Senate debates

Thursday, 9 February 2006


Wet Tropics Management Authority

4:59 pm

Photo of Andrew BartlettAndrew Bartlett (Queensland, Australian Democrats) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

Document No. 24 is the Wet Tropics Management Authority annual report. I will briefly mention that the Senate Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts References Committee, which I chair, has recently started an inquiry into Australia’s national parks, its marine reserves, the natural reserve system and the protected areas around Australia. The wet tropics is one of the better-known World Heritage areas. It also represents many of the challenges that face protected areas throughout Australia, where the core purpose is to protect biodiversity. I might say that the biodiversity in the wet tropics area is simply mind-boggling and as a Queenslander, without getting too parochial, I would say it outstrips most of the rest of the country in that respect. This is important not just in its feelgood aspect but also as a part of the underlying strength of our economy.

Some of the other difficulties and challenges in this area are also represented in the wet tropics area, and this report reflects that. We have the challenges of protected areas adjoining agricultural areas such as sugar cane, of protected areas adjoining residential areas, of growing residential developments in that part of Queensland and also of those areas being heavily affected by tourism. Tourism brings an enormous amount of employment and income to Far North Queensland. It also relies heavily on the wet tropics and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which is a major magnet for people. For anybody who has not had a look at that part of the world, I strongly encourage them to do so.

Obviously, all of those things are big challenges for the protected areas around the wet tropics World Heritage area. The Wet Tropics Management Authority is the body entrusted with overseeing those areas. I will not pre-empt what the Senate committee might find, and there is also a review at the moment of the Wet Tropics Management Authority so I will not pre-empt that either. I will simply say that there is certainly room for improving the operation and the ability of the Wet Tropics Management Authority to do its core job of managing those protected areas. At this stage, the authority does not even have reliability of funding from one year to another and it has to rely on applying for grants or applying for funding from the Natural Heritage Trust from one year to the next to be able to do its job. Something is seriously wrong and that certainly needs to be addressed.

I would also take the opportunity while the Minister for the Environment and Heritage is in the chamber to emphasise that there are some real dangers to some of the species in the wet tropics area. I have mentioned in this chamber before the real danger at Mission Beach, down at the southern end of the wet tropics area. The iconic species of the cassowary has already disappeared from the Cairns region. It is under serious threat from continual residential and property development in the Mission Beach area. Just to take one slice, block and estate at a time, each of those estates and tourist resorts is individually assessed under the federal environment protection act. The problem is that each individual development application is assessed individually. The difficulty is that the cumulative effects of all of those developments are quite seriously threatening the viability of the local cassowary population. This is not just clearing, of course. With the greater population going into that area there is more traffic on the roads through there and deaths of cassowaries as a result of being hit by cars or trucks are one of the key reasons the population in that area is declining.

That is just one example. There are also issues of making better use of the amazing knowledge of the local Indigenous people and involving them better in the management of the wet tropics areas and, indeed, in the tourist industry in that region. So there are a number of factors that I think are a classic case study of the challenges and opportunities with that protected area. I encourage those people that were not aware of the Senate committee inquiry to look at making a submission over the course of the next month as we examine these crucial environmental and economic issues. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.