Standing up for Canberra

Real action needed to save the Great Barrier Reef

We are incredibly blessed in Australia to have such natural beauty spread right across the country. For eons, the Indigenous people of Australia have shared an intrinsic link with the land, its forms, its flora and fauna, and today we continue to share that connection with our natural environment. 

Every year, Australia's natural environment is shared with millions of tourists. The Great Barrier Reef, on its own, attracts two million visitors, supports 64,000 jobs and generates between $5 billion and $6 billion in tourism each year, and that is a very large sum of money.

As well as supporting tens of thousands of jobs, the reef supports an incredibly rich and diverse ecosystem. Stretching 2,300 kilometres, the Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest living structure and one of the seven natural wonders of the world. It's so large that you can see it from outer space, and anyone who has been to that natural wonder is in awe of the living structure that is the Great Barrier Reef. I've had the opportunity of snorkelling up there—the first time was with the late Chancellor Helmut Kohl and a visiting German delegation, and the word on their lips, time and time again, was 'schon, schon, schon.' I have also had the opportunity to go up to Lizard Island to snorkel there, which is just amazing and a miracle. Anyone who has snorkelled or scuba-dived or been to the reef knows that this is, understandably, one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

There are 600 types of soft and hard corals, more than 100 species of jellyfish, 3,000 varieties of molluscs, 500 species of worms, more than 1,500 types of fish, 133 varieties of sharks and rays and more than 30 species of whales and dolphins, and all of them call the reef home. Sadly, this incredible ecosystem is under threat. NASA ice cores drawn from Greenland, Antarctica and tropical mountain glaciers show that the earth's climate responds to changes in greenhouse gas levels. Their records also show that last year was the hottest year on record. The first global assessment of climate change impacts on coral, released by UNESCO, shows that, if current trends continue, global warming will increase by 4.3 degrees by 2100. As the assessment states, if we continue on this path, future generations will never get to see the great wonder that is the Great Barrier Reef.

This natural wonder is literally disappearing under our watch. Already the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority says that global coral bleaching over the last two years has led to widespread coral decline and habitat loss on the Great Barrier Reef. Two-thirds of the Great Barrier Reef has been bleached. During this period the reef faced above-average sea surface temperatures and the combined effects of climate change and a strong El Nino. Fortunately, the UN's assessment found that limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees above preindustrial levels gives a chance of retaining coral-dominated communities.

If the government is serious about protecting the reef, it will adopt a clean energy target—the topic du jour at the moment. That is fully consistent with Australia's obligations within the World Heritage Convention to protect the Great Barrier Reef. The Great Barrier Reef narrowly avoided being listed as 'in danger' by the United Nations World Heritage Committee, as we've heard. The government, breathtakingly, has declared this announcement as a success, but we all know that the government has to agree with the committee before the reef can be put on the list in the first place. This means absolutely nothing if we don't act. Now is not the time to sit back as there is still so much to do to save the reef.

At a time when we should be taking real action on climate change, the Turnbull government is considering a $1 billion loan, through the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, to Adani to establish one of the world's largest coalmines. The coalmine is a significant concern for members in my community, as is the protection of the Great Barrier Reef. I have received hundreds of letters on the Adani coalmine, and I have also received nearly 1,000 letters on the Great Barrier Reef. It's clear that my electorate isn't the only one concerned about Adani. With strong opposition from the community, the government is breathtaking in its arrogance that it is even considering a $1 billion loan of taxpayers' money to a company that is owned by a billionaire.

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