The Great Barrier Reef remains the best managed marine ecosystem in the world. This was confirmed today by the release of the 2015 State Party Report on the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area which highlights improvements in the management, protection and health of the iconic reef.
The report has been submitted for consideration by the World Heritage Committee and clearly demonstrates that the Great Barrier Reef does not warrant being listed as in danger.
We know the reef is facing challenges but we are making significant progress. There is strong evidence that our efforts are working.
The report demonstrates that we have heard the concerns of the committee and we have comprehensively addressed every one of them. We have also listened to the concerns of the community.
The Australian Government continues to make strong decisions in managing this majestic estate and, along with Queensland, is investing $2 billion for its protection over the next decade.
We will work with the Queensland government to ensure strong bipartisan support for the reef continues.
Our Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan is the most complex and comprehensive analysis of environmental management arrangements ever undertaken in Australia. It has been developed in partnership with stakeholders including environmental representatives, industry tourism and fishing. Together we will use it to drive effective management of the reef well into the future.
Our vision is to ensure the Outstanding Universal Value of the Great Barrier Reef continues to improve every decade to 2050 and beyond. We know that the reef still retains the values for which it was listed as a World Heritage Property in 1981.
Our substantial investment in better land management in reef catchments is improving water quality leaving the catchments, with the annual sediment load reduced by 11 per cent, pesticides by 28 per cent, and nitrogen by 10 per cent compared to a 2009 baseline.
The rezoning of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park to place one third of it in highly protected areas has resulted in consistently more and larger coral trout and other target fish in zones protected from fishing – and fish populations outside these areas appear to be benefiting too.
It was under Labor in 2011 that the World Heritage Committee first raised alarm bells about the health of the Great Barrier Reef.
When I became Environment Minister I inherited five major proposals from Labor to dispose of dredge spoil in the Marine Park. We have reduced this to zero and are now taking the next step to enshrine a ban in law.
Since the release of the 2014 State Party Report, both federal and state governments have:
• Banned capital dredge disposal from major projects in the Marine Park and the Queensland government has prohibited dredging for the development of new or the expansion of existing port facilities outside of the four priority port areas for the next 10 years
• Halted and in some areas reversed water quality decline by working closely with the agricultural community
• Ensured the approval of the Abbot Point development complied with Australia’s obligations under the World Heritage Convention and was subject to rigorous environmental assessment and applied Australia’s world-leading net benefit approach
• Restricted significant port development to existing port limits.
In the past 12 months governments have also:
• Released the Queensland Ports Strategy foreshadowing comprehensive legislation covering the planning, regulation and management of ports with a prohibition on significant port development outside existing long-established port areas
• Established the Gladstone Healthy Harbour Partnership, the Mackay Whitsunday Healthy Rivers to Reef Partnership and the Great Barrier Reef Partnership Group
• Notified an intention to extend restrictions on shipping to the Coral Sea, adjacent to the property, through creation of a new Particularly Sensitive Sea Area
• Amended Queensland’s Environmental Protection Act 1994 to formally recognise the property and raise maximum penalties for wilful environmental harm to over $710 000 for individuals and $3.56 million for corporations, plus costs of restoration
• Developed innovative new financing arrangements, such as the $40 million Reef Trust, to increase the effectiveness of investments in water quality and other protections
• Established a new National Dugong and Turtle Protection Plan to better protect dugong and turtle populations off Far North Queensland and the Torres Strait from the threats of poaching, illegal hunting and marine debris, and
• Continued a crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS) control programme to manage COTS predation on high-value tourism reefs, and licensed tourism operators to undertake this activity.
We are absolutely committed to the long-term protection of the Great Barrier Reef as one of Australia’s greatest natural icons – and as a vital asset for tourism and jobs in Queensland and Australia.
The 2015 State Party Report on the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area demonstrates we have a clear plan and a strong commitment to ensure the reef is healthy and resilient – and we are making strong progress.