Great Barrier Reef Report - 03/09/2014

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (18:26): I would like to make a few comments on this report. I know that Senator Canavan from our side, who, like me, lives in the areas adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef, wants to say a few words. Senator Canavan and I have a particular interest in the Barrier Reef, because it is our backyard and has been mine for most of my life. Most of the people along the coast of Central Queensland, North Queensland and Far North Queensland treat the Barrier Reef as part of their backyard, and that is why they are so cautious and protective of it but want to use and exploit it, if I can say that, for its sustainable assets. Certainly tourism is big, and fishing, both commercial and recreational, is an important part of the Barrier Reef lagoon and the reef itself.

The committee took a lot of evidence. I was fortunate to attend the Townsville hearings of the inquiry. Unfortunately, there were some other parts I could not get to. A lot of good information came forward. I draw senators' attention to the evidence of Dr Russell Reichelt, the Chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. I do not want a verbal him, but my summary of his evidence was that the Barrier Reef is looking pretty good. Tourists go there, look at it, think it is magnificent and want to come back. He is aware, as I am, that, going back to the Ben Cropp days, people have been trying to address the issues of starfish, which, according to the evidence, is the greatest concern for the future of the Great Barrier Reef.

There are a number of other happenings that impact on the reef. One of them is run-off from the land. Over many years, starting with the Howard government, money was given by governments to farmers to help address sediment run-off into the reef. The Labor Party continued that with the Reef Rescue program, and I congratulate them for it. As I have mentioned elsewhere in this debate, the Barrier Reef is very special for our side of politics. In fact, the Liberal governments set up the first environment minister, first protected the Great Barrier Reef, and first established the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. They also substantially funded the work of the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Townsville, which does a lot of work on the reef.

The thing that distresses me most about comment on the Great Barrier Reef is the constant mantra of the Greens political party and the radical environment movement telling the world that the Great Barrier Reef is finished and that it is about to be delisted. They continue to call for actions which would result in it being delisted as a World Heritage site. Quite frankly, a good advertising campaign would overcome that. I think the World Heritage listing is grossly overrated. But the Greens and the radical environment movement continue to denigrate the reef. I say to them, 'Why are you trying to destroy this wonderful asset we have?' Let's recognise the problems, as most people do, let's do something to address them, but do not carry on with this mantra time and time again. For example, the dumping issue which has been addressed in recent days. North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation told me about two or three weeks ago that they were going to look at a different proposal for the Abbot Point dumping. The Greens would go out and tell you that the dumping was on the Great Barrier Reef. To anyone who is watching overseas or listening in America, Europe, Japan or China, they would imagine big ships coming out and dumping dirt on the coral on the Great Barrier Reef. Of course this was never the proposal. I could go on for hours telling you of similar misconceptions that the Greens and the radical environmental movement have put around that just destroy confidence in the reef.

I am one of those who believe that there is a good future for the reef and that carefully managed, as it will be under the Abbott government and as it was under the Howard government, it will be there forever. Of course it will change. It is a resilient set of organisms, and it will change with the changing climate of the world. We have to be careful with it, and we have to protect it. We have to do everything that is possible, but what we do not need is people in this parliament continuing to denigrate and downgrade what is, effectively, in my parochial view, one of Australia's very best natural assets.

Back to List