Mr ENTSCH: I rise today to speak on this motion. While I stand here amidst a chorus of self-congratulations by those opposite, I must lend a voice to reason and reality. The government has presented a litany of supposed achievements concerning the Great Barrier Reef, yet it seems that their memory is conveniently very, very selective, forgetting that many of these accomplishments did not magically materialise within the last election cycle.
It was under the guidance and stewardship of the previous government that we have record investment in the Great Barrier Reef. It was us who initiated the Reef 2050 Plan and established the role of the Special Envoy for the Great Barrier Reef, a position I was very honoured to hold and to discharge dutifully. We catalysed partnership with tourism operators to gather data and undertake restoration efforts on the reef, an innovative approach that leveraged downtime and supported the industry during the unprecedented challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. As the reef envoy, I released compelling six-monthly reports that advocated strongly for increased support in the reef within key agencies like GBRMPA and AIMS. Sadly, this is a practice that seems to have dramatically waned under the current government’s Special Envoy for the Great Barrier Reef, Senator Green, who’s had only one single—and frankly lacklustre—report in her name since she was appointed into the role nearly 18 months ago. Government likes to tout its achievements with great flair, but we must ask: where is the continuation of critical work that we began—the work to combat the leaching of nitrogen and phosphorus from the effluent flows from the coastal cities on the eastern seaboard, the ground work that was laid for essential steps to improve water quality? We’re ready to go, but they’ve seemingly been dropped from this government’s agenda.
Another credible hallmark of the previous government was the establishment of the Indigenous Rangers Program. It’s been an incredibly successful program, and it has expanded widely. We provided funding for the first purpose-built vessel to the Yirrganydji rangers—another testament to our commitment to Indigenous led conservation. Despite the government’s claims of enhancing their environmental efforts, what they really mean to say is that they are proactively decimating the local fishing industry. If they weren’t so wet behind the years, they would know that this only serves to hurt local people, local businesses and, of course, the environment.
Australia has some of the best managed fisheries and some of the greatest protected places in the world, and the government’s short-sighted attack on gillnet fishing will only open up a path for illegal and less sustainable options to flood the market. They would rather sideline a sustainable local fishing industry in favour of imports from economies which, at best, have very dubious environmental and sustainability practices. It’s a decision that demonstrates a stark lack of understanding and an unwillingness to engage with industry stakeholders, like the Australian Fisheries Management Authority and the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, as well as affected local generational fishers. It clearly illustrates that this government’s preference is to choose perception over reality.
We must not allow this narrative to be distorted. The current government are attempting to build on foundations laid by their predecessors, on initiatives that we pioneered, yet they seem all too eager to claim these successes as their own. In truth, the trajectory of improvement in the stewardship of the Great Barrier Reef began well before their term, and any suggestion to the contrary is simply, to put it bluntly, an attempt to rewrite history. While I acknowledge the steps that have been taken, I cannot condone the grandstanding that suggests that these are new paths forged by the current government. The reef’s guardianship is not a political game; it is a profound responsibility.
We must continue this mission with honesty, humility and respect for those who have toiled before us. Governments of the present and future have an important responsibility to secure the future health of the Great Barrier Reef. We must appreciate the many thousands of people who work and live on the Great Barrier Reef and who will help us to achieve this goal, and it’s through their work and their expertise that we are fortunate enough to have the best managed reefs in the world. We must work together so that all Australians will continue to enjoy this marvellous wonder now and into the future. We are so lucky to have this in our own backyard.