SPEECH: This Government is engaging in the removal of protected areas in the history of and Government on the planet

Mr BURKE (Watson—Manager of Opposition Business) (16:47):  I move:

That this House:

(1)  notes:

    (a)  that the international community came together to recognise the importance of our oceans at the 2017 United Nations Ocean Conference on 5 to 9 June 2017 in New York;

    (b)  that the oceans are under increasing pressure and other nations have started to establish protected areas;

    (c)  that Australia cannot afford to leave its oceans exposed given the impacts of climate change, including the severe coral reef bleaching, unprecedented mangrove dieback and significant loss of kelp forests already seen around Australia;

    (d)  the progress globally by other countries to put in place marine national parks, such as the:

       (i)   Ross Sea region Marine Protected Area (MPA), declared by 24 nations of the world, including Australia, in 2016 to protect 1,549,000 square kilometres of the Antarctic high seas in high level International Union for Conservation of Nature, Category II (IUCN II) National Park protection;

       (ii)  Papahãnaumokuãkea Marine National Monument, declared by the United States of America (USA) in 2006 and expanded in 2016 to protect 1,508,870 square kilometres of Hawaiian islands and atolls in high level IUCN II protection;

       (iii) Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, declared by the USA in 2009 and expanded in 2014 to protect 1,270,000 square kilometres in high level IUCN II protection; and

       (iv) Pitcairn Islands Marine Reserve, declared by the United Kingdom in 2015 to protect 834,334 square kilometres around the Pitcairn Islands in the Pacific in high level IUCN II protection;

    (e)  that Labor’s 2012 Commonwealth Marine Reserves Network (CMRN):

       (i)   is the world’s largest network;

       (ii)  put Australia at the forefront of ocean conservation globally, with other countries following suit; and

       (iii) was based on science and extensive consultation, with Labor holding more public and stakeholder meetings which were attended by more people and received more submissions than the Government’s recent review;

    (f)   the Government’s own review of the CMRN found that extensive:

       (i)   science went into the development of the CMRN and recognised the scientifically proven benefits of Marine National Park (MNP) IUCN II zones; and

       (ii)  consultation went into the development of the CMRN, stating there was in fact a considerable amount of ‘consultation fatigue’ expressed by many stakeholders; and

    (g)  that after 15 years of process, regional businesses and industry leaders are seeking certainty with the completion of the CMRN; and

(2)  calls on the Government to honour its domestic and international obligations, and to bring the CMRN that was declared in 2012 into operation without further delay, and with no reduction of MNP IUCN II zone protection.

The motion that is in front of the chamber notes that the international community came together from the 5th – 9th June this year in New York to recognise the importance of our oceans.

When the Australian Government appeared at that conservation conference they put on the record what they believed were the achievements from Australia and why Australia should be recognised as a good citizen in terms of protection of the ocean. And do you know what the Australian Government referred to in the contribution they made at that UN meeting? They referred to protections that were put in place by the previous Labor Government when I was environment minister—protections that they're now trying to remove. That was the way the Australian Government sought to give themselves a pat on the back. That was the way the Australian Government sought to represent this country to the rest of the world, while not managing to mention to the rest of the world that the Australian Government are now actively in the process of removing protections in the ocean.

The removal of protections now being proposed by this Government is no small matter at all. At a time when the ocean is under more pressure than ever before, at a time when plastics, pollution, acidification and over fishing are all creating challenges in the ocean beyond what we have experienced before, what does this Government decide it's time to do? In terms of area, this Government is now engaging in the largest removal of protected areas in the history of any Government on the planet. Let me say that again: of all the conservation decisions that have ever been made by any Government in history, this Government right now is engaging in the largest removal of areas from conservation ever in history.

The Government is talking about areas like the Coral Sea, at a time when to have protection really does matter. You only have to look at what's happening to coral reefs throughout the world to recognise that the health of these areas is of extraordinary importance.

Whether it's Osprey Reef, Shark Reef, Bougainville, Marion Reef or Vema Reef, as you go through the different lists, there are almost none that escape the cuts that this Government is making. Half the areas that'd been established as marine national park are being proposed to be removed as marine national park.

The minister says: 'Look, it's not a problem, because the boundaries are being kept the same. We're just changing the rules on what you can do inside them.' Imagine if we took half the national parks on land and said: 'Look, it's fine. The boundary's still there, you're just allowed to go in now and shoot the native animals.' People would understand exactly how offensive and bizarre that is, but that's exactly what this Government is proposing to do with the national parks that've been established in our oceans.

National parks in the ocean make a real difference, and we've got proof that they make a real difference. Why do we have proof of that? Because the Howard Government did the right thing on this. The Howard Government established the zoning in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The Howard Government—quite bravely at that time, and against the views of some of their own membership—put in some areas where no fishing would be allowed at all and other areas where sustainable fishing was permitted. At the time, some people said: 'If you take away our right to fish, it concentrates us in other areas and it means that we'll never get the health. You're better off just spreading it out and letting everything happen everywhere.'

The science is now in on what the Howard Government did. Take the species of coral trout. Coral trout inside the protected areas of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park have 80 per cent additional biomass to the coral trout in the non-protected areas—an 80 per cent difference in the biomass. It's been established and proven by the Howard Government itself that protected areas make a substantive difference in the health of the environment, but this Government has decided to break the accord that Australia had observed ever since environmental protection first began.

When an area is first put under protection, it's not unusual for there to be a political argument about the boundaries and the level of protection. That happened when Joh Bjelke-Petersen wanted to drill in the Great Barrier Reef. That happened when Bob Hawke was determined to make sure that we saved the Franklin, the Daintree and Kakadu. Those sorts of arguments have happened at different times but, once it's locked in, it's a lock. Once it's protected, there have been no backwards steps. Even though the Fraser Government might not have liked some of the decisions that the Whitlam Government made, once made, they respected that there would be no backwards steps in environmental protection. At the time that some World Heritage listings were made, even though the Howard Government had opposed some of the protections that had been put in place by the Hawke and Keating Governments, once the Howard Government came in, they had a decision of no backwards steps.

The Abbott-Turnbull Governments are the first Governments we have had in the country which have been willing to remove areas from protection. First of all, we saw it with the World Heritage areas in Tasmania, where this Government sought to get the World Heritage Committee to take areas out of protection. The World Heritage Committee dealt with the application in about three minutes—with Portugal describing this Government's application as 'feeble'—and threw it out unanimously.

But this Government has continued with what they're doing on the oceans. Bear in mind that what's happening with the oceans has led to a situation where the Turnbull Government is, in fact, worse on this than the Abbott Government was. The Abbott Government commissioned a review into the marine national parks that I'd put in place under the previous Labor Government. What did the Abbott Government review find? I quote:

The ESP is satisfied that the marine bioregional planning programme, which was based on the Integrated Marine and Coastal Regionalisation of Australia and complemented by scientific workshops, peer-reviewed publications and literature reviews, was a sound basis and drew upon the best available information for designing the CMR networks.

After all the claims that those opposite had made that this wasn't science based, the Abbott Government review came back and said, 'Yes, it was,' and then this Government decided to gut the protection anyway.

The Coral Sea, which is the cradle for the Great Barrier Reef, is magnificent in its own right and provides an area of buffer zone for the Great Barrier Reef. The Government's decisions, if they continue with this, will mean that the longliners will be back. Longlining will happen up and down that area, with all the challenges that go with that. That will be the outcome when they remove the protection in areas like the Diamantina Fracture Zone, off the south-west of Western Australia—areas where we have some of the deepest water in Australia's oceans. Large chunks of it will be taken out of protection. We know that protecting these areas makes a quantitative difference to the health of the ocean and the species that live within it. We know the extent to which we rely on the ocean for our industries—not only tourism but also sustainable fishing. They all rely on the oceans being healthy. And we know that the Government's own review said the principles upon which these plans were put in place were science based, and yet the Government is now looking at making the decision to remove the largest areas for conservation that has ever been undertaken by any country in the world. There are some pretty dodgy countries around the world that have taken areas out of conservation from time to time. It's not a list you want to be on and it's certainly not a list you want to top, but that is what the Minister for the Environment and Energy is currently contemplating doing.

My request here is simple: get back to the consensus that existed throughout the Howard Government and throughout the Fraser Government. It has been here in Australia for generations. It says that, once an area is protected, there will be no backward steps. A process of protection that began under Keating, continued under Howard and was concluded in the last Labor Government is now potentially being gutted by this Government. I will tell you what: the next generations will not thank this mob for wrecking the health of pristine areas of the ocean.


Tony Burke