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Wednesday, 6 December 2017
Page: 9949

Senator URQUHART (TasmaniaOpposition Whip in the Senate) (17:21): I also rise to take note of the report of the Environment and Communications Reference Committee inquiry into the impacts of climate change on marine fisheries and biodiversity. I want to start by thanking the chair and my colleagues for their work on this inquiry, as well as all those who made submissions and gave evidence at the hearings. And of course I thank our wonderful secretariat, who always go above and beyond both to help us and to make sure everything runs smoothly.

For this inquiry we held six hearings across the east coast of Australia, from Cairns to Hobart. We heard from scientists, fishermen, tourism operators, conservationists and government agencies, so it was a broad range of people who came along to give evidence to the hearing. We heard a clear message from those people that our oceans are warming and that we must do more. It was a very clear message from all the groups of people who attended as witnesses.

One area where we could do more right now is in our marine protected areas. What the Abbott-Turnbull government has done is nothing short of a disgrace. For the first time ever, a government has proposed deep cuts to the protected marine zones declared by the Governor-General in 2012 and to longstanding marine parks declared over the past 30 years. Under the member for Wentworth's leadership, 40 million hectares of high-level green zone/marine national park are to be downgraded. This is unprecedented globally and not science based. The CSIRO recommends that each marine park should have at least one green zone/marine national park, yet 16 of the marine parks would have no high-level protection under the government's 2017 proposals.

The government's own expert scientific panel recommended that all primary conservation features have at least some representation within the green zones/marine national parks, yet the draft plans leave 259 of Australia's primary conservation features and 20 entire biological regions unrepresented in high protection. These zones keep marine ecosystems functioning in their natural state without the pressure of mining or fishing. Reefs protected in green zones/marine national parks have significantly higher numbers of fish and are recovering much faster from cyclone and coral bleaching damage than adjacent unprotected reefs. One study in the Great Barrier Reef found that the difference in the number of coral trout between the protected areas and what's next-door is 80 per cent—an 80 per cent difference in biomass between the protected areas and what's immediately adjacent to them.

Australia used to have a bipartisan legacy of marine protection stretching back over 40 years to the Whitlam and Fraser governments. Having secured, in 1998, an agreement from the Australian and New Zealand Environment Conservation Council to declare the world's first network of science based marine parks, in 2004 the Howard government set what has been described as the 'gold standard' for marine park management by declaring green zones in 34 per cent of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Between them, the Howard and Gillard governments declared 60 federal marine parks and completed the network.

As Senator Whish-Wilson has outlined, this committee report recommends a number of measures that this parliament should consider to protect our priceless marine environment in the face of global warming. I commend it to the Senate.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.