Senate debates

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment Bill 2007

In Committee

8:30 pm

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation) Share this | Hansard source

We have had this amendment proposed by the opposition described as ‘great’ and ‘elegant’ and all sorts of other words. Unfortunately, the government does not agree that the proposed amendment is great and elegant. In fairness, Senator McLucas raised a number of issues, and I feel that I should deal with those. The extension of the Great Barrier Reef region in the manner proposed by the amendment was considered in the context of the review of the act. The review noted that the Coral Sea, while containing ecologically important areas, is separated from the Great Barrier Reef by an area of deep water and forms a largely distinct ecosystem. The review therefore concluded that, where protection is appropriate, the establishment of Commonwealth reserves under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 is the appropriate mechanism rather than extension of the Great Barrier Reef region. Two such Commonwealth reserves already exist—Coringa-Herald and Lihou Reef national nature reserves.

Furthermore, the Australian Coral Sea area is currently the subject of marine bioregional planning. In last year’s budget the government allocated more than $30 million for marine bioregional planning, a significant proportion of which is being spent to better understand the conservation values and human uses of the Coral Sea. This information will lead to the establishment of a network of representative marine protected areas throughout the Coral Sea as an adjunct to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and the two existing Coral Sea Commonwealth reserves. There are no active oil and gas leases in the area and there has been no recent oil and gas exploration. Only relatively small areas of the Coral Sea are thought to be prospective for oil and gas. Other potential pressures, such as those from tourism and fishing, are also known to be low at present.

In the absence of real threats to the ecological integrity of the Coral Sea and the Great Barrier Reef as a result of activities in the Coral Sea, it would be difficult to justify pre-empting the marine planning process with an ill-considered extension of the Great Barrier Reef region. The proposal would not simply prohibit mining in those areas; it would make the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 the basis for managing Coral Sea areas rather than the more appropriate framework of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. This would prevent further Commonwealth marine protected areas being established in the Coral Sea to complement Coringa-Herald and Lihou Reef, thereby appropriately protecting important areas of biodiversity in the Coral Sea. Extending the Great Barrier Reef region in the manner proposed would add around 980,000 square kilometres to the current 345,000 square kilometre area of the Great Barrier Reef region, an excessive addition to a buffer for the Great Barrier Reef.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 already provides mechanisms for managing activities outside the marine park that impact on the marine park. Furthermore, the Great Barrier Reef outlook report proposed in this bill will facilitate the identification and assessment of any risks to the ecosystem of the Great Barrier Reef, including potential threats from petroleum and mining areas outside the marine park. Oil drilling activities in the Coral Sea are likely to trigger the environmental approval provisions of the EPBC Act. This provides a mechanism for regulating oil and mining activities that will potentially harm the Great Barrier Reef. The government recognises the importance of, and has made great progress in, protecting the Great Barrier Reef and Australia’s marine environment more generally. It will continue to base its policies and legislative program on good science and prior consultation with affected businesses and communities. The government will be opposing the amendment.

Question put:

That the amendment (Senator McLucas’s) be agreed to.


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