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Wednesday, 3 September 2014
Page: 6411

Senator SINGH (Tasmania) (18:32): I rise to speak about the tabling of this report into the management of the Great Barrier Reef. If there is one part of Senator Macdonald's contribution that I can agree with it is that, yes, the Great Barrier Reef is certainly an iconic and most important part of the Australia's natural environment. So much so that there are some 29 recommendations in this report that go to the very heart of what the government needs to do to protect the reef into the future.

If I can just start by thanking the committee members who participated in the inquiry and also thank all of the experts and community members who gave evidence. It was through their input—and, obviously, through the committee listening and taking their evidence on board—that we have come forward in this Senate with a really good report, which I encourage all senators to read, on how we go forward and protect and deal with the Great Barrier Reef.

I would like to highlight two of the recommendations because they do go to the heart of what is needed for the Great Barrier Reef to continue to be one of the seven wonders of the world and, indeed, to continue to be protected and a natural asset. That is certainly something as legislators can say we all played our part to ensure that it remains in its beautiful state.

Of course, those recommendations go to the heart of the dredge spoil dumping in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area. There was a lot of evidence put forward highlighting that we do need to very seriously consider a ban on the disposal of dredge spoil in the Great Barrier Reef waters. It is causing damage, and it is something that this committee listened to in great detail. I think the only way forward for government is, at some point, to seriously recognise the importance of what this dredge spoil dumping is doing to the waters of the Great Barrier Reef and in that sense to go forward and make informed decisions based on those two recommendations about any future approval processes for projects.

Only this week—despite the lack of leadership that this government shows in relation to the Great Barrier Reef and the complete lack of care from Minister Greg Hunt—we have seen a consortium of business leaders who have a project decide not to dump dredge spoil in the waters but, rather, to focus on the land when it comes to this very issue.

This is something that has to be taken very seriously by this government. Unfortunately, though, up until now, the government have form for not taking it seriously at all, despite the fact that this is a major tourism economic driver for our country and given the number of tourists, including me, who go scuba diving and diving on the Great Barrier Reef and who want to see this beautiful, iconic part of our country. Despite all that we have absolutely no care or leadership from the government, so much so that they want to give those protections and powers of the approval process that are legislated through the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to the Queensland government. What an absolute shame it would be to have Campbell Newman in charge of approving projects of national environmental significance in the Great Barrier Reef. The legislation giving bilateral approval powers to the states that is currently before the Senate goes further than that—it allows the states to derogate those powers to councils. So we could have the Mackay Council having more power than the federal environment minister in deciding development projects on the Great Barrier Reef.

I do thank the committee and the experts for their evidence, which urges governments to focus on reducing those threats to the reef. The committee looked in great detail at all of this, but we know that at the end of the day this government takes a very different view of the Great Barrier Reef: they want every bit of coal in Queensland dug up without any thought or care for the Great Barrier Reef. That is their priority and their focus: getting the coal out, stopping renewable energy and continuing to trash Great Barrier Reef in the process.

Opposition senators will not allow that to happen; we care very much for this iconic part of our nation; and we care in the same way for the heritage forests listed in Tasmania. That is another area where the government has form—it tried to delist those forests and was laughed out of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. As Senator Waters suggested, we may see the situation where UNESCO does list the Great Barrier Reef as endangered. It will be on this government's watch that that will happen and it will be because they have let it go so badly in the development process—giving the approvals to Campbell Newman and councils and all the power to miners—all to the detriment of the reef. The opposition will not allow that to occur. We want the government to seriously consider a ban on dredge spoil dumping in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef. There are other areas for that dredge spoil to be dumped, and the options for land dumping need further consideration.

Again I thank the committee, the experts—the scientists and those in the know and who do care—who have helped the committee in formulating this important report that every government senator, particularly every government senator from Queensland and especially environment minister Greg Hunt, should read. Indeed, Mr Hunt should start standing up for Australia's environment full stop. Thus far he has form for doing none of the above.