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Wednesday, 26 May 1993
Page: 1305

Senator CAMPBELL (11.43 a.m.) —May I say at the outset that it is wonderful to see so many young Australians in the galleries here today looking at the proceedings of the Senate from on high. I assure all of those people that it is not unusual for the Senate to look relatively unoccupied; senators from all parties are busily working away in their offices for the betterment of the nation so that all those young people grow up in a better Australia.

Senator Sherry —And committee work.

Senator CAMPBELL —They are also busy with committee work, as Senator Sherry says. We are here today to deal with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment Bill 1993. The Great Barrier Reef is a great part of world environmental heritage and a very important asset for Australia. I am sure that those in the gallery will be interested to know that this Bill seeks to ensure that the marine park authority will gain an additional source of revenue to ensure that the management of that park benefits all those who go to the Great Barrier Reef and are able to enjoy the natural beauty and some of the artificial infrastructure built up around the park.

  The tourism potential of the Great Barrier Reef is of course well known. The increase in tourism numbers to that part of the world, to enjoy the Great Barrier Reef and the other natural beauties of northern Queensland, is well understood. We are told that tourism around the Great Barrier Reef itself is worth in the vicinity of $1.4 billion each and every year. It is rapidly expanding and we all expect it to expand even more rapidly with the opening up through deregulation of national and international air services and with increasing tourism infrastructure in that region.

  These pressures make it much more important that these very fragile natural assets—both the wet tropics and the Great Barrier Reef region which is the subject of this Bill—be managed effectively. We need to ensure not only that this natural asset is protected but also that Australian citizens and people from other nations are able to enjoy this facility without damaging its very important natural beauty or the natural habitat. Speaking from the point of view of someone who has spent quite a lot of time sailing around the coastal waters of Australia, I guess that many people—particularly those who go to sea, whether in small boats or larger ships—would see the Great Barrier Reef not only as a natural asset but also as something to be avoided if they are travelling around in a ship.

  The general objective of this Bill is to raise a $1 per day per person charge. It is to be collected through the many tourist operators in this region. That money will go to the authority essentially for management purposes. The Opposition will be supporting this Bill, although we do have some reservations which were put by shadow Minister for the environment in the other place. Specifically, we do not want to see a diminution of the general funding that goes to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority—affectionately known as GBRMPA—because the research operations of the authority, as well as the management operations, are very important. As I have said, we have increasing pressure on the natural environment in the Great Barrier Reef region and therefore more money will need to go into its management.

  Although we support the user-pays principle, and the way that people who go to see the reef will be required to make a contribution to its management and ongoing research, we do not want to see the amount of funding which goes into the management of this park—be it through GBRMPA or other authorities—diluted. As pressure increases, the demand for research on management of the park and on how to balance the recreational needs with the environmental needs will also increase.

  The Opposition is also concerned to see that the charges are levied on people in a fair and equitable manner. We have some reservations about the fact that the charge is being collected only through tourist operators. However, we are cognisant of the fact that this is probably the most effective way of collecting these charges. Also, given our past experience with government imposed levies and charges, it would not be unreasonable to expect that this charge will creep up once it is introduced.

  I am sure that all honourable senators and honourable members of this Parliament will be keen to ensure that increases through this new form of taxation or levy are kept under scrutiny. That is not to say that the charge should not go up in the future; there may be good reasons for it to be increased. However, as people representing the citizens of Australia, we need to keep a watch on that.

  I have already mentioned the fact that recreational users who come onto the reef or into that region other than through tourist operators will not be subject to the charge. In that respect, the burden of the management of the park does not fall equitably on all of its users. But, of course, it would be hard to achieve the collection of the charge in any other way.

  At present the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority receives annually in the order of $14 million from the Federal Government, $3 million from the Queensland Government and a further $3 million from its own commercial operations. Having spoken to the people at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority during a couple of visits to that region in my role as a member of the Senate Standing Committee on the Environment, Recreation and the Arts—of which I know that you, Mr Acting Deputy President, are a very active and diligent member—I am aware that that authority is under enormous stress to carry out its functions with the fiscal restraint which is being imposed on all Federal Government activities by its gross economic mismanagement. To the extent that this user-pays fee collection process which this Bill encompasses will help relieve that situation,

it has our full support. On behalf of the Opposition, I commend these Bills to the Senate.