Monday, 3 March 2014
Responses to Senate Resolutions
by leave—I take note of the response given by Minister Hunt to the Senate resolution regarding the Great Barrier Reef. I notice that today we received a response from the minister to the Senate's request and mine to table the public submissions into the Great Barrier Reef draft strategic assessment. As people may know, this is the document which will set the future of the Great Barrier Reef. It is a very important document. It is a document which also, as many people might not know, puts the reef in the hands of Premier Campbell Newman. It takes away federal approval powers and gives those entirely to the Queensland government. It is a crucial document, given that that state government has set upon a program of repealing as many environmental laws as it possibly can in the short time it has been in charge in Queensland.
So I was very interested in the minister's response to the resolution that public submissions be made public, as the name would suggest. Sadly, the minister has said that, actually, it is not really his problem—'Don't call us, we'll call you,' is in essence what the minister said today. The reason I requested this information is that there was some reporting of the mining industry making a submission to that process and seeking some favours, essentially, whereby the regulation of dredging and offshore dumping be weakened for the reef. I was very interested to know that the mining industry wants to weaken protection for the reef and enable it to continue its disastrous program of offshore dumping simply because it is cheaper for the industry to dump this sludge in the water than it is to treat it safely and dispose of it on land. Hence the Senate's resolution.
The Australian public have a right to know what was said in those submissions—what the mining industry asked for, whether in fact they have had any truck with this minister and whether there have been any meetings or negotiations about whether those demands to weaken reef protection will be granted. But we do know that, in that process of the strategic assessment, the reef protection will be weakened, because Premier Campbell Newman will be put in charge of issuing approvals.
So I was quite disappointed with the federal minister's response today that it is not really his problem because the process is being run by the Queensland government and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority—so they will look into it, but do not hold your breath. I am afraid that is not good enough. This government has a responsibility to protect the reef and it is not just a legal responsibility, although of course it is that; it is also a moral responsibility, a responsibility that it seems to be doing all it can to shirk. We saw over the weekend some freedom of information documents released by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority that in fact show that the science is clear that dumping is dangerous in the reef—that offshore dumping of this sludge to make coal ports bigger and deeper for yet more export is damaging the reef and in fact should not proceed. We know that, sadly, Minister Hunt ignored that science and approved the expansion of Abbot Point anyway, such that we will now have the world's largest coal port, in a World Heritage area. I think that is utterly horrific and that you would find that many in the community would agree. Hence our concern about the disclosure of these submissions. The public have a right to know what favours the mining industry are seeking, what weakening they have sought in reef protection, whether they have had any truck with the minister, whether any quiet negotiations behind closed doors have gone on and why the federal government is not making this their responsibility. It is not okay for the minister to say, 'We are not running the process—it is nothing to do with us. Go away; it is not our problem.' It is our problem. It is the problem of all of us. It is a problem for the 63,000 people who need a healthy reef for their job and it is a problem for our budget bottom line, given that the reef brings in $6 billion every year and could continue to do so into the future if we look after it.
We will be pursuing this issue of making those submissions public. I am disappointed so far that the minister has said that he is liaising, 'but don't call us, we'll call you'. That is not good enough. We need those public submissions disclosed if the public is to have any confidence in this process of a strategic assessment for the reef. We will be following this up. Rest assured that the public cares very much about our reef and wants to know that its interests are being put ahead of the interests of the big mining companies and the interests of the Abbott government in doing favours for the mining industry.
Question agreed to.