Thursday, 21 June 2007
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment Bill 2007
Bill—by leave—taken as a whole.
I move Democrat amendment (1) on sheet 5275:
(1) Schedule 1, item 14, page 5 (line 8), omit paragraph 10(1)(b), substitute:
(b) a member appointed to represent the interests of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities adjacent to the Marine Park;
(c) at least 1 but not more than 3 other members.
I will probably refer in passing to the specifics of amendment (2) as well, along the way, but I will just move amendment (1).
I will deal with them separately. Basically, they are alternatives. Amendment (1) is the preferred option and amendment (2) is a fallback if the Senate, by some unimaginable eventuality, actually does not agree with me and adopt amendment (1). I will move amendment (2) if nobody likes amendment (1).
Amendment (1) basically goes to the issue of the membership of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. I touched on this in my second reading contribution to some extent, and it is also the main issue that is addressed in the report from the Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts on the brief inquiry that they had into this legislation.
The legislation before us increases the size of the authority by one but, in doing so, it also removes the current requirement for one of the members of the authority to be representative of the different Indigenous communities and tribal groups, which number about 70, who reside and whose traditional lands are along the coastal areas of the marine park. We are talking about an area that goes from the very top of Queensland—the Torres Strait and the top of Cape York—down to about Bundaberg, which is the vast majority of the Queensland coast. It is no surprise that there is a wide array and a large number of Indigenous groups and traditional owner groups covering that entire region. There is a huge diversity there in terms of their culture, history and make-up.
As I noted in my contribution to the second reading debate, the continuing trend—and the appropriate trend with regard to natural resource management and management of protected areas—is to increase the amount of Indigenous involvement in the management of those areas. Most of the national parks are managed at state level, but at Commonwealth level through Parks Australia three of the national parks—Uluru-Kata Tjuta, Kakadu and the one at Jarvis Bay—have Indigenous people on the board of management.
I am not sure of the full composition of all of the management boards but the one in Uluru-Kata Tjuta has 50 per cent Indigenous representation. Representation is half male and half female, and is also split between the two main groups that are the traditional owner groups from that particular area covered by the park. My understanding is that that arrangement works fairly well—it works better than it would without it—and that was the impression of the Senate environment committee when we examined the issue of national parks in a fairly comprehensive inquiry we conducted throughout last year, which included a visit to Uluru.
There are also examples at state level of slowly moving more towards joint or cooperative management. We have seen a couple of very significant announcements in Far North Queensland in recent times, both with regard to Cape York and areas just before that covered by the traditional lands of the Kuku Yalanji people, covering sections of the wet tropics of Wujal Wujal down to Mosman, an area which also contains the capacity and the recognition of the desirability of greater Indigenous involvement in the management of those parks—and not just the parks but some of the lands surrounding them.
That is the current framework. And totally out of nowhere we suddenly have a move that takes us back decades, with Indigenous representation—there is only one Indigenous representative on the marine park authority—just completely removed. I know the argument for it that has been put forward by the report that recommended this. The Uhrig principles say that you should not have people on government authorities that are there in a representative capacity and that they are meant to be there for their skills and expertise. Frankly, I think being an Indigenous representative does bring specific skills and expertise, so it is a little of an arcane point in some respects. But, leaving that to one side, the principle is fine to take into consideration, but to apply it without exception and to apply it without giving any consideration to the special and unique circumstances—both of the marine park and of the role of the Indigenous people whose traditional lands and waters are covered by the marine park—is quite extraordinary. I can only assume it was just an oversight and that this was just a matter of ticking a box: ‘We’ll run the ruler over the Uhrig principles, have a look and see how they apply and then just flick off the representative capacity there.’ I assume there was no real deeper consideration given to it than that.
From the evidence given to the Senate committee inquiry in terms of written responses from the department, there seemed to be no meaningful consultation at all with the various Indigenous communities up and down the coast. From the information we got it seems that basically when the big review started, which, as we all heard from the second reading debate, was really about commercial fishing and how angry they were about the rezoning—it had nothing to do with Indigenous representation at all—they all got sent a letter, along with everybody else, saying, ‘There’s a review on if you want to have a say.’ There was no indication in that letter saying, ‘By the way, there’s a possibility that Indigenous representation might be removed; perhaps we would be interested in your views about that specific matter.’ There was no response from them, which is not unusual, particularly given that everybody’s understanding was that this was about whether or not the authority would cease to exist at all, or taking on the Boswell-Joyce model of destroying it completely, Queensland losing the authority and it being brought under ministerial control down in Canberra. That is what it was all about, and it was quite clear that that was still what it was all about in terms of the contributions from the Nationals senators here at the start of the week when we had the second reading stage of this debate.
That seems to be it. There were a range of meetings held between the review group and lots of stakeholders, but again, from all I can see, there were no specific meetings with Indigenous communities and representatives to discuss this specific issue. It really was just a footnote. Unfortunately, it might seem like a fairly minor matter, but it is a very significant matter not just for Indigenous people but, I would argue, in terms of the effectiveness of the authority in being able to manage the park. We are not moving towards greater Indigenous involvement in the management of protected areas because it makes us feel good or it is some token thing. We are doing it because it has been recognised that this improves the effectiveness of management—both because there is an enormous amount of expertise and traditional knowledge in the management of many of these areas that we have been ignoring and that we will be able to tap into more effectively if we have Indigenous involvement at the management level, and because, as in so many other areas of activity involving government authorities around Australia, one of the areas that we do not do particularly well, that we have struggled to do effectively, is engage with Indigenous communities in all sorts of areas.
One way to improve that—it is not the only way; it is not the fix for everything—is to have direct Indigenous representation at management level so there is more understanding within the board of management of the Indigenous perspective and Indigenous realities, more trust within Indigenous communities that they have representation there at the highest level, and just greater understanding all round that they are a key stakeholder and a unique stakeholder. You cannot just stick them alongside fishers, rec fishers, the tourist industry, residentials and local government and everything else, which is basically where they are being relegated to now.
There is a promise that they will have a seat or two at the minister’s table when he puts together his advisory group, but it is a promise that is not reflected in legislation. That is not good enough. We know it is not good enough because we have moved on from that model in natural resource management in so many areas. I must repeat: the Senate environment committee in its comprehensive inquiry into national parks and protected areas unanimously found and unanimously recommended that we increase Indigenous involvement in the management of protected areas and national parks. No coalition senator dissented from that—they all signed up to it, as they should have. It was a very cooperative and constructive report. That was tabled probably within weeks of this legislation appearing, with its line that removes Indigenous representation. You would not know from the explanatory memorandum that the specific consequence here is removal of Indigenous representation. There is simply the statement that the board would no longer have people there in a representative capacity. There is no special attention or focus given to this. I do not think there is any real realisation of how significant this is.
I urge the government to consider this. It is already on the record saying that it is going to be making further amendments to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act in line with other recommendations in the review to bring it more into line and make things more efficient in how it interconnects with the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. There is every argument to say that this issue about whether to remove Indigenous representation should be put off to allow direct consultation about this specific issue, particularly with Indigenous communities. If it still felt that it should go ahead then it could put it in the next one. I would be very surprised if, after proper consideration, it was seen that this was a good idea. But if it was and it was actually given proper consideration then the option is still open.
The minister responded very briefly to this point—I think with about one sentence in his second reading speech, which I know was curtailed because we were coming up against question time—in saying that the option was still there for an Indigenous person to be appointed to the authority. Of course it is, and I hope that happens, but it is not guaranteed at law. You are relying on the decision, circumstances and competing factors of the minister of the day in making appointments. That is not good enough. I do not think it is a strong enough guarantee for what should be a clear-cut requirement.
This amendment goes along with the expansion of the authority by an extra position, as was recommended by the review, but as part of that ensures that one of those people has to be appointed as an Indigenous representative. My fallback amendment, which at least takes on board the Uhrig principle of people not being there in a representative capacity, suggests that, if you are totally obsessed about not having anybody there that has the word ‘representative’ next to them, you at least have somebody there who is required to be there specifically because of their knowledge and expertise about Indigenous issues.
It should be put on record that the Indigenous representative that is currently there, Evelyn Scott, a very esteemed Indigenous person from Northern Queensland, has been very effective, certainly in my understanding and awareness—I am not all-knowing, but I do know a little bit—about how the authority has operated in recent times. The fact that they are appointed as an Indigenous representative does not mean that they act and say, ‘I’m the Indigenous vote and I’ll go back and do what I’m told; I don’t have a mind of my own.’ They are not representative in that narrow sense of the word; they are there to bring that perspective in there. That is what will be lost, and that would be a major and very serious loss. I urge the Senate not to make this change and to adopt this Democrat amendment. It is not necessary to remove this representation, and certainly not without proper consultation and proper consideration. I see no evidence that that has happened.
Labor supports the Democrat amendment because it reinstates a set of experience and skills back on to the authority. It is our view that the government has misunderstood both the Uhrig principles and the departmental review of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. The Uhrig principles include the principle that governing boards are most effective when members are appointed based on their relevant skills and expertise. Having an Indigenous person on the authority ensures that the skills and expertise required in order for Indigenous-specific issues to be included are there.
Who can put the view of an Indigenous Australian? No-one except an Indigenous person. Indigenous people themselves say that, when they are in a position of representing people, they find it difficult to represent others who are not of their country. It is Labor’s view and certainly my view that having an Indigenous person on the authority ensures that the relevant skills and expertise of an Indigenous person will be part of the deliberations. We cannot ensure that those issues will be included in the thinking, unless an Indigenous person is there. It is our view that the government has misunderstood not only Uhrig but also the internal departmental review, which said:
... the Review Panel recommends that members of the Authority continue to be appointed based on qualifications and experience that are relevant to the functions of the Authority.
In that sense, it is absolutely essential that a person who sits on the authority has the experience relevant to the functions of the authority. We recognise that the Great Barrier Reef is an important part of Indigenous people’s experience. Whilst we still do not have a native title claim that has been successful over areas of the Great Barrier Reef, it has been recognised through the authority’s memorandum of understanding with the Girringun people that Aboriginal peoples living along the coast of Queensland have had an ongoing connection with sea country. It is my understanding that the authority is keen to continue building those agreements in other areas up and down the coast of Queensland. The day of the Girringun agreement was fantastic. I was very fortunate to be in Townsville on that day and witness an extremely emotional ceremony that provided recognition not only from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority but also from the government of Queensland through the Environment Protection Authority that the Girringun people have a connection to that sea country. They have worked with it; they have used it. It has been part of their lives and culture for a very long time.
That is just the start. How do we expect the authority to have the ability to continue with these sorts of agreements unless we have a driver—a person who sits on the authority driving that agenda? There is concern in North Queensland from the Indigenous community that the drive that we have so far experienced will now go and that we will not have the commitment from the authority to continue recognising the important role that Aboriginal people, particularly in that part of the world, have played in the management of the reef over time. They want to continue playing that role and to be part of the management of the reef into the future.
My position is that the government misunderstood Uhrig. They did not get it. They did not understand what he meant. Uhrig said quite clearly that you do not need to have representation on a board. This means that you do not need to have somebody representing, for example, the tourism industry but that you should appoint people with the relevant skills and expertise. That was his point. My position is that, if you do not have an Indigenous person on the authority, you will be missing out on a huge swag of relevant skills and expertise required by the authority to deliver the sort of management that we want into the future.
Labor supports the Democrat amendment. It is sensible. Given the fact that the number of people on the authority has actually increased, what is the problem? If we were decreasing the number on the authority, there might be an element—a skerrick—of an argument. But the number of people on the authority is increasing. Why lose that expertise? Why lose those skills in the deliberations of the authority into the future? I think Senator Bartlett’s amendment is sensible. It is not hard. Everybody accepts that it would be a reasonable thing to expect that Indigenous people who have played a part in managing the reef over such a long period of time would continue to play a part at the authority level rather than being relegated to some sort of advisory role. Labor supports the amendment.
The government opposes the amendment. The bill currently before the Senate implements the priority recommendations from the review of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 to improve governance, transparency and accountability. The bill provides for all authority board members to be appointed on the basis of relevant experience and expertise and not be representational. This aligns with the principles of good governance articulated in the Uhrig review a few years ago. There continues to be a capacity to appoint authority members with expertise in Indigenous issues.
The Australian government acknowledges the importance of Indigenous issues in management and protection of the Great Barrier Reef. The review panel met with the authority’s board, including the current Indigenous member. There were 21 Indigenous organisations invited to participate in the review. No requests to meet or submissions were received. Important and effective mechanisms have been introduced in the past decade and provide for comprehensive engagement and partnership with Indigenous communities and their active participation in the protection and management of the Great Barrier Reef. For example, Indigenous persons are a key membership group for the 11 local marine advisory committees. The four reef advisory committees must each have Indigenous representation when one considers Indigenous issues.
Traditional use of marine resource agreements is another example. Indigenous interests will be represented on the new advisory board. I can understand that there is a difference of approach in relation to this matter and, if I might say to honourable senators, they were canvassed in the second reading speeches. The arguments are now out on the table. Senator Bartlett is correct. There were time constraints on me in doing the summing up of the second reading speech and, therefore, I may well have only devoted one sentence to the issue that he has now raised in the committee stage. That is why I have taken the opportunity of giving a more detailed and a fuller explanation than I did on the previous occasion.
I appreciate that the minister is only here in a representative capacity. Obviously in this context being a representative is fine—he is representing the minister in the other chamber—but I would like him to provide the Senate with a little bit more detail for the record, and perhaps to inform slightly better the debate on the second amendment, which I will be presenting shortly. My understanding, from the material provided to the Senate Standing Committee on the Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, was that the invitation to the 21 Indigenous organisations was the standard letter telling them that the review was starting. I wonder if the minister could indicate to the Senate whether there was any specific consultation with those groups or any other groups about the particular issue of Indigenous representation on the authority, and whether this was even flagged with any of them as a possible outcome of the review.
The minister mentioned meeting with the board—the authority itself—in its current capacity, including the current Indigenous representative. My understanding was that the authority’s own submission to the review supported retaining the Indigenous representative. I wonder whether the minister could clarify that. Obviously the government does not have to acquiesce to that but, given that the review met with the board, and it is being raised as a relevant matter in the context of this amendment and the subsequent amendment, it would be useful to have an indication of whether the board or the authority had a position on this one way or the other. I will not labour the point but it seems to me that one of the issues here is that this has happened almost as an aside. I would like to know whether or not the issue was flagged and debated, and what feedback came from the board or anybody else about this specific issue of Indigenous representation.
I am sure this is not the government’s intent but, as the minister himself says, this change is meant to improve governance and transparency—and there was one other word, which I cannot remember—so I do not think it is a terribly helpful thing to say that removing Indigenous representation from an authority is going to improve governance, or transparency for that matter. It seems as if a narrow bureaucratic principle is being applied without consideration to the wider and deeper issues. In any case, I would appreciate it if the minister was able to provide any little bit of that extra information to the Senate, for the record, and to slightly better inform my position, which I will speak to shortly in the debate on the second amendment.
I can indicate that there was consultation. As I have indicated, the specific position of ‘Indigenous representative’ being removed from the board, as I understand it, was not specifically canvassed, but the Uhrig principles were—and that it would be an expertise based board, including best practice principles for government boards. So, by implication, that was part of it, but if I am asked whether it was directly raised I would have to tell you that my advice is that it was not.
I thank the minister for clarifying that. I will not press further on the matter of the authority’s position. My understanding was that their formal position in their submission to the review supported retraining the Indigenous representative. I am sure that if I am wrong about that I will be told, one way or another. To me that goes to the heart of the problem. I know that everyone is keen not to be here forever tonight but I think this is a very important principle and I am very concerned about its potential ramifications. It appears that this bill will go through, but I would like to call a division on this because I think, if possible, it should be clearly on the record how senators vote, particularly Queensland senators.
I would like to ask one final question of the minister. I hope he will answer it with a negative, but I think it is important to get it on the record. I have received some feedback from the community since this became known. It only really become known in the wider community and Indigenous groups—including Indigenous groups that work with natural resource management—when I contacted them once this inquiry was underway and said, ‘Do you know this is happening?’ They said: ‘No, we didn’t know anything about it. That can’t be right; we haven’t heard anything about it. Nobody has talked to us.’ I guess the government will say that they have done everything they could and if people did not know there was only so much they could do. I will not have that debate now, but I will say that a lot of people in Indigenous communities were not aware that this was happening. As the minister probably knows—certainly the department would know—there has been a continuing push and continuing effort by Indigenous people to strengthen joint management and cooperative management in natural resource areas and protected areas.
My question to the minister is: if this Uhrig principle is just going to be applied as a blanket principle to all authorities and boards, is there a prospect that existing Indigenous representation on other national park boards—such as at Kakadu, Uluru, Kata Tjuta, and Jervis Bay—is potentially at risk down the track? Is there any prospect that those positions could be removed or weakened by using the Uhrig principle? It seems to me that they are in exactly the same position; they are there as traditional owner representatives. If we have this principle now that people are not to be there as representatives, is that a risk? I would hope not. During the hearings of the Senate inquiry that I was on, I certainly had no indication that it was at risk, but it is an issue that has been raised with me by Indigenous groups. They are asking whether this is the start of a big unwinding of a victory they assumed they had already achieved. I expect and I hope that the answer is no, but I think it is important to have the answer on the record to say that we are quarantining this issue—that we might not like it but it is only happening here and it will not happen anywhere else.
The Uhrig principles will not apply to the organisations that he referred to. The positions specifically for Indigenous representatives are in the various committees that I referred to previously, like the local marine advisory committees and the four reef advisory committees. Uhrig applies only to governance of statutory authorities, and the national parks boards are not statutory authorities. Part of the impact of the Uhrig review in relation to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park board has been that the ‘Indigenous representative’ that previously had been specifically referred to is no longer there.
We had a similar debate with Senator O’Brien during consideration of the Wheat Board legislation because specific reference to the Grains Council of Australia having a representative had been removed. I want to make it clear that the government has been applying this principle from the Uhrig review to how we can get best governance for these statutory authorities for the benefit of the Australian people. In this situation it means that it has been deemed necessary to delete the specific reference to an Indigenous representative, just as in the Wheat Board legislation it was required that specific reference to a Grains Council of Australia representative was deleted. This is a consistent principle that we are adopting throughout the statutory authorities, and those that previously had a position have expressed their upset—like the Grains Council at no longer being on the Wheat Board. That was done via Senator O’Brien. With this legislation, Senators Bartlett and McLucas, not surprisingly, are giving expression to what undoubtedly is the view of at least some if not a lot of people in the Indigenous community. I say to them that the boards that are now being put together are expertise based and there is no reason why an Indigenous person could not be part of a new expertise based board.
A similar situation has arisen in the Australian Fisheries Management Authority. That is going to be turned into a commission, and industry representatives who are currently serving will have some difficulties. So this is a principle that is being applied, be it across land management or Great Barrier Reef management issues, the Wheat Board or the fishing authority. It is a general principle that we are applying. It stands to reason that those who will no longer hold that position will feel somewhat aggrieved, I accept that, but the Indigenous community will still have substantial representative roles in all the other bodies. I am hopeful that somebody with the appropriate expertise will be found willing and able to be appointed to the board.
That the amendment (Senator Bartlett’s) be agreed to.
I move Australian Democrat amendment (2) on sheet 5275:
(2) Schedule 1, item 14, page 5 (line 8), at the end of paragraph 10(1)(b), add “, at least one of whom must be appointed for his or her knowledge of the land and sea management and other cultural practices of Indigenous people in areas in and adjacent to the Marine Park”.
This amendment is an alternative, as we foresaw the minister’s arguments and took on board his views. We sought to address them and put forward an alternative approach which would be consistent with the Uhrig principles. This amendment accepts the expansion of the authority by an extra one and accepts the removal of the requirement for an Indigenous representative. Instead, we add the requirement that at least one of these people on the now expanded authority must be appointed for their knowledge of land and sea management and other cultural practices of Indigenous people in areas in and adjacent to the marine park. As mentioned by the minister and Senator McLucas, the review panel reviewing the management arrangements for the marine park recommended that members of the authority be appointed based on qualifications and experience relevant to the functions of the authority. I hope that nobody would argue that knowledge of land and sea management and cultural practices of Indigenous people in and around the park is not relevant to the functions of the authority. I think it is not only relevant but also pivotal and central.
I am sure the minister could say that that capacity is still there, that it is still open to the minister of the day to appoint somebody with this sort of expertise—and I accept that it is. But what this amendment seeks to do is ensure that that will happen. It may well be that, under the benign and insightful regime of the current minister, this will always happen, but there is a possibility down the track, much as it may horrify the current government, that the Labor Party may one day be in government, and they may not be as insightful and all-knowing as the current government and they may ignore—
I am not saying they will. All I am saying, I guess, is that you can never tell what will happen down the track—you do not know who the minister will be, which party they will be from or what the political circumstances of the time may be. Therefore, you cannot guarantee that there will always be somebody appointed who has knowledge of the land and sea management and cultural practices of Indigenous people and the areas around the marine park. The only way you can guarantee that is to put it in the law, and that is the aim of this amendment. The person would not be there in a representative capacity—although I would argue that the current person there does not function in a representative capacity in the sense of being more concerned with those they represent than the success of the entity they are responsible for governing, as is implied in the Uhrig principles. But, leaving that to one side, the effect of this amendment would be that nobody would be on the authority in a representative capacity—except arguably the Queensland government’s representative, who would still be there—but that one of them will be required to have this form of expertise. As I said, I argue that it is pivotal, essential and fundamental to the effective management of the marine park and therefore to the functions of the particular authority that we are talking about.
I would also say that Indigenous knowledge, connections and engagement with Indigenous peoples, whether in this area or elsewhere, is not a stakeholder thing in the narrow sense of the term. I note the minister’s examples from before about the Grains Council not being on the Wheat Board, or various fishery industry bodies no longer being on fisheries authorities or whatever. I really do not think that is a very good parallel, because Indigenous communities and traditional owner groups are not just an industry sector, or even a community sector in that narrow sense of the term; they do have a unique role. There are, as the environment committee report into this legislation notes, areas of the marine park where native title claims have been recognised. There are certainly other areas where native title claims are still to be determined, and I am sure that at least some of them will be successful. So there is a unique role and a unique position there for Indigenous peoples, traditional owners in particular. Having somebody with expertise and knowledge in those areas—not a representative but somebody with the expertise and qualifications—I think is not only relevant; it is essential.
This amendment takes on board the government’s concerns about the Uhrig principles. Much as I might be a bit sceptical of the need to apply them quite so rigidly, this amendment takes those concerns on board and ensures that people will be appointed on the basis of qualifications and experience. It also ensures that one of those people will have qualifications or experience in this particular area, which I would argue is essential and pivotal. I urge the Senate to give consideration to this amendment. I think it is a good compromise, frankly, between the differing views that are being put forward—one that would increase the chances of the authority being able to do its job effectively, in all the different capacities to its job. It would also ensure that there is less risk of the authority not having somebody there who has those connections and knowledge with regard to this important area.
I can understand the sentiments of Senator Bartlett’s amendment. The legislation indicates that board members need to have ‘extensive experience in a field related to the functions of the authority’. Clearly, knowledge of Indigenous issues is relevant to the matters that would be before the authority’s board. But if we start picking and choosing with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, which has such a large and extensive range of interests associated with it, I daresay we could get a list with over a hundred different categories and classifications on it: tourism is clearly vitally important, the various rural sectors on land that might have an impact on the reef, the building sector, a whole range of scientific sectors and climate change experts. Quite frankly, the list could go on. In my own portfolio area of fisheries, undoubtedly there would be recreational fishing interests, commercial fishing interests—the list could go on. What we are saying is that we as a government will make a decision on the basis of all the requirements and the expertise that is being offered by those who ultimately make themselves available for the board. Having said that, I am happy to pass on Senator Bartlett’s views, and I assume the views of other senators as well, to the minister for when this matter of appointments is given consideration. Knowing the minister, in fact knowing all my colleagues, I think it would be one of those situations—and I do not say this often—where it might not make a real difference as to who was in government, that consideration would be had and there would be a favourable disposition to an Indigenous person being appointed. But, at the end of the day it has to be expertise based, and that is the government’s position.
I cannot answer on behalf of the authority, but I would have thought that that would have been important and would fit in the category of extensive experience in a field related to the functions of the authority. I would have thought having a knowledge of Indigenous issues is clearly relevant.
I would have thought that that would be potentially possible. What is important here is that it be an expertise based position rather than a representational position, but of course it stands to reason that if there were an Indigenous person who could provide expertise not only in that role but in other areas as well that would be of great benefit to the board.
I think that is where we differ. I think that is the fundamental point. The fight that Indigenous peoples have had in this country for a long time is on non-Indigenous people presuming to understand the relationship that Indigenous peoples have had with this country for over 40,000 years. It is highly offensive, to be frank, and Indigenous people will once again be saddened that we have gone back to a point where apparently non-Indigenous people can understand that implicit and extraordinary relationship. It is a relationship that I can not pretend to understand but at least can be empathetic towards. And I can be respectful of the fact that it is Indigenous people, and Indigenous people alone, who have a right to speak for Indigenous people. I support the amendment that Senator Bartlett has moved. Like him, I recognise that is a less strong amendment but given that, as predicted, we did not get the first one up, we will try this one.
by leave—I move Democrats amendments (1) and (2) on sheet 5305 together:
(1) Schedule 1, item 27, page 7 (line 22), after “plan”, insert “and must specifically address any relevant interests and matters relating to Indigenous peoples from the area covered by the proposed plan.”.
(2) Schedule 1, item 27, page 8 (after line 30), after subsection 35(2), insert:
(2A) The Authority must consult with Indigenous peoples with an interest in an area for which a zoning plan is being prepared as part of preparing any statement under this section.
These amendments reflect recommendation 3 of the dissenting report put forward by me and Senator Siewert on behalf of the Democrats and the Greens respectively to again try to at least do a little bit more to strengthen Indigenous involvement in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. I will not revisit the debate we just had regarding the authority itself, but we do believe that there are other ways to strengthen engagement with Indigenous interests in the management of the marine park. I think that is needed now more than ever given the failure of the Senate to accept either of the amendments the Democrats have just put forward.
As I said before, the Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts unanimously recommended recently that we should be looking for greater involvement from Indigenous Australians in park management as well as increased support for Indigenous protected areas. It is all the more important, given the removal of the Indigenous representative from the authority that has just happened, that other mechanisms to strengthen Indigenous involvement are considered.
I accept and acknowledge what the minister has said previously in this debate about the fact that Indigenous people will be part of various consultative committees. That is certainly important, but we do think that there are other approaches that could be made that might strengthen the requirement for engagement with Indigenous peoples in the development of various plans. I will point to why this is necessary by using the example of what we have just seen with the review of the marine park. The information the minister provided was that, whilst there was a letter sent out to Indigenous groups saying, ‘There is a review going on if you want to contribute,’ there was no specific engagement with them about the specific possibility of the loss of their representation. I am not saying that that was done in bad faith at all. In fact, I am sure that it was not. I am certain that it was just not thought of or that people felt that, if you send out some letters and nobody responds, that is as much as people should be reasonably expected to do. I appreciate that for a whole variety of reasons it can sometimes be a difficult job to effectively engage with Indigenous communities.
The amendments before us seek to require that, in their development, plans must specifically address any relevant interests and matters relating to Indigenous peoples for the area covered by the plans. Again, I am sure that it would be possible to say, ‘This should happen anyway. It will be happening as a matter of course. It will still always be possible for it to occur.’ That is true, but there is no guarantee that it will occur. As I said, the review that has just happened, comprehensive though it was in many ways, was fairly driven by concerns around particular issues, especially those flowing out of impacts on the fishing industry.
The review that has led to this legislation did not specifically address relevant interests and matters relating to Indigenous peoples with regard to the area covered by that review, which was the whole marine park. It touched on them slightly and referred to them a little bit but it did not specifically address them in any comprehensive way. So the first amendment deals with a requirement when preparing a zoning plan—it does not have to be rezoning of the whole park, just any future zoning plan—to at least ensure that, in doing so, interests and matters relating to Indigenous peoples are included.
Before preparing a zoning plan with respect to an area, the authority must, preceding that, prepare a statement of environmental, economic and social values of the area. The amendment before us will require the authority, in doing so, to consult with Indigenous peoples with an interest in the area as part of preparing any such statement. Again, I think this is really just putting in place a safeguard. Whether it is putting together an environmental, economic and social assessment or putting together a zoning plan more broadly flowing on from that, there is requirement for consultation and it must specifically address relevant interests and matters relating to Indigenous peoples. Otherwise there is no guarantee it will happen, and I think we have just seen an example of that with the whole review itself. These things do not guarantee better outcomes, but at least they provide that extra bit of urging, that extra bit of requirement for consultation.
I will not go on at length about this, but I would note the report tabled earlier today by the Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances about that whole issue of consultation as a requirement in producing any legislative instrument and that the relevant department consult with affected people and detail in the explanatory statement what consultations have occurred or, if they have not, why not. Even though it is a requirement in that act in preparing all legislative instruments, a large number of departments simply do not conduct that consultation, even though they are legally required to, because there is no penalty if they do not or they give very inadequate explanations. Putting in place a piece of law saying consultation must occur does not guarantee it will happen or that it will happen adequately, but it does at least give some extra recognition and some extra urging.
I suppose it could be argued that if you are going to say they have to consult with Indigenous people then you should put in that they have to consult with fishing interests, tourism, onshore activities et cetera. I would respond to that by saying Indigenous communities and peoples are unique in this perspective; they do have a special role. That really must be considered as separate from just your everyday sectoral interest. I would also say that, whilst governments across the board of all persuasions, colours and levels do not always consult as well as they should, it is very fair to say that the area where we fail more regularly than any other is in adequately consulting with Indigenous peoples. That is partly because we are not very good at it—because of different cultural backgrounds and a whole lot of reasons—and that is why I think that extra requirement, that extra obligation, through these amendments would be desirable. I think this is completely consistent with the review that generated this legislation. It specifically recognised the importance of consultation as part of what the whole review was about. I think it would be beneficial to more specifically include requirements like this in the law.
The government will be opposing the amendments. The amendments to the zoning plan process proposed in the bill will provide a comprehensive, accountable and transparent process for engagement and consultation with all stakeholders, including Indigenous people and communities. This improved process includes the provision of a wide range of environmental, social and economic information to be provided and also extends the public consultation period from a total of two to six months. I am advised that Indigenous communities were extensively engaged in development of the 2003 zoning plan and will be consulted extensively in the future. A key initiative of the current zoning plan is traditional use of marine resource agreements. These provide for direct Indigenous involvement in park management and collaboration in identifying Indigenous activities that should be allowed in the park and in what manner. This establishes a partnership with Indigenous people in determining use of the marine park in particular areas and the marine resources of particular interest, concern and value to Indigenous people. Traditional use of marine resources agreements are similar in nature to the Indigenous land use agreements, a key mechanism through which Indigenous people are engaged in land management.
This is my final contribution on this wider issue of Indigenous involvement. I am disappointed that there is no willingness to at least provide this minimal bit of extra guarantee about adequacy of consultation. I think the minister is accurate in saying that the consultation done leading up to the major rezoning that was implemented around the marine park did include fairly widespread consultation with Indigenous peoples and that shows that it can be done. For the record, I repeat that the rezoning process, which was very comprehensive and very extensive—it extended over a long period of time—not only involved meaningful consultation with Indigenous people but also produced an extremely positive outcome for the environment. It was also a positive one for Indigenous peoples in general.
For the record, I will repeat my statement that I made in my second reading contribution: I think that rezoning of the marine park is probably the single most significant and positive environmental achievement of the government. It is a major initiative that was extremely beneficial to the environment in the face of some difficult politics for them, and it should be acknowledged. Frankly, I often find myself being more praiseworthy of the government’s achievement in this regard than the government themselves seem to be half the time. So, as they are not keen to talk up their fabulous achievement, I will do it for them. They did it well—obviously some people were not happy, and I will touch on that again in a moment—and it did include consultation with Indigenous people. That is why it is all the more disappointing that it was not done with regard to the review that occurred afterwards. It is ironic that the review that was generated because some people were unhappy with the result and alleged inadequate consultation resulted in far less adequate consultation, at least as far as Indigenous people were concerned. There was plenty of consultation with other people but minimal consultation with Indigenous people. It is a bit of a sad irony that a review which came about because some people were not happy with the consultation and the process failed in a key area of its consultations.
So it is true that the rezoning did include a lot of adequate consultation, but it was not automatic that it would. I would also argue that, now that the authority does not have an Indigenous representative, it is less likely that it would do that part of it as well as it did this time around. And that is unfortunate. I do not think we can just get by with guarantees that say that reviews will be comprehensive, transparent and accountable. I would also include consultation in respect of rezoning plans and preparation of statements, which is an area we failed in so many times, including in the review that has led to this legislation.
But I hear what the minister said—he is obviously not in a position to change his view—so I would conclude by just expressing disappointment, particularly at the Queensland coalition senators. As I said in my second reading contribution, I found it extraordinary that Queenslanders—who are occasionally known for being parochial, but I am sure people from all states can be parochial—would argue that the authority should have been removed, disbanded and brought under the control of the minister and bureaucrats down in Canberra. I am pleased that has not happened, for which I congratulate and thank the government. I should also praise this review for not going down that path, but it is very disappointing that Indigenous people have borne the collateral damage along the way. I would also have to make the point because this is part of how it is perceived and it needs to be put on the record.
We heard from Senator Boswell and Senator Joyce on Monday about how they would have liked the authority to have been destroyed altogether, and they were still very unhappy with the process that occurred. I think it was an extremely comprehensive process—it could have been going all century and it still would not have made some people happy—however, that is the inevitable outcome of these things, and I understand where they are coming from. They have a constituency there, and they have fought for what they could get for them. I note that, even though there was unhappiness with the rezoning and some of the processes, there was an enormous package at the end of it. The current total for the structural adjustment package for the fisheries is $164 million in the budget, with over $120 million already provided to 1,663 different claims. With some of those claims, more than one went to the same business but on average they received over $72,000 per claim and obviously many of those would have been larger than the $72,000. So in that sense those people who fought for that issue can claim some credit.
They got a significant amount of money for their constituents in that regard. If only people would fight so hard for Indigenous representation issues and for the needs of Indigenous people as they did for 1,663 businesses linked to commercial fishing, which managed to produce over $120 million. I have to make a comparison. I know it is not a federal government area, but the example is very relevant for Queensland and for people in these communities adjacent to the marine park, between people who were not seeking compensation for future lost earnings but were seeking payment of earnings that they were owed—the stolen wages issue. They were offered a $4,000 maximum, and for some it was for decades of work. I know it is not this government’s responsibility and not its fault, but that is how these things get portrayed. When there was a major upset amongst commercial fishers—and I am not arguing the merits or otherwise of their case—they received $160 million in uncapped payments, $70,000 or $80,000 per business, whereas Indigenous people with decades of life earnings not paid were offered $4,000, and only if they signed away all future legal rights. That is the disparity; that is why people get upset about these sorts of things. I know that is not the minister’s fault. It might be at a bit of a tangent to marine park issues, but it is not at a tangent to people on the ground, because all these things form a long line of acts and incidents. It is unfortunate that we cannot get that degree of desperation and fighting for this group in our community, who I think we all know are somewhat less well off than most of the rest of us.
Having made those points, I note that the government is not going to support these amendments. That is unfortunate. They are fairly minor amendments. The minister has given us an assurance that all of these processes will be comprehensive, transparent and accountable regardless, and I am sure all best endeavours will be made to make that so. I think our own history shows that all the best endeavours are not always good enough unless there are some extra frameworks in place to increase the chance of them succeeding. I do not think these amendments would have made things any less comprehensive, transparent and accountable, but obviously it is not to be.
I move opposition amendment (1) on sheet 5254 revised:
(1) Schedule 1, page 15 (after line 27), at the end of the Schedule, add:
35 Schedule 1
Repeal paragraphs (a) to (j), substitute:
(a) commences at the point that, at low water, is the northernmost extremity of Cape York Peninsula Queensland;
(b) runs thence easterly along the geodesic to the intersection of parallel of Latitude 10º 41’ South with meridian of Longitude 145º19’33” East;
(c) runs thence south-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 12º20’00” South Longitude 146º30’00”;
(d) runs thence south-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 12º38’30” South Longitude 147º08’30” East;
(e) runs thence south-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 13º10’30” South Longitude 148º05’00” East;
(f) runs thence south-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 14º38’00” South Longitude 152º07’00” East;
(g) runs thence south-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 14º45’00” South Longitude 154º15’00” East;
(h) runs thence north-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 14º05’00” South Longitude 156º37’00” East;
(i) runs thence north-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 14º04’00” South Longitude 157º00’00” East;
(j) runs thence south-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 14º41’00” South Longitude 157º43’00” East;
(k) runs thence south-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 15º44’07” South Longitude 158º45’39” East;
(l) runs thence south-westerly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 16º25’28” South Longitude 158º22’49” East;
(m) runs thence south-westerly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 16º34’51” South Longitude 158º16’26” East;
(n) runs thence south-westerly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 17º30’28” South Longitude 157º38’31” East;
(o) runs thence south-westerly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 17º54’40” South Longitude 157º21’59” East;
(p) runs thence south-westerly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 18º32’25” South Longitude 156º56’44” East;
(q) runs thence south-westerly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 18º55’54” South Longitude 156º37’29” East;
(r) runs thence south-westerly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 19º17’12” South Longitude 156º15’20” East;
(s) runs thence south-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 20º08’28” South Longitude 156º49’34” East;
(t) runs thence south-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 20º32’28” South Longitude 157º03’09” East;
(u) runs thence south-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 20º42’52” South, Longitude 157º04’34” East;
(v) runs thence south-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 20º53’33” South Longitude 157º06’25” East;
(w) runs thence south-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 21º12’57” South, Longitude 157º10’17” East;
(x) runs thence south-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 21º47’21” South Longitude 157º14’36” East;
(y) runs thence south-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 22º10’31” South, Longitude 157º13’04” East;
(z) runs thence south-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 22º31’38” South Longitude 157º18’43” East;
(za) runs thence south-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 23º14’54” South Longitude 157º48’04” East;
(zb) runs thence south-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 24º30’00” South Longitude 158º19’54” East;
(zc) runs thence westerly along the parallel of Latitude 24º 30’00” South to its intersection by the coastline of Queensland at low water; and
(zd) runs thence generally northerly along that coastline at low water to the point of commencement.
The purpose of this amendment is to extend the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park region to the boundaries of the exclusive economic zone. As Senator Abetz described in his speech at the end of the second reading debate, it is a large expansion of the region. But that is the important distinction that I think certainly the minister needs to understand and the Senate needs to understand. This is a simple and, I think, elegant solution to the problem that faces us. It is true that there are areas of oil prospectivity to the area east of the current Great Barrier Reef Marine Park area. That is a fact: there is potentially oil and gas there. It is also a fact that the community of North Queensland does not want that oil to be extracted. It is true that the fishing industry, the tourism industry and our communities, particularly in the areas of Townsville and the Whitsundays where the areas of prospectivity have been identified, do not want oil drilling in that area. The marine science sector do not want oil drilling. In fact no-one in North Queensland wants any part of the area east of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park area to be exploited for oil or gas, and for very good reason. The potential damage if there were to be a spill is unimaginable. The potential damage to the natural values of the reef is something we do not want to contemplate. The potential damage to the economic values of the reef through tourism and the economic values through fishing are too horrific to contemplate.
Yet history shows us that, since the early 1960s, governments of Liberal and National persuasion have consistently tried to progress the potential of oil drilling in that area. That is why back in 2002 I moved a private members’ bill along with Senator Bartlett to extend the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park region to the exclusive economic zone and thus rule out once and for all the potential for prospecting and therefore for drilling for oil or gas in that region. Senator Abetz made the mistake in his summing-up speech in the second reading debate that many people have made. The reason this amendment is such a simple and elegant solution is that it does nothing in terms of any of the other practices of the marine park authority except rule out oil drilling and prospecting. That is the beauty of it. It does not increase the management responsibilities of the authority. The authority does nothing more because the marine park area stays the same, and that is where the jurisdiction of the authority lies in terms of bringing in management plans, ensuring that they are complied with and doing all the work that the authority does—which, can I say, it does well. All that will happen is that oil drilling and prospecting for oil and gas will be a precluded use. That is why this is a great solution.
You have to look back over some of the history that we have had to deal with in North Queensland of the potential for oil and gas in that region. We cannot forget that in 1968 the Premier of Queensland, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, issued 16 licences to prospect for oil in the waters east of Queensland. In 1970 two companies—Ampol and Japex—postponed drilling near Whitsunday Island in the Whitsundays after significant opposition from the community. In 1974 we had to have a royal commission into oil drilling on the Great Barrier Reef—that is the year it concluded. At that time the commissioners were split on whether oil drilling should be allowed on the Great Barrier Reef. I find it extraordinary that we would be in a situation where we would jeopardise not only the environmental value of the Great Barrier Reef but also, importantly, its economic value to our community. In 1981 the coalition government passed an act opening the Coral Sea to oil drilling. The government claimed that it would not allow oil drilling within 30 miles of the Great Barrier Reef. In 1990 oil exploration adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef was again proposed and the then Liberal shadow environment minister, Mr Fred Chaney, said on ABC radio:
I’m certainly in favour of continued oil exploration in prospective areas just as I’m firmly of the view that we make sure the Great Barrier Reef is protected.
There has been a consistency of approach from members and senators from the coalition on this issue. They consistently, stridently and strongly say: ‘We will protect the Great Barrier Reef from oil drilling and any potential oil spill. We love the Great Barrier Reef. It’s a fantastic thing. It’s really important.’ But at the same time they curry favour with the oil companies and quietly assure them that everything will be okay in the end.
Senator Ian Macdonald stood in this chamber the other day and said that he had spoken to the oil industry. He named a person from the oil industry—a woman who apparently only had a first name; that is unfortunate. Apparently the person he referred to told him that there was no interest in drilling for oil or gas in the Great Barrier Reef area or anywhere near it. Well, then, that makes it extremely easy for Senator Macdonald. He has been advised by the oil industry that they have no interest in it, so he can easily come in and vote for this amendment; he can easily support the extension of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park region to cover areas where prospectivity exists. So I say to Senator Macdonald: given that you have received advice that there is no interest in this area, come over here and vote for this and protect the Great Barrier Reef—both the marine park and the area east of the marine park—from oil drilling into the future. We heard the member for Herbert, Mr Lindsay, happily talk about how passionate he is about protecting the Great Barrier Reef and how much he values it. He says that Labor’s proposal, our private members’ bill back in 2002, did not go far enough. He said in that year that the outermost reaches of the reef region needed protection and he flagged a future marine park expansion. That is not what we are doing. Mr Lindsay is suggesting that we actually increase the area that we would have marine protection over—that is, that we expand the marine park area. He went on to say that he could foresee a future boundary change.
That was back in 2002 and now it is 2007. Mr Lindsay, your crystal ball was not working. It has not changed. We are still in the situation where we have the potential for oil companies to put in licences for oil prospecting and drilling in an area that is less than 50 kilometres from the marine park area. I recall that during the debate in the 1970s, I think it was, a former National Party environment minister—I wish I could remember his name—said that he did not think there was going to be a problem with oil drilling on the Great Barrier Reef because ‘as any schoolboy knows, oil floats on water’—and so, ipso facto, we would not have a problem with the reef because the oil would float on the surface and it therefore would not touch the coral. That is the sort of mentality that drove the Bjelke-Petersen government’s management of the environment. It is the same stuff that we are dealing with now, where you can quietly talk to the oil industry and say, ‘It’ll be all right,’ and then strongly and proudly proclaim that you are going to protect the reef. Well, you cannot have it both ways.
This is a simple way of protecting the Great Barrier Reef—the marine park area and also the reefs to the east of the marine park area—from any spills associated with oil drilling. I say to the government that, if they do value the reef for its economic, environmental and social values, this is a simple solution that does not cost a thing and it will provide protection into the future.
And we are not talking about ancient history here. You will recall, Minister, that on 28 December 2000—three days after Christmas—the government placed a notification on its website of the fact that an application for oil and gas exploration had been made by a company called TGS Nopec. There were not many of us trawling through Environment Australia’s website between Christmas and New Year, and we had a set period of time in which to respond to it. That happened. This is not ancient history; this is current. Then, only last year, Geoscience Australia published a map of areas east of Townsville—the Townsville Trough and an area near Lihou Reef—that indicated potentiality for oil exploration and drilling.
When you say to people in North Queensland, ‘This is current—this is on foot,’ they are honestly astonished. I understand that. Then you provide this evidence and they cannot believe it. They cannot believe that this government would jeopardise the natural values and also the economic values of the largest living coral reef in the world. That is what is happening here. I encourage some of the senators from the other side—those who think it is important that the economy of Queensland remains strong and that places like Cairns, Port Douglas, Townsville and the Whitsunday area remain economically viable—to come across and support this amendment. It is a sensible amendment that does one thing: it stops oil and gas prospecting and oil drilling in the areas east of the Great Barrier Reef forever. I think that that is what Australians want.
I want to speak on a comment made by Senator McLucas. I was present with Senator Ian Macdonald and many other coalition senators and members at a forum where the oil and gas industry, in an answer to an explicit question from Senator Macdonald, indicated that it had no interest in or intention of mining or drilling or exploring anywhere in the Great Barrier Reef. As all of the good senators on this side are very concerned about that prospect, we were satisfied with the response.
It is really important to understand the language here. You said that they had no interest in exploring or prospecting ‘in the Great Barrier Reef’. What you need to clarify is whether they mean the marine park area or whether they mean the area to the east of the marine park area that is equally important but is not covered by the marine park area. It is equally important. The reef there is in fact more pristine than some other areas, especially on the inner reefs. There are fish species and tourism out there that are highly important. It is further out than the marine park area but it is just as important environmentally. That is the area where the oil is, or could be. That is where they want to look. That is where they want to drop these seismic measuring instruments. When the oil industry says that they do not want to prospect or drill for oil in the Great Barrier Reef, they probably mean the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park area. They cannot do it; it is a prohibited activity in the marine park area. But it is not prohibited just less than 50 kilometres to the east. If the point that Senator Macdonald is making is that—
I am not discounting it. I agree. If Senator Macdonald said that the oil industry is not interested in prospecting or drilling for oil anywhere in Australian waters east of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park area, then he can vote for this amendment because he has had advice now from the industry that they do not want to go there. So let us just move the region out to the EEZ and it is all over—there is nothing more to argue about. It is that simple.
I indicate the Democrats support for this amendment. It replicates a piece of legislation that Senator McLucas and I, in joint names, have had before the chamber—so I had better support it or I would be voting against my own bill, in effect. I think she has put the arguments well as to why it is desirable. There is clearly interest in areas outside the current marine park boundaries. Extending the region, which is the criterion that the current prohibitions operate under, would ensure that the sites that have been identified—that are on maps and that are outside the park boundary but would be within the region—are also protected. I think that would be beneficial for a whole lot of reasons. One could also go on about climate change and carbon emissions and the desirability of perhaps not encouraging more oil prospecting and the like, but I will not go down that path at this stage. Suffice to say we support the amendment.
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.
That the amendment (Senator McLucas’s) be agreed to.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.