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Thursday, 10 March 2005
Page: 160

Senator BARTLETT (6:05 PM) —This document, relating to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, also has a Queensland theme. As I have said many times, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is not just a natural wonder of the world but an economic powerhouse for Australia. Perhaps it is appropriate, with the Minister for the Environment and Heritage in the chamber, that I repeat what I have said before: the significant increase in the protected areas of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park would undoubtedly be the most significant environmental achievement of this government. I hope he acknowledges, when he has the opportunity, that the process was strongly supported by me, as a Queensland senator, over many years. As he would know, the process did take many years—and it was good that it did, because it meant that the process was more fulsome and the community consultation was more complete. Not everybody is happy, because you can never have everybody happy, but it did ensure that as many people as possible had the opportunity to have a say and to become more aware of the facts—as opposed to what were some pretty dodgy scare campaigns being put around the place. There is no doubt that if you look purely at the economics of the situation, the better protection you can provide for the Barrier Reef Marine Park, the more employment and other flow-on economic opportunities and prosperity you get for my own state of Queensland.

The Productivity Commission did a report throughout this process which showed that the number of jobs generated out of the marine park—not just the reef and the coral itself but the wider marine park—was vastly in excess of the number of jobs coming from commercial fishing. I think it was about three per cent to 90 per cent. Not increasing the proportion the reef being protected because of the desires of the commercial fishing people would mean that you would actually cut your nose off—and probably a hell of a lot more—to spite what would be left of your face, because damage to the marine park damages the tourism opportunities and jobs that come from that.

Of course, it is about more than just economics. There are enormous environmental biodiversity opportunities and aspects of the marine park that are simply unique. It must be said that you could make the whole place—100 per cent of it—a protected area, not to be touched at all, and it would all still be significantly at risk from factors like climate change. Given that I gave the government a tick before on the rezoning of the marine park, I would have to give them a very big cross for their grotesque failure in the area of climate change, which actually puts all of the good work of the rezoning at risk.

Amongst other things, this annual report points to the science that was involved in the rezoning, and that is important because there is an ongoing campaign being run by some—not all—in the commercial fishing industry that this was driven by a bunch of greenies who want to lock everything up and that it was not science based. It was very much science based. As always, science is a developing area and is never perfect, but quite clearly it was based on science. Specifically, I draw the Senate’s attention to page 23 of the report, looking at whether each particular bioregion within the entire marine park, which is an enormous area, was given adequate protection by having no-take zones so that a sufficient amount of that bioregion would be, broadly speaking, undisturbed or suffer minimal disturbance to ensure that an adequate representation of that particular ecosystem had a reasonable chance of survival.

It is not just the spectacular areas with the coral and the marvellous fish; it is some of the not so exciting areas like mudflats, seagrass beds and other things that are still important for the ecosystem of the whole marine park. The science identified 70 individual bioregions and recommended that, in order to adequately protect the whole biodiversity and ecosystem function a minimum of 20 per cent of each bioregion should be designated as protected. That was the starting point; that is why it was called a representative areas program. That science was the basis of what happened.

As I have mentioned a number of times, I still have concerns about areas that I would have liked to be different, and I think it can continue to be improved. There are still big challenges to make sure that these areas are properly managed and that we build on this advance, and that must be acknowledged. We need to make sure that talk about weakening the management powers of the authority is resisted at every opportunity as well. There is still a long way to go and we do not want to waste all those years of effort to push things up that extra step.

Question agreed to.