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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 26193

Senator McLUCAS (5:10 PM) —by leave—I move:

That the Senate take note of the statement.

At the outset let me say that I live in North Queensland. For the last two years I have dealt with the proposal by the government to establish a stronger level of protection for the Great Barrier Reef and I have supported that continually, with one proviso: that the process of decision making was at arm's length from the political process. I have to say that GBRMPA has done a reasonable job on that, but there are couple of places in North Queensland where that has not occurred, and Repulse Bay is one of them. That is why I had to do what I have done and call on the Minister for the Environment and Heritage to provide these documents to the Senate, because of the behaviour of the member for Dawson, Mrs De-Anne Kelly.

There has been considerable discussion and disquiet about the involvement of Mrs Kelly in the last-minute changes to the zoning in Repulse Bay in the Great Barrier Reef. That concern has been expressed to me for almost 12 months by a range of individuals and groups, and these people are not insignificant. The minister is correct in identifying recreational fishers, but they also include the Whitsunday Chamber of Commerce and the very respected Mayor of the Whitsunday Shire Council. The concerns held by these individuals have substance. For the minister to simply dismiss my request for documents as being mischievous, frivolous or political means that he does not understand the history of the zoning of Repulse Bay.

On 22 February this year Sunfish Mackay made an application under FOI to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority for some of the documents that I am asking for today. On 22 March this year, when they were advised by GBRMPA of the cost, they revised their application. On 9 June this year there was further correspondence which advised Sunfish Mackay that GBRMPA:

... has ... decided to release to you the documents identified within the scope of your request ...

... ... ...

However, pursuant to section 54 of the Freedom of Information Act 1982, a third party has 30 days in which to request that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority review this decision to release the documents.

GBRMPA were happy to release the documents, but a third party had an opportunity to respond. On 12 July, more than 30 days later, the third party requested `an internal review of the decision' by the decision maker. We assume that the third party is Mrs Kelly, but we are not absolutely sure—so more than 30 days later another process was triggered. On 29 July, Sunfish Mackay wrote to GBRMPA expressing their frustration at the delay and obfuscation they perceived was occurring because of the third party. They said in that letter:

While the name of the third party has not been identified by yourself, Sunfish Mackay assumes the third party is in fact the Federal Member for Dawson, Ms De-Anne Kelly.

Accordingly we enclose for the benefit of the decision maker a transcript from ABC Radio, dated 19 July, 2004 where Ms Kelly has asked for an independent public enquiry into the Representative Areas Program, due to her claim of `lack of transparency' of the process, and lack of scientific back up of the process.

It is not the Labor Party that is making mischief with the representative areas program; it is the member for Dawson and the member for Leichhardt, and Senator Scullion knows this. The letter goes on:

We would suggest that if it is Ms Kelly objecting to your release of the documents to Sunfish Mackay and now calling for a public enquiry due to a lack of transparency, then quite clearly she is being hypocritical.

... ... ...

In your letter of 12th July, you advise that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Parks Authority has 30 days in which to make a decision on the application for a review.

As this is dragging on and our wishes are to move on, can you please advise Sunfish Mackay on the decision and should there be a review, what time frame is involved, and when after that date we can expect the information sought.

They then go on to recognise that the federal election is looming and this information is being withheld. On 4 August, the marine park authority wrote back to Sunfish Mackay and said:

I am writing to inform you that the decision-maker has reconsidered this matter and has decided to uphold the original decision to release the two documents which are the subject of this request in their entirety.

GBRMPA has done the work. The minister comes in here and says, `It is an enormous amount of work we have to do.' The two documents are on the FOI officer's table in Townsville as we speak. This is not an enormous piece of work that I am requesting. This work has been completed. We are simply asking for the documents to be tabled. It is completely wrong and misleading for the minister to come in here and say that there is an enormous amount of work that GBRMPA would have to do. The work has been done. Here is the proof. Just table the documents. The FOI officer goes on to say—quite rightly, and I am not being critical of the FOI officer of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority at all, because that person is simply following the rules:

... pursuant to section 55 of the Freedom of Information Act 1982, a third party has 60 days in which to file an appeal with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal regarding the decision to release the documents. If an appeal is not filed within that period—

60 days—

then the documents will be forwarded to you at the end of that period.

Sixty days? I reckon the election might be over by then. I think the people of Mackay, Whitsunday and Proserpine want to know what their local member did in the time leading up to the changed zoning of Repulse Bay. It is evident from the time frame that I have just described that Mrs Kelly has taken every opportunity to prolong the process to her advantage. The only conclusion that I can draw and that the people of her electorate can draw is that there is something to hide—there is something that she wants to hide that is in the documents.

It is in that context that the residents and voters of Mackay and that region want to know what their member has been up to. They are being obstructed at every turn, not by GBRMPA but by the third party. It is in that context that I had to come into this chamber and make this return to order. I did that in order to cast some light on the actions of Mrs Kelly. The allegation is that on 26 September 2003 Mrs Kelly and the then environment minister, Dr Kemp, had two meetings with 40 commercial fishers and one recreational fisher in two locations, Mackay and Bowen. It is said that on 15 October Mayor Demartini and members of Sunfish Mackay met a number of officers from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority—the month after the meeting that Mrs Kelly had—and were shown a changed map for Repulse Bay.

Sunfish Mackay was advised that, from a conservation point of view, GBRMPA preferred a yellow zone in Repulse Bay. That is what Sunfish wanted. The only reason given for the removal of the yellow zone was that it was a socioeconomic decision. I find that a very unusual response. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is a natural resource manager, not a fisheries manager. You know that, Senator Scullion, don't you? For GBRMPA to be saying that it was making a decision based on socioeconomic grounds is very unusual, to say the least, if not completely outside the charter.

Further, on Friday, 24 October the Mackay Daily Mercury, the local paper, ran an article where an officer of GBRMPA was quoted as having `confirmed that changes were proposed following very strong representations from the region's federal member on behalf of commercial fishers'. They were made on behalf of commercial fishers—not on behalf of her community, but on the behalf of one sector of her community. The Sunfish people met Mrs Kelly on 27 October to put their point of view. She stated that she would pass on the information to Minister Kemp, but that she would not take sides on the issue.

That is what we want to get to the truth of. Is Mrs Kelly taking sides on this issue? Has Mrs Kelly written to the authority? Has she written to the minister on behalf of one sector of her community, suggesting that one course of action should be taken? I suggest that Mrs Kelly should have done the right thing—the thing that I did. I said, `The process will continue. Be part of the process.' I said to the community, `Make sure your voice is heard and, providing the politicians can keep their fingers off this game, we will end up with an outcome that is scientifically based, fair and balanced.'

In most of the zonings across the region, I can say that that has almost happened. But at Repulse Bay there is evidence that it did not. That is why I and the people of Dawson need these documents. I easily tell the minister for the environment that Labor has consistently supported the representative area program—in Cairns, in Townsville and in Mackay. Wherever you want me to, I will say that. I will say it here in Canberra. But I know that the member for Leichhardt does not and I know that the member for Dawson does not. If we are talking about honesty, my record stands pure. I have said to the Sunfish people that I will not support an inquiry into the representative areas program—unlike the member for Dawson. They accept that. They understand that the race is lost on Repulse Bay. What they want is the truth. They want to know what their member did in order to change the zoning, working on behalf of one sector of the community against the others.

Senator Ian Campbell told a long story about the importance of commercial and recreational fishing, and the industry that hangs off that, including the tourism industry. I know that. I live there. For him to give me a lecture on that is outrageous, and that is the truth. But he actually got to the point when he said, `What we need to do is get to trust.' There is no trust at the moment in a range of sectors in the communities of North Queensland. There is very little trust in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and in the minister of the day. That trust has to be built so that faith in the management plan will deliver the results that we all want. The way to build that trust is to put the documents on the table. I advise the minister that I will not stop asking for those documents. If I need to, I will put another return to order on the table so that we in North Queensland get the truth about the actions of Mrs Kelly in the lead-up to the final zoning of Repulse Bay.

Question agreed to.