Thursday, 21 June 2007
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment Bill 2007
Labor supports the Democrat amendment because it reinstates a set of experience and skills back on to the authority. It is our view that the government has misunderstood both the Uhrig principles and the departmental review of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. The Uhrig principles include the principle that governing boards are most effective when members are appointed based on their relevant skills and expertise. Having an Indigenous person on the authority ensures that the skills and expertise required in order for Indigenous-specific issues to be included are there.
Who can put the view of an Indigenous Australian? No-one except an Indigenous person. Indigenous people themselves say that, when they are in a position of representing people, they find it difficult to represent others who are not of their country. It is Labor’s view and certainly my view that having an Indigenous person on the authority ensures that the relevant skills and expertise of an Indigenous person will be part of the deliberations. We cannot ensure that those issues will be included in the thinking, unless an Indigenous person is there. It is our view that the government has misunderstood not only Uhrig but also the internal departmental review, which said:
... the Review Panel recommends that members of the Authority continue to be appointed based on qualifications and experience that are relevant to the functions of the Authority.
In that sense, it is absolutely essential that a person who sits on the authority has the experience relevant to the functions of the authority. We recognise that the Great Barrier Reef is an important part of Indigenous people’s experience. Whilst we still do not have a native title claim that has been successful over areas of the Great Barrier Reef, it has been recognised through the authority’s memorandum of understanding with the Girringun people that Aboriginal peoples living along the coast of Queensland have had an ongoing connection with sea country. It is my understanding that the authority is keen to continue building those agreements in other areas up and down the coast of Queensland. The day of the Girringun agreement was fantastic. I was very fortunate to be in Townsville on that day and witness an extremely emotional ceremony that provided recognition not only from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority but also from the government of Queensland through the Environment Protection Authority that the Girringun people have a connection to that sea country. They have worked with it; they have used it. It has been part of their lives and culture for a very long time.
That is just the start. How do we expect the authority to have the ability to continue with these sorts of agreements unless we have a driver—a person who sits on the authority driving that agenda? There is concern in North Queensland from the Indigenous community that the drive that we have so far experienced will now go and that we will not have the commitment from the authority to continue recognising the important role that Aboriginal people, particularly in that part of the world, have played in the management of the reef over time. They want to continue playing that role and to be part of the management of the reef into the future.
My position is that the government misunderstood Uhrig. They did not get it. They did not understand what he meant. Uhrig said quite clearly that you do not need to have representation on a board. This means that you do not need to have somebody representing, for example, the tourism industry but that you should appoint people with the relevant skills and expertise. That was his point. My position is that, if you do not have an Indigenous person on the authority, you will be missing out on a huge swag of relevant skills and expertise required by the authority to deliver the sort of management that we want into the future.
Labor supports the Democrat amendment. It is sensible. Given the fact that the number of people on the authority has actually increased, what is the problem? If we were decreasing the number on the authority, there might be an element—a skerrick—of an argument. But the number of people on the authority is increasing. Why lose that expertise? Why lose those skills in the deliberations of the authority into the future? I think Senator Bartlett’s amendment is sensible. It is not hard. Everybody accepts that it would be a reasonable thing to expect that Indigenous people who have played a part in managing the reef over such a long period of time would continue to play a part at the authority level rather than being relegated to some sort of advisory role. Labor supports the amendment.