Senate debates

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2008

Referral to Committee

4:42 pm

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary Assisting the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

The coalition will be supporting this motion to refer the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2008 to a committee. I assume that, in accordance with past practice, the Greens will also be supporting it. And I suspect the Labor Party will not have any objection to it either. So, on behalf of the coalition, I indicate that we will be supporting the motion to refer the bill to a committee.

The bill arose from a widespread review of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act. The review took place last year and the year before. It was conducted by a very senior group of public servants, including the secretary and some independent people. They reviewed the whole act and came forward with recommendations. I think the bill was prepared by the previous government but it was not dealt with before the parliament rose for the election. The new government has brought the bill forward, basically in accordance with the recommendations of the review committee, although there have been some amendments to it by the new government. These will be debated and looked into by the committee that will be reviewing this and by the Senate itself.

I have already given notice that the coalition will be moving an amendment in relation to appointments to the board, requiring that one of the appointments to the board of GBRMPA be a person with experience in the tourism industry or another industry related to the Great Barrier Reef. We have also tabled today a further amendment raising the issue that I mentioned briefly earlier this afternoon of the fishermen who had been convicted under the original law and received fines—perhaps not great in a monetary sense—for offences under the act as it was then.

They were treated as serious criminal offences and the impact of that was that those who were convicted have a permanent criminal record, which can have an impact on them when they apply for international access arrangements, for example, visas to the United States. That of course was an unintended consequence of the original legislation. That is why the former government previously had amended the act to provide that, in future, for people breaching the no-go zones, the green zones, the offences would be dealt with by an on-the-spot ticket which carried a substantial fine but which did not have a criminal record attached to it. That is an amendment that we will be moving.

Senator Boswell, Senator Joyce, Senator Trood and others have done a lot of work on this over the last 12 to 18 months. I did mention earlier this afternoon, and will only briefly repeat it now, that I raised this in the May estimates session with the Minister representing the Minister for Home Affairs, Mr Debus, whose department I understand deals with pardons and also with the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts. I received from public officials and the ministers—I will not verbal them by saying encouragement—certainly not discouragement from the process of applying for pardons, which I then took further and encouraged those convicted to apply for a pardon. I put a proforma application form on my website hoping that people would take it up and that the government would realise that this needed to be addressed and in fact then address it.

I again mention that before the last election some good work by Senator Boswell had then Prime Minister Howard giving an election commitment to have these convictions overturned should the then government win the election. As we know, that did not happen of course. At that time Senator Kerry O’Brien, who was then the opposition’s shadow minister for agriculture, fisheries and forestry, promised that a Labor government upon election would also overturn these convictions. That is recorded in the Townsville Bulletin and people went to the election accepting that both major parties would overturn those convictions. It has been somewhat of a disappointment to me that the Labor government have not honoured that commitment by introducing separate legislation. According to Senator Ludwig there were four people who applied for pardons and, as I understand it, they have been rejected by the government. I am disappointed about that. This amendment that we have already tabled will allow the Senate, the government and Senator O’Brien in particular to have those convictions treated as spent convictions under the Crimes Act. There are other issues involved in this bill that require investigation and Senator Joyce has mentioned some of them; there will be others. In supporting Senator Fielding’s motion for reference to a committee the coalition takes the view that it would be good to expose this to the widest range of people.

I conclude by saying that, whatever we do, it is essential that the government, legislation and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority do everything possible to protect what is one of the nine wonders of the world—that is, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. It is a magnificent and quite unique reef that is worth millions and millions of dollars to the tourism industry and worth uncountable dollars to our marine environment. It is very important that we do protect it. It is one of the best managed coral reefs in the world and all credit to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and, might I say, to Malcolm Fraser, who first introduced legislation in the federal parliament—


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