MR ENTSCH: I rise this afternoon in full support of the measures contained in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment (Coronavirus Economic Response Package) Bill 2020.
Tourism is the No. 1 economic driver in my electorate, which goes from the Papua New Guinea border right through to Cairns.
Our region was one of the first to feel the crippling effects of the worldwide pandemic when our international borders with China were closed in February.
Of all those speaking here, I’m probably one of the few who has spent any time on the reef and therefore has very much a currency on it, so I am very aware of the facts relating to the condition of the reef, unlike those who are reading from speaking notes and playing the politics of it.
Historically, February is the busiest time for Chinese visitors to my region, due to the large Chinese New Year celebrations.
Our tourism sector took a massive hit and it wasn’t long before the industry fell off a cliff; this happened overnight, when the true extent of the pandemic became evident.
One measure contained in the bill that has my full support is the waiving of the environmental management charge for marine operators.
Tourism operators came to me early and said, ‘We really need some relief here, and this is something that will really make a difference for us because it is a significant amount,’ even though at this point they were looking at not a lot of people going out—in fact, many of them were shutting down their businesses for a period of time.
But they said it would be something that would give them immediate relief because it was money that had to be paid for visitors prior to the date of the closures and it would give them immediate relief.
The benefactors for this initiative are not the sort of people or organisations that generally come running to government with their hands out.
I knew that when the Morrison government had to act immediately and swiftly to ensure the survival of the industry.
This initiative was designed to provide immediate financial support measures for the reef tourism industry impacted by the very early stages of coronavirus.
However, it was safe to say that no-one knew what the road ahead would be like at that early stage.
To a lesser extent, we still don’t know what the long-term effects will be.
Waiving the EMC did have the desired immediate effect that it was designed to achieve.
Extending the initiative to the end of the year, in my view, is simply a no-brainer, especially given the uncertainty that remains.
Industry-wide, more than 7,000 businesses directly benefited from this initiative.
For example, this initiative will save an operator such as Quiksilver up to $2.8 million in fees alone this year.
More importantly, it will continue to provide much-needed financial relief to family owned operators like Alan Wallish from Passions of Paradise, Peppy Ivanella from Down Under Dive and John Harvell from the Reef Encounter, to name a few.
This initiative combined with others, such as JobKeeper, ensured the tourism business and operators have been able to retain staff until things are able to return to normal.
This initiative will save jobs, and it will also give financial relief to people who’ve spent a lifetime establishing world-class tourism operations in our region and across the whole of the Great Barrier Reef.
The one thing I’ve learnt is our region and its people will band together, and we will recover.
Far North Queenslanders are always out there for Far North Queenslanders.
However, the road to recovery has certainly been hampered by mixed messages and poor decisions by the Queensland Labor government.
I want to thank the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, for his leadership last week in giving Queensland tourism operators and small businesses some clarity in relation to when the state is going to reopen its borders.
At this stage, the borders will reopen on 10 July.
Quite frankly, it is the opening of these borders that is going to really give the tourism operators in my region their first opportunity to start to see a very tangible recovery.
But, once again, very shadily, the Queensland Premier is providing extreme uncertainty by saying that they will only reopen pending a review by the end of the month.
So there’s no certainty there.
Every day the Queensland Premier fails to make a decision and provide clarity and certainty is another day that bookings are lost, business continues to suffer and more jobs are placed in jeopardy.
Through these actions, businesses are missing out on what we’re now seeing is a very lucrative southern tourism market and the annual migration over the winter period to Far North Queensland.
The uncertainty is certainly affecting the bookings in the upcoming school holiday period, with many people simply choosing to go elsewhere.
This is a major concern, because this is the time when we do expect to see a lot of these operators working to capacity.
The fact that we’re going to lose that is going to be a major impediment for them, and it’s going to make it harder and take longer for them to recover.
To put it into perspective, our region is losing around about $10 million a week because of these decisions.
It’s just simply not good enough.
But the beauty about living in a democracy in Queensland is the opportunity to be able to judge these actions, which will happen on 31 October.
There’s been a lot of criticism, and it’s interesting to listen to those on the other side continue to want to talk down the reef.
They’re always wanting to talk it down.
I didn’t hear any acknowledgement whatsoever from the other side that the management of the Great Barrier Reef are recognised by the world as being the world’s best managers.
Anybody with any interest in reef management anywhere in the world will come to Australia to seek advice and to see how to manage reefs.
We are not ‘one’ of the best managers; we are by far ‘the’ best manager in the world.
That doesn’t mean to say that we don’t have challenges here.
We’ve got serious challenges, and some of these challenges are certainly outside of our control.
But they are important, and we do acknowledge them.
Climate change is certainly the biggest single challenge.
The hot channels in the water that come in actually come across from South America and the Pacific.
Where they hit has a serious impact in relation to bleaching.
There’s no question about that.
But, of course, this is something that—while we can talk about it, we can argue about it and we can do things here—unless we see the major polluters like those in the US, in China, in India and in other places actually making serious efforts themselves, we are going to continue to be challenged by.
We are doing a lot of work there to do the best we can to put resilience back into the reef to make sure that we are able to do everything we can to manage it, and, over time, hopefully see those changes happening on a more global scale.
There’s no doubt about it: we’ve already seen a rise in ocean temperatures, which, with the right conditions, does cause some serious bleaching events.
We have had, unfortunately, several of those events in recent years.
We’ve got to do as much as we can to protect the reef and to help to support it by providing resilience so that it can cope with these events.
Now, anybody that had seen the first two events in 2016-17 was saying it was the end of the world, that the reef was dead.
The reality is that there were some areas that were seriously impacted—there’s no question about that—but there were a lot of other areas that weren’t, and those areas that were seriously impacted certainly recovered to a greater extent and some of it has actually fully recovered.
The more recent event was sporadic. It was across the reef in different areas.
Some areas were impacted more; some areas were not impacted at all.
That was more to do with the fact that we had consecutive high temperatures over an extended period of time.
But even now, after that event, we started to get some rain and we got turbulence in the water, which is one of the great protectors because it doesn’t allow the sunshine to penetrate as deep, and we’re seeing amazing recovery in those areas.
They are coming back very quickly. But there’s a range of other challenges there.
I heard mention of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.
What they don’t say is where that money is actually going.
Recently there was again an allocation.
One of the biggest biological challenges, of course, is crown-of-thorns starfish, but there’s no acknowledgement of the fantastic work that’s being done by reef operators or Sheridan Morris and the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre, who have actually spearheaded initiatives to deal with this particular challenge.
And they are doing a fantastic job in that area there, working with the traditional owners, with the rangers there.
They have done an amazing job in clearing this up.
There’s work being done looking at other, biological solutions to this as well, because the work that they’re doing by going in and actually injecting the crown-of-thorns starfish is very time consuming and fairly restrictive.
They’re looking at a number of different things, including a sea shell and a number of different predator fish species.
They’re looking at putting them in so that they will eat these crown-of-thorns starfish because they have such huge numbers when they spawn.
It’s amazing to see that technology starting to be considered.
There’s also some work that is being funded through the foundation in relation to temperature-tolerant corals.
There’s a lot of work going into that at the moment, which is quite amazing.
There’s also other technology that they’re working on there, effectively looking at putting shade over areas where there is a likelihood of bleaching.
Understand that the bleaching is not across the whole Barrier Reef; it comes in sections, and so this technology, this science is something that is being worked on at the moment.
So I congratulate them for that. I congratulate all of those proponents that have been actively involved in this sort of work.
It does make a difference. And so, while we’re waiting, hoping and encouraging changes globally, we’re not sitting here just saying all is lost.
We’re actually doing things.
We’re making things happen to make sure that the longevity of this beautiful icon is there for us and for future generations.
It would be useful for those who are prepared to stand up in this place and effectively say the reef is dead or almost dead to remember that there are literally thousands and thousands of jobs associated with this.
There are thousands of people out on the reef on an almost daily basis, committing themselves to doing some fantastic work out there, and talking it down doesn’t really achieve anything and certainly doesn’t contribute anything positive to what is one of the most iconic works of nature that we’re ever likely to see.
And it will be there, I have every confidence, well into the future.
And so I would encourage them, if they’re going to be making negative comments, to take the time to come up, talk to some of the operators who are actually doing something there and put their head under the water rather than reading a political brief or something by some activist group that is more about spreading negativity.
They could have a look for themselves and form their own opinion, because they may well be pleasantly surprised at what they’re able to find in doing so.
I tell you: from our perspective, I think that’s the best way to do it. I mean AIMS, GBRMPA and all these other world-class organisations are working with our local people and doing a fantastic job and, rather than all the negativity, they should be acknowledged for it.
Finally, I want to take this opportunity to thank my colleagues Sussan Ley, Simon Birmingham and the Prime Minister for listening to me and my operators and acting and delivering for the thousands of tourism operators across Queensland who have benefited significantly from the EMC initiative.
From all of those, I’d just like to say thank you.