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Wednesday, 26 May 1993
Page: 1307


Senator COULTER (11.50 a.m.) —The Australian Democrats also support the passage of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (Environmental Management Charge—General) Bill 1993, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (Environmental Management Charge—Excise) Bill 1993 and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment Bill 1993. We believe that these Bills will add significantly to the proper management of the tourist impact on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. We note that the Great Barrier Reef has been made a World Heritage area. However, it is also an area in which a range of commercial activities continue to function extremely profitably.

  It is important for people to understand that the declaration of an area as a World Heritage does not necessarily mean the curtailment of economic activities. As Senator Campbell has just pointed out, when one looks at the $1 billion to $1.6 billion of income which comes from tourism on the Great Barrier Reef, one sees that the amount raised under this levy scheme of just over $1m is 0.1 per cent of the total revenue raised through tourism on the reef. It is a very small amount. One must also observe that the return on the investment is extremely large.

  I just wanted to make the point that here we have a World Heritage area which is being used in a commercial way, responsibly without serious damage. This charge will add to the reef's better management. For those who look at the declaration of other areas with certain circumspection because they are concerned that it might interfere with commercial activities, I invite them to look at the Great Barrier Reef and see that, in that case, not only is the commercial use of a World Heritage area consistent with that declaration but also that the commercialisation of those natural assets often leads to an extremely profitable venture.

  We are in favour of the passage of these related Bills. We believe that the introduction of a charge on commercial operators is an example of ecologically sustainable development at work on the Great Barrier Reef. It is a mechanism by which the current users of the reef can be made to pick up some of the cost of damage and potential damage to the reef. This will ensure that the reef will be there for the enjoyment of further generations and also for the protection of the indigenous species. We must not forget that ecologically sustainable development does not mean only the protection of species and ecologies for the enjoyment of future generations of humans; it also means the protection and preservation in the long term for their own sake.

  The park has been recognised internationally not only for its World Heritage values but also for the very successful balance of environmental and economic concerns which have been institutionalised in the management of the park. The establishment of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority back in 1976 allowed a single agency to research and manage the impacts of tourism, fishing, mariculture, agriculture, human settlements, coastal development and other activities in the marine park.

  I understand that the charge will be administered by the marine park authority. Although the charge will be passed on to the consumer of the commercial service, the cost per person will essentially be insignificant. The charge will have no negative social equity effects. However, it will raise between $1.25 million and $1.5 million per year to be spent on research, education, information and better protection of the park.

  I interpolate at this point that the Democrats are concerned that charges such as this should be levied in a socially equitable way and that the imposition of a charge should not be used as a mechanism by which progressively government is relieved of the responsibility of looking after the park. We would be very concerned that the charge not be progressively raised and the charge become a mechanism for revenue rather than a mechanism of addressing—


Senator Watson —That is a false hope.


Senator COULTER —I think it is important to inject that note into these issues precisely for that reason—to express the concern we all have, because we have seen it in so many other ways in which quite modest charges have been introduced, and then it has progressively become a mechanism by which government is relieved of its important responsibilities. The charge is extremely small when compared with a total amount—as I have said, perhaps something of the order of $1 billion to $1.6 billion. So the charge represents something of the order of 0.1 per cent of the gross income from tourism on the reef. We are satisfied that the amount raised will significantly boost the revenue available to the authority.

  I am also pleased to note that the Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories (Mrs Kelly) stated in her second reading speech that the introduction of the charge will not lead to a modification of current arrangements for funding the authority through Budget appropriations—I stress that again—but is specifically aimed at offsetting the costs of increasing commercial use of the park. The charge is related to the number of passengers on commercial tourist boats using the park on a daily basis. The great majority of park visitors take advantage of commercial operators to view the park's attractions. A charge is certainly a rational way of spreading the costs as the revenue raised would increase or decrease according to the number of tourists visiting the park. Therefore, the charge is directly related to the impact of humans on the park.

  The obvious omission, and this has been referred to by Senator Campbell, is the relatively small group of tourists who visit the reef on a private non-commercial basis on non-commercial boats. These people may have—and this is only a hypothetical situation—a greater impact on the reef because they are not exposed to the interpretive material in relation to the values of the park and the responsibilities of park users provided by the commercial operators or by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. These people can, in one way, be regarded as free-riders or, in another sense, as romantic travellers operating outside the strictures of regulation. However one views them, there is no way of denying that they will receive a benefit for which others will be obliged to pay when these charges come into operation. I am therefore in support of a proposal to introduce charges on boat owners who use their personal boats to view the park. All private boat owners would pay a fee to the marine park authority when they register their presence in the park. We believe that this would be relatively easy to capture in some suitable way.

  The other issue I want to raise is recreational fishing within the park. Recreational fishing has a significant impact on the fisheries resource within the park. A survey undertaken in 1991 by Dr Tor Hundloe and Mr Russell Blamey of Griffith University estimated that in 1990 between 3.5 million and 4.3 million kilograms of fish were caught by recreational fishers on the reef, compared with an estimated commercial catch of 4 million kilograms. In other words, the recreational fishers caught the same weight of fish as their commercial counterparts.

  Another significant finding of the survey was that the weight of fish—this is, the weight of the individual fish caught—had fallen by an estimated 40 per cent since similar estimations were made with respect to the 1980 catch. The survey also found that the average size of fish caught in reef waters off Mackay was 1.4 kilograms, a fall of 39 per cent from the average reported in a survey of 1980. In waters off Townsville, the average size had fallen by 19 per cent. Clearly, the increase in recreational fishing in the reef is having a significant impact on fish stocks.

  I understand that the Deputy Premier of Queensland, Mr Tom Burns, and the State Minister for Primary Industries, Mr Edmund Casey, have called an inquiry into recreational fishing in Queensland. I hope that this will lead to better management of recreational fishing along the entire Queensland coastline and within inland waters. I would urge the New South Wales and Victorian governments to undertake a similar inquiry, as recreational fishing is heaviest along the east coast of Australia.

  Senators would be aware that the management of fisheries under Commonwealth control is currently being reviewed by the Senate Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. It is certainly true that the human impact on fish stocks throughout Australia, both inland and off the coasts, has been extremely damaging, and fisheries generally are not being managed in a sustainable way. In passing, I point out that increasing populations of humans, if they are going to enjoy access to fish, will further impact on the fish stocks of this country.

  I note that in tandem with the Queensland inquiry the Commonwealth is developing a national policy on recreational fishing. A draft discussion paper was released in December last year. The paper includes a number of revenue raising measures, such as direct contributions by the Commonwealth, the wholesale fishing gear levy and the introduction of State or Territory fees by way of licences, fees or tags on recreational fishers.

  The Democrats support, in principle, options to raise revenue to regulate recreational fishing, given its significant impact on the Australian fish stock. The bottom line in any recreational pursuit is that an activity must not threaten a species with extension or impede the recovery of a threatened species. However, the Democrats are mindful of the social implications of such measures, given that recreational fishing is such an important leisure activity. Any options will therefore be considered within a framework that integrates social and environmental interests.

  In conclusion, the Democrats fully support this legislation and will not be seeking any amendments to it. The charge will help to raise revenue for research and enhance management of human impact on the reef. It is not designed as an entry fee but simply as a levy on commercial operators so that they can contribute to the maintenance of a World Heritage area in which the World Heritage values of the reef must be protected.

  I hope that the other policy options discussed in this speech will be pursued with vigour by the relevant authorities in order to ensure that the reef is protected for the enjoyment and inspiration of all current and future generations and also, I stress, because of the intrinsic value of the reef, and the value of the species of flora and fauna which inhabit that reef.