Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment (Coronavirus Economic Response Package) Bill 2020

June 15, 2020

Ms BUTLER (Griffith) (12:40):  I rise to support the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment (Coronavirus Economic Response Package) Bill 2020 and to move the second reading amendment circulated in my name:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House notes that Coalition governments have mismanaged and politicised the Great Barrier Reef, which is a job-generating, economic and environmental powerhouse of global significance, that Australians need to preserve for future generations".

Labor welcomes this bill, as it provides relief for Great Barrier Reef tourism operators who've been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. So many parts of the country have needed support as a result of COVID-19, and the tourism industry has been among the hardest hit. This bill supplements a measure that passed the parliament earlier in the pandemic period—back in March—to waive the environmental management charge from 1 April 2020 to 31 December 2020. Combined, these measures effectively ensure that the EMC is waived for the entire 2020 calendar year.

The environmental management charge fee paid by operators is usually determined by the number of visitors to the reef and is charged to them as a visitor fee. It's only fair that tourism operators aren't burdened by this cost in 2020, so Labor welcomes this sensible measure. We're also pleased the Minister for the Environment has assured Australians that there will be no reduction in the revenue that goes to the management of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park as a result of this amendment because, while the pandemic has meant many parts of our lives have been paused, time still marches on and the threats to the future of the Great Barrier Reef are on a tight and unforgiving deadline.

While Labor welcomes this relief for tourism operators in the North and the Far North, the government has been woefully lacking when it comes to supporting tourism and the reef in the long term. To support tourism, the government needs to support the reef. And, to support the reef, the government should work towards the overall health of the reef. Importantly, it should resist the deniers in its ranks, commit to serious action on climate change at home and show leadership internationally.

The Great Barrier Reef is a great asset to Australia. Our country is so fortunate to be the home of one of the seven wonders of the natural world. It is the largest coral reef on the planet and the largest living structure on earth. As a kid growing up in Cairns, I spent a lot of my childhood on the reef. Family and friends had great memories of visiting the islands. It was common for people to take up scuba-diving or at least to have used a snorkel. As well as enjoying the reef as locals, everyone really understood that the reef was a great drawcard for the many overseas visitors we saw in the streets of our town. There were jobs in cruise operations and in dive schools, but the economic reach went much further. Local small businesses—like my mum's small business and like my grandfather's small business—had a lot of tourism based customers too, all because of the breathtaking beauty of this natural wonder.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park covers 344,400 square kilometres. That's bigger than Victoria and Tasmania combined and larger than the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Holland combined. While many people across the globe can and do appreciate its wonder and environmental significance, it is Queenslanders in regional communities up and down the coast, like the one I'm from, who are most keenly aware of its value environmentally, economically, culturally and socially as part of the Australian identity. Those Queenslanders include, firstly, more than 70 Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal traditional owner groups who've had a continuing relationship with the Great Barrier Reef over millennia. They include the Queensland based scientists, as well, who've studied the reef their whole lives and are evermore urgently advocating for it. They include, too, around 64,000 Queenslanders who rely on the reef for work—for their livelihoods.

Deloitte Access Economics published a report that calculated the site's full economic, social and iconic brand value. The title of the report is the same question we ask those opposite: At what price? What will this government's failure to preserve the reef cost us?

Read the whole speech here: