Matter of Public Importance - Great Barrier Reef


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (16:33): Senator Ketter's last point is really what this debate is all about. Thanks to the scaremongering of the Greens political party, some elements of the Labor Party and one or two so-called scientists, the word is getting around the world that the reef is dead. As a result of that, people are thinking twice about visiting the Great Barrier Reef. That is why Jenny Hill, the Labor mayor of Townsville, was absolutely incensed when she heard Professor Hughes going out on her own with that false report about the coral coverage on the Great Barrier Reef.

That leads me to Senator Waters' campaign to denigrate the reef, as she always does. She talked about the northern section. The results from that survey, which involved the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the Australian Institute of Marine Science and one or two scientists from James Cook University, said that the other three sections of the Barrier Reef had increased their coral coverage during the time of the survey. The only one that was in issue was the northern section, but they said it started from a very high base and there had been some loss of coral coverage, but most of the reef was growing. You would not have heard that from Professor Hughes or from the Greens political party. As a result of that, people overseas are worried.

I thank the One Nation Party for raising this particularly important matter for discussion again today. I appreciate them doing it. It is not new; it is something I have been talking about for 26 years in this parliament. But it has been hard to get your voice heard above the screaming from the Greens and the Labor Party about 'All is dead', 'Woe is me' and 'The world is coming to an end'.

It is always important to have some facts. I repeat that last major assessment, which involved the Australian Institute of Marine Science, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and several university professors, one of whom broke ranks and went out and announced her findings before the rest were able to deliver the accurate findings. I remember when that came out. It was the night that the AIMS board had met in Townsville and they were having cocktails in the evening. The Mayor of Townsville was there, and they were all incensed when this unusual view of the research findings news came out from Professor Hughes.

I congratulate Dr Reichelt, whom my colleague has mentioned, who has been a wonderful advocate for the Reef over many years, in many different roles; and Mr John Gunn, who is head of the Australian Institute Of Marine Science. They do a hell of a lot of work all the time to ensure the protection of the Reef.

The Australian Reef, the Great Barrier Reef, is one of the best managed reefs anywhere in the world. Don't take my word for it. Take the word of the Save Our Marine Life alliance, who published this document that I keep trying to give to Senator Waters but never seem to be able to hand to her. It is called The big blue legacy, and it sets out in a wonderfully colourful booklet all of the positive things that Australian governments have done—and it is always Liberal governments that have done anything for our marine park establishments and protecting our Reef.

Indeed, you will recall that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park itself was set up in 1979 by the then Prime Minister, the Hon. Malcolm Fraser. You would recall that all positive initiatives with our marine activities anywhere throughout Australia's history have been done by Liberal governments, either federal or in the various states. Time will not permit me to go through them all, but the new marine park arrangements were introduced by Robert Hill when he was the environment minister, and then David Kemp as minister oversaw the introduction of the south-east marine park. We will have, I think, Mr Frydenberg presiding over the Coral Sea marine park, providing he gets it right. It was going off track under the previous, Labor government, but I am hopeful that when that comes out it will be a credit to Australia but also allow fishermen and tourist operators to continue to access parts of those areas in a sustainable and sensible way.

The Greens and those in the Labor Party who are always scaremongering about the Reef do not seem to understand the importance of jobs on the Great Barrier Reef. It is okay for people like Senator Waters who might visit the Reef every now and again. I have lived most of my life on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef. I associate with people who go out there fishing, people who go out there diving, tourist operators, and fishermen, and we understand what the Reef is all about. The Reef is a very resilient organism. It has been there for hundreds of thousands of years. It is a bit like climate change. I do not deny that the climate is changing; I accept that it has. I always give the rather exaggerated example that once the world was covered in ice and now it is not. So, clearly, the climate has changed over hundreds of thousands of years.

It is the same with the Great Barrier Reef. It adapts. It is a series of organisms that do adapt to whatever the situation is. I was talking to Mr Gunn on the aeroplane coming down here yesterday, and AIMS are doing a lot of work on coral bleaching, in a really scientific way—not in an over-the-top political way, making announcements that chase away tourists from Europe and America.

I have a friend who has a resort up that way, and he tells me that one of the greatest tourist attractions near his part of the Great Barrier Reef is a piece of white coral that the boats go over and have been going over for, I think he said, 20 years. But the Greens or one of those environment groups went out there and they said, 'Look; here's an example of coral bleaching,' and it was anything but. It was an outstanding piece of white coral.

I mention all these things because they demonstrate how there are a group of people in this country who seem hell-bent on destroying all of the jobs, activities and pleasures that the Reef provides to not only Australians but mankind.

Thanks to the One Nation party for raising this important issue. I think it is good that the parliament can discuss these sorts of issues in a sensible way, and bring some facts and truth and actual situations to the debate. Too often in this place we hear these negatives being thrown around by the Greens and their mates in the Labor Party. I had to smile at Senator Ketter's survey that he was talking about. He said 59people saw a reduction in the Reef. But I think he was talking about visitors who have probably only ever been there once, so how would they know there has been a reduction? It would only be because the Greens political party and their mates keep telling the world that the Reef is dying—when, quite frankly, it is not.

It is still a magnificent spectacle. It is a coral reef that is teeming with wildlife of all sorts. The response to and the praise you get from, in particular, foreign tourists about our Great Barrier Reef are just remarkable, and it is continuous. We have something to be very proud of, and AIMS, GBRMPA and CSIRO, who do a wonderful job there and are very much contributing to these areas, will continue to properly manage our Great Barrier Reef and continue to keep it in the wonderful condition it is in now and forever.

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