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Wednesday, 23 October 2002
Page: 5779

Senator McLUCAS (6:34 PM) —The history of the zoning in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park far northern section zone is a long and complex one. It is a story that unfortunately is littered with episodes of political intervention in what should be, but has not been, a process driven by a goal of protecting and presenting the values of the marine park. Management of the marine park should be delivered through a rigorous evaluation of the science and analysis of the environmental, social and economic values attached to the area.

In the development of these regulations, this fundamental principle has not been adhered to. In fact, the reality is quite the reverse. The development of this set of regulations has been a long and complex process. I want to take the opportunity to ensure that the record is clear about what has happened to bring us to this point. The far northern section was incorporated into the marine park in late 1983, and its first zoning plan came into force in 1986. In 1996, in recognition of the fact that Princess Charlotte Bay, on the east coast of Cape York Peninsula, is well known as a dugong habitat area, the Great Barrier Reef Ministerial Council suggested that the bay be declared an interim dugong protection area. In 1997 a decision was made to address measures for dugong protection through a review of the zoning plan.

GBRMPA undertook a review of the plan in the mid to late 1990s, and the far northern section zoning plan came into effect in April this year. Zoning areas of the Great Barrier Reef is the management tool used by the authority to protect and preserve the reef. Zoning separates activities that may be in conflict with each other. It also allows areas that need a higher level of protection to have different levels of activity permitted. There are 14 types of zones used by the authority to manage the region. The consultation process on the revision of the plan started in November 1994, the second consultation draft was out in 1997 and the plan was tabled, as I said, on 6 March 2000.

When the draft zoning plan was released during that consultation process, Princess Charlotte Bay was zoned as a habitat protection zone, marked dark blue on maps. A habitat protection zone has objectives that provide for the protection of the area, but they do allow certain fishing activities to occur. In the case of Princess Charlotte Bay, commercial netting was a permittable activity. However, around 1999 the then Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Robert Hill, intervened in that process and declared that Princess Charlotte Bay would be zoned as a conservation park. A conservation park zone, or yellow zone as it is known by North Queenslanders, does not allow commercial netting. One can ask: where was the science that Senator Hill used to inform his decision on this unilateral measure? The answer is that there was none.

In 2001, the election year—an important fact to note—Senator Hill once again intervened and, without consultation with all interested parties, offered a compromise that essentially grandfathered or phased out the permits for commercial netting in Princess Charlotte Bay. This was to be delivered through a set of regulations. Again, where was the science to inform that decision? The reality is that there was no science; there was only politics. The other reality is that the member for Leichhardt, Mr Warren Entsch, agreed to that compromise. That fact needs to be understood, even though he is trying to rewrite the history books as we speak. The Queensland Seafood Industry Association advise me that they did not agree with the compromise at that time and continued to lobby for change. The environment sector was not consulted, nor were the recreational fishing groups or tourism industry. Once again, a unilateral decision was made that was not backed up by science or consultation.

The promised regulations, though, did not eventuate. They were obviously not prioritised by Senator Hill and the promise was not actioned by GBRMPA. Following the election, and the appointment of Dr Kemp to the environment portfolio, another intervention occurred. Dr Kemp, again without the support of any consultation or any scientific advice, once again changed the policy on Princess Charlotte Bay. This time it was to permit commercial netters with history in the area to apply for a permit to continue to operate in the bay. This regulation, the one that Dr Kemp promoted earlier this year, amends a conservation park zone to allow a specifically prohibited activity in that same zone. The regulation-making power, which was ostensibly to increase protection for the Great Barrier Reef, has effectively become a power to achieve the opposite. It is a breach of process and it was undertaken without consultation with the broader community.

It is a process which has been tainted by political intervention that has left 16 fishing families in limbo, without direction, for over two years. This decision has not been made properly, and I am concerned that there could have been the potential for an individual or a group to take legal action questioning the validity of the decision. It is a decision that has politicians' fingerprints all over it. This is not the way to manage the world's most significant coral reef system; in fact, it is not even the way to manage a fishery. GBRMPA has consistently argued that it is a manager of a marine park, not a fisheries manager, and I must say that the way in which this regulation has come to this place certainly suggests that it does not have the ability to advise its ministers when they are acting outside accepted natural resource management principles.

The regulations also have implications for the community's acceptance, or lack of acceptance, of the current development of the representative areas program. GBRMPA has consistently said that RAP is an open and accountable process. The community is sceptical at this point in time and the introduction of this regulation without consultation will call into question any trust at all that the community has in GBRMPA being able to deliver an open and accountable process. The introduction of the regulations while this process is under way is inappropriate. Over 10,000 submissions have been received through the representative area program process, and these people will be sceptical of the commitment of GBRMPA to that process if they think that all they have to do is start banging on their politician's door to get a different outcome.

The impact on the fishers who operate in Princess Charlotte Bay is real, and they are angry. But their anger needs to be directed at Mr Entsch, Senator Hill and Dr Kemp for the contemptuous way they have treated them. The Queensland Seafood Industry Association says there is no evidence that the retention of a net fishing industry in the area will have any impact on environmental values. Other stakeholders, notably the environment sector, have a different view. That of course is predictable. But the reality is that the people who should be making the decision are not the politicians who sit in this place and in the other place but the natural resource managers who have the skills and experience to make decisions based on sound science and on social, economic and environmental values.

We should be looking for a scientifically based decision-making process that relies on science, not politics, to make appropriate decisions about the management of the reef and the management of fishers. I say to the government that it is time they went back to the drawing board to truly look at Princess Charlotte Bay: look at the environmental values, look at the need for dugong protection, recognise that there are 16 fishing families that have history in the area, and do the work properly. Do not bring in a yellow zone and then amend it to allow an activity that is specifically excluded in the description of that conservation park zone. The ball is now back in the government's court. If they want to do this process properly, they should consult with the community, consult with the fishers, consult with the environment sector and treat the people in North Queensland properly.

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland—Minister for Forestry and Conservation) (6.44 p.m.)—I move:

That the debate be adjourned.

Question negatived.