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Senator the Hon Robert Hill
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for the Environment
31 January 1997
The Australian Democrats have once again resorted to baseless scaremongering over changes to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act.
The Democrats claim the proposed changes are designed to allow foreign ships to discharge waste during Operation Tandem Thrust in Shoalwater Bay.
The proposed amendments have no connection with Tandem Thrust and may not even be in force before this exercise.
The proposed amendment is designed solely to overcome a drafting error in previous legislation passed in 1995.
The Explanatory Memorandum to that 1995 legislation clearly stated in relation to subsection 38J(7) that 'Defence force vessels and aircraft are exempted by definition from the operation of the section'.
The Democrats did not express any opposition to this. During the debate, Democrat Senator John Coulter said "We are supporting this legislation as we believe that it improves the present administration and management in this area." (Hansard 8/3/95)
A drafting error has subsequently been discovered. The amendment now proposed by the Government, on advice from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, simply gives effect to the original intention of the legislation by correcting the drafting error.
The drafting error creates the absurd situation where tourist boats can discharge waste if it is necessary to save lives but the Defence Force cannot.
Defence Force standards in relation to the discharge of waste exceed the standard that would be required by the legislation and the standard expected of commercial shipping.
The Howard Government remains totally committed to the effective management and protection of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
Matt Brown, 08 237 7920; 0419 693 515