Monday, 14 August 2017
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment Bill 2017; Second Reading
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment Bill 2017 contains a series of amendments to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act to rectify a series of unintended consequences of the sunsetting regime. There are some technical changes to the legislation to prevent management plans from being automatically revoked if regulations that give effect to them are appealed. We obviously don't want to have a situation where—and the government has realised that it would be a serious problem—by repealing a series of regulations, we automatically and unintentionally revoked entire plans of management for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
Under current legislative arrangements, whenever the regulations sunset and are remade the plans of management are automatically revoked and no longer exist. This would mean, for example, there would be no management in place for high-volume tourism areas such as Cairns and the Whitsunday Islands. Revocation of the plans of management would mean abandoning current arrangements that support and underpin the tourism industries in those sorts of areas. If they are revoked as a result of sunsetting, it would also mean the legislative process to have them remade would be required. Whereas the regulations can sunset and be put straight back in, the moment you try to put back in a plan of management there is an entire process of consultation that needs to kick back in, which would leave us with a period where plans of management were effectively switched off and of no effect. The plans would not be enforceable until regulations are remade, at which point the plans become operational again. Obviously, when sunsetting provisions were put in place for the regulations, it was never with this consequence as part of the intention.
Plans of management are generally prepared for intensively used or particularly vulnerable groups of islands and reefs and for the protection of vulnerable species or ecological communities in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Plans of management complement marine park zoning by addressing issues specific to an area, species or community in greater detail than can be accomplished by the broader reef-wide zoning plans. Plans of management are a key tool that are used by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to help protect and conserve intensively used areas of the marine park while allowing for a range of experiences and types of use for those who want to appreciate an area. At the moment, there are four plans of management within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park—the Cairns Area Plan of Management, the Hinchinbrook Plan of Management, the Shoalwater Bay (Dugong) Plan of Management and the Whitsundays Plan of Management—currently being reviewed.
Of course, it's an irony that, at the exact same time that the government has realised the dangers of revoking management plans in the Great Barrier Reef, the government is seeking to destroy management plans in the Coral Sea, is seeking to destroy management plans all around the oceans that surround Australia and, in fact, is currently engaging, with respect to the oceans, in the greatest removal of areas from conservation that any government in the world has ever undertaken. What's happening in the oceans right now under this environment minister is something that never happened under the Howard government and never happened under the Fraser government. Those are principles where people, quite rightly, have said, 'Once an area is protected, even if it was contested at the time, there will, from that moment on, be no backward steps.' That is why, when Joh Bjelke-Petersen lost the fight to be able to drill in the Great Barrier Reef, the view was: you've lost that fight—it's over. That's why, when Bob Hawke saved the Franklin, the Daintree and Kakadu, the view was: that's been done; that's been settled. In a similar way, that's why, when John Howard, to his credit, put a whole series of zonings across the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, the view then was: that's it; that's settled—there will be no backward steps.
That's not how the government is behaving with respect to our exclusive economic zone. As I said, there are countries in the world which have previously taken areas out of conservation, but it's not really a list that you'd want a country like Australia to be on when you see the countries of the world that have taken areas out of conservation. It's not only not a list you want to be on but also not a list you want to top. This government at the moment is engaging, in the oceans, in the greatest removal of areas from conservation that the world has ever seen. No government, no matter how dodgy, has ever tried to do anything like what this government's currently doing in the oceans. So, when the government does something like that with respect to the oceans, we will fight, and we will fight hard. When it does something perfectly reasonable, as it's doing right now with respect to the Great Barrier Reef, we will support these actions because they do avoid an unintended consequence, and it's quite appropriate legislation.
However, we won't allow there to be a debate about what happens in the Great Barrier Reef and, because the tiny change in front of us is a good one, won't be willing to also debate all the issues around the health of the Great Barrier Reef itself. This is why I'm moving a second reading amendment. I'll move it now, then I'll say a few words about it. I move:
That all the words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:
"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House notes that:
(1) the Government is failing to protect Australia's iconic Great Barrier Reef by:
(a) failing to act on climate change;
(b) supporting the Liberal National Party in Queensland in blocking reef protections aimed at halting the broad scale clearing of trees and remnant vegetation; and
(c) winding back ocean protection, put in place by Labor, around Australia and specifically in the Coral Sea; and
(2) this Government cannot be trusted to protect the Great Barrier Reef and fight for Australia’s unique environment".
The Great Barrier Reef is under threat from all sides. The management plans we're talking about deal with the specific acreage of the reef itself, but you'd have to be kidding yourself to think that, if you simply act on the reef, you can do all the things that are required to protect the reef.
When the Great Barrier Reef was first put on the World Heritage List there was an argument that so long as we look after the area itself—stop the threat of drilling—the outcomes will be okay. But now, with what's happening to the health of the Great Barrier Reef, we know that if you deal only with the acreage of the reef itself you'll never fix the problem. You need to protect the reef from every side. You need to protect it from above, protect it from the left and protect it from the right. I've spoken already about the Coral Sea. That's protecting it from the right. That's about making sure that the rich biodiversity on the right-hand side of the map—the cradle for the Great Barrier Reef—is given protections, not having a situation in which you've got the reef here and the moment you fall off the shelf the longliners are allowed in. That does not provide the same level of protection.
If you want an example of how you establish the fact that putting areas into protection in the ocean actually provides a real positive outcome, the answer's simple: have a look at what John Howard did in the Great Barrier Reef. I'm very happy to acknowledge when the Howard government did things that were good. This was one of them. And now, years later, the science is in. When people say , 'There's no evidence as to what actually happens when you lock areas up', well, sorry: there is. The evidence is what happened when the Howard government did it. That decision was made, I think, in 2002, from memory. Now the scientists have been able to go back and look at the same areas and look at what happened in the areas that were designated as no fishing and what happened in the adjacent areas. In the areas designated as no fishing, the improvement for a species like coral trout, for example, was an 80 per cent increase in the biomass. Some of that's small fish; some of that's bigger fish. But it was an 80 per cent increase in the biomass in the protected areas compared with the unprotected areas.
That's why many of the recreational fishers supported the zones when they came in. Some opposed them, but it didn't take long before they worked out that the place to catch the biggest fish was right on the edge of them, because they work. They do deliver a healthier ocean. So you get an 80 per cent improvement in the biomass in these areas. That's what we need the Coral Sea to provide, as the cradle for the Great Barrier Reef. Instead, the government's currently proposing to gut half of the area that was put into marine national park—half of it. Look at the impact on Osprey Reef, on Vema Reef, on Marion Reef, on Shark Reef—some of the top dive sites in the world, protected. And now this government—they haven't done it yet, but they're down the track—are making clear that they want to take not simply a backward step but the largest backward step any country's ever taken in terms of the area under conservation, and to do that in the Coral Sea, the cradle for the Great Barrier Reef.
But that's protecting the Great Barrier Reef on its right-hand side. You've also got to protect it on the left. And this is where the changes to land-clearing rules that have been put to the Queensland parliament are so important. Land-clearing events change how much run-off there is, which then changes, in terms of the Great Barrier Reef, what sediment comes in every time there's a major weather event and what chemicals come in every time there's a major weather event. Most of the farmers and graziers there have done a really good in participating in government programs that we started and that this government has continued in order to improve their work, to engage in landcare work, to engage in intensive farming practices—highly scientific—that radically reduce their chemical use. But at the same time that they are doing the right thing, they've got a handful of neighbours—not that many, but enough—who are doing absolutely the wrong thing and engaging in large-scale land clearing and completely undoing the good work not only that good farmers have been doing but that the Australian taxpayer has been funding. Yet the Liberal National Party in the Queensland parliament has consistently blocked the changes to those land-clearing rules, no matter what the outcomes are for the Great Barrier Reef, no matter what the outcomes are for Australian tourism and no matter what the insult is to those farmers and graziers who do the right thing.
And then you've got to protect the reef from above. We often talk about ocean acidification and connect it to climate change, and it is actually not connected. Ocean acidification is caused not by climate change but by the causes of climate change. When we talk about the ocean being the largest carbon sink, we think, 'Great news, the ocean is a good carbon sink.' But that is the good news and the bad news. The way it becomes a carbon sink is by turning the CO2 into carbonic acid, and in turning the CO2 into carbonic acid in that process where it acts as a sink, we get the acidification of the ocean.
What does that mean? It means that when the same coral gets hit by a major weather event or a bleaching event it grows back more slowly; it grows back in a more brittle fashion. It is also competing with the fact that the chemicals it's dealing with—because of what is happening with land-clearing laws—and the sediment it's dealing with mean the fight is that much harder. So, in an awful way, because 'perfect' is hardly the right term, you get a perfect storm of bad influences on the Great Barrier Reef. You get ocean acidification, meaning the coral grows back more slowly; increased chemicals, nutrients and sediment, meaning the coral grows back more slowly; and then increased intensity of major weather events, meaning the coral gets knocked out more often. And that is all before you even get to the issue of climate change.
Given the position of the lectern, one of the sceptics of the parliament is going to follow me and give his own view of the science, and I respect his right to do so in the parliament. But you don't have to get to climate change before all of these threats are real and verifiable and dangerous. When you do get to climate change, you then have the issue of major heat events. And I know the argument that goes, 'These last coral bleachings are completely coincidence.' I've got to say, it's happening to coral reefs around the world; we've just got the biggest one. It's happening to coral reefs around the world.
No matter how passionate our debate in this parliament is, we can't undo the fact that, whenever the scientists have presented projections on what would happen to the Great Barrier Reef, exhibit A when we've seen the actual impacts has been at the worst end of those projections. And that's been the consistent story. So, yes, people can always argue the toss about the projections and try to get inside the science and come up with an argument that might work rhetorically for the sake of a speech. But there is the ultimate control group going on here, the ultimate control group which is the greatest living thing on earth: the Great Barrier Reef. And that ultimate control group keeps answering the question.
I could have given a very different sort of speech today on the Great Barrier Reef. When something is as alarmist as this, the government deserves some pretty strong rhetoric. But I've got to say, I don't want the political debate; I just want it fixed. I don't want the political point; I just want to have a Great Barrier Reef that's healthy and that continues. We in this chamber talk a lot about inequality. It's hard to think of many worse examples of inequality than the concept that our children and grandchildren won't get the environment that we get. It's an extraordinary level of arrogance that would let any of us think that, somehow, we've got the entitlement to enjoy it, profit from it, and wreck it, and they can just put up with the consequences.
So I urge the government: it's not on the World Heritage List for nothing. It's one of the prized possessions on the World Heritage List. I remember meeting with the World Heritage Committee when I was environment minister. They said if they were to start the list and were allowed only four things on it, this would still make it. You can't have natural heritage without including the greatest living thing on earth. So I simply urge the government: stop fighting against responsible protections on land clearing. Don't undo the protections in the Coral Sea. Act on climate change and act on the causes of climate change. If we continue to allow a situation where the level of CO2 in the atmosphere increases without limit, without cap, then the outcome's really simple. It doesn't matter how we negotiate around the chamber, the reef itself will come to the negotiating table and prove itself to be the most uncompromising negotiator of all. I don't want that.
The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Watson has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. If it suits the House I will state the question in the form that the amendment be agreed to. The question now is that the amendment be agreed to.
I am pleased to speak this evening on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment Bill 2017. Anyone who has visited the Great Barrier Reef or seen pictures of it can't help but be amazed by its crystal clear waters, its picturesque tropical islands, its beautiful sandy beaches, its abundance of marine life, its colourful tropical fishes and the most spectacular coral formations in all colours of the rainbow. Anybody who sees that simply cannot help but fall in love with our Great Barrier Reef. No wonder it's considered one of the wonders of the world. We all in this parliament want to do everything we can to protect it. If we think it's in danger, all of us want to do everything we can to protect the reef.
But its breathtaking beauty is a double-edged sword, because it makes the Australian public highly susceptible to misleading and emotional scare campaigns about the reef, similar to what we just heard from the member for Watson. On these misleading campaigns, we only have to go back to last year and some of the headlines that were being put out across the internet about a bleaching event that occurred. News.com said—this is the headline—'The Great Barrier Reef is dead at the age of 25 million years.' The Independent in the UK said, 'The Great Barrier Reef is declared dead after a long illness.' Perth Now wrote, 'The record coral die-off wastes 70 per cent of the reef.' The ABC, our ABC, had a headline saying, 'Two-thirds of the northern Great Barrier Reef is wiped out. The Barrier Reef dead after being clobbered by the worst bleaching event in history.' We saw the ABC use pictures of what they claimed was bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef. In fact, it was a picture of a reef in American Samoa.
This scaremongering sends the message out across the world that the reef is dead and is not worth visiting. It harms our tourism sector. It harms all those Australians working on the reef that rely on international tourists wanting to come and see the reef. Some people are out sending a message 'The reef is dead.' What did the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority say about some of these headlines? I quote: they said they were 'ridiculously exaggerated' and 'irresponsible'. Dr Reichelt, the chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority said, talking about these misleading scare campaigns: 'I don't know whether it was a deliberate sleight of hand or a lack of geographic knowledge, but it certainly suits the purpose of the people who sent it out.' It was a completely misleading campaign. It was fake news. Yes, there was a bleaching event on the reef, but the claim that the Great Barrier Reef was dead was simply fake scaremongering news designed to mislead the Australian people and to get them to make emotional and irrational decisions. When we are dealing with the reef, we need to deal with the science and the evidence.
What was not reported was that the Great Barrier Reef is actually divided into four separate management areas: the far northern zone, the northern zone, the central zone and the southern zone. When they talked about bleaching of the reef, they were actually only talking about the northern zone, which is only 11 per cent of the area of the Great Barrier Reef. So, while it's true two-thirds of that part of the reef was bleached, this only accounts for seven per cent of the reef in total being bleached. What is not explained in any of these articles is that 97 per cent of the Great Barrier Reef's tourism is located in the central and southern zones. How were they affected by the bleaching last year? Remember, 97 per cent of tourism activity takes place in these zones. Well, only one per cent of the southern zone, which is 44 per cent of the reef, suffered a bleaching event—one per cent. In the central zone, which is 22 per cent of the reef, only six per cent of the reef was affected. In total, 98 per cent of the southern and central zones, which is a total of 64 per cent of the entire reef and where 97 per cent of the reef's tourism activities take place, was not affected. So only two per cent of the area with all of the tourism industry was affected from the bleaching event last year, and yet we had claims and stories going out worldwide that the reef was dead.
We can learn from past events, because the Great Barrier Reef did suffer a significant decline in coral cover from 1985 to 2012. This was caused by various things. There were the severe tropical cyclones, there was damage from the crown-of-thorns starfish, and there were also two previous bleaching events in 1998 and 2002 that were associated with El Nino patterns. The comments of Professor Ridd, an expert in the area, on those bleaching events back then are interesting. He said the findings did not take into account one of the worst cyclones to hit and affect the reef—Cyclone Hamish, in 2009, which wiped out half of the reef. Professor Ridd wrote:
Coral recovers fast; six years on and more than one-third of that total loss would be alive and flourishing. And guess what, cyclones are part of life’s natural cycle.
Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort owner Peter Gash said:
The scientists made out the Reef is half dead, but they picked a moment in time when a fierce cyclone had tracked down the length of the Reef and did enormous damage.
I challenge anyone to go out to where Hamish hit—it has almost all completely recovered.
In fact, it has. The science tells us that, between 2012 and 2015, the Great Barrier Reef recovered and actually increased in size by 19 per cent. So the gains that we had in coral growth between 2012 and 2015 were greater than the bleaching losses we had in the previous year.
A second important point, if you read the headlines, is that bleaching is not the death of coral. Again, I quote Professor Peter Ridd:
Bleaching is one of coral's defence mechanisms and should be regarded as a strategy for survival rather than a death sentence. Gradually it stops them—
from dying. Most corals that bleach fully recover … A survival mechanism such as bleaching indicates that corals have adapted to periods of unusually high temperatures in the past.
They are the words of Professor Peter Ridd. Yes, Mr Deputy Speaker, if you went out to the Australian public today and asked them, 'Does bleaching coral mean that coral dies?' I would say that 90 per cent of those people would say, 'Yes, that's what it means.' But the science tells us otherwise. Professor Ridd—and I quote directly from him—also said:
Mass bleaching also occurred on the Reef in 1998 and 2002, but the vast majority of the corals on the Reef have recovered and survived.
Bleaching is not just a recent event. Again I quote Professor Ridd:
Bleaching was first recorded early last century by Sir Charles Maurice Yonge in the first major scientific study of the Great Barrier Reef.
… there are 26 records of coral bleaching before 1982.
Professor Ridd concluded:
Due to the remarkable mechanisms that corals have developed to adapt to changing temperatures, especially the ability to swap symbionts, corals are perhaps the least endangered of any ecosystems to future climate change—natural or manmade.
That's the science—not the misleading scare campaigns that we hear from the opposition.
The coalition government is working to ensure that we do everything we can to protect the reef. We can't stop rising sea temperatures, we can't stop cyclones but we can do a lot of things to ensure the reef's viability. Here are a few things. On 5 July, the World Heritage Committee unanimously endorsed Australia's Reef 2050 Plan and the coalition's progress in implementing it. The World Heritage Committee has not put—I repeat: the World Heritage Committee has not put—the reef on their endangered watch list. This decision recognises Australia's significant efforts—that is, the coalition's significant efforts—in investment and the early, effective implementation of the reef's 2050 plan.
We, the coalition government, are investing $2 billion, jointly with Queensland, under the Reef 2050 Plan, to improve the health of the reef. Our investment continues to target water quality improvements such as reducing nitrogen, pesticides and sediment run-off, as well as the culling of the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish. We can compare this to Labor's past track record when they were in government. When they left office after six years, which included a partnership with the Greens and the Independents, they had five massive dredge disposal projects planned. The World Heritage Committee put the reef, under Labor, on the watch list as 'in danger'. It was the coalition, when we came to office in 2013, who took unprecedented action. We ended all those dredge disposal plans put in place by Labor. As a result of our actions, the World Heritage Committee removed Australia from the endangered watch list and praised Australia as a global leader in reef management. That's what we on this side have done. We are concerned about the science, the engineering and the economics of looking after the Great Barrier Reef. In contrast, we've seen on the Labor side misleading, scaremongering ideology, which has nothing to do with protecting the reef.
The Great Barrier Reef is a vitally important asset to our nation. The coalition has the runs on the board when it comes to protecting it. We have the plan to go forward, our 2050 reef plan, which has been endorsed by experts around the world, including the World Heritage Committee. This legislation merely deals with small technical issues to make sure that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority continue with their good work. I encourage members of the opposition: when you are talking about the Great Barrier Reef, please do not continue to engage in this misleading scare campaign, because what you are doing is harming the very people that you represent. If you go out and mislead about the Great Barrier Reef, and run stories about death and coral bleaching, you are harming Australia's tourism industry. You are wrecking jobs and you are causing untold harm to people that work hard, put their investments into the reef and love and protect the reef. I commend this bill to the House, and I plead with members of the opposition: don't harm our nation and don't trash our nation with misleading claims, because you are hurting the very people that you claim to protect.
I would have to be one of the luckiest members in parliament, because I have the privilege of living in Townsville, which is situated right at the very doorstep of one of the greatest natural landmarks in the world, the Great Barrier Reef. The Great Barrier Reef is the largest living structure on earth and is even visible from outer space. It sprawls over a jaw-dropping 344,400 square kilometres. It is bigger than Victoria and Tasmania combined; the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Holland combined; roughly the same area as Japan, Germany, Malaysia or Italy; approximately half the size of Texas; and slightly smaller than the entire Baltic Sea. The marine park stretches approximately 2,300 kilometres along the coast of North Queensland and is about the same length as the west coast of the USA from Vancouver to the Mexican border. The Belize Barrier Reef off the Caribbean coast of Belize is the second longest barrier reef in the world, at 290 kilometres, while the Ningaloo Reef off the Western Australian coast is 280 kilometres long.
The reef is composed of 3,000 individual reef systems, 600 tropical islands and about 300 coral cays. This complex maze of habitats provides refuge for an outstanding variety of marine plants and animals—from ancient sea turtles, reef fish and 134 species of sharks and rays to 400 different hard and soft corals and an abundance of seaweeds.
One of the magnificent islands on the reef is Magnetic Island, which is in my electorate of Herbert. You can snorkel on the reef only metres from the shore. If I am not already making people very jealous about my home town, then the next facts will: the Great Barrier Reef is not only the life support for thousands of marine plants and animals but also a huge life support for many of the communities who live on the east coast. The Great Barrier Reef, together with the fishing industry and tourism, delivers approximately $6 billion annually and supports just under 70,000 jobs. In Townsville, businesses such as SeaLink, Livaboards and Yongala Dive are just a few of the tourist businesses that operate very carefully on the Great Barrier Reef. With thousands of tourists flocking annually to Herbert, and more and more cruise ships choosing to dock, tourism for the electorate is only set to grow, and one of the most untapped resources on the barrier reef is Palm Island. Palm Island is one of the largest discrete Aboriginal communities in Australia. It is home to between 3,500 and 5,000 people, and it has the most gorgeous crystal-clear water you would ever see. Cultural tourism, together with dive expeditions, will be an amazing and expanding industry for Herbert, and, in particular, for the people on Palm Island.
Further to the tourism jobs created that are related to the reef, Herbert is home to world-leading marine scientific experts. The Great Barrier Reef has been a drawcard for many scientists, and they are proud to call Townsville home. Recently, the Centre for World University Rankings ranked James Cook University No. 1 in the world for marine and freshwater biology and No. 2 in the world for biodiversity conservation. There is no other university in Australia that can proclaim to be No. 1 in the world for anything.
A fortnight ago I held a mobile office on Magnetic Island, where I met four American students who were studying marine science at James Cook University because it has an international reputation as being one of the very best. One of them had put her studies in medicine in America on hold in order to come and study marine science in Townsville. This is the international reputation and fame that James Cook University has acquired, and I believe the university would support me in saying that none of this could be possible if they weren't located on the doorstep of this great natural wonder, the Great Barrier Reef.
But our scientific experts are not just at James Cook University. We are also home to the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. The work currently being done at AIMS is cutting-edge and leads the world in marine research. Just recently, researchers from the University of Miami's School of Marine and Atmospheric Science travelled to Townsville, to the national sea simulator located at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, as part of the cutting-edge research being carried out to save the world's fish. The research is a collaboration of physiology, behaviour and gene compression to understand how rising carbon dioxide levels in the seawater will affect the behaviour of fish and to see what the Great Barrier Reef might look like in 2100.
AIMS's research extends far beyond the environmental. It also analyses the growing blue economy. The blue economy aims to shift society from a scarcity way of thinking to an abundance way of thinking, with what is locally available, by tackling issues that cause environmental and related problems in new ways. The blue economy works with the waste products first, ensuring that every component of every product is utilised. This new economy modelling is creating waves around the world. According to the Australian Institute of Marine Science's 2016 Index of marine industry report, sustained economic growth of the blue economy for the Australian marine industries sector far exceeds that of the national economy. According to the latest figures, the blue economy has more than doubled in the last 10 years, with marine industries now contributing more than $74 billion directly and indirectly to annual national gross domestic product, and growth is projected to continue.
These figures are amazing and show that this is where leaders need to focus. Those at James Cook University, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and AIMS are doing their research, and not only is it vital and necessary work but it also creates hundreds of jobs and makes Townsville an international marine research hub. That is why protecting the Great Barrier Reef is vital not only for our marine species but also for our communities and our economies.
Contrary to some of the fallacies and misconstrued information that some politicians in this place try to spruik, the Great Barrier Reef is indeed in danger. Coral bleaching, pollution and rapidly growing numbers of the crown-of-thorns starfish are endangering our reef. Those politicians who live in the golden triangle of the south-east corner of Queensland and make comments about an area that they have absolutely no understanding of need to realise that those 70,000 people who are employed by industries related to the Great Barrier Reef do not need their pie-in-the-sky personal theories. To go to one of the most south-point areas of the Great Barrier Reef and say that there is nothing wrong with the reef is the equivalent of standing on the edge of Ross River and saying that Townsville can't be in drought as there is water in the river. One has to look a bit further than the tip of one's nose.
The Australian Institute of Marine Science has been conducting reef surveys for more than 30 years. The AIMS's long-term monitoring program provides an invaluable record of change in coral reef communities over a large area of the Great Barrier Reef. Research shows that over the past 12 months hard coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef declined by about a quarter, bringing average reef-wide coral cover down to 18 per cent. These findings are based on surveys of 68 mainly mid- and outer-shelf reefs to March 2017. The impacts of coral bleaching, cyclones, and crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks differ along the length of the reef. The bleaching was most intense on reefs between Cairns and Townsville. What this means in a longer-term context is that the decline in the scale of the coral cover in the northern Great Barrier Reef since 2013 is unprecedented—due to two severe cyclones and then the severe coral bleaching event that began in 2016. With this shocking research, it is clear that both sides of parliament need to work together to ensure that we protect our reef and the 70,000 jobs associated with it. That is why I'm proud to support this amendment to the bill.
Labor has a proud history of protecting and defending the Great Barrier Reef. This includes the Whitlam government's implementation of Australia's first marine reserve over the reef. Labor has also more recently established Australia's marine reserve network, the largest network of marine-protected area anywhere in the world. In light of the reports from experts like AIMS, extensive loss of coral and significant threats to the reef's health posed by climate change, it is even more pressing and must be upheld today.
One important practical tool to protect and support the reef is a plan of management for the reef. 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. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park currently has four plans of management in place. They operate in Cairns, Hinchinbrook Island, Shoalwater Bay and the Whitsundays. This bill addresses issues associated with the sunset clause in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975. That clause has the effect of revoking plans of management where those regulations that give those plans effect are repealed. The changes proposed by this bill are designed to prevent this automatic revocation. I am happy to support this bill as it corrects a technical issue with existing legislation. This bill is only a small step, but it is a step in the right direction.
However, more needs to be done and the Turnbull government must do more. Labor's environmental policy commitments go further in their protective efforts, specifically Labor's Great Barrier Reef plan, which involves a more coordinated and efficient long-term management of the reef that is appropriately funded and resourced. This includes investing up to $100 million to review and improve current management practices in the reef, in consultation with the relevant stakeholders. This is further supported by Labor's comprehensive climate change action plan, which would deliver real action on climate change and in doing so preclude its harmful effect on the reef, including coral bleaching.
I want to continue to work with not only my Labor colleagues but those across the floor to ensure we preserve this great natural wonder that we know as the Great Barrier Reef. Preserving jobs, industries, economies and the largest living structure in the world should be bipartisan. No politician can purport to be a leading scientist above the likes of those at AIMS or James Cook University, so let's just leave the reef analysis to the experts and get on with protecting the Great Barrier Reef—for not to act would not only destroy this natural wonder but decimate North Queensland industries and our economy.
I rise today to speak in support of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment Bill 2017. I speak in support of this bill, in the main, to highlight to the many concerned constituents in my electorate of Ryan that I'm very conscious of their concerns about the management of the reef. Queensland is truly blessed to have the world's largest coral reef adorning our northern coastline. As a World Heritage listed site, the Great Barrier Reef boasts intrinsic beauty and incredible biodiversity. Ensuring the health of the reef, which supports tens of thousands of jobs, is of paramount importance to our government. We will do more for this reef than any prior government.
From Canberra to Timbuktu—and all stops in between—the Great Barrier Reef is the envy of the world. This bill will guarantee the protective management of the reef through amendments to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975. Specifically, amendments within this bill seek to rectify an unintended consequence of the sunsetting regime and prevent plans of management being revoked. Under the Legislation Act 2003, regulations made under the marine park act are automatically repealed every 10 years. These regulations are due to sunset on 1 April next year. One might ask: why not just remake or repeal the regulations in order to resolve this situation? Simply put, this would still trigger a provision within the marine park act which would result in the current management plans being revoked. The provisions within this bill will resolve this issue so that plans of management will not be revoked when regulations made under the marine park act are repealed.
Plans of management play a critical role in ensuring the use of the marine park for tourism purposes is best practice and sustainable. The North Queensland economy has struggled in recent times from high levels of unemployment. With support from the coalition to ensure a responsible and viable tourism industry on the Great Barrier Reef, I know that opportunity is bountiful. Let me reassure the House that only a coalition government has the forethought to proactively approach this matter.
I segue into Labor's disastrous environmental record, akin to the antics of Looten Plunder from the TV series Captain Planet. After six years of mismanagement under Labor's watchful eye, the World Heritage Committee placed the Great Barrier Reef on an 'in danger' list. For a group which purports to be quasi-environmental warriors, it never ceases to amaze me that they just cannot seem to get it right. Just like with everything Labor does, they cannot be trusted. In close partnership with their Greens and independent allies, Labor saw five massive dredge disposal projects planned for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The coalition took unprecedented action to fix Labor's mess. We ended all five dredge disposal plans. We banned all future capital dredge disposal projects in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Let us not forget that it was a coalition government which developed the comprehensive Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan, setting out our strategy to manage, protect and improve the reef for future generations. This plan was endorsed by the World Heritage Committee on 5 July.
Time and time again, we hear from the Greens and Labor about the state of the reef. In true Labor and Greens fashion, it is all talk and no action. In contrast, and as a result of the coalition's actions, the World Heritage Committee removed Australia from the 'in danger' watchlist and, indeed, praised Australia as a global leader in reef management. I do not believe I have ever heard the World Heritage Committee praising Labor.
Let me take this opportunity to reiterate in the House the coalition's achievements not only for the Great Barrier Reef but also for marine conservation in general. The original size of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was 17,000 square kilometres. As a result of coalition governments, today it is 344,400 square kilometres and extends 2,300 kilometres along the Queensland coast. This includes expanding the marine park's no-take sanctuary areas from five per cent to 33 per cent. Many of the most important initiatives in relation to marine protected areas in Australia's jurisdiction have been delivered by Liberal-National governments. In his first term as Prime Minister, John Howard established the world's first Oceans Policy in 1998. More than 15 years later, this policy approach to marine conservation and management was the basis on which the world's longest network of marine parks and sanctuaries was established here in Australia.
Under coalition leadership, Australia has boosted protection for whales, seals and seabirds in the Southern Ocean by expanding the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve and creating the largest fully-protected sanctuary in our exclusive economic zone. Successive coalition, federal and state governments have placed a prohibition on oil and gas in the Great Barrier Reef, banned whaling, banned sandmining on Fraser Island, created the first stage of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, World Heritage listed the Great Barrier Reef and created the Cairns section. They also established the Lihou Reef National Nature Reserve in the Coral Sea, the Coringa-Herald National Nature Reserve, the Solitary Islands Marine Reserve, the Great Australian Bight Marine Park, the Australian Whale Sanctuary, the Tasmanian Seamounts Marine Reserve, the Macquarie Island Commonwealth Marine Reserve, the Lord Howe Island Marine Park, the Cartier Island Commonwealth Marine Reserve, the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park's expansion of green zones, the Cod Grounds Commonwealth Marine Reserve, the South-east Commonwealth Marine Reserves Network, which includes another 13 marine reserves, and the Lalang-garram/Camden Sound Marine Park and the Ngari Capes Marine Park in Western Australia.
You don't have to take my word for it. This is taken from a publication called Save Our Marine Life, which was produced by an alliance of leading conservation organisations working to protect Australia's marine life and way of life. They published this in recognition of the coalition government's legacy for reserves and for Australia. It bears repeating that, as I mentioned previously, it was a coalition government which banned capital dredge disposal in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and it was the Fraser government of 1975 which banned oil and gas operations on the reef.
The coalition has committed funding of over $2 billion over the next decade to protecting the reef. This funding includes commitments to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation's reef fund to make finance available for businesses to deliver clean energy outcomes, alongside other benefits for the reef; $210 million for the establishment of the Reef Trust, which focuses on improving water quality through reducing sediment and nutrient run-off; and more than $22 million to cull the invasive crown-of-thorns starfish. In the words of Robert Hill, Minister for the Environment in the Howard government:
We believe that a comprehensive and representative system of marine parks is an essential component of our efforts to protect Australia's unique marine biodiversity.
The next time Labor, Greens or any other party, like GetUp, has a desire to denigrate the coalition's track record on marine conservation, I encourage them to refer to this speech for a taste of their failings and our achievements.
Local residents in the Ryan electorate, and all Australians, can be assured that the coalition government will ensure that Australia's natural wonders are preserved for our future generations to enjoy. Queenslanders, Australians and international tourists will continue to enjoy our great state and the range of natural attractions it has to offer. With four plans of management in place currently, it is vital that this bill be supported by all in this House to continue the protections and benefits afforded to the Great Barrier Reef.
I refer again to Robert Hill when he says:
This is the legacy we can be very proud of now and well into the future.
The Great Barrier Reef has always been and always will be Australia's reef. Queensland: beautiful one day, perfect the next. I commend this bill to the House.
I'm pleased to rise tonight to support the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment Bill 2017 and to give the bipartisan support the member for Ryan seeks. I'm also pleased to follow the member for Ryan, who shared some of the history of the coalition and their concern for the Great Barrier Reef, referencing former Senator Hill. It harks back to a time when the majority of those opposite cared about marine life and cared about the planet. But I didn't hear a lot about action on climate change, and I think that's part of what this conversation needs to be about.
As my colleagues have said, Labor supports this bill because the meat of the bill is around a technical issue that needs support. But I wanted to take the opportunity, as a Victorian, to put my marker in the ground for people living in my electorate—many of whom holiday on the reef and many of whom, more importantly, come to talk to me about the importance of the reef—and to remind this House that it isn't just Queenslanders who care about the Great Barrier Reef. Their southern cousins care deeply about ensuring the future of the Great Barrier Reef and ensuring that it is protected.
It goes without saying that the Great Barrier Reef is iconic and holds a special place in the Australian imagination and the hearts of all Australians. This amendment, while a technical change, speaks to the need for continuity of care for the reef. In this space, Labor has a proud history of protecting and defending the Great Barrier Reef. The Whitlam government implemented Australia's first marine reserve over the reef. More recently, Labor established Australia's marine reserve network, the largest network of marine protected areas anywhere in the world—and looking at the maps does bring great pride about the work that the former Labor government did. Labor established a $200 million reef plan to work with farmers to improve the water quality of the reef. It extended the reef VTS—the vessel tracking system—to the whole World Heritage area. It worked in cooperation with traditional owners under the Land and Sea Country Partnerships Program. It established agreements for the traditional use of marine resources with a number of traditional owner groups. It established the Great Barrier Reef Climate Change Action Plan, which is of course critical for the future of the reef, and began the strategic assessment process.
Labor has a proud history here, and we support this bill, because the meat of this bill is around the plans of management that are already in place. In light of the extensive loss of coral, and significant threats to the reef's health posed by climate change, it is even more pressing that there be a continuous and long-term strategic plan for the reef. 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. 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.
This bill addresses issues associated with the sunset clause in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975. When the regulations are reviewed as mandated by the sunset clause in the legislation, in effect the plans of management will be repealed without being replaced. It takes time to come up with a new plan, get the research right and get stakeholders on board, so Labor supports this bill to ensure that that sunset clause doesn't trigger the repeal without replacement. The issue is that this process was not started early enough, so now, when the sunset is enacted on the existing legislation in 2018, there will be no plan to replace it. The changes proposed by this bill are designed to prevent this automatic revocation and ensure continuity of the plan. The amendments have no further consequence for policy or budgeting, and Labor therefore is happy to support the bill, as it corrects a technical issue with the existing legislation.
While this bill does something positive, I must take this opportunity to speak about why continued care for the reef is essential. We often speak about the beauty and significance of the reef in our joint imaginations; however, the reef also acts as a buffer between the savagery of the ocean and the coastline. Coral growth means there are natural deposits of coastal sediments. The reef's ability to protect the Queensland shoreline depends on the ability of individual reefs in the system to grow as sea levels continue to rise. As the bleaching continues, the health of the reef deteriorates, and its ability to grow to the levels required is diminished. Furthermore, as the sea becomes more acidic, because of increased levels of carbon dioxide, the very spines or the bones of the reef dissolve and degrade rapidly. While the research is still out on whether or not the reef will be able to grow alongside increasing sea levels, at this stage it looks like the reef growth will diminish. The Climate Council estimates that at least $226 billion of assets and infrastructure will be exposed to inundation if sea levels rise by 1.1 metres, so it is critically important that the reef be protected not just for tourism, its beauty, the love that Australians have for the reef, our history of connection to the reef and the jobs it provides but for the very important role it has to play in the ecosystem other than itself.
The government's new proposed marine park plans suggest that you can conserve ocean wildlife while allowing fishing and oil and gas exploration. Under the proposed plans there will be no changes to the boundaries of existing marine parks, which cover 36 per cent of Commonwealth waters, but areas inside the boundaries will be rezoned to allow for activities other than conservation. They are proposing a new zoning system for marine parks. The parts of the map that are green will be national park zones with full conservation protection, the yellow areas will be habitat protection zones where fishing is allowed as long as the sea floor is not harmed, and blue special purpose zones will allow for specific commercial activities. Effectively, this means the green zones will be reduced from the overarching 36 per cent to 20 per cent, and yellow or fishing zones will double from 24 per cent to 43 per cent of the marine park network. All of the science suggests that the health of the seabed is best in areas where there is no commercial activity. Remember, with sea levels rising, we need reefs and coral to be growing, not to be put at risk by increased commercial activity. In this instance, as in everything with this government, they are relying on flash and slick marketing over policy substance.
In contrast, while this legislation is welcome, Labor's environmental policy commitments go much further in their protective efforts. Specifically, Labor's Great Barrier Reef plan involves more coordinated and efficient long-term management of the reef that is appropriately funded and resourced. This includes investing up to $100 million to review and improve current management practices involving the reef, in consultation with relevant stakeholders. This is further supported by Labor's comprehensive Climate Change Action Plan, which will deliver real action on climate change and, in doing so, preclude its harmful effect on the reef, including coral bleaching, and ensure the reef can continue to protect the coastline.
We have heard speakers on this side of the House tonight speak not only about their passion for the reef but also about the importance to their local communities of the reef for tourism. It was also interesting to listen to the member for Herbert discuss the implications for universities and research and the notion of Townsville as a sea marine hub in research. These are all critical elements whenever we as legislators look at the implementation of marine parks or changes to marine parks.
I stand with my colleagues in being pleased to support this legislation, but I suggest that those opposite need to think about the attitudes across their party room. There are those who want to look at the science and prepare for the worst, as they say, to ensure that we protect the reef appropriately and therefore protect Queensland appropriately. I would urge those opposite who respect scientific research to speak long and hard to the members of their party room who want to dismiss the science, who want to dismiss the reality that is fast approaching and who refuse to budge and to put resources where they need to be to ensure the protection of our planet.
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.
Like I hope most MPs in this parliament have, I have a very engaged constituency. I receive a huge volume of correspondence from the people who I represent in this parliament every day. It's a great gauge of the issues that are hot-button in our community at the moment. I can tell you from four years experience now that the Great Barrier Reef is one of these hot-button issues. Australians are fiercely protective of the Great Barrier Reef. They love it. It is part of our DNA as Australians to identify with the reef and all that it represents for the Australian way of life.
This is bad news, I think, for the Turnbull government, because the common thread of this correspondence that I receive from constituents about the Great Barrier Reef is a distrust of the competence of the Turnbull government to manage both the micro-issues of the reef—the marine park management issues—and also the macro challenges of dealing with the bigger threat to the reef posed by man-made climate change. I always encourage my constituents to write to me. I enjoy it when I get letters from my school groups. They have been flooding in recently in response to changes to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park arrangements.
The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef in the world and rightly one of the world's natural wonders. It is not only iconic but something Australians are extremely passionate about. You can go to almost any part of the world and people will comment on Australia's natural beauty. The Great Barrier Reef is part of our nation's brand overseas. Australians and many others dream of sailing to the reef and snorkelling and diving to experience firsthand its astonishing diversity of marine life. This is something that is handed down from generation to generation. My grandmother lived on Daydream Island as a young girl, and I was very happy to return to the region as a young child. It is something we hand on across generations in Australia.
The size of the reef is mind boggling at 344,400 square kilometres, the same size as 70 million football fields, or roughly the same area as Japan, Germany, Italy or Malaysia. It stretches over 2,300 kilometres and contains 600 types of hard and soft corals, 100 species of jellyfish, 3,000 varieties of molluscs, 500 species of worms, more than 1,600 types of fish, over 100 different varieties of sharks and stingrays, and around 30 species of whales and dolphins. The Great Barrier Reef is extraordinary in its biodiversity, and the interconnectedness of its habitats and species is unique and complex—and something that we ought to treasure and protect with great ferocity.
However, we face an enormous challenge to protect the reef. Coral reefs serve many important functions. They provide protection to coastlines from the damaging effects of wave action and tropical storms. They provide habitats and shelter for many marine organisms. They are a source of nitrogen and other essential nutrients for marine food chains. They assist in carbon and nitrogen fixing and help with nutrient recycling. Healthy ecosystems like this are essential for natural resources, the purification of air and water, and the creation of soil and the breakdown of pollutants. A diverse range of species allows for a larger gene pool, which can protect this diversity against environmental changes. Generations of Australians should be able to experience this natural wonder.
The sheer size of the reef means that we need a collaborative approach to manage this resource. This bill, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment Bill 2017, addresses issues associated with the sunset clause in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975, regarding revoking management plans. The bill proposes changes to prevent any automatic revocation and have no budgetary or policy consequences as such. Labor support this bill, as it's correcting technical issues with the current legislation. However, Labor's policies on the environment and on the reef go much further than simple protective provisions.
We recognise the environmental, social and economic benefits of the reef. Not only is it a national treasure but it is a crucial source of jobs for tens of thousands of Australians, particularly in regional Australia. A Deloitte report estimated that the reef is worth $56 billion, contributed $6.4 billion to the Australian economy in 2015-16 and supported 64,000 full-time jobs. The reef attracts two million visits each year from both Australians and people from abroad. However, the reef is deteriorating and its ecosystem is declining. With every passing day, the reef and the jobs it provides are being put more and more at risk.
The Great Barrier Reef Water Science Task Force report of May 2016 confirmed climate change is the single biggest threat to the Great Barrier Reef. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority's assessment, produced every five years—the latest in 2014—is that the outlook is 'poor', having deteriorated significantly since 2009. According to the authority, the death of coral has been estimated at around half between 2016 and 2017, and the worst damage is in the remote northern sections, which were previously the most pristine. Data released by the Australian Institute of Marine Science reveals that, before the second wave of bleaching in 2017, coral cover on the northern third of the Reef had reduced from 20 per cent to less than 10 per cent.
At the last federal election, Labor committed to a Great Barrier Reef plan. The plan comprised three elements. The first is science and research to improve monitoring of reef issues to ensure the protection of the reef is based on the latest specialised science. This includes an additional investment in climate and reef science at the CSIRO of $50 million. The second is direct environmental investment: integrating direct investment to improve water quality, land management, agricultural and transport sustainability, and environmental impacts. The third is reef management: improving reef management architecture, and incentives to fix the fragmented and uncoordinated approach that has for too long characterised reef management and conservation.
Climate change, however, is the critical issue of our generation. It's happening right here, right now, and it's having real-world impacts on our country already. Ban Ki-moon eloquently pointed out that we are the last generation that can take steps to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Urgent revisions of the Reef 2050 plan recommended by an expert independent panel led by former Chief Scientist Ian Chubb would enable mitigation, adaptation and management of the reef in the face of inexorable global warming. A Word Heritage Committee report released this month confirms global action is required to save the reef—