Thursday, 16 August 2018
Regulations and Determinations
Marine Parks Network Management Plans; Disallowance
I know that we only have limited time for this debate, so I will keep my comments a lot shorter than they otherwise would have been. Obviously I support all of these disallowance motions, but, as a senator for Queensland, I wanted to speak specifically about the one with regard to the Coral Sea. I don't want to get too parochial about it, but, certainly amongst all of these, it's hard not to see this as at least equal in significance to other areas that are also dramatically reduced in protection as a direct result of the consequences of this government and the Abbott government preceding it.
The Coral Sea directly adjoins the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which I would hope everybody in this chamber would agree is not only an environmental wonder of the world and recognised as such but also an incredibly important economic job generator for Queensland, particularly regional and Northern Queensland. I back up Senator Siewert's acknowledgement that it is one of the positive achievements of the Howard government. There's not a lot I'd point to, but one was a significant expansion of protected areas within the marine park, and I commend that achievement.
It needs to be said that, despite all the doom and gloom predictions of what it would cause, particularly to recreational fishers' opportunities, it has been clearly proven, as was suggested, to significantly improve fish stocks and actually enhance the attractiveness of a whole lot of recreational fishing opportunities along the Queensland coast. In the short time I've been back in the Senate role for the Greens in Queensland, I've had that said to me by a number of recreational fishers in regional Queensland, and tourism people are saying that the local areas are developing reputations for being more attractive to recreational fishers because of the environmental improvement that is a direct result of increasing marine protection.
The Coral Sea, of course, does not have coastal areas. It directly adjoins the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which we all know is severely under threat not only but most severely from climate change. The Coral Sea and its incredible natural assets are now much more at risk because of the vandalism caused by the decision of the Abbott government to rip up the protected areas that were put in place by the previous Labor government. It must be said that it's not just about fishing and the impact of commercial fishing; it is also about the potential for oil and gas exploration in this area. It wasn't until this disallowance was moved that I remembered that, way back in 2002, when I was a Democrats senator in this place—I was actually party leader at the time—we managed to uncover the fact that a government agency was attempting, secretly, to carry out surveying to enable it to assess more clearly whether there were oil opportunities in parts of the Coral Sea.
The reduced marine park protection that's in place that needs to be disallowed is not solely about reefs, although, of course, that is crucial. It is also about protecting those marine environments more broadly from the dangers of being opened up in the future for oil exploration and extraction. Let's not forget that one of the key reasons that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park first came into being—as a result of very commendable community action driven by people locally in Queensland and supported by others around the country—were the threats of the Queensland government at the time to basically open up the reef for drilling. That sort of legacy and those historical factors that drive campaigns do not go away with the passage of time, and the people who tried and pushed and might have failed in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park keep looking for opportunities in other areas. The failure to strengthen marine park protection in the way that was done previously—that's now been undone—is another example of that vandalism.