Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment (Authority Governance and Other Matters) Bill 2017 - Second Reading


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (13:04): I thank Senator Pratt and the Labor Party for their support for this administration bill in relation to the management of the Great Barrier Reef—the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment (Authority Governance and Other Matters) Bill 2017. I appreciate that Senator Pratt and no doubt Senator Whish-Wilson, who will speak later on this, are correct in saying the Barrier Reef is our Barrier Reef—it's the Barrier Reef of all Australians. But I particularly like to think of the Barrier Reef as my Barrier Reef because I've lived all of my life on the shores of the Great Barrier Reef. I know well the people who operate on the Great Barrier Reef, be they tourist operators, fishermen or scientists out of Townsville, Cairns and Mackay, and over the years I've had a long, long interest in the Great Barrier Reef.

I know the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority well. It's based in the city of Townsville, where I have my office, and of course the Australian Institute of Marine Science is based at Cape Cleveland, between Townsville and Ayr, to the south of where I live. I pass the AIMS turn-off every day I go to work. And I'm very conscious of some of the very good work that James Cook University does out of the campuses at Townsville and Cairns in relation to marine matters. Most of their work's good. Some is what I would class as questionable and a bit politically motivated, but that's up to individual researchers.

The Barrier Reef is going fine. Senator Whish-Wilson will get up after me and tell the world that the Barrier Reef's dying, it's dead or it shouldn't be visited by the European and North American tourists who flock to that area. The Greens political party seems to have undertaken a campaign to denigrate the Barrier Reef so that one of the great sources of revenue, export earning dollars and jobs in Queensland which come from the reef is decimated. That seems to be the Greens political campaign, because most of the rhetoric that they go on with about the health of the reef, which was unfortunately also mentioned by Senator Pratt, is simply not true. Senator Whish-Wilson will get up after me and tell you it's dead and that all these horrible things are happening, but the fact of the matter is quite different. There are challenges on the Great Barrier Reef. There always have been. But that is well recognised by the government.

I know Senator Pratt, who comes from Western Australia, the other side of the country, and Senator Whish-Wilson, who comes from Tasmania, at the bottom end of the country, love the Barrier Reef as much as I do, but they could hardly be said to have the practical involvement with the reef that I've had over most of my lifetime. Senator Pratt was carrying on about how good the Labor Party is with the Great Barrier Reef. I've done this before, but I refer Senator Pratt to a document put out by Save Our Marine Life, an alliance of leading conservation organisations—not normally friends of ours—which is entitled A big blue legacy: the Liberal National tradition of marine conservation. It goes through, in some detail, the work that Liberal-National governments have done over the years: the prohibition of oil and gas operations on the Barrier Reef by the Fraser government in 1975; the end of whaling in Australian waters and the creation of the first stage of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park by the Fraser government in 1979; the World Heritage listing of the Great Barrier Reef and the creation of the Cairns section of the marine park in 1981; the creation of the Lihou Reef National Nature Reserve in the Coral Sea by the Fraser government in 1982; and the creation of further marine parks by the Howard government 1998. Coalition governments have always been more active in protecting our marine environment right around Australia, as this booklet quite clearly points out.

I've had a lot of discussions with many directors and chairmen of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park over the years. Dr Wendy Craik has conducted a recent review of the authority, and Wendy is the appropriate person to do it because she was once in the position of chair of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, many, many years ago. The idea of splitting the chairmanship from the CEO is a good one; it's something the park authority itself and other stakeholders have wanted. Most of the amendments contained in this bill, as Senator Pratt pointed out, are issues that would have been determined after long consultation with all stakeholders, and I'm pleased to see these amendments are universally supported.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is not a specific scientific research agency, although they do a lot of scientific research. I was particularly pleased in a Senate inquiry that Senator Whish-Wilson chaired—I don't think he ever made a lot of this particular point—when the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority gave evidence that the Coral Sea was actually cooling and that the waters around the northern section of the Great Barrier Reef were actually cooling. That puts the lie to what Senator Whish-Wilson will tell you: no, the waters are all getting warmer, and there's coral bleaching and all that. Yes, there is some coral bleaching; yes, there has been a crown-of-thorns problem. There have been crown-of-thorns starfish there for 60 years that I can remember. Ben Cropp and his wife were the first ones to try and do something about that. Coalition governments have funded very considerable work for the removal of the crown-of-thorns.

I'm delighted to say that just a couple of weeks ago the Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull, came to Townsville. We went out to AIMS where Mr Turnbull announced to academia, people involved in the reef, tourism operators and other stakeholders in the reef that $60 million for further research and remedial action on the Great Barrier Reef would go to a number of different agencies. We haven't heard a lot about that—and you won't hear about it from the Greens.

Senator Whish-Wilson: You will hear about it!

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Oh, we will. Well, that's good. Well, make sure it's truthful, Senator Whish-Wilson. So there will be an extra $60 million for research on the Great Barrier Reef.

Importantly, scientists now understand that what they have to do is help with the resilience of the reef. These are my terms, not theirs, but I understand that what they're doing is looking at genetically modifying the reef to give it strength, to give it resilience, to help it progress and continue in the years ahead. They're looking at bringing embryos of warm-water corals into the Barrier Reef. Generally speaking, they are now doing what they should be doing in relation to climate change—that is, understanding that climate change is apparently real and, as I always point out, that, ever since the earth has been going, the climate has continued to change. Once upon a time, the world used to be covered in ice; it's not now. So, clearly, over the years, the climate continues to change. That's an accepted fact.

What sensible scientists are now concluding is that we've got to see how we can help the reef resile from, deal with or cope with that climate change. I'm delighted that scientific work is now being directed more towards that area, rather than the philosophical political argument about whether climate change is real or true, or who's causing it. They're actually doing things, and that's how it should be. I'm delighted AIMS is heading that way and the CSIRO is heading that way, so that we can do something practical about changes that occur in our climate.

Senator Pratt and Senator Whish-Wilson no doubt will go on about climate change. I keep saying to them: can someone tell me how Australia, which emits less than 1.2 per cent of the world's carbon emissions, can stop what Senator Pratt and Senator Whish-Wilson say is causing climate change? Carbon emissions? Well, if they are, it's not Australia that's doing it. Senator Pratt says, 'Labor has a plan to stop climate change.' Well, I don't know how Labor can do that, because Australia's contribution to emissions is less than 1.2 per cent of the world's emissions of carbon. So how Labor is going to deal with that, I'd be very, very interested to see.

I've digressed slightly from this bill and what's happening but I do want to say that I've spoken with administrators, managers, at the Marine Park Authority for some time, and these reforms are what will suit them. I do want to mention there Dr Russell Reichelt, who is the current chairman and CEO. I think he is now retiring after long, dedicated, tremendous service to Australia's marine science, particularly to the Barrier Reef, to GBRMPA and to AIMS. He is a dedicated marine scientist, one of the most knowledgeable. He understands how the whole thing works, and I do want to pay tribute to Dr Reichelt for the research work he has done at GBRMPA and elsewhere.

I return to the issue of climate change and repeat: with Australia emitting less than 1.2 per cent of carbon emissions, if there are things happening, it is not Australia's fault. How the Labor Party are going to stop that, how the Greens would stop it, apart from rhetoric and a few demonstrations up and down the streets, I'm not sure. I want Senator Whish-Wilson to tell me how Australia, which emits less than 1.2 per cent of the world's carbon emissions, is causing the climate change which the Greens and some in the Labor Party would have you believe.

I refer anyone who is interested to a very good article by Julian Tomlinson in today's Cairns Post about the issue of the Barrier Reef and academic freedom, research and the quality of research. It brings to mind the unfortunate situation which has happened at James Cook University. Professor Peter Ridd, a very well qualified scientist in marine matters, had a different view on the Barrier Reef. He had the temerity to suggest that some of the researchers simply use research—these are my words, not his, but this was the theme, a theme I've had in the past—they know that their future depends upon getting research grants. It used to be under the Labor years that they had to mention climate change or they wouldn't get a research grant for anything. Nowadays that has moved on. They've got to mention the Barrier Reef or they don't get research funds for anything.

Professor Ridd had the temerity to inquire why a lot of the work that was being done by fellow scientists at JCU was not properly peer researched, and because of that he has been sacked by JCU. That's a shame, because I'm a great supporter of JCU. I wrote to the vice-chancellor about the issue when it first happened. I got a response from her, I might say, but I think it's unfortunate. Professor Ridd, as I understand, according to newspaper reports, is before the Federal Court now in relation to his sacking for what he says and what I think is an expression of opinion. I thought universities were there to encourage different views and different approaches and to challenge accepted norms. I thought that's what universities were about, but apparently not at JCU, and that distresses me because, as I say, I'm a great supporter, a great fan and great advocate for JCU.

An interesting thing that Julian Tomlinson mentioned was that Professor Ridd in this court case—and we all know that court cases are very, very expensive—wanted to take action but couldn't afford it. So they did one of these crowd-funding appeals and, within two days, raised $100,000 to help Professor Ridd with his court case. As Julian Tomlinson says, this just demonstrates that people around Australia are getting sick and tired of the Greens continual rhetoric—unsupported, I have to say, by any genuine scientific fact about climate change and its being caused by Australia.

Senator Pratt went on about Adani. Adani is 500, 600 kilometres west of the Great Dividing Range, nowhere near the Barrier Reef. How that mine is going to destroy the Barrier Reef, as Senator Whish-Wilson and Senator Pratt have suggested, simply beggars belief and is beyond comprehension.

They then say that there'll be more ships going through the Barrier Reef. Well, that's been happening for 100 years and, with a couple of very minor exceptions, one of which was Bob Brown's boat, there has never been any problem with ships going through the Barrier Reef, because it's so well managed. The marine safety aspects there, the pilots that take everyone through the Barrier Reef—we've got that very well managed. So the arguments about Adani destroying the Barrier Reef just don't stack up. Any serious, sensible person could never make an argument for that, because the facts just don't support them. But it's an interesting article by Mr Tomlinson, and I'd recommend anyone who's interested in this to have a look at it in the Cairns Post today.

I will leave it there, again emphasising what the marine conservation societies say in A big blue legacy about the legacy of the Liberal and National parties and their tradition in marine conservation over decades. That is demonstrated. One of the things I didn't mention which I perhaps should have is that the Green Zones were an initiative of David Kemp and Robert Hill as ministers in the Howard government. All of the practical, positive enhancements to the Great Barrier Reef have been done under Liberal and National Party governments, and that was even further demonstrated just a couple of weeks ago, by this allocation of some $60 million to do further research to help the resilience and the continued operations of the Great Barrier Reef—a Great Barrier Reef that all Australians love. Many, I have to say, from Melbourne, Tasmania and Western Australia read the rhetoric; they don't really understand it. But those of us who live there understand just what a special place it is, how it contributes so much to the Queensland and North Queensland economy and how it gives so much pleasure to tourists and locals alike to experience the Great Barrier Reef. Particularly these days it brings joy to northern Europeans and North Americans, as they flock, with others from all over the world, to see this wonderful example of a natural asset that Australia has.

I will just say, before Senator Whish-Wilson speaks—and again he will try to denigrate the reef and try to turn tourists away, contrary to all the facts from people who actually work on, live near or research the Great Barrier Reef—that I believe the Great Barrier Reef has a great future. With the careful management being provided by the Turnbull government and previous Liberal-National Party governments, we will continue to have this wonderful natural asset which is a joy for the world. I encourage anyone who may be listening to this or who may have an interest in this to visit the Barrier Reef. It is an experience worth having. It is an experience that will be there forever, and it's an experience that is world-class. I urge people to take advantage of it.

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