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Tuesday, 8 March 2005
Page: 93

Senator McLUCAS (6:55 PM) —I also wish to take note of the Wet Tropics Management Authority’s annual report. In doing so, I pay tribute to Lieutenant General John Grey, the chair of the authority, for his leadership in some difficult times. I also want to pay tribute to Russell Watkinson, the former CEO of the Wet Tropics Management Authority, for his stewardship of the authority over a number of years and the leadership that he showed in bringing the community together around the preservation of this environmental, economic and social asset that is important not only to the people of Far North Queensland but to all of us in Australia and, as Senator Bartlett has said, across the world, given its World Heritage status.

In my few comments tonight I want to focus on one particular area of the wet tropics that gets a lot of attention. In saying this, I want to be very clear that the wet tropics are not the Daintree. The wet tropics traverse an area from Paluma, just north of Townsville, almost to Cooktown. Whilst the national focus is always very much on the area north of the Daintree River, between the Daintree and the Bloomfield rivers, we must remember it is a much larger resource than the area that we focus on. The reason we focus on the area called the Daintree is what Senator Bartlett alluded to: the fact that, under the National Party government in the 1980s, under the stewardship of Russ Hinze, it was agreed to freehold a large tract of land, much of which had never been logged. This is incredibly significant lowland wetlands. It is an ecosystem not replicated anywhere in Australia, and very few places in the world have this type of ecosystem. But the Bjelke-Petersen government agreed to sell it off to Mr Quaid.

When Labor came into government subsequently, we started what we call the Daintree buyback process. I have to say that, irrespective of your politics, as soon as you get to this area you realise and you agree that that is the appropriate thing to do. Unfortunately, the policy adopted under the Hawke-Keating years has not been adopted by this government, although there is some sort of piecemeal or platitudinous acceptance that something has to happen. Everyone understands that you cannot have housing blocks of one hectare in a rainforest where a house and then the garage and then the dog and the cat will go. They do not live very well with the cassowary, I am afraid.

Unfortunately, during the election campaign of last year, the difference between the coalition and the Labor Party was very clearly defined. Labor committed to reinvesting $7 million, along with the state and with commitment from the Douglas Shire Council, to continue the program, to finish the job of buyback and to make sure that our contribution in a financial sense sat well with the planning instruments that the Douglas Shire Council had developed. Senator Meg Lees was involved in those discussions with the government at the same time.

I have to report to the Senate the disturbing events at a very large rally held in Port Douglas a couple of weeks before election day, when various parties put their position. Unfortunately, the local Liberal member could not be there. They sent somebody to videotape the event, which I thought was quite interesting. The Mayor of the Douglas Shire Council read out a letter that was sent to Senator Lees by the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, which made a commitment that funds that were allocated to the buyback would not go through the Australian Rainforest Foundation. Unfortunately, at that same rally, a letter from Mr Entsch was read out that said that of course the money would go through the Australian Rainforest Foundation. I do not know what this government thinks about people in Far North Queensland, but to send two separate messages and to think we do not talk to each other is a bit silly. There was a lot of confusion and a lot of anger at that rally. It was a reflection on the duplicity of this government in its treatment of people in more far-flung areas. I commend the Queensland government for what they have done.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Sandy Macdonald)—Order, Senator McLucas, your time has expired.

Senator McLUCAS —I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.