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Monday, 23 March 1987
Page: 1283

Mr CHYNOWETH —Is the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment aware of statements in the Press concerning, firstly, the Queensland Government's plans to introduce legislation allowing perpetual leases on Great Barrier Reef islands to be converted to freehold title and, secondly, further Queensland plans, outlined in the Press this weekend, to circumvent a Federal Government decision protecting Shelburne Bay from a damaging mining proposal?

Mr COHEN —I have heard that the Queensland Government proposes to change land tenure on the Barrier Reef islands from leasehold to freehold. The question we must ask ourselves is: Why? I think the answer is fairly simple; it is another example of the Premier of Queensland helping his little mates. Let me assure the House that this Government is not going to stand by and watch one of the great environmental masterpieces of the world be sold to anyone who wishes to exploit it. The Leader of the Liberal Party of Australia has come out in opposition to it, and I commend him for that. But what is the coalition's view? What is the view of the National Party of Australia? Senator Collard is the shadow spokesman for the environment. Every time he makes a statement on the environment he sounds like Whelan the Wrecker. In fact he sounds as though he would do for the environment what Colonel Sanders did for the chicken.

All Australians recognise the need to protect the Great Barrier Reef. We can go back to the Whitlam Government, which first of all introduced the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act; then the Fraser Government, which implemented it; and, finally, the Hawke Government, which fulfilled the requirements of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act and made it a reality. It was introduced by the Whitlam Government, proclaimed by the Fraser Government and fulfilled by the Hawke Government. The Great Barrier Reef was nominated jointly by the Fraser Government and Bjelke-Petersen Government for the World Heritage List. One of the reasons for its easy acceptance by the committee of the United Nation's Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation was that the Government could guarantee to protect it through the fact that much of it was in national park areas, almost all of it was within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and there was leasehold and not freehold tenure. If the tenure of the land is changed, that protection is reduced.

This Government has two pieces of legislation at its disposal-the World Heritage Properties Conservation Act, which obliges us as the Federal Government to ensure protection of the whole of the area, and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act, which, of course, enables us to administer the reef park jointly with the Queensland Government. As honourable members will know, the Commonwealth has sovereignty up to the low water mark, so any developer who proposed any large scale development on the Great Barrier Reef islands-for instance, if he proposed to build a jetty or if, as happened in one place, someone proposed to build an airport runway out into the reef, or if any action resulting in sewage or effluent disposal was involved-would need the approval of the Commonwealth Government. Let me assure the House that this Government will take every action at its disposal to ensure that no damage ever occurs to Australia's great masterpiece, the Great Barrier Reef.