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

Monday, 2 June 2003

Subject: Release of Draft Plans to Protect More of the Great Barrier Reef Under the Representative Areas Program

Dr Kemp: Thank you all for coming. There's great news today. This is a wonderful announcement by the Government that I'm very proud to be able to make.

It follows of course on the announcement two weeks ago of the Water Protection Plan for the Great Barrier Reef. That's the Plan that was developed with the Government of Queensland and it's designed to ensure that the water flowing into the reef is of greatly improved quality in the future to minimise that particular pressure on the Reef environment.

The Great Barrier Reef is suffering very considerable pressures at the moment from increasing usage by tourists, by fishers, by the local communities and it's very important that we give the reef proper protection for the future. The Reef is Australia's greatest natural icon. It's vitally important for all Australians that the Reef is properly protected and that's what this Plan is all about. The Plan that I'm announcing today is going to increase the area of the reef, subject to high protection, from 16,000 square kilometres to 114,000 square kilometres- that's an increase from just under 5% to over 30% of the reef that will now be highly protected through the green zones.

These zones are going to mean that there will be much better opportunities for recreational fishers to see improved catches and much larger fishes on the Reef.

It means that there will be greatly improved security for the billion dollar tourist industry on the Reef. We've got one of the world's most important tourist locations in the Great Barrier Reef. It's the world's largest world heritage area. It supports a billion dollar tourist industry. The tourist industry is right behind this Plan.

And the reason for that is that that's what they sell. They sell the life, the biodiversity, the health of the Great Barrier Reef. And this Plan is going to secure that for the future.

The other point I'd like to make is that this plan arises from a very extensive process of community consultation. There were 10,000 submissions into the process that led to this draft Plan. Now that we've got the draft plan we're putting it out for public discussion and response. Those responses will be due in by the 4th of August and we'll be listening very closely to what all Australians that respond to the draft Plan had to say about it. Because it's a genuine process of consultation that I'm very confident that what we have here is a draft protection plan for the reef that is going to work, it's going to do the job and it's going to have minimal impact on existing uses of the reef. So I feel very confident that we're going to get very strong community support for this.

Question: …protection your ultimate ambition, Minister?

Dr Kemp: Well the key thing is that the Reef be able to be put on a sustainable basis for the long term future. Everybody wants to feel not only that they can enjoy the Barrier Reef but that their children will enjoy it and their grandchildren will enjoy it.

And what we're now announcing today is a protection plan that will make sure that future generations have access to a healthy, vibrant, great Barrier Reef.

Question: It's only 30%. Why not 100%?

Dr Kemp: Well this is based on the science. The whole Plan is based on science. And what the scientists tell us is that you have to protect a minimum amount of the Reef. And they say around about 20 to 25% would provide the absolute minimum protection for the diversity that is in the Great Barrier Reef.

Question: Does that mean that 70% is not worth protecting?

Dr Kemp: What we've put in place is a plan that is going to protect significantly more than the minimum protections that the scientists are talking about, a plan that is going to protect each of the 70 bio-regions of the Reef and put the Great Barrier Reef on a long term sustainable basis.

Question: Can you guarantee that 30%, that 30% won't change at any time through the consultation period that we will see coming up now? Will it be maintained at 30%?

Dr Kemp: Well I fully expect that out of these consultations, as we hear what the responses of people are, that we will make adjustments to the draft plan. But I'm equally confident that we will see the level of protection that is in this draft plan maintained for the Reef.

What we are looking about is to make sure that the Reef is properly protected. The consultations are to make sure that this protection is done in a way which has minimal impact on existing uses while maximising the protection to the Reef itself.

Question: Well you can't guarantee that it won't drop down to 20%?

Dr Kemp: I'm sorry?

Question: Once the consultation is over, [indistinct]….?

Dr Kemp: Well the aim will be to first of all, of course, process the results of the consultation. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority will look very closely at the comments that they've received. If the response is anything like the response in the consultations leading up to the draft plan with 10,000 submissions, that's going to take some time.

But it will then put a series of proposals to me based on that, that will be the basis for my final submission to the Parliament of the regulations.

Question: But if you can't guarantee that the Government…

Dr Kemp: Well I would certainly hope so. I would certainly hope so.

Question: But if you can't guarantee…

Question: Without this plan, what would you expect to happen in the future?

Dr Kemp: Well the science is already telling us that the Reef is suffering because of the pressures that it's under at the moment. We've seen particularly a deterioration in the quality of the water in the inner lagoon of the Reef. The in-shore reefs are already suffering very badly. The vulnerability of the Reef to climate change is also greater if the water quality is not protected. That's why we put in place the Water Quality Protection Plan.

There's also the pressure from exploitation of the Reef, particularly through fishing. We're seeing a decline over quite a significant period of time in fishing stocks. Some species like coral trout are being targeted by both legal and illegal fishing and we need to protect the Reef very strongly against that.

One of the very interesting things that comes out of the science, both here and overseas, is that within these green zones - so within the highly protected zones - we can expect to see a significant increase in fish populations. We can expect to see the size of the fish increasing. And as these populations increase, we will see more and more of these larger sized fish spreading beyond the protected zones. And so they're going to be available to the recreational and commercial fishers who depend on the Reef.

Question: But Minister, can you guarantee that it won't drop down to 20%, that it will be maintained at 30% as outlined in this draft plan?

Dr Kemp: Well the whole aim of this is to provide proper protection of the Reef. We're very confident, and I must say I think the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has done a superb job with this, that the draft plan that we've already got has had minimal impacts for most users.

I was delighted to see the comment from the Chief Executive Officer of Sunfish reported in Townsville today that they are very happy with 90% of the boundaries. Now the recreational fishers started off with a great deal of concern over this process. Because of the process of consultation that we've gone through, because of the discussions with bodies like Sunfish and the recreational fishers, we've now got a plan which balances very effectively the interests of the users of the Reef with the needs of the Reef for the longer term.

Question: So it's more likely that we'll see a range of 20 and 30%, not 30%?

Dr Kemp: No, I'm not making any comment about that at all. I mean we put out a Plan which provides protection above 30% and that's a level of protection that is going to put the Reef on a long term sustainable basis. That's the objective of this whole exercise and, because the Plan has minimal impacts on existing users, I expect that the Plan that will finally come through this process will be very, very similar to the draft plan that's being released today.

Question: Do you expect the Prime Minister will be announcing at the weekend that he's staying on to lead the Party to the next election?

Dr Kemp: Well I'm not going to make any comment at all about that. Whatever the Prime Minister says is entirely up to him and I can assure you we're very happy.

Question: Would you like him to stay at the helm though?

Dr Kemp: Thanks very much.

Question: Would you like the issue settled sooner rather than later, to give everyone a bit of certainty?

Dr Kemp: Look, it's - everyone is delighted with the strong national leadership that the Prime Minister is offering. And whatever he decides to do is what the Liberal Party and the Government will support. The Prime Minister has offered immensely important leadership to Australia. Thank you.


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