Great Barrier Reef Senate Report

I too would like to make some remarks on this report by the Environment and Communications References Committee. I want to associate myself with the remarks of Senator Ruston and Senator Macdonald—particularly Senator Ruston's comments on the disappointment that we were not able to reach a consensus report. We were so close that it makes me think that the fact we did not get there is more about politics than the facts of the matter.

If we are going to take action on this, we would be much better in doing it in unison, but, of course, these committee reports are not just about the facts—they are about the politics. And that is disappointing. The point I want to make about Senator Macdonald's remarks is that the people who live or work on the Great Barrier Reef should have an important say in what happens in their area. There are so many people in this debate who live outside the Great Barrier Reef—they work outside the Great Barrier Reef—but who want to talk about the Great Barrier Reef and control the Great Barrier Reef.

It is a shame that Senator Singh has left the chamber because we just heard her bemoaning the fact that the Mackay Council can have a say on the Great Barrier Reef. For all the people in Mackay who may be listening tonight or watching online: you have just heard it from the Labor Party that they do not care about your council or about your thoughts. They want to allow the minister in Canberra to dictate to you what can and cannot be done in your part of the world. According to the Labor Party, all those people in Bowen, Airlie Beach, Proserpine, Tully, Ingham, Ayr—where my mum comes from—in Townsville and Cairns do not deserve a say and it should be Canberra that decides what happens in the Great Barrier Reef. I want to say that I utterly reject such an approach.

We should allow people who are directly impacted by what happens to have more of a say on what happens in their area. This is not just about the environment—a lot of it is about the environment and the environment is very important—but the environment is just one concept, and other things are important too. Jobs are important; communities are important; families are important; development is important. All of these things have to be balanced against each other. A mature government and mature political parties realise that there are no easy decisions here, and tough choices have to be made. When the Labor Party was in government, they did realise that, but of course in opposition they do not have the responsibilities they had a few months ago. Last year the Labor Party had approved plans for 38 million cubic metres of dredging, Senator Cameron. We have a new shadow minister for the environment and now they are talking about no dredging whatsoever. We have gone from having a year ago 38 million cubic metres between the Queensland Labor government and the federal Labor government to now wanting zero. What has happened in a year to change their minds so much?

Senator Cameron: Campbell Newman!

Senator CANAVAN: Oh, Campbell Newman. It's all Campbell Newman's fault! He is a very powerful man. He has changed your minds about dredging in the reef in the space of a year.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Bernardi ): Address your remarks through the chair, Senator Canavan.

Senator CANAVAN: Sorry. I plead that it is only my fourth week—or third week, I think. No, fourth.

Senator Cameron: I thought you were an economist!

Senator CANAVAN: I can count the millions, billions and trillions, but not up to 10!

What I cannot understand in this debate is that there is so much emotion about this issue of dredge spoil. 'Dredge spoil' is a very loaded term, and we have done lots of this in the past. We have dredged ports all through the Great Barrier Reef, and you would think that those on the sides of science, those who would want to use science in this area would have evidence because we have done what in effect are natural trials. In 2006, for example, North Queensland Bulk Ports dredged 8.6 million cubic metres at Hay Point, which is a port near Mackay and probably in the Mackay council area. You would think there would be some peer reviewed studies that would show these damaging effects. If dredge spoil were as bad as everything we heard from the other side of the chamber, there would be some evidence—just some, just a scintilla of evidence—that this has caused bad things. We have had this report produced, and I just went through it all again, and there are no studies referred to here. There is evidence presented by people. There are concerns. There are words like 'could' and 'perhaps'. There are weasel words all through it, but there is no actual evidence of the effects of that 8.6 million cubic metres that was dredged just eight years ago.

What we are talking about here in Abbot Point is three million cubic metres, less than half the amount, but apparently this is going to destroy the reef. It is going to do what the 8.6 million cubic metres did not. I want to refer back to the comments of Senator Singh, who is now saying the Labor Party wants to seriously consider that no more dredging will happen. I do not even think she mentioned offshore, but I will take that as a clarification if she did. We know that in the future Townsville, Cairns, Gladstone, Hay Point and Abbot Point will require dredging because that is the natural environment and they need to be dredged from time to time. So, effectively, what the Labor Party are saying by saying no to any more dredging is no to the development of these towns. They are not even saying no to development; they are saying no to the maintenance of these towns and what they are at the moment. The Labor Party are saying no to North Queensland. It is very unfortunate that they are joining with the Greens in this quest to make North Queensland the next version of north Tasmania. As a Queenslander, I do not want to do that. I do not want to see North Queensland become a northern version of Tasmania. I want to keep our state and our North Queensland very prosperous because there is a lot going on in that part of the world. If we listen to the Greens, we will have no new development, no new jobs and no new towns in that area.

Later on this week I believe there will be tabled another committee report on Northern Australia. There is lots of potential in Northern Australia, but we know those on the other side of the chamber are going to scream no to a lot of these things. They are going to scream no to more coalmines. They are going to scream no to more irrigation projects. They are going to scream no to more fishing zones being declared because they want to say no to jobs and development. I think that is a great regret. There is great promise in Northern Australia and North Queensland, and it would be a great regret if we turned our back on that promise as a nation. We can do better. We can do these things in a balanced way. We can build a coalmine and not destroy the environment. We can build ports and not destroy the environment.

Those on the other side do not believe in any coalmines. I have only been here a couple of months, but I am waiting for one Greens senator to get up and say, 'This is the coalmine that I support to build our things'—like wind turbines, for example. Where is the coal going to come from to build the steel that is going to go into wind turbines? Where is the coal going to come from to help power the factories in China that produce solar panels? I will wait with bated breath to here where that mystical coalmine is going to appear one day. We live in hope.

In conclusion, I want to give credit to the Queensland and federal governments for in a balanced way approaching development on the Great Barrier Reef. It is a great thing that some coalmines are getting approved there, because what we need in Central Queensland and North Queensland is jobs.

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