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Thanks very much Tom and to you and distinguished representatives of governments, inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations, the private sector, Ladies and Gentlemen. It is my great pleasure today to welcome you to Townsville and to this conference and to say how delighted we are that you’ve chosen this part of the world for your conference. I see some of you still ashamed to discard your very good suits although I see some of you are dressed properly for the north. Those of you who are suited should only wear them for the day, the starting session and then get rid of them because this is a magnificent part of the world and it is an area where when we dress formally, we dress like I am - no coats!
Sadly I’m told that many of you have only just arrived and you didn’t take advantage of the Easter weekend to have a look around the Great Barrier Reef and other parts of this delightful area of the world. Hopefully, during the course of your conference you will have the opportunity of getting out and seeing a bit.
I particularly want to thank the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the United States of America, who have organised this workshop as a project of the APEC Marine Resource Conservation Working Group. Additional support for the workshop has been provided by the Australian Government through Environment Australia, that’s the Australian Federal Department of the Environment and also through the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority which Dr McPhail heads on behalf of the Australian Government. I want to thank as well the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the World Bank for their sponsorship of some workshop participants at this conference.
As I say, I hope your time in Townsville is very productive. We’re very proud of Townsville and we make the point that Townsville each year has over 300 days of sunshine and so you will be guaranteed of having a pleasant, sunny time while you are here.
Senator Robert Hill, the Federal Minister for the Environment unfortunately couldn’t be here today, but he has asked me to convey to you his welcome and his best wishes for a successful conference.
Personally I’m very pleased to be able to participate in this workshop, not only because of my role as Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment but, also because the workshop is being held here in Townsville my electorate base. This region is home to arguably one of the world’s most spectacular marine assets — the Great Barrier Reef. This region also supports thriving agricultural and tourism sectors and a very rapidly expanding economy even in these rather difficult financial and economic days.
I personally live in a sugar growing area about an hour south of Townsville and you would be aware that while sugar is an important wealth creation asset of our country its production at times has been a cause for some concern about marine pollution. But increasing, I’m pleased to say, awareness amongst the sugar farmers and the professionalism of the sugar industry, have combined to create a desire by the Industry to produce in a clean and sustainable way.
This workshop represents a welcome synergy between two important international initiatives for marine conservation — the APEC Marine Resource Conservation Working Group and the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land Based Activities, or GPA.
Australia supports both these initiatives and we were pleased to be involved in developing both the Global Programme of Action and the APEC Action Plan and Strategy for the Sustainability of the Marine Environment.
The reasons why we need to address land-based sources of marine pollution are very clear. Locally tourism associated with the Great Barrier Reef and the richness of the seafood resources in this area demand a pollution free ocean. The world’s oceans provide us with a wealth of riches — vital climate regulation functions, significant biodiversity, substantial economic benefits from marine-based industries, subsistence, recreation and so the list goes on. Sadly these benefits are under threat from degradation of the marine environment.
Currently, land based sources account for up to 80% of our marine pollution. By the year 2000 it is estimated that 75% of the world’s population will live within 60 kilometres of the coast. Here in Australia, for example, the percentage of coastal residents is already over 80% and it is increasing every year. As a result, our urban, agricultural and industrial pollution sources are concentrated on our coasts and adjacent to our waterways. This represents a growing burden on our marine ecosystems.
Sources of marine pollution such as sewage, agricultural and urban runoff, industry, and habitat modification all contribute a dire mix of pollutants which we feed into our coastal waters on a daily basis. Reducing the negative impacts of these pollutants is obviously a complex and challenging task and one which is reflected in the Global Programme of Action.
In Australia we are rising to the challenge and are already implementing a number of activities that support the Global Programme of Action. You will hear more detail of that later today I understand from Dr McPhail, however, I just want to make brief mention of some of them at this point.
Australia as you may know, is a federation of States and Territories, and consequently, the principal responsibility for the management of land based sources of marine pollution rests with the State and Territory Governments and our third tier of Government in Australia, Local Government.
However, the federal government, which I represent, has a very strong interest in the area, both because of the impact of land based pollution on waters under Federal jurisdiction beyond the 3 nautical mile State Zone and because Australians are increasingly expecting their national government to take a lead on these issues.
Australia also has international responsibilities in this area and we are well placed to facilitate national level adoption of best practices and to enhance the ability of managers to effectively manage land based marine pollution.
The federal government’s principal effort in this regard has been through the Coasts and Clean Seas program, a $125 million component of the Natural Heritage Trust.
I just might pause to tell you about Australia’s Natural Heritage Trust. It is a fairly unique environmental initiative by the current Federal Government where our Government sold one third of a previously government owned telecommunications corporation and then invested part of the proceeds of that sale into the natural capital of the nation - to repair and enhance our natural environment. The Clean Seas Program component of the Natural Heritage Trust is directly focused on the reduction of pollution of our coastal and marine environments.
The federal government is also supporting initiatives such as the Coastal and Marine Planning Program and Coastcare — which are relevant to the implementation of the Global Programme of Action.
Coastcare is the community cornerstone of the Coasts and Clean Seas project. It supports direct community involvement in the management of coastal and marine areas with a focus on practical actions and on-ground works. A representative of Coastcare will be explaining more to you about that program later on today.
I want if I could to give you just a couple of brief examples of the types of projects that the Australian Government has approved for funding under the Clean Seas and Coastcare Programs.
The Clean Seas Program has allocated funding for the development of a stormwater treatment facility on Australia’s east coast near the New South Wales/Queensland border about a couple of thousand kilometres south of here.
This project aims to reduce the amount of pollution entering the ocean from a creek, through the design and installation of a barrier that will trap litter and certain other sediments and organic pollutants.
And one very innovative aspect of this project is that the debris that’s collected will be made available for display to the local community as part of an awareness program designed to illustrate to them the large volume of pollutants entering their oceans and waterways in their area. The benefits of this project are therefore twofold — an immediate reduction of pollutant outflow from a creek and also the second benefit will be a greater community awareness aimed at preventing future potential pollutants from entering the creek system in the first place. So that’s a very interesting program and one that we hope will be very successful and will lead to a greater community awareness which is really what is needed to stop this land based marine pollution.
One of the other projects that the Coastcare supports is the Curl Curl Lagoon Stormwater Treatment project. This lagoon is an important link in a chain of wetlands just north of Sydney, the largest city in Australia. And it is located adjacent to a very heavily populated urban area. This project provides support for the implementation of elements of the Stormwater Treatment and Management Plan for the Curl Curl Lagoon, including the establishment of a stormwater treatment zone and an environmental education component with local schools.
At the national level, Australia is also in the process of developing an Oceans Policy. This policy is being developed through a careful process of consultation with the many sectoral interests operating in the marine environment. It will result in an integrated and strategic framework for the better planning and management of our oceans, that gives due regard to both conservation and sustainable resource use.
Such an approach is designed to minimise conflict over the use of Australia’s oceans and provide certainty both for industry investment and for the long term protection of the marine environment. One of the issues that has been identified for attention in the Oceans Policy is reduction and better management of sources of marine pollution, including stormwater runoff.
That is a very brief outline but details some of the work that we are doing here in Australia to implement the Global Programme of Action.
I strongly encourage you to use this workshop to exchange information on your experiences and to help build expertise in addressing land based marine pollution throughout the region.
Because action to counter land based marine pollution will follow on from this expertise and understanding that you will get at this workshop.
Through this workshop you will be able to identify the future steps required for the effective implementation of the Global Programme of Action in APEC countries. Your deliberations will be an important feed into the APEC Marine Resource Conservation Working Group meeting to be held in Chile in June and to the November APEC Heads of State Meeting.
So, Ladies and Gentlemen, on behalf of the Australian government I do wish you success in your deliberations over the next three days and as well I hope you have an enjoyable and productive stay here in tropical sunny Townsville. I do, as I said earlier, hope that you do find some time in your busy program to be able to go and have a look at the Great Barrier Reef and some of the other attractions in this area that really do warrant your attention.
Tom, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is with great pleasure that I now declare this workshop open.