Oct 30, 2006

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (Protecting the Great Barrier Reef from oil drill

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park

(Protecting the Great Barrier Reef from oil drilling and exploration) Amendment Bill 2006

First Reading

30 October 2006

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (12.41 p.m.)—The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (Protecting the Great Barrier Reef from Oil Drilling and Exploration) Amendment Bill 2006 is in the same form as my private member’s bill from 2004 and the same as private members’ bills moved before that by Labor members. It is unfortunate that the government has not allowed a proper debate on this bill or a vote in this House. This legislation would extend the boundary of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park region to the exclusive economic zone. The purpose of this legislation is to do what the Howard government will not do: ensure that oil drilling cannot occur near the Great Barrier Reef.

The government’s policy, as outlined in its 2004 energy white paper, is to proceed with oil exploration and, in the future, to drill off the extremely fragile Great Barrier Reef region. Labor totally opposes this. Labor will not allow oil exploration or rigs on the reef. The Great Barrier Reef is an iconic site for Australia. The reef is a uniquely rich and beautiful environment. Its majestic colours and awesome beauty draws tourists from all around the world and, as such, the reef is a very important part of the economy of North Queensland. Protecting the Great Barrier Reef means we are also protecting thousands of jobs and a truly sustainable, dynamic tourism industry in North Queensland. Climate change, of course, also threatens the reef, and stronger action is needed to avoid extensive coral bleaching and permanent damage to the reef from climate change. To put it bluntly, if the Great Barrier Reef is damaged, so is Australia.

This bill, along with our action to avoid dangerous climate change, is part of Labor’s plan to protect the reef for all time. When it became evident in 2000 that a company called TGS-NOPEC was considering oil drilling in that area, the Labor Party expressed its strong concern. The government’s energy white paper, released in June 2004, identified four sensitive offshore basins immediately adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park as high priority for oil exploration, seriously threatening the reef. The white paper confirms the Howard government is determined to proceed with oil exploration and, in the future, drilling of the extremely fragile Great Barrier Reef region. The Liberal member for Herbert may have condemned the proposal, but it is still government policy.

It was with alarm 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. 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 certainly is opposed by the Australian Labor Party.

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—the 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 subsequent drilling. There will be no effect on any fishing, commercial or recreational interests and no effect on visitation, whether it be private or through tourist operators.

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 could compromise a $4.6 billion industry to the state of Queensland by allowing oil drilling on the reef. Conservationists and the scientific community are opposed to any oil drilling on the reef. The tourism industry is opposed to oil exploration or drilling. Queensland tourism operators want to see a permanent ban on exploration or any potentially harmful activities near the reef. Industry leaders and the broader community can see the sense in protecting the reef from oil exploration and drilling, so why can’t the Howard government?

The Labor Party has pursued this issue consistently since TGS-NOPEC expressed its interest in exploration rights. 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 clear direction by the government is established. This legislation provides the government with a practical no-cost mechanism to provide that direction and to rule out oil exploration and mining for good. I invite the government to take up this opportunity and allow a debate on this bill and vote for it to put it in legislation to protect the Great Barrier Reef for all time.

Bill read a first time.

The SPEAKER—In accordance with standing order 41, the second reading will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.