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15 June 1998

Senator the Hon Ian Macdonald
Parliamentary Secretary to the
Minister for the Environment

Good evening to all of you.

I'm very pleased that I can be in Brisbane today and able to come along to this session. Thank you also for coming.

This venue is a tremendous place, I love this building and I always feel at home here. Because I can knock all the furniture around, and up on the back wall is a diagram of the early settlement of the town of Wickam, which is at the mouth of the Burdekin River. And as someone who has lived in Ayr all of my life, I feel at home with that very early sketch of the Burdekin River.

So with that piece of trivia I do want to say a couple of things. This year is the International year of the Ocean as you all know. So it's important that in this year, the Government is really trying - for the very first time in Australia - to get an Ocean's Policy going. It has never happened before. We've had sort of ad hoc decisions made in the past, but we think it's appropriate that Australians should have a sensible policy on the oceans. That is what we're attempting to do this year.

Surprisingly for me, I've become aware that no other or very few other nations around the world have an Oceans Policy either and when Australia gets it's policy on paper and adopted, we will be one of the first nations in the world to do that. So we're quite excited about that.

We have again as you all know incredible marine biodiversity. You people, and those of you that I have met, know all these statistics better than me, I won't tell you how many species of fish, coral species, marine mammals and invertebrates, plants and micro-organisms we have in Australia, you will know all of that. The Government knows that we have a very unique a very special marine environment and that's why we want to do something about working out where it's all going.

Australia's Oceans Policy – An Issues Paper has been out for a little while now, it's been a process that's been going on for over a year. The Actual Issues paper which you will be handed today has had some criticism about the period of consultation being too short and I guess we could concede that. But it has been going on for some time, there's been a lot of work done with the various groups over the last 12 months. There's been a lot work done by Commonwealth Ministers and State Ministers and the Northern Territory getting this policy together.

Some statistics which again you will probably know, have been supplied by the Marine Industry and Development Strategy that Australian Marine Industries account for some 80% of our GDP - $30 billion actually, with tourism and recreation more than $15 billion and offshore oil and gas making the largest contributions.

Our marine industries supply many jobs for Australians 270,000 -people in the marine coastal tourism. Many others in a wide range of marine industries from shipbuilding, boat building, fishing and aquaculture and tourism as I have mentioned. They're all very vital to our economy.

Our oceans by world standards are, according to the best accounts, in relatively good shape and of course we can always do better. We do have problems which need particular attention. Pollution from the land remains damaging and our temperate seagrass beds have been severely affected. We have severe overfishing in some parts of Australian waters which led to the demise of stocks like the bluefin tuna, the southern sharks, orange roughly and gemfish.

In southern waters which I have had more to do with it because I have charge of our Antarctic policy, the Patagonian Toothfish and other species is under attack. The Toothfish which is a species, has recently been located in any great numbers is under attack from pirates around the world. The Australian Navy has been down there and arrested three boats at fairly great expense. Navy ships are clearly not built for those iced waters.

But we're very serious about stopping illegal fishing and we are determined to make sure our international obligations are honoured in that.

We get into Australia a lot of exotic marine organisms coming in ballast water and otherwise, although a lot work's been done on that.

What we have got to do with our policy is obviously to make sure things like fishing and tourism, agriculture and coastal development, are sustainable and they must be compatible with each other and also most importantly must be compatible to the ecological health of our nation. That sort of thing cannot be assured unless we use careful management of our oceans in an integrated way based on multiple resource use and maintenance of the ecosystem. We have to adopt the precautionary principle when we look at the way these are put together.

Through the National Heritage Trust we have been able to do a lot of things that Governments in the past haven't been able to do and we are very pleased that we've been able to fund at least 700 Coastcare groups. People and volunteers who are out there cleaning up our beaches and looking after our coastal waters and protecting our marine life. It's tremendous that the Government has had the money through the National Heritage Trust to fund some of those organisations. I am very pleased that we have for the first time been able to do something about the dugongs. The dugongs are pretty much an emotive issue and get a lot of publicity around the joint. But for the first time ever Robert Hill has taken the step to protect the species. Some will say we've gone too far and others will say we haven't gone anywhere near far enough. But at least we've made a start and the dugong this year are in better shape than they have been for a long long time. And we're very pleased that we've been able to do that.

We do as a Government support the Marine and Coastal Community Network and I am very pleased that that network has been able to get this meeting together today and in conjunction with Environment Australia to do a series of these workshops and discussion groups and information groups right around Australia.

There is one I know of tomorrow in Townsville, where my electorate office is and there have been others around the community.

So tonight as I understand that Gordon Anderson from Environment Australia is going to explain this to you and what it's all about, but I'm sure that what we want to do is to get your input and suggestions. I know some of you like me haven't been able to read every word of this paper.

You obviously will raise the issues that are dearer to your heart and if you think perhaps that it needs clarification or if you have questions now is the opportunity. But we are interested in your contribution - it will be an ongoing policy not . . . STATIC.

People like yourselves have a much better idea of these issues than politicians and bureaucrats and want your input.

I am very pleased that you have been able to come along, thank you for giving up a night. I won't comment about the events on the weekend but I'm glad I came here tonight otherwise I would be slashing my wrists instead. I guess more than one. Regrettably, I have another meeting about 8 o'clock so I'm going to sit here for a little while and then will move on.

Anything that you want, regarding the report of course, see Julie, Graham or Paula, who will take note of and pass on to Senator Hill. But perhaps while I am here if there is anything that anyone specifically wants me personally to be aware of I would be quite happy to take those comments now. Don't ask me any difficult questions as I was saying to someone before I am a politician and a broad policies person - I'm not a Scientist so I can't help you with details, there are more qualified people to do that. If there is anything in general I can help you with I would be more than happy to help you and if not I'll pass it on to those that perhaps that know it in detail.

Commonwealth of Australia