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Wednesday, 18 November 2009
Page: 8280

Senator McLUCAS (6:53 PM) —Yesterday in this chamber the Senate made an important decision about the future of the Coral Sea. It was the intention of those sitting opposite that the Senate would in fact not vote on this important regulation because of the way the disallowance was being taken through. The reality is that I did not get an opportunity to speak because of that, and I take this opportunity now to put down in Hansard some commitments the government has made to Senator Xenophon in his discussions with Minister Garrett’s office.

Senator Xenophon raised questions about consultation. There has been extensive consultation since the East Marine Bioregional Profile was released in May 2009. The aim of this stage of the consultation has been to confirm the accuracy of the information in the profile and to identify, and where possible fill, any information gaps. Since January 2009, DEWHA has held over 120 meetings with individuals or groups. This included three regional assessment workshops in Cairns, Brisbane and Sydney in mid-2009. About 700 profiles have been provided to interested stakeholder groups and several thousand profile summaries have been distributed. The department has appointed a dedicated east marine region liaison officer, based in Brisbane, who is focused on consultation.

In October 2009, Minister Garrett agreed to a six-month extension to the planning process in the east marine region. This extension will enable an extended period for developing the draft East Marine Bioregional Plan. The next stage is that late in 2009 DEWHA will release the areas of further assessment for the east marine region. These will identify broad areas of interest in which marine protected areas may be identified. The aim of this stage is to collect finer scale information about stakeholders’ uses, values and interests in these areas. Approximately 40 information sessions are planned across the region with the commercial fishing sector; recreational fishing sector; conservation NGOs; Indigenous, tourism, shipping, ports, oil and gas sectors; as well as the Commonwealth government, state government and Norfolk Island government.

In mid-2010, the government will release a draft East Marine Bioregional Plan, which will include a draft proposal for a Commonwealth marine reserves network. Under the EPBC Act, DEWHA must conduct a period of statutory consultation of at least 60 days following the release of the draft plan and prior to any permanent protection measures being put in place. Meetings with stakeholder groups in regional centres are planned to coincide with the release of the draft plan. In addition, public information sessions will be held. Once the government has finalised the East Marine Bioregional Plan, it will establish any Commonwealth marine reserves. These are scheduled to be completed by the end of 2012. Under the EPBC Act, DEWHA must conduct another period of statutory consultation of at least 60 days at this point also.

The other issue that was raised is the question of permittee’s staff. In the interests of allaying concerns about the Coral Sea conservation zone the government will remove condition 4 of the conditions of permit for commercial tourism operations, which says:

The Permittee’s staff must not include any person who has been convicted of an offence against the Act or the Regulations within five years of the date of conviction.

The condition is understood to apply to very few people in any case but, if this will allay the Senate’s concern, the government is willing to remove it.

Condition 19 of the conditions of permit for commercial tourism operations requires the permittee to notify the department as soon as possible in the event of a person being injured or going missing in a conservation zone. This condition is obviously to be interpreted reasonably. Let there be no doubt that the protection of human life and safety should come first and that informing rescue authorities is the highest priority. Finally, on the question of SCUBA qualifications: to clarify condition 21 of the conditions of permit for commercial tourism operations, people undertaking snorkelling activities do not require a SCUBA diving qualification.

Can I put on the record the fact that the government is committed to both protecting the biological diversity in the oceans that we manage and addressing the issues of ecologically sustainable use of ocean resources. Let me make this perfectly clear, particularly to the senators sitting opposite: the Coral Sea has been declared a conservation zone. It is not a heritage park. The Australian government has not declared the Coral Sea a heritage park and is not considering the proposal by the Pew Charitable Trust to establish a Coral Sea heritage park. As the east marine bioregional profile recognises, the Coral Sea is internationally significant for its unique biodiversity and important heritage values and must be protected for future generations.

Senator Ian Macdonald —It’s been used for 100 years.

Senator McLUCAS —Recognising the unique characteristics of this, yes, near-pristine area, the conservation zone has been established to provide interim protection while a detailed assessment of the area is being undertaken. The conservation zone is not intended to stop any existing activities in that region. The conservation zone will be revoked with the establishment of the East Marine Region network of representative marine protected areas.

I make it very clear to this Senate, and to Senator Macdonald and Senator Boswell and the people that he talks to in my city of Cairns—because he cannot get any traction in his own town—that this is about making sure that the current uses of the Coral Sea are being maintained.

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting—

Senator McLUCAS —I enjoyed walking up and laying my wreath in Townsville with you the other day.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Barnett)—Senator McLucas and Senator Macdonald, you will cease the interjections. Senator McLucas, you will address your comments through the chair.

Senator McLUCAS —Let’s go to the impact of the Coral Sea Conservation Zone on activities in the area. Recreational and commercial fishing are unaffected by the Coral Sea Conservation Zone. They will continue to be managed under the relevant existing Commonwealth and Queensland regulations. Commercial tourist operations, including charter fishing, require a permit. These are issued by the environment department free of charge and—this is important—they are transferable. There has been misinformation spread in Cairns, particularly amongst the fishing sector, to say that they are not; but they are transferable.

Can I also say that in Senator Boswell’s press release of 19 August, he intentionally misled anyone who read it. He said that his disallowance motion ‘will stop the Coral Sea heritage park from going ahead’. As we know, that is plainly misleading and incorrect. All along Senator Boswell has attempted to conflate the government’s Coral Sea Conservation Zone, in which fishing can continue, with the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Coral Sea heritage park, which does propose an end to fishing. As I have said, we are not contemplating adopting Pew’s proposal. The facts are that the Coral Sea heritage park is a proposal from a coalition of non-government organisations. It was not given effect at all by the declaration of the Coral Sea Conservation Zone.

Now that the motion has been defeated the assessment will continue under the east marine bioregion process. The coalition has attempted to argue that the Coral Sea Conservation Zone is universally opposed by fishing interests. This is far from correct. On 19 May the Queensland Seafood Industry Association, the peak industry body in Queensland, issued a media release welcoming the announcement of the Coral Sea Conservation Zone, noting that it is committed to playing an active role with the Australian government to protect the marine environment in the region. The government appreciates the constructive role that QSIA is playing. (Time expired)