Thursday, 2 September 2021
Questions without Notice
Great Barrier Reef
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment. It has been revealed under FOI today that the Morrison government directed independent science agency AIMS to release a report into the health of the Great Barrier Reef before the report was complete. This, of course, was to be used for political lobbying ahead of the UNESCO vote on the danger to the reef. Will the minister tell the parliament who gave the direction for this early release? Was is it the environment minister or her office, or did the direction come from the top and it was the Prime Minister and his office that was interfering with the scientific report?
Thank you, Senator Hanson-Young, for your question, and I apologise for getting your name incorrect earlier. Can I just scratch my head and say first of all that I'm not entirely sure what the outrage is about, because it seems that the Greens and the ABC are in quite a lather, not because the report was withheld, not because it was altered, but because it was in fact released. This is bewildering. We released it. We released it a week after its key findings had already been published in an op-ed by AIMS themselves. So hold the front page on that one.
The Minister for the Environment welcomes that report from the Australian Institute of Marine Science, which shows that, after a series of severe and widespread disturbances over the last decade, coral cover has actually increased across all regions. These results are an outstanding demonstration of how the reef can actually recover following disturbances if given enough time to make that recovery. These reports have been released annually since 2016—so they should come as no surprise—after that mass bleaching event. They are the most comprehensive record of reef condition available for the Great Barrier Reef.
As much as these results are good news in the short term, they don't change the need for our ongoing, highly regarded reef management and strong global action on climate change to improve the outlook of the reef in the long term. This program is part of the Australian government's $3 billion commitment to protecting the reef and supporting the work of reef communities, reef managers, marine scientists, traditional owners and, of course, the thousands of Australians who depend on the reef economy. Australia is world leading in our coral reef science and management, and we readily share our findings and our expertise at a global level.
Isn't it true, Minister, that the reason the environment minister was so desperate to get this report out before it was finished and spent so much time and money lobbying the UN members was that the government was desperate to cover up how poorly you have taken climate action? You are embarrassed about your poor performance—
Senator Seselja interjecting—
I reject both the premise of Senator Hanson-Young's question and the undergraduate tone with which it was directed. Did the government direct an independent science agency to release a report early? Is that seriously what you are suggesting? The AIMS chief executive himself, Paul Hardisty, has already made it clear that any suggestion that this report was rushed is entirely incorrect. The technical report was already finished. The document only needed to be prepared for publication, which required it to be formatted and laid out for publication. But the key findings of that report had already been finalised and, in fact, published and publicised in an op-ed by the CEO of AIMS on 12 July. That was before the government requested the report's release to provide to the World Heritage Committee. I'm afraid, Senator Hanson-Young, you are sorely mistaken.
UN head Antonio Guterres has declared the IPCC report a code red for climate and has urged countries to do more to both reduce carbon pollution and protect biodiversity in the fight against climate collapse. When will the government take seriously the emergency we are facing of the collapse of the climate and the biodiversity crisis? When will it have proper targets for 2030 ahead of the end-of-year COP conference?
I want to reiterate the fact that the Morrison government are deeply committed to protecting the World Heritage Great Barrier Reef, and we make no apologies for that or for defending our reputation as the best marine park managers in the world. We are benchmarked against global standards, and Australia's management of the reef is recognised as a leading example and is considered by many to be the gold standard for large-scale marine protected area management, according to a UNESCO report. That fact is acknowledged by many, including the World Heritage Centre itself. In its draft decision on the reef presented to this year's World Heritage Committee meeting it commended the state party, referring to Australia, for the strong and continued efforts to create the conditions for the implementation of the Reef 2050 long-term sustainability plan and that included through unprecedented financial commitments. This is the centrepiece of Australia's reef protection efforts— (Time expired)