DOCUMENTS – Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority—Report for 2006-07 – speech

Senator BARTLETT (Queensland) (6.00 p.m.)—I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is of course an exceptional, quite incredible, environmental asset for the people of Queensland and indeed Australia. It is one area in which, as I have said on the record a number of times, probably the most significant single isolated environmental achievement of the previous coalition government was the decision to significantly expand the areas within the marine park covered by protection. People may not realise it, but the marine park is not 100 per cent protected. There is a range of different zones within the park, and previously the amount of the areas within the marine park that were fully protected was quite small. That has now been increased—with varying degrees of protection from full protection to intermediate protection—to quite significant amounts. That has meant an extra responsibility on the marine park authority to ensure the full management of those expanded areas of protection. As you increase the number of protected areas you of course increase the need to monitor whether activity within those areas is legal and appropriate.

There is ample scientific evidence to demonstrate that significantly increasing the areas that are protected within a marine park dramatically improves not just the overall ecological health, which is the core aim, but also the resilience of not just the reef but also the marine park, more broadly, from external factors such as climate change, pollution coming from the land, the impact of tourism and the like. It also, for those who are interested in fish stocks, increases the overall stocks of fish that are available. It was politically difficult for the former government to expand the amount of protected areas within the marine park, and they should be congratulated for having done so. Flowing on from that is ensuring that the resourcing and powers of the marine park authority are adequate to ensure that the full benefit of that rezoning is achieved.

I reinforce the need to look not just to the ecological values of the marine park but also to the cultural values. I am very disappointed that the board of the marine park authority no longer has an automatic requirement for an Indigenous representative. That was a legislative change made in the dying days of the previous government and one that I was very disappointed to see. It was done, I must say, without very much consultation at all. That does not mean that there is no ability for an Indigenous person to be on the board, and I hope that still applies with future appointments to the board. But it also places a greater onus on the authority and related people, including the federal government, to ensure that the authority does better in all its various agencies and consultative bodies in working with traditional owners and Indigenous peoples all the way through the marine park and coastal areas. And, with an area that large, there are very large numbers of different traditional owner groups.

I also once again highlight the arguments that have been put forward by a number of groups, including those that helped provide the intellectual and scientific basis for expanding the protected areas within the marine park, to also look at further expanding the areas and size, whether of the marine park or having a separate marine park in the Coral Sea. I think there is a very strong argument for this. It reflects a private senator’s bill that I and Senator McLucas have put forward in the past to expand the area that is protected through the marine park to expand the zone that is protected from exploitation and from oil and gas exploration. This would create the world’s largest marine sanctuary and would be a valuable ecological contribution. It would further enhance resilience against climate change and would further build on the work that has already been done. So, as a Queenslander, I repeat my call for greater protection not just for the Barrier Reef Marine Park but also for areas further to the east in the Coral Sea. (Time expired)

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