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Great Barrier Reef

Speeches in Parliament
Larissa Waters 24 Jun 2012

Senator WATERS

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (Senator Conroy) to a question without notice asked by Senator Waters today relating to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and dumped dredge spoil.

I first asked the minister what the government was thinking in charging the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority with supposedly protecting the reef by asking them to raise money by, in fact, polluting it. It makes no sense to me, so I put that question to the minister. I also asked him when the government planned on telling the Australian public about this plan. There has been only some targeted, selective, limited consultation and something put on a website which was password protected, and clearly that was no help to the interested public. Unfortunately, the minister was not able to tell me whether there are any plans to further consult with the public. I wonder why it is all so secretive. It is probably because the public would be horrified that these plans to dump 22 million cubic metres of offshore dredge spoil have already been approved for the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area—so much for looking after our World Heritage!

I next asked the minister how he could guarantee the proposed safeguards to stop this money acting as an incentive for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to approve yet more dumping. I pointed out the fact that, if the fee had been imposed on the dumping which had already been approved, it would have given the GBRMPA more money than they have in their current budget. If that is not an incentive, I do not know what is. Once again, the minister was not able to talk me through the safeguards to prevent that from happening, so one can only draw the conclusion that the money will in fact be an incentive and that more offshore dumping of dredge spoil in our internationally significant World Heritage area is likely to happen.

My final question to the minister was whether anyone has bothered to tell UNESCO about all this. UNESCO are so concerned about what is happening in our reef that they are coming all the way out here next week to look at it. They are looking at the disaster in Gladstone harbour and will no doubt be cognisant of the plans to treble, if not more than treble, shipping through the reef and to remove an unprecedented amount of dredge spoil—65 Melbourne cricket grounds worth—from the reef. Given the fact that the reef is already facing these huge pressures from shipping and dredging, why on earth would the government pick now as the time to impose a fee which will end up encouraging more dumping of dredge spoil, which is seabed from the reef itself dumped right back on the reef? Frankly, it is madness, and I fear that Australia will join the ranks of Yemen, the Congo and Afghanistan in having our World Heritage on the List of World Heritage in Danger. What a dubious honour that would be, and what a crying shame it is that the government is not doing all it can to avert that eventuality.

It unfortunately remains to the Greens to be the ones standing up for our reef and asking for our World Heritage to be properly protected. We will certainly continue to do that, and I think that the vast majority of the community would be genuinely horrified if they knew what the government has in store for our reef. Within the space of about three days late last year 75,000 people signed a petition calling for the minister to stop approving dredging in the reef. I am hoping that the minister is paying close attention to the wishes of the community on the matter.

We will be talking with UNESCO when they come next week to try to tighten up the government's proposed strategic assessment. The great flaw in the government's plan for its strategic assessment of the reef is that the assessment is not even going to look at anything which is currently on the books. What is the point of that? There is to be 112 million cubic metres of dredging and 22 million cubic metres of offshore dumping, and none of that is going to be included in this so-called comprehensive strategic assessment. I am afraid that the assessment does not therefore sound very comprehensive to me, and I am hoping that UNESCO will give more than just the very solid rap on the knuckles that they have already given Australia and that they will drag the government kicking and screaming to better protect our reef.

So watch this space. Let us hope for some better outcomes for our reef, let us hope that the community will be listened to and let us hope that our $6 billion economy around reef tourism, with a little bit more for fishing, and the 60,000 people who rely on this reef for their livelihoods are not thrown on the scrap heap—the same rubbish heap that we are now proposing to turn the reef into.

Question agreed to.

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