We need to take action and we need to get serious about oceans

 

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Ms BUTLER (Griffith) (17:02):  I rise to speak to this motion, because it is important that we focus on conservation for our oceans. Our oceans are under siege from climate change and pollution, so it is a wonderful thing that the Howard government initiated this process of protecting marine reserves. It is also a wonderful thing that the last Labor government decided, in November 2012, to rapidly expand the number of protected areas. The consequence of that was that 36 per cent of our oceans ended up as protected areas and a third of that 36 per cent had the highest level of protections. That meant that 2.3 million square kilometres of ocean was protected under actions taken by the member for Watson, when he was the minister, and the previous Labor government.

But one of the first things that then Prime Minister Abbott did, after the new Liberal government was elected in 2013, was to put a freeze on the marine conservation work that was being done to stop the process that was underway in respect of marine sanctuaries and commission a review. Then, three years later, in 2016, that review finally reported and recommended cuts to conservation and cuts to the marine sanctuaries. It was a very grave shame that it happened, and since then we've seen this government release a report with respect to how they plan to cut the marine sanctuaries that had previously been implemented under Labor.

What a shame that this government intends to engage in the largest removal of protected areas in oceans that any government in the world has ever undertaken. This is going to be the largest attack on marine sanctuaries by any government anywhere in the history of the planet, and that is a very, very grave shame, because our oceans are under siege.

We do have a lot of concerns about the oceans. I'm particularly concerned about what's happening in the Great Barrier Reef. It's not irrelevant to note the concerns that scientists across the world have in relation to warming in oceans and what is happening with the Great Barrier Reef. As you would be aware, Madam Deputy Speaker Wicks, the last three years have seen an unprecedented global coral bleaching event, which has had a devastating impact on many coral reef ecosystems around the world, including our own Great Barrier Reef, a place where many of us have spent time. A lot of us have snorkelled there, a lot of us went up there as kids and went out onto the Great Barrier Reef. We are now seeing a situation where the Great Barrier Reef itself is under threat.

The World Heritage Committee met in early July in Poland and expressed its utmost concern regarding the serious impacts from coral bleaching that have affected World Heritage properties—of course, including the Great Barrier Reef—and noted that the most widely reported impacts are on the Great Barrier Reef and called on all state parties to undertake the most ambitious implementation of the Paris Agreement. We need to take whatever action we can to protect our oceans. That means protecting marine sanctuaries. That means taking real action on climate change.

When I talk about climate change, it is important to note that the World Heritage Centre has released the first global scientific assessment of the impact of climate change on World Heritage coral reefs. The assessment found that it's a well-established conclusion of international peer-reviewed literature that limiting the temperature increase to 1.5 per cent above pre-industrial levels provides a chance of retaining coral dominated communities for many reef locations around the globe. In other words, if we are able to combat climate change, if we are able to try to stay within that target level, then that gives reefs a chance.

We need to take action and we need to become serious about oceans. Cutting marine sanctuaries and failing to act on climate change are, unfortunately, steps in the wrong direction when it comes to doing something about protecting our oceans and protecting our reefs. I've been really critical of this government's action, or inaction, on climate change. I know a lot of groups who are active in this space like the Australian Marine Conservation Society that have been very critical about this government's priorities—for example, the fact that it's considering a $1 billion taxpayer-funded concessional loan to go off to the Adani project. I've said very clearly that I don't support giving $1 billion of public funds to a company on a concessional loan basis. I think that a lot of people in this place would be of the same mind. When it comes to actually focusing on what we can do proactively not just defensively for oceans, let's not cut marine sanctuaries.

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