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Monday, 26 November 2012
Page: 13227

Mr KELVIN THOMSON (Wills) (20:15): I rise to speak in opposition to this proposed bill, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Making Marine Parks Accountable) Bill 2012, which represents a continuation of the coalition running interference on what is an historic achievement by the Labor government in announcing the final network of Commonwealth marine reserves.

I want to congratulate the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Minister Burke, who, on 16 November, announced that Australia's precious marine environments have been permanently protected, with the proclamation of the world's biggest network of marine reserves—that is, more than 2.3 million square kilometres of ocean environment. The declaration of these new marine reserves delivers on an election commitment and represents a major achievement for the long-term conservation and sustainable use of Australia's oceans. Australia's oceans support many of the world's endangered marine animals, including the green turtle, the blue whale, the southern right whale, the Australian sea lion and the whale shark.

In May this year, a number of us in parliament were fortunate enough to hear an inspiring address from the author Tim Winton about the importance of marine parks. It reinforced my view that this is an opportunity for us as a parliament to do great things that future generations will be proud of. I would like to share with the parliament what Tim Winton had to say about this issue. It is important to highlight it to negate some of the short-sightedness of the bill before the House and because I cannot improve on Tim Winton's words. Tim himself is a very keen recreational fisher. He says that fishing is in his blood. Indeed, my own father, Allan, and my brothers Lex and Daryl are keen fishermen. Tim Winton says:

During my own lifetime the world's oceans have suffered a terrible decline. I've read about it. And I've seen it up close and ugly. When I lived in Greece I saw the results of oil spills, dynamite fishing, lax regulation. I've surfed in raw sewage in Indonesia and putrid medical waste in Brazil. And I've wondered: am I swimming in the future? … The global trends aren't great. Collapsing fisheries, dying corals, gyres of plastic the size of entire countries, catastrophic oil spills that ruin the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of fishing families and poison the food chain for decades.

Okay, I tell myself. All this is happening abroad, in someone else's ocean. But we're not immune. Not after the Montara spill. Not when a recent spike in sea temperature caused a mass kill of abalone on the mid-west coast and shut down the fishery until further notice …

Many of my neighbours are commercial fishermen. Lots of my friends are marine scientists. They don't always agree with each other, though they're all passionate about Australia's seas and want to do what they can keep them healthy. But none of them is telling me that things are getting better and better here at home.

… I don't think we'll pass on a dead ocean. I can't think that. … We have comparatively decent fisheries management and many good fishing operators. Still, consumption only goes up and the resource doesn't get any bigger. We all know we're pushing the ocean too hard. And the pressure to relegate marine protection - to defer it - that pressure is intense. And the balance is not in the ocean's favour. Taking a loss has become business as usual. Where else, in what other field, would mediocre outcomes be so acceptable?

We have to stop spending beyond our means. Robbing Peter to pay Paul. Otherwise we'll be the generation - the richest, most mobile and well-educated generation in Australia's history - that passes on a dud inheritance, and leaves the estate in arrears. Bequeathing a loss to a family, a community, a nation, that's a despicable thing to do. …

The great news is we haven't blown it yet. We still have incredible assets to reserve and build upon: immense underwater canyons and sea mounts, fringing reefs, barrier reefs. Remote archipelagos teeming with birds and turtles. Precious inshore habitats, breeding grounds. Intricate coral atolls that are thrumming engines of oceanic life. These miracles of nature are our good and great fortune. They aren't just sources of protein. They're also food for thought, fields of scientific discovery. They are reservoirs of life inextricably entwined with our own. Because the health of the sea determines our human future. Yes, we have compromised great ecosystems already. We've made mistakes. And we've improved our game. But there's a gap between our aspirations and our achievements when it comes to stewardship. We must do better. We will do better. If we act now.

…   …   …

Commonwealth waters are public assets. The family silver. Silver that moves, breathes, swims. If you've ever swum in a school of trevally or barracuda or anchovies, you'll know what I mean; it's like being Scrooge McDuck rolling around in the vault. These riches are entrusted to government by the people. That trust, gravity of the task, has come into sharp focus in recent years. And in the past decade, in a groundswell of public consciousness that I simply didn't see coming, citizens have begun to expect a new level of accountability in marine stewardship. Why the sea? Well, because as much as they love the bush, Australians spend more time on the water. And they travel abroad - especially to places where they swim and surf and fish. Like me, I guess, they've come to see what we stand to lose. What the worst future looks and feels and tastes and smells like. So they value their marine inheritance much more consciously and vividly than you may realize. They expect the managers of their marine birthright to act prudently, conservatively. Which means they expect proper fisheries management. They want to know there are genuine limits to the incursions of oil and gas, that a marine system is at least as important as a coal-mine, or a port. Most importantly they expect government to hold significant marine assets in reserve by way of parks and sanctuaries. Where people can visit but not extract anything.

There's a precedent for this, one that makes sense to ordinary people. Generations ago, when our nation was far less prosperous, far less educated, far less certain of its place in the world, our forebears set aside habitats and ecosystems on land in the form of national parks and reserves. Pretty brave at the time. This was their gift to the future. The kind of sacrifice Australians instinctively understand and celebrate. You and I inherited the fruit of that enlightened impulse. We enjoy the work and the courage of those Australian thinkers and legislators who came before. And now, from the fringes of our cities, from the very hearts of our cities in some instances, right out to the interior, there are wild places to which we can take our children, where we study, or simple stare in awe -because someone fifty, sixty, seventy years ago was visionary enough, decent enough, and courageous enough to make it happen, to reserve a share of the family silver for us. You and I are connected to those visionaries by that patriotic impulse, that love of country, that love of family.

So now in 2012 we're on the cusp of achieving something like that in the sea. A system of marine parks for the nation. A network of representative ecosystems reserved for conservation purposes. It's the outcome of a process that's not owned by any narrow political interest. It's taken years of study and consultation, been overseen and supported by governments, both Liberal and Labor. It has the potential-if we hold our nerve and follow through—to be one of the great moments of marine stewardship. Of environmental responsibility. But also one of the great moments of Australian patriotism when our belief in the common good shines through, when we show our higher selves to our selves and to those unborn.

…   …   …

And neither should it be contentious, although I know there have been attempts to make it so, to make something unifying into something divisive. But the principle of marine parks has taken hold. You know that when more than 100,000 citizens make submissions in support of them, urging members of parliament to stay the course and reserve these parks, that something's going on.

…   …   …

A decade ago, 15,000 citizens encircled the CBD of the city of Fremantle to spare a coral reef most Australians had never heard of, and Ningaloo is now on the World Heritage list. Since then support for marine parks has only grown. It's geographically widespread, spans all age groups, and is non-partisan. …The people asking for marine parks understand this for what it is: good housekeeping, prudent management, a future for their kids. And I think legislators ignore this tidal change at their peril.

I conclude by paraphrasing Tim Winton by saying that 'this is a genuine legacy moment'. When your grandkids ask, 'What did you do as a member of parliament?' tax reform might do it, or that parliamentary committee. But in that rare moment when a little kid looks up at you with a flicker of interest or even a moment of admiration, my money is on the dolphins and on the marine parks.