Aug 14, 2017

Bills – Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment Bill 2017, Second Reading

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (19:07): I rise to speak on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment Bill, to support the second reading amendment and, depending upon the success of the amendment, to support the legislation, which is largely technical in nature. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 as it currently stands contains a sunset clause which has the effect of revoking plans of management where the regulations which give those plans effect are repealed. The changes proposed by this bill are designed to prevent this automatic revocation and they do not have consequences for policy or for the budget of the authority.

Plans of management are one practical tool we use to protect and support the reef. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem, currently has four plans of management in place. They operate in Cairns, Hinchinbrook Island, Shoalwater Bay and the Whitsundays. Plans of management assist with the implementation of ecologically sustainable practices and effective environmental management, especially for at-risk or vulnerable species and ecosystems in need of protection. Of course, the Great Barrier Reef requires much more than this, with experts holding grave fears about its future life span. In an address to the University of Queensland, former United States President Barack Obama had this to say:

The incredible natural glory of the Great Barrier Reef is threatened … I want to come back and I want my daughters to be able to come back and I want them to be able to bring their daughters or sons to visit. I want that there 50 years from now.

I think it says something about the iconic nature of the Great Barrier Reef that then US President Obama went out of his way to ensure that he visited Queensland to give an important speech about the reef, about climate change and about the important responsibility that we have to future generations.

We on this side of the House are determined to take action on climate change and to ensure that the Great Barrier Reef continues to be an extraordinary part of Australia’s national landscape. It is, indeed, a national icon but also an international piece of natural environment that is incredibly significant. It has been recognised as one of the seven wonders of the natural world and the only living thing on earth visible from outer space. This is why the coalition’s inaction when it comes to the Great Barrier Reef is quite astounding.

In 2005, when I was the shadow minister for the environment, I said, ‘The Great Barrier Reef is in danger of disappearing over the next 50 years, but we have a government that is frozen in time while the world warms round it.’ Back then, of course, we had a Prime Minister who refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and who was talking about being sceptical of the science around climate change. When Malcolm Turnbull assumed the prime ministership after the assassination of the elected Prime Minister, the member for Warringah, Australians were entitled to expect a different policy on climate change, given the long-held views that the member for Wentworth had. Apparently, he was prepared to trade in all of that conviction for the keys to the Lodge. That is very problematic and not just because of the chaos that the government finds itself in. More importantly, the policy repercussions of the caving in of the member for Wentworth in order to secure those keys to the Lodge have had real consequences for the government’s approach to environmental issues.

The coalition has been given opportunities to address the challenge of looking after the Great Barrier Reef and climate change, but it has failed dismally with each opportunity. Earlier this year, the independent expert panel, led by former Chief Scientist Ian Chubb, recommended an urgent revision of the Reef 2050 Plan to enable ‘mitigation, adaptation and management of the reef in the face of inexorable global warming’. The simple fact is, if Australia and the world don’t keep global temperatures in line with our commitments under the Paris Agreement, the reef will continue to deteriorate.

In the last 18 months alone, the reef has suffered two unprecedented bleaching events—irrefutable climate change occurring right in front of us. Despite these events, under the coalition government, carbon emissions rose by 1.4 per cent in the last year. Of course, we had seen those emissions decline when Labor was in government, but we have seen that reverse. What is worse is that not just have we seen it reverse but also we have seen the impact on energy prices, with a doubling of wholesale power prices since the abolition of the price on carbon, in spite of the very clear commitments that were given by the coalition. Indeed, the government’s own emissions projection show that Australia will not even come close to meeting our obligations under the Paris Agreement, because of their failure to take adequate action.

It is more than just the experts who are severely worried about climate change impacts on the Great Barrier Reef. The recently released Climate of the Nation survey showed that 74 per cent of Australians have a high level of concern about climate change causing damage to the Great Barrier Reef. But still, it seems, the coalition has a general willingness to sacrifice our natural environment. This is made evident by their attempts to give environmental powers over issues of national importance to the states as well as sustained budget cuts to environmental programs since coming to power.

Earlier tonight, I was at the ARENA showcase. ARENA, of course, is an organisation that the coalition government wanted to abolish all funding for. But now they are prepared to go along. The minister for energy is giving a speech at the showcase, probably at the same time as I am on my feet now, to a body which he believed should be abolished, and voted for it earlier on.

The Prime Minister must be prepared to stand up to the troglodytes in his own party. He must be prepared to do that. You, of course, Mr Deputy Speaker, would know full well why it is so important for the Prime Minister to do just that: because, at the moment, he is pleasing no-one. The Neanderthals in the coalition who don’t believe the science of climate change aren’t giving him any support, and he’s losing support from people in mainstream Australia who understand that they’ve got to respect the science and take action. The fact is that the internals of the Liberal Party room keep winning out over the Australian people and the natural environment time and time again. Instead, in an act of which the reasoning behind is beyond my comprehension, the government revealed its plans last month to wind back protections in our oceans. No government anywhere else in the world has ever removed this many hectares out of conservation before. What we’ve seen throughout history—in particular, at the end of the last century and the beginning of this century—is a greater awareness that humankind must live in harmony with its natural environment, not in conflict with it, and an understanding that we have a responsibility to future generations to protect that natural environment. Yet this government seems determined to reduce the protection of the oceans around our coastline as an island continent.

To make matters worse, the Turnbull government plans to destroy Australia’s shipping industry and turn the Australian coast into a free-for-all, whereby, as much as it talks about national security, it’s prepared to have foreign workers without proper security vetting working on foreign wages around our coast, taking the jobs of the Australian workforce. That has real consequences for the environment as well. The truth is that every single incident around our coast that has led to environmental disaster has involved a foreign-flagged vessel.

The Shen Neng 1 was a ship more than 10 kilometres outside of the shipping lane when it struck the Great Barrier Reef late on the afternoon of 3 April 2010. It scraped along the reef, causing damage of a considerable length. It is the longest known grounding scar on the reef, approximately three kilometres long and 250 metres wide. Why did that happen? Because the captain of the ship simply forgot to turn through the channel. He wasn’t familiar with it, he was overworked, and he hadn’t had proper rest, and the consequence of that was damage to our reef. Some of the damaged areas have become completely devoid of marine life, and it will take up to 20 years for this section of the reef to return to the state that it was in prior to the incident. By 13 April, oil tar balls were washing up on the beaches of North West Island, a significant bird rookery and turtle nesting colony. All up, the spill killed over 400 different species of animals and over 500 different species of plants. The subsequent investigation by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau concluded that the grounding of the ship was caused by human error. Indeed, they found that the chief officer, who was the officer on watch at the time, had neglected to program a required course change in the ship’s GPS navigation system due to fatigue.

That’s just one of the reasons why we simply can’t take shortcuts when it comes to protecting the Great Barrier Reef. We in this place have a real responsibility. It should, frankly, be a bipartisan issue because we know how critical it is. We on this side of the House have announced our Great Barrier Reef plan, which involves more coordinated and efficient long-term management of the reef that is appropriately funded and resourced and includes investment of up to $100 million to review and improve current management practices in the reef, in consultation with relevant stakeholders. It’s further supported by our climate change action plan. Labor will also double the number of Indigenous rangers in the Working on Country program. A number of its projects are in catchment areas. Our doubling of rangers includes the specialised Indigenous ranger program, which aims to improve marine conservation, particularly for dugongs and turtles, along the Far North Queensland coast.

But if I can’t convince those opposite about the environment, surely the economic benefits of the Great Barrier Reef should convince them. A Deloitte Access Economics study, At what price? The economic and social icon of the Great Barrier Reef, found the reef is worth $56 billion in economic, social and icon terms. It supports 64,000 jobs. These jobs are mainly tourism related, but the reef also supports fishing, recreation and scientific activities. It contributes some $6.4 billion a year to the national economy. That’s every single year.

In my time as the shadow minister for tourism, I have held a number of roundtable meetings in Far North Queensland on these issues. Most recently, I met with representatives of Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef, a new initiative designed to engage the world to support positive action and address climate change through a focus on preserving the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef. They are working closely with Tourism Tropical North Queensland, showing that if everyone works together the outcomes can be maximised. That is absolutely critical for the tourism sector.

In conclusion, Labor is committed to working with environmental groups, the tourism sector and experts to ensure that the reef receives the protection that it deserves and needs. You only need to look to what we’ve done to see that we’ve shown our conviction on these matters. That is because we have a responsibility to future generations.