Feb 14, 2005

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park

(Protecting the Great Barrier Reef from oil drilling and exploration)
Amendment Bill 2005: First Reading


It is with great pleasure that I present the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (Protecting the Great Barrier Reef from Oil Drilling and Exploration) Amendment Bill 2005. This legislation will extend the boundary of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park region to the exclusive economic zone. Under the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975, any oil drilling or prospecting in the Great Barrier Reef region is prohibited. The purpose of this piece of legislation is to extend the region so that oil drilling and prospecting in the Great Barrier Reef region-that region east of the boundary of the current marine park to the exclusive economic zone-will therefore be prohibited. It is extremely important to note that the adoption of this legislation will have no other effect than ruling out oil prospecting and, subsequently, drilling-no effect on any fishing, commercial or recreational interests, and no effect on visitation, whether it be private or through tourist operators.

When it became evident in 2000 that a company called TGS-NOPEC was considering oil drilling in that area, the Labor Party expressed strong concern. We called on the government and the Minister for the Environment at that time, Senator Hill, to rule out once and for all oil drilling east of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park area. Senator Hill, and his successors, Dr Kemp and Senator Campbell, have not done so. The response of these ministers is that, under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, any process would have to go through scrutiny and of course nothing would ever occur.

Therefore, it was with alarm that I noted that the Liberal Party’s 2004 election energy policy, Securing Australia’s Energy Future, contained a map which outlined the offshore frontier basins. These frontier basins included the Queensland and Marion Plateaus, the Townsville and Cato Troughs and the Capricorn Basin, all of which lie to the east of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The policy highlighted their potential for petroleum exploration. As the minister stated, `of course nothing will ever occur’. Well, of course, there was never going to be a GST. And, of course, the Prime Minister supported ratifying Kyoto from 1997 until 2001.

Clearly, mining on or near the Great Barrier Reef is still on the government’s agenda. That is just not good enough for the people of Queensland and it is not good enough for the Labor Party. The purpose of this legislation is to do what the government will not do-ensure that oil drilling cannot occur near the Great Barrier Reef. Let us get this straight: TGS-NOPEC is a company which sought approval to undertake some seismic testing in an area near Lihou Reef and Marion Reef in the Townsville Trough. This was of course subject to an EIS under the EPBC Act, which they chose not to proceed with at that stage; but that is not to say that it cannot occur in the future.

All of the community in North Queensland are opposed to any potential oil drilling on the Great Barrier Reef, including commercial and recreational fishers. The tourism industry in particular is outraged that the Howard government would compromise a $4.6 billion industry for the state of Queensland by allowing oil drilling. Conservationists and the science community are opposed to any oil drilling, along with the broader community. Tourism is an industry dependent on perceptions. Oil rigs, even 50 kilometres from the marine park boundary, do not promote a perception to potential visitors of a pristine ecosystem that is valued by its community and its government. The tourism industry is opposed to oil exploration or drilling. Queensland tourism operators want to see a permanent ban on exploration. The seafood industry has similar views. The Queensland Seafood Industry Association has stated: [start page 5]

It would be ridiculous for the Federal Government to give the go ahead for a seismic survey-

that is, the seismic survey required for the EIA-

that if oil was discovered, would inevitably lead to full-scale drilling.

The Queensland seafood industry can work it out. Why can’t the government? The Queensland government supports banning oil exploration or drilling on or near the Great Barrier Reef. Industry leaders and the broader community can see the sense in protecting the reef from oil exploration and drilling, so why can’t this government. Labor has consistently opposed oil prospecting. The ongoing desire of the oil industry to explore in areas adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef such as the Townsville Trough is not going to be averted until a clear direction by government is established.

This bill provides the government with a practical, no-cost mechanism to provide that direction to rule out oil exploration and mining for good. We need to take all steps possible to protect the reef and it is appropriate that I will be presenting the Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change (Kyoto Protocol Ratification) Bill 2005 immediately after this, because just last Saturday the Age reported that Professor Hoegh-Guldberg of Queensland university has found that coral bleaching due to global warming could destroy the reef in 20 years. I invite the government to take up the opportunity and support the bill.