SPEECH: Speech Blue Film Parliamentary Screening

Thanks very much Valerie Taylor, Parliamentary colleagues, friends.

This film, it's magnificent and its tough. The temptation is there at an event like this for all of us to just say yes we love the ocean and just get on with it. But the history of decline in the ocean is pretty recent and pretty rapid. And it would be not just naive but irresponsible of us to pretend that there aren’t decisions in front of us right now that will make a categorical difference to the health of our oceans. 

In a community cabinet during a brief and glorious period as a member of cabinet, in Hobart, I was fisheries Minister at the time and somebody came along to me to sit down at the one on one meetings afterwards. And she put a plastic jar in front of me, filled with pieces of plastic. And the number was something like 32 that she said. She said ’32 pieces of plastic, the stomach of one mutton bird on Lord Howe Island.’ 

That person was Doctor Jennifer Lavers who was in the film and is here tonight. It looks like food and every day since then there is more plastic in the ocean than there was that day. The challenges that we have are real. If we all think of ourselves as kids playing at the beach with the bucket, the same game you see kids playing today. Its the same game but the contents of that bucket at the beach are different. They are chemically different, they are physically different they are biologically different . 

The water now contains a higher acidity, more carbonic acid. The water is biologically different there is less marine life. The water is physically different it contains more plastics. And when the challenge of the oceans is so huge it is wrong to pretend that there is any single decision on its own that fixes it.

We need to deal with run off. We need to deal with plastics. We need to deal with marine protected areas. We need to deal with the level of carbon in the atmosphere that turns into carbonic acid through ocean acidification. We need to deal with all of it.

And all of those decisions in different ways do lie before us. One of them would be the decision on the marine parks. The coral sea is a magnificent area. There is a proposal that will be considered by members of Parliament and at the moment no decisions by Government is being made, this is not a criticism of Government. 

But the Liberal Party does have a fine tradition as referred to, Malcolm Fraser is the person who put the Great Barrier Reef on the world heritage list and John Howard was the Prime Minister who put the green zones into the Great Barrier Reef marine park where now the size of coral trout within those highly protected areas are larger than the coral trout in the immediately adjacent areas. The proof that marine parks work is actually given to us by the Howard Government. 

I work on the basis that the public service does give us frank and fearless advice and I do accept the advice that they gave me when I was environment Minister. That marine parks work fully in place. There will be a decision that will be made later this year that will either reinforce them or potentially will be the largest removal of areas under conservation by any Government in the history of this planet. That’s a real decision. 

So I simply flag for all of us when these decisions have not yet been made let’s use the opportunity of the film, lets use the oppourtunity of the gathering here today in advance of any of this being partisan to make sure we see tonight as more than a photo oppourtunity.

Because the area of our planet that we are trying to protect has a cover on it that is not transparent. We need films like this, films like Blue Planet that has been on channel 9 the last few weeks, to take us below that cover to see both how magnificent it is and how quickly it is being changes. 

There is a chance that in a few generations time, the contents in that bucket will be closer to what we knew than what it is right now. But the likelihood if we don’t make tough decisions is its going to keep getting worse.

We might be known as planned earth but the reality is it’s mostly ocean.

There is on both sides of politics a fine history of making sure that we put protections in place and we have never had a history of taking any backward steps once those protections are in place. I urge you not simply to see the film but to believe it and to act. 

Tony Burke