Marine Parks deserve better than Government’s windback and delay

Published on Mon 28 November 2016 1:15pm

Mr Wilson (1:15pm) — I move—

That this House:

  1. notes that in 2012, following a comprehensive and rigorous process, the then Labor Government declared 40 marine parks in Commonwealth waters, creating the world’s first and largest comprehensive national network of marine parks;
  2. notes with concern that there is increasing pressure on Australia’s marine environment, as indicated by frequent and severe bleaching of coral reefs across Australia’s northern waters, extensive and unprecedented dieback of mangroves, and the loss of large areas of kelp forests in southern Australian waters;
  3. notes that Australia’s marine environment is the most biologically diverse in the world according to the 2010 Census of Marine Life, with our oceans spanning tropical, temperate and sub-Antarctic waters, and where at least 33,000 marine species have been identified (many of which are found nowhere else on earth);
  4. notes that Australia is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and as such is required to both conserve as well as sustainably utilise its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ);
  5. notes the economic opportunity that marine parks bring regional communities as evidenced by long standing marine parks in Australia, including the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park which is worth over $6 billion to the Queensland economy, and others including Ningaloo Marine Park, the Great Australian Bight, Lord Howe Island, Solitary Islands Marine Park and Maria Island National Park;
  6. notes the clear evidence that marine parks play an important economic role in accelerating the recovery of depleted fisheries, and that the long term net effect on fisheries of increased resilience and sustainability from highly protected marine reserves is positive;
  7. notes that in the 1990s the then Coalition Government put in place a systematic approach for declaring a comprehensive, adequate, and representative network of marine parks in Australia’s EEZ, and proceeded to declare 22 marine parks in Commonwealth waters;
  8. notes with concern that:
    • in December 2013 the incoming Coalition Government suspended Labor’s marine parks from operation by re-declaring the parks in order to set aside their management arrangements and commencement date, pending the conduct of a politically motivated and unnecessary review; and
    • after almost 3 years, these 40 marine parks have not been implemented, existing in statute only—leaving 5 of Australia’s 6 marine regions with little to no protection at a time when the threats to Australia’s valuable and important marine environment are increasing;
  9. notes that in the May 2016 budget the Coalition Government committed to completing the re-development of the management plans for the new parks within 12 months;
  10. notes that in the recent consultation by Parks Australia, over 50,000 submissions were received from around Australia, including from more than 5,000 recreational fishers, calling for the reinstatement of the marine parks and their high level marine national park zoning, without further delay or loss of protection;
  11. notes that the Expert Science Panel of the Coalition Government’s own review recognises both the extensive science that went into the development of the marine parks developed by the Labor Government and the scientifically proven benefits of marine national parks;
  12. notes the Bioregional Advisory Panel of the Coalition Government’s own review recognised the extensive consultation that has occurred in developing the marine reserves developed by the Labor Government, stating that there was in fact a considerable amount of ‘consultation fatigue’ expressed by many stakeholders;
  13. notes the increasing move by other countries to put in place large and highly protected marine parks in their EEZs, including action taken by the United States, Palau, Chile, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and, most recently, the declaration in October 2016 by 24 nations, including Australia, of the Ross Sea marine park in the Antarctic high seas; and
  14. calls on the Coalition Government to bring the Commonwealth network of marine parks that were declared in 2012 into operation without further delay, and with no loss of marine national park protection.

We have been on the brink of introducing the first national network of marine protection since the Labor government completed a careful and widely consultative process in 2013. The reason for finally establishing a system of strong and comprehensive national marine protection could not be clearer or more compelling. Across the globe and here in Australia, oceans have already suffered significant damage and marine life is under threat. We have seen very significant loss of species. We know that fragile marine ecosystems like the Great Barrier Reef are being degraded by the impact of human activity. Around the world, we have witnessed catastrophic environmental disasters in the form of oil spills and we have marked the savage depletion of fishing stocks.

If we keep going along this path without change, without radical improvement to marine protection and conservation, the social, economic and environmental harm will be profound and, in some cases, irreversible. Everyone will lose. Our oceans and the marine life with which we share this planet and on which we depend will be subject to ever steepening pressure, harm and degradation if we do not act, and act decisively. That is a proposition we have understood and accepted for some time. That is the shining imperative behind the Save Our Marine Life campaign.

Since 2013, the Abbott-Turnbull government has stalled progress on reform in favour of a questionable review process which has resulted in two work products, the expert scientific panel report and the bioregional advisory panel report. The expert review has comprehensively endorsed the process that created the network proclaimed by the Labor government. It has endorsed the science, the economics and the consultation. It confirms the value of marine park national park zones, which offer the highest value protection, within a framework of varying representative protected areas. But the report of the bioregional advisory panel has proposed some changes that defy the science and will substantially weaken marine protection in key regions.

In my part of the world, this would mean moving the sanctuary away from the head of the incredible Perth Canyon, where the nutrient upwelling is strongest. This is a feeding ground for the endangered blue whale, and it is the main biodiversity hotspot between Ningaloo Reef and Kangaroo Island. The review also proposes removing inshore sanctuary protection at Bremer Bay, a zone of importance for endangered Australian sea lions and one of only three calving sites for southern right whales. This wind-back is to accommodate the expansion of a trawling operation that ABARES has estimated is worth a grand total of $4,700 per annum. As the Ocean Science Council of Australia has said, the ‘overall emphasis of the review’ appears to have largely focused on modifying the zoning by ‘eroding the critically important zones of high protection to zones of lesser protection’, but without any scientific basis and, according to ABARES, minimal economic benefit.

Reform is not easy, and the last thing we need is to start undermining or walking back the vital pieces of this network. I represent a fishing community. I marched through the streets of Fremantle a few weeks ago as part of the 68th annual blessing of the fleet. I have close friends whose families depend on fishing, and I also know how important diving, surfing, sailing and tourism are to the local and wider Western Australian economy. Freo people, like people right around this island nation, feel connected to and responsible for the sea. As Tim Winton has said, it is part of their birthright.

On this issue, all our social, cultural and economic interests are aligned. So let us not go about creating false divisions on this issue. Let us not pretend that a person who fishes for their livelihood, for their table or for fun is somehow different from a person who loves the sea, who wants to protect biodiversity and ensure that future generations live in harmony with the ocean and all its life. They are the same person. They could just as well live in Albany, Hobart, Darwin or Maroubra as in Spearwood or North Fremantle.

Shaping and implementing this network of marine protection is not a contest; it is a shared endeavour. Through painstaking consultation, evidence and scientific expertise, the Labor government secured a network that reaches around this continent and represents at last a basis on which we can live in harmony with the great blue lifeblood that surrounds us. It is open for the Turnbull government to deliver on that reform and to share in that legacy achievement, but it requires them to show some steel. The bioregional advisory panel report makes recommendations that rip and tear at the fabric of a network that must be allowed to operate as a whole; that is what the science tells us. And it will be a howling failure if, by ignorance of the science or by some calculation of narrow political benefit, this government caves in and carves back carefully chosen and scientifically formulated marine protection. Reform is not easy. This reform has been hard won. Let’s seize the opportunity to look after our oceans while we still have the chance.

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