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Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP


9 May 2002

Launch of the South-east Regional Marine Plan Assessment Reports

Melbourne Aquarium

Thank you and welcome.

In 1998, the Coalition Government unveiled the National Oceans policy, the first co-ordinated policy for the sustainable management and protection of the marine environment to be developed by any nation. This constituted a $50 million commitment and saw the establishment of the National Oceans Office in Hobart, which through its work is building a reputation as an international centre of excellence in marine ecosystems management.

Sustainability of an economy and a society has to be addressed on a whole of Government basis. Following last year's election, the Prime Minister established a Sustainable Environment Committee of Cabinet, bringing together the relevant portfolios to ensure effective policy for underpinning national sustainability.

As you have seen from the video, a scientific survey of the South-east Marine Region has revealed unique geographical features in an area we previously knew very little about, and species scientists never knew in detail before.

But the physical and biological features are just one part of a much bigger picture.

Today, I would like to present another part of the picture - the way we use and appreciate our ocean environments.

Understanding these various components of the marine environment and how they interplay is of vital importance if we are to better manage our oceans.

In preparing these 7 reports, the National Oceans Office in Hobart has been working to bring together the most comprehensive volume of work to date on the biological, physical, economic and cultural characteristics of the South-east Marine Region, as well as the current legislative mechanisms in place to manage the area. The scale and scope of this data collection is unprecedented - either here in Australia or indeed the world.

The reports reveal a rich source of economic and social resources on which people in the Region, and Australia as a whole, have come to depend.

Indeed, it was found that marine industries inject around $30 billion per annum into our national economy, not to mention the significant, but harder to quantify, social benefits that the oceans give to Australians.

For example, the top 5 marine industries - commercial and recreational fishing, petroleum, marine tourism and aquaculture, within the Region directly injected revenue over $15 billion into the economy.

However, amongst all the figures and new information, social surveys and consultations also revealed the social importance and values that people place on our marine environment.

For example, many commercial fishers are concerned that employment options in the fishing industry are maintained for their children. They know, then, that managing fish stocks sustainably is necessary for the future of the industry, and for the future benefit of their children.

Most parts of coastal Australia have a continuing cultural and spiritual significance to Indigenous people. Indigenous people tell how they have been collecting and harvesting food from the seashore since childhood and how they now teach their children and grandchildren their cultural practices.

Communities right along the coast understand that their very well-being and livelihood depends on managing the marine environment so that it continues to prosper in good health. They also appreciate the intrinsic value of the unique and beautiful habitats and species that they perhaps may never see.

It is these messages which clearly define what the Coalition's Australia's Oceans Policy is all about. The communities and industry representatives consulted understand that resources are not finite, and that what we take out needs to be sustainably managed for future use and benefit.

Impressive as all this information is, it is still only the beginning. Oceans are a dynamic environment, constantly changing and moving. Unlike the land, we cannot set up fences. We cannot pen in the flora and fauna. Managing how we use, enjoy and conserve our oceans does then become a significant task.

The Coalition is showing leadership in managing our oceans through regional marine planning. If we look at some of the environmental problems we have on land, much can be attributed to management decisions based on the minimal scientific evidence available at the time. Through Australia's Oceans Policy the Coalition is trying to further our understanding of the marine ecosystems so that we can proactively manage for the future.

It is a collaborative approach drawing in four Federal Government portfolios. We have extended this collaborative approach to consult widely with other levels of government, Indigenous communities, industry, conservation organisations and regional communities.

Given the size of the Region and the enormity of the consultations required, the management plan will take time to unfold. I encourage all Australian's with an interest in improving our management of the marine environment to contact the National Oceans Office, or visit their website, for a copy of these reports. It is vital that we continue to understand the changing issues and concerns across communities, industries and governments.

Along with the reports, there is a Summary Discussion Paper that will help interested parties focus their thoughts and comments.

The National Oceans Office has also collected a great deal of information from industry, communities, government and scientists about their use of the southeast oceans and the values they place on those waters. Whilst the scale of this data collection is unprecedented - either here in Australia or indeed the world - it is still only the first stage of better understanding Australia's 11 million square kilometres of water.

We will continue to progress the Plan with all stakeholders, with a view to release the Draft Plan for the South-east Marine Region in December this year.


Minister Launches Voyage of Discovery Media Release

Commonwealth of Australia