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Joint Statement

5 December 2003

Governments Move to Improve Great Barrier Reef Water Quality


The Australian and Queensland Governments have finalised a plan to protect the Great Barrier Reef from declining water quality.

Prime Minister John Howard and Queensland Premier Peter Beattie have signed the Great Barrier Reef Water Quality Protection Plan, which will now be implemented to arrest and reverse the decline in the quality of water entering the reef lagoon, within 10 years.

"The Great Barrier Reef is an international icon, a world heritage site and one of Australia's most significant tourist destinations," the Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage," Dr Kemp said.

"Changes in the intensity of activities in the catchments adjacent to the Reef have led to a decline in water quality entering the reef. The amount of sediment and nutrient washing into the Reef has quadrupled since European settlement," Dr Kemp said.

Premier Beattie said: "Ultimately, the plan will make the reef healthier by improving the quality of water entering the reef lagoon.

"The immediate aim is to protect the Reef from damage caused by pollutants in runoff.

"Protecting the reef is an environmental "line in the sand" for Queenslanders.

"We will achieve wins all round - for communities, the environment and the economy - if landholders, community members, industry and governments work together.

"Already, some groups are being innovative and reviewing their practices to improve water quality, but more work must be done to protect the reef and achieve ecological and economic sustainability for industries neighbouring the reef," Mr Beattie said.

The announcement comes two days after the Australian Government announced a historic plan to protect 33.3% of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in no-take zones.

Dr Kemp said the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan significantly complemented the new zoning plan that he tabled in the Commonwealth Parliament this week to afford the highest level of protection possible to one third of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

"The Howard Government will be making a major contribution to the plan. Implementation of the plan will be supported with funds from the Australian Government's $2.7 billion Natural Heritage Trust (NHT) and the $1.4 billion National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality (NAP) jointly funded by the Australian and State governments.

"The Australian and Queensland Governments will give priority to projects addressing water quality issues when considering the funding of Natural Resource Management investment strategies prepared by regions in the Great Barrier Reef catchment."

The Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area contains the largest system of coral reefs in the world. The Reef is recognised nationally and internationally for its outstanding natural values and rich biodiversity, which support a range of industries that make a significant contribution to the local, state and national economies.

The Australian and Queensland Governments will work with the community to implement the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan.

Mr Beattie said the Queensland Government was investing an estimated $57.6 million in reef-related projects in 2003-04.

He said the plan identifies catchments and reefs at risk from runoff, and promotes best practice land management and incentives to protect and restore significant wetlands.

Mr Beattie said innovative suggestions in this plan include:

The announcement of the Great Barrier Reef Water Quality Protection Plan implements the commitment made by the Prime Minister and the Premier in a joint announcement on 13 August 2002 of a Memorandum of Understanding to address the impact of declining water quality entering the reef lagoon. The Plan also draws on the Productivity Commission report on Industries, Land Use and Water Quality in the Great Barrier Reef Catchment and the Science Panel report on the Study of Land-Sourced Pollutants and their Impacts on Water Quality in and Adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef (the `Baker Report').

A copy of the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan may be found at: www.ea.gov.au/coasts or www.thepremier.qld.gov.au/reefwater.

Commonwealth of Australia