existing national parks on the island. Many island resorts are built on leased lands within national parks. If freehold title were granted to the leased areas, this would automatically result in a reduction in the national park area.

Mr Ian Cameron —Why are you worried about a bit of freehold?

Mr MILTON —If the honourable member listens, he will hear the problem. It is important to note that frequently the only place on an island where there is a boat landing jetty and beach is part of a leased island reserve. A freehold island resort owner could therefore close off the jetty and the beach to members of the general public, who would then be unable to gain access to the island national park.

Mr Downer —Madam Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. I draw your attention to the fact that this debate is about the sea installations package of Bills. The honourable member is not talking about sea installations, from my understanding of what he is saying.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Darling) —I will accept that point of order and ask the honourable member to address his comments to the Bill.

Mr MILTON —Madam Deputy Speaker, with all due respect, I am addressing my remarks to the Bill. The Bill has a lot to do with the relationship between the Commonwealth and State governments and the constitutional powers which both State and Federal governments hold. That goes to the heart of the Bill. That is what I am trying to point out. I think that if the honourable member--

Mr Downer —That is not what the Bill is about.

Mr MILTON —It is about floating structures.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! I ask honourable gentlemen to stop debating the issue. It is up to the Chair. I accept the honourable member's explanation, but I draw his attention once again to the fact that he must relate his comments to the Bill, and his comments have been a little broad.

Mr MILTON —Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. My remarks on this point will not go on for much longer.

Mr Ian Cameron —Good.

Mr MILTON —I know that the honourable member is worried about the things that I am revealing. If there is any doubt in honourable members' minds that what I was talking about before I was interrupted would happen, they should look at the many beauty spots around Australia where private developers have gained such exclusive rights. It is clear, however, that if any of these islands are to be sold to private developers the sale could be stopped by the Commonwealth Government if there were any likelihood of a threat to the environment of the Great Barrier Reef.

In this respect the recent tabling by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park central section zoning plan is important, as this plan and the accompanying proposed regulations can ensure that potential environmental risks to the reef, which the sale of island properties represents, can be controlled by the Commonwealth Government. The central section zoning plan covers the area from just south of the Whitsunday islands to Dunk island in the north, so it covers the waters surrounding the islands upon which the friends of the Queensland Premier, Sir Johannes Bjelke-Petersen, have their many island resort developments. I can assure the Queensland Premier that if he has hopes of giving his friends a virtual gift of freehold titles to the island, the present legislation before the House, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act and the World Heritage Properties Conservation Act, will give the Commonwealth Government the power to restrict any development which could threaten the flora and fauna of the reef or, indeed, the equally magnificent structure of the coral reefs themselves.

Mr Chynoweth —Hear, hear!

Mr MILTON —I am very glad that the honourable member for Dunkley agrees with me wholeheartedly. The island national parks are the public property of all Queenslanders and the whole of Australia gains from the export income gained by the Great Barrier Reef tourist operations. Federal members of parliament and senators will be carefully monitoring developments on the island resorts. I give notice to the leaseholders that they had better think again if they believe that the granting of a freehold title will give them a chance to make quick profits at the expense of Queenslanders and Australia as a whole.

In relation to off-shore structures such as floating hotels, there has been a lack of consideration by the developers of such proposals. They have to take into account the additional numbers of people being taken on to a single reef and swimming, snorkelling and diving around on the top of the reef. One of the witnesses in the crown of thorns starfish inquiry, Mr Ian Dight of the North Queensland Conservation Council, who has spent a lot of time working on the reef, pointed out the possible dangers. He said:

I think there is a general feeling that people do not do damage to reefs, but I spent a lot of time out there doing various activities on the reef and I have seen the destruction by boats. Every time a boat goes to a location on a reef the anchor is dropped over and the anchor chain sways from side to side and destroys a considerable amount of coral. It might amount to 20 or 30 square metres. That does not regenerate immediately and every time a boat goes out there and drops anchor in another spot damage is done. Every time a diver swims around and kicks a piece of coral over it does not recover and regenerate rapidly. That sort of damage is just going to increase.

Mr Ian Cameron —Cyclones do the same thing.

Mr MILTON —Cyclones do not behave in that way at all. I think the honourable member had better look at some of his research into this matter. As Mr Dight pointed out, the reef is very delicate. Off-shore installations are not necessarily bad in themselves; nor indeed are the island resorts. It is just that it is essential that when the reef is subjected to such possible intensive use, it be used properly and that irreparable damage is not caused to the reef.

It will be essential that after an off-shore structure has been installed, the operation of the structure be monitored so that the effect that structure is causing to the biological and physical characteristics of the reef can be determined. As I have already pointed out, the same monitoring procedure must apply to the development resorts of the reef. It would be important in the early stages of the operation of the regulatory requirements of the legislation before the House that in relation to off-shore structures a limit be made to the total number of approved structures so that the monitoring process can help to determine the limit of the total number of structures which the reef can bear. I wrote that the honourable member for Mayo (Mr Downer) referred to that problem. It would also be possible for such floating structures to be moved from one reef to another, which could cause damage to the reef environment. The reef or reefs adjacent to a floating hotel might also be damaged by release of effluent, and then the owners might decide to move to another reef.

Mr Ian Cameron —What about the boats that go there every day?

Mr MILTON —I know that the honourable member is not concerned about these sorts of regulations. We have to regulate these activities or else the reef could be destroyed. The legislation before the House will control such activities, and it has my full support.