Wednesday, 20 March 2013
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Great Barrier Reef) Bill 2013; Second Reading
That this bill be now read a second time.
I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum relating to the bill.
I table an explanatory memorandum and I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated into Hansard.
The speech read as follows—
The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Great Barrier Reef) Bill 2013 implements in our national environment laws key recommendations of the World Heritage Committee to ensure the Great Barrier Reef does not get added to the "world heritage in danger" list.
In June of 2012, the World Heritage Committee stated that unless the Australian Government makes substantial progress on improving our management of the Great Barrier Reef, the Committee at its meeting of June 2013 will have to consider inscribing the Reef on the "List of World Heritage in Danger". This would be a tragedy for our Reef, and the extraordinary number of Australians who love this place, and the 54,000 people who rely on it for their livelihood. The only other countries that have had their world heritage properties inscribed on this list are among the world's poorest, and war-torn nations—Afghanistan, the Congo, Yemen.
In February 2013, the Australian Government submitted its state party response to the concerns outlined by the World Heritage Committee.
The Australian Greens have carefully reviewed this response, and are very concerned that far too much is greenwash and obfuscation. While we welcome the announcement of an independent panel to investigate the ecological disaster in Gladstone Harbour in the Southern Great Barrier Reef, this is long overdue given the wildlife disease that has been apparent since dredging began in 2011, compounded by flooding impacts. Such an investigation must be based on independent data if it is to be truly independent—not the data collected by the very folk doing the reef's largest dredging program, Gladstone Ports Corporation. We welcome federal investigation into Gladstone Harbour but the government is failing to genuinely address a number of other critical recommendations made by the World Heritage Committee.
The Greens want to see strong steps taken urgently to secure the future of the Reef, in line with the World Heritage Committee's recommendations. To that end, we have identified a number of recommendations by the Committee and the UNESCO reactive monitoring mission which are suitable for implementing through our national environment laws.
This bill proposes to put in place a permanent ban on any new port development outside of the existing and long-established major port areas within or adjoining the GBR WHA, including specifically banning new port developments in the ecological valuable Port Alma, Balaclava Island, northern Curtis Island and the entire northern section of the Great Barrier Reef. This would implement, under our national environment laws, Recommendation 5 of the World Heritage Committee's decision of June 2012 (Decision 36 COM 7B.B), and reflects the findings of UNESCO's reactive monitoring mission's report, which identifies a number of pristine areas along the Great Barrier Reef coastline which should not be destroyed by industrial port developments.
This bill also proposes to stop port expansions if they impact individually or cumulatively on the Outstanding Universal Value of the Great Barrier Reef. This implements Recommendation 5 of the World Heritage Committee's decision of June 2012 (Decision 36 COM 7B.B).
The third major amendment proposed by this bill is that it will put in place a moratorium to stop the national environment minister from approving any new developments that would seriously affect the Great Barrier Reef world heritage area until the Strategic Assessment currently underway, and a resulting long term plan for the sustainable development of the Reef, has been completed and considered by the World Heritage Committee. This implements Recommendation 2 of UNESCO's Reactive Monitoring Mission's report, which the World Heritage Committee has requested the Australian Government address (per the Committee's Recommendation 4 of Decision 36 COM 7B.B). The critical point of this amendment is to ensure that the Minister can no longer continue to tick off the very projects that have prompted the World Heritage Committee's extreme concern, while they are undertaking their strategic assessment to work out what the reef in fact can handle. Since the World Heritage Committee first made this recommendation in June 2012, the Government has flouted this request and approved expansions of Abbot Point (including 3 million cubic metres of dredging), and the huge Alpha coal mine. The terms of reference for the strategic assessment currently underway to assess coastal development impacting on the Great Barrier Reef explicitly says, despite the World Heritage Committee's request, that project level assessments and approvals will continue to be progressed unhampered by the strategic assessment process. That is, anything that is applied for before the strategic assessment finishes cannot have its approval impacted by the strategic assessment—like a smoker going to the Doctor and getting everything but their lungs checked. That's why this amendment requires the World Heritage Committee to assent to the strategic assessment before the moratorium is lifted, to ensure that it does adequately address the parameters which the World Heritage Committee said it should.
Lastly, this bill proposes to amend the approval criteria for projects that will impact the Great Barrier Reef world heritage area, so that projects can only be approved if they deliver a net benefit for the Reef. This amendment also requires that a methodology be developed to underpin this judgement, and that the 'net benefit' reasoning is explained by the Minister for each project that is approved. This will implement part of the World Heritage Committee's Recommendation 8 (Decision 36 COM 7B.B), which calls on the Government to ensure that developments affecting the Great Barrier Reef demonstrate an overall net benefit to the protection of the Reef's Outstanding Universal Value. The Government itself, in its February 2013 state party response to the World Heritage Committee's concerns stated that any approvals granted under the EPBC Act will include best practice conditions so as to promote an overall net positive impact for the property. If this is genuinely intended, a clear methodology is without question needed, and this bar locked in place in law.
The Australian Government has so far fallen short in acting on the World Heritage Committee's recommendations, but this bill presents the Government and the Coalition the opportunity to stand up for our Reef, and do what the Committee has clearly stated the Reef desperately needs.
It should be beyond party politics to protect our Reef, to keep it as the seventh wonder of the natural world that so inspires our spirit, fills our coffers with 6 billion annual sustainable—and long-term—incomes, and keeps employing 54,000 people. Political parties of all persuasion must take this warning from the World Heritage Committee seriously and do everything we can to avoid the Reef being placed on the World Heritage In Danger list. Such a listing would be a disaster for our tourism industry, and would acknowledge the serious environmental peril the reef is in from the scourge of dredging, dumping and shipping for fossil fuel exports, and from the climate change impacts when such fossil fuels are burnt.
On behalf of Australia's reef communities, and all Australians who love our Reef, I implore our elected representatives for their support on this bill. Australia's Great Barrier Reef is simply too precious to lose.
I commend this bill to the Senate.
I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.