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Thursday, 1 June 1972
Page: 2446

Senator GEORGES (Queensland) - This very important Bill relates to the setting up of the Australian Institute of Marine Science and is supported and welcomed by the Opposition. In brief, in 1970 the Government introduced a Bill for the establishment of an Australian Institute of Marine Science as a first step towards correcting deficiencies in our work in marine science. That Act provided that there should be an institute known as the Australian Institute of Marine Science and it should be located in the vicinity of Townsville. One cannot under-estimate or overemphasise the importance of the establishment of this Marine Institute, especially since it will develop skills in marine biology and stimulate research into marine biology and the marine ecology which is desperately needed in this country. It will upgrade the level of these studies and it is hoped that, provided the Government makes money available it will quickly reach a sufficiently high standard to achieve an international reputation.

The location of the Institute has been in question. Some criticisms have been made that the marine environment of Townsville has been subjected to some metal pollution. If this is so, I trust that the Minister for National Development (Mr Swartz) will be able to advise what steps have been taken to correct this situation and to prevent the metal pollution of an area which is not only vital to the proposed Marine Institute but also vital to the Great Barrier Reef which lies off-shore from the site of the proposed Marine Institute. 1 have spoken previously of the dangers of nickel contamination, especially in the marine environment because there it escalates at a great rate. Marine metal pollution is not limited to the immediate area. Because of the type of environment, the pollution can spread up and down the whole of the province of the Great Barrier Reef and to areas outside it. Reference have been made here before to mercury and nickel pollution and other forms of metal pollution in the marine environment. It has been said that the escalation rapidly compounds itself and the major fish of the Reef can be the most affected. The fishing industry of the north could be seriously limited. The work of the Institute will be limited unless metal pollution in the region is controlled in some way.

It is tragic, and I must highlight it, that the work of the Institute will be affected by the severe devastation caused to the reefs near Townsville by the crown of thorns starfish. It is a great pity that the area from Cooktown almost as far as Bowen has been savagely devasted by the crown of thorns. The ability of the Institute to carry out research in that area will be limited by the fact that the reefs have been considerably damaged and the fish and marine organisms within that area have been greatly affected. However, on the credit side it may mean that the Institute can carry out substantial investigation into this important problem which faces the Great Barrier Reef. It cannot be overestimated, in spite of conflicting reports from scientists.

The threat to the Great Barrier Reef by the crown of thorns has been established as a major one. It is hoped that the Institute will be given first priority, or a priority that will enable it to spend money and to exercise its skill and research in finding the base cause of the epidemic. Those of us who fear for the future of the Great Barrier Reef are caught in the conflict between the scientists who say that it is a cyclic epidemic and the scientists who say that it is man made. The scientists who say that it is cyclic say 'Let it take its course', but they do not say whether the cycle will last for 10, 15, 100, 200 or even 500 years.

If it is a man made epidemic, man must undertake immediate and strong control measures. It is hoped that the Institute will take immediate action to determine and define the cause so that the necessary measures against the crown of thorns can be taken. I emphasise this matter because I believe that the establishment of the Institute is of great importance in view of this major threat. I encourage honourable senators who have not acquainted themselves with the crown of thorns problem to read the latest book on the starfish plague, a documentary titled 'Crown of Thorns - The Death of The Great Barrier Reef?', written by Theo W. Brown in association with Keith Willey, lt is not freely available at present, but it has been reviewed. Honourable senators who are concerned about the future of the Reef and the threat to it posed by the crown of thorns ought to read the book.

For far too long the true threat has been underestimated, and perhaps deliberately so. Perhaps the problem has been deliberately underestimated by the Queensland Government which was responsible for the suppression of the first report in 1966 which gave the initial warning of the threat. The appalling situation is that the report was not published and the findings were not made publicly available, with the result that the Reef was subjected to considerable devastation without any action being taken. The establishment of the Institute will add to the small amount of money that has been made available for research, provided that in the programme of the Institute priority is given to this research work. 1 strongly recommend to the Government that the matter be brought: before the people who are responsible for the setting up of the Institute.

In Queensland, because of the reluctance of the Government to take immediate action, members of the public have become involved. They have set up, through various means, the 'Save the Reef Committee'. This Committee has begun training scuba divers in the skills required to participate in research programmes and control measures which the Government or the Institute may set up. These divers will take some time to train. They will be put through an internationally recognised programme so that divers, in numbers, will be available on a voluntary basis to assist in research programmes. The scheme has been rubbished out of hand by the Queensland Premier who has no real conception of the needs of the area. I trust that the Commonwealth Government will not adopt a similar attitude. In addition to the establishment of the 'Save the Reef Committee' in Brisbane, a similar committee has been established in New South Wales and a further committee is to be established-

Senator Maunsell - They are established everywhere except in the area of the Great Barrier Reef.

Senator GEORGES - For the information of Senator Maunsell I point out that a further committee is to be established in Rockhampton on 14th June. If he cares to attend the meeting on that date and to participate, he will be welcomed. In his area the resort managers have appealed to the Government to stop research into the crown of thorns because they feel that any public announcement of the position may in some way limit their return through a downgrading of the area. That attitude ought not to be taken. The devastation is there and it has to be corrected. I have referred to the establishment of volunteer groups. Unless there is great public involvement supporting government action, the future of the Reef may be in some danger. If these organisations are to train divers, the assistance of the divers should be accepted by governments and the Institute because, sooner or later, divers in numbers will be needed to carry out surveillance programmes and control measures. Eventually, it may be necessary for the Federal Government to support these people in their fund raising efforts by subsidising them dollar for dollar in the same way as surf life saving groups are subsidised up and down the coast. To employ people in numbers to carry out the necessary research and to provide remuneration for them would involve tremendous expense which the Government possibly would not be able to meet and from which responsibility the Government would be inclined to withdraw.

Let me make another point as to why it is so necessary that this Institute should not only be established but also be financed properly. The amount of money which is being spent on coral reef research now is not as great as we had hoped last year that it would be. Honourable senators will recall that the American authorities announced that they were going to spend $4.5m on research into the crownof.thorns starfish problem in areas which came under their responsibility. Unfortunately, that research has not been funded. That amount of money is not available

The only amount of money which has been made available is local money from local governments. The Commonwealth proposal provides some money. I say that it is not sufficient, but I am hoping that the proposed Marine Institute will take up the slack.

An amount of money has been provided by the British authorities for research in the Red Sea. I make this point: I trust that the Institute will quickly establish liaison with other similar institute and marine groups in the Pacific area and other overseas areas. Dr Rhodes who leads the British expedition to the Red Sea has made the comment that it has been difficult to set up any lines of communication with Australian scientists. I trust that we will emphasise to those who are setting up this Institute that it is necessary to liaise with other authorities and with other researchers carrying out similar programmes so that efforts may be coordinated and expenditures may be reduced.

While in Honolulu recently I participated in a 3-way conversation, conducted by satellite, on the crown-of-thorns problem. There is a programme called the Peace-Sat. Programme' which I recommend to those who will set up the Australian Institute. It involves the establishment of ground stations in various places in the Pacific. Groups of scientists can be linked via the satellite for discussion periods of from one hour to 2 hours. I suggest that the Institute consider setting up the first ground station in the South Pacific area in Australia. It could be done through this Peace-Sat. Programme. That first ground station ought to be established at Townsville in conjunction with the Australian Institute of Marine Science so that conversations, discussions and seminars can be carried out through the satellite programme. In this way marine scientists in Fiji, Honolulu and New Zealand and other places would be able to talk to scientists at our new Marine Institute.

Unless this Institute is properly funded and unless it receives continuing support it cannot take its place as an international institute. One questions the amount of money which has been made available. I take it the Minister for Works (Senator Wright) will assure us in some way that this money is merely initial expenditure and that it will not be completely used in the provision of buildings but will be an amount which will increase continually to provide funds with which to enlist from various parts of the world first class scientists in support of the programme which is to be carried out.

The Great Barrier Reef is unique and deserves to have associated with it a marine institute of international standing. 1 trust that the programme that the Government has initiated will lead to this development and will do so quickly, otherwise the value and beauty of the Great Barrier Reef, a vast complex extending for more than 1,500 miles almost from New Guinea down the eastern coast of Queensland, may be affected greatly. The pressures to exploit the reef for purposes other than research are so great that we may find that, before the Marine Institute has a chance to develop, the Barrier Reef may be so affected that the work of the Marine Institute also will be affected.

It is a great pity - I think that my colleague, Senator Keeffe, will take this matter up - that the Commonwealth has not established its right over the territorial shelf and accepted full responsibility in this respect. One could be critical of the Government for allowing its internal divisions to affect the consideration of a Bill which, if passed, would have established conclusively that the responsibility for the whole of the continental shelf from the low water mark to its outer limits is that of the Commonwealth Government. The Government must stop its bickering and internal fighting. It must bring on debate on this Bill and have a decision taken. The provisions of that Bill should be tested constitutionally. The sooner that these things are done, the better. I do not think that the future of the Great Barrier Reef should be at the mercy of the internal divisions of the Liberal Party. I hope that the Bill which will take the initiative in this matter will be brought before the Parliament for debate as soon as possible. There are other matters with which I wished to deal. But this is the last day of this session and our opportunity to speak at length on important matters such as this is constricted.

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