House debates

Tuesday, 17 October 2023


Great Barrier Reef

4:28 pm

Photo of Tanya PlibersekTanya Plibersek (Sydney, Australian Labor Party, Minister for the Environment and Water) Share this | Hansard source

And the people who live there: I completely agree with him. However, having an endangered listing from UNESCO does have serious consequences for the people who live there, including putting at risk the 64,000 jobs and the $6.4 billion a year tourism industry that depend on the Great Barrier Reef's status as one of the natural wonders of the world—the way that we love and appreciate and see it. The fact that we have invested $1.2 billion in the reef has actually meant that the international community sees that we are serious about protecting the reef, and we have managed to prevent the Great Barrier Reef being inscribed on the endangered list.

The outcome was not inevitable. In fact, before the change of government, the Great Barrier Reef was headed for an endangered listing, which would have had very serious consequences for tourism. Sources close to UNESCO told the French newspaper Le Monde that on climate change and the environment 'the approach has changed completely between the new government and the old one; it's a bit like night and day.'

What have we done? We've invested a record $1.2 billion in the reef. We've legislated to reach net zero carbon emissions—43 emissions reduction target by 2030 and 82 per cent renewable energy by 2030. We've invested—and this is the thing I think is troubling the member for Kennedy—$150 million to improve water quality, but the projects that we're talking about are revegetation, grazing management and engineering work like gully stabilisation. The member for Kennedy and I have had excellent talks about the problem of gullies eroding because of the impact of feral pigs, in particularly, and feral goats and other animals like that. So we're working with farmers to do that gully bank stabilisation, including, most particularly by managing some of these are feral animals that are eroding the banks.

I did also reject a proposal for a coalmine that would have potentially impacted the water quality of the reef. It was eight kilometres away from the reef and it had water courses going down onto the reef. I've withdrawn federal funding for dams that would have had a detrimental impact on reef water quality. The member for Kennedy might not like that part of it. In the budget in May I invested an extra $163.4 million to guarantee the future of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, effectively doubling funding for marine science on the Great Barrier Reef. The member for Kennedy knows what trouble AIMS were in before that. They actually had laboratories they couldn't use because they were in such a degraded state due to a lack of investment. I know the member for Kennedy supports AIMS's investigation into how we repopulate some of those areas where we've had coral bleaching events and how we deal with crown-of-thorns starfish. This is world-leading science. People come from around the world to learn from our reef scientists, and we have to back the work that they're doing.

Of course, we're also working to engage more Indigenous rangers—for example, to do some of that work on crown-of-thorns starfish. I know the member for Kennedy is a great supporter of job creation in those areas right up and down the coast that faces the Great Barrier Reef and having Indigenous rangers doing work managing crown-of-thorns starfish.

I'm struggling to both inform the member for Kennedy and listen to his interjections. We might have to have this conversation offline a little bit later. Those Indigenous rangers are doing great work in the water with crown-of-thorns starfish. They're also doing great work on these scattered islands right through the Great Barrier Reef that are affected by feral animal and weed incursions. They're doing great work both in the sea and on the land.

Marine plastics and ghost nets are another great example of the work that's being done particularly by Indigenous ranges but more broadly by people working to protect the Great Barrier Reef. Of course we're working with the Queensland government on better management of fisheries, as well.

We know that there is still a great deal of work to do to protect the Great Barrier Reef, but Australia is not unique in this. Climate change has potential impacts on every coral reef around the world. The Great Barrier Reef is not the only World Heritage property in Australia that is at risk from climate change. We're worried about, for example, salt water incursions in the Kakadu National Park, from rising sea levels. Of course we need to deal with that underlying issue of climate change, as well as these reef-specific issues.

Senator Nita Green, who is the Special Envoy for the Great Barrier Reef, is doing fantastic work to advocate for the reef, including going to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where the meeting was being held to decide whether the Great Barrier Reef would be listed as 'in danger'. I think, in the fantastic work that Senator Green is doing as the special envoy for the reef, she would be the first to tell you that more of that work is actually on the land than in the sea, because she is working directly with farmers, tourism operators and other stakeholders to protect the reef.

I'm tabling the report to me, the Minister for the Environment and Water, by Senator Green, the Special Envoy for the Great Barrier Reef, which details some of her excellent work.

Finally, I also want to table a copy of the letter that the member for Kennedy is referring to. The letter, indeed, is directed to the Director-General of UNESCO. It very briefly details some of the work that we're doing to protect the Great Barrier Reef and it includes a list of commitments that we have made. I have to reassure the member for Kennedy: these commitments, by and large, have appeared in our budgets in recent years, and there's no mystery to them. They are commitments that we are absolutely proud of and absolutely determined to stand behind. In fact, I'm really pleased that the member for Kennedy has brought this debate on today because it gives me a chance to reassure him that we are, just as he is, committed to ensuring that Queensland has a viable agricultural industry and, just as he is, committed to ensuring that Queensland has a viable tourism industry there on the reef and jobs in fisheries and all of the areas that he has mentioned today. We absolutely support that. But we also know, as he does, that we have a commitment and a determination to protect and preserve this jewel of natural wonder for generations to come. I'm tabling the letter to the UNESCO director-general, as well.


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