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Tuesday, 8 March 2005
Page: 92

Senator BARTLETT (6:50 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

The annual report of the Wet Tropics Management Authority concerns an incredibly important and unique area in my home state of Queensland that is best known for the Daintree rainforest but also covers areas further south of Cairns, right down to Townsville. This area is very significant in terms of its environmental value and is unique in a whole range of extraordinarily important ways. It is a particularly outstanding example of one of the major stages of earth’s evolutionary history. It also has significant cultural heritage values, although it is not listed for that reason as yet under the World Heritage Convention. Certainly I would support the proper listing in consultation with the many different groups of Indigenous people who still live in the World Heritage area.

Many times I have spoken in this chamber about the threat in particular to the Daintree rainforest and especially those areas that are not within the World Heritage area but are in the middle of it and surrounded by it—areas that were subdivided during the not particularly lamented Bjelke-Petersen era. Incredibly valuable ecological areas of rainforest were basically subdivided into suburban blocks. Many of those are still covered with rainforest but are still at risk of being cleared. I know the local shire council in particular and also the state government, and lately and belatedly the federal government, have been trying to ensure that those areas are protected.

This report talks about another environmentally significant region that was voluntarily acquired: 98 undeveloped lots of freehold land to the north of Russell Heads, located 45 kilometres south of Cairns. That is an area that was voluntarily acquired. It guaranteed the protection of freshwater swamp, and the complex sand dune system in the coastal lowlands of the World Heritage area has now been transferred into the Queensland national park. It is unfortunate that the ongoing battle over securing incredibly valuable areas in the Daintree has not been resolved. These are areas where literally the last remaining examples of species of plants in particular survive. Areas containing species that were thought to be extinct until being rediscovered recently are still at risk of being cleared just to put houses on them. It is ridiculous that that risk is still there. I am pleased that there has been some progress but, until it is absolutely locked in and guaranteed that those areas can no longer be cleared, I will certainly continue to raise concerns.

This report also mentions an application that is currently in place for a proposed construction by the Department of Main Roads in Queensland of a four-lane highway from Smithfield to Kuranda. This proposal has the potential to have a very significant impact on the World Heritage area, and it certainly causes me a lot of concern. I hope the authority does ensure that a proper look is given to that proposal. I mention also my concern about the ability of the authority in general to fulfil its tasks properly. It has an incredibly important role, not just in protecting the unique environmental assets of this area; let us not forget the incredibly important economic benefit it brings to Far North Queensland.

There are an immense number of threats that continue to apply to the wet tropics area, in part because of its popularity. It is a difficult balancing act, but we certainly do not want the authority underresourced, with uncertainty about funding or with uncertainty about how it is going to be able to operate in the future. That needs to be addressed. It is something I am watching closely. I also notice the seven-year review of the management plan is about to commence. That is also an issue that I believe is very important. It involves the local community—the local Indigenous people in particular—and also the wider Queensland and Australian community because it is an area, as its name implies, that is of world value and must be protected.