PLAN TO PROTECT
PM launches reef initiative on Hamilton Island
PRIME Minister Tony Abbott chose the Whitsundays for Saturday’s “historic” release of the Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan.
Mr Abbott’s air force plane landed on Hamilton Island shortly after 1pm but he was gone again before the sun had set.
During his few short hours on the island, politics was put aside as he stood on One Tree Hill, flanked on the one hand by Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt and on the other by the Queensland Labor Government’s recently appointed Minister for the Great Barrier Reef, Steven Miles.
Together, these three politicians announced the joint Commonwealth and State Government plan to keep the Great Barrier Reef from UNESCO’s ‘in danger’ list this June and manage this “iconic wonder of the world” for the next 35 years.
The Reef 2050 plan promises to improve water quality through reducing dissolved inorganic nitrogen loads by 50 per cent in 2018 and 80 per cent by 2025.
It promises to reduce pesticide loads to 60 per cent in priority areas by 2018.
It promises a net improvement in the condition of natural wetlands by 2020. It promises port development will be limited to just four sites and it promises no more capital dredge spoil will be dumped in the entire Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.
On Saturday, Mr Abbott promised an additional $100 million for the ‘Reef Trust’, originally a $40 million fund aimed at tackling the key challenges facing the reef and financing projects for improving water quality.
He and his federal and state colleagues said through the implementation of this plan, they would meet or exceed all of the recommendations of the World Heritage Committee to ensure the Great Barrier Reef retained the Outstanding Universal Value for which it was listed in 1981.
“And I believe that with it, we will be able to convince the World Heritage Committee that not only should they not list the reef as in danger but that we will keep the reef from actually being in danger,” Mr Miles said.
While the final plan has been met with less criticism than its initial draft, environmental groups say it still doesn’t adequately deal with the threats to the reef from port expansions or climate change and that billions of dollars not millions are needed to save the reef.
Often labelled a climate change sceptic, on Saturday Mr Abbott described himself as a “conservationist”, admitting climate change was “relevant” for all reefs “as well as this – the world’s greatest reef”.
“Climate change impacts on everything, everywhere.
“That's why you need a strong and effective policy to deal with it,” he said, promising Australia would meet if not exceed its emissions targets going forward.
There was no real answer to the question posed by the Whitsunday Times about the juxtaposition of saving the reef and developing one of the world’s largest coal ports at Abbot Point.
For more information about the plan, visit www.environment.gov.au/marine/great-barrierreef/long-term-sustainability-plan.
REACTIONS have been mixed to the Australian and Queensland Governments’ joint Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan with some saying they are happy and others feeling it still falls short of the mark.
Hamilton Island CEO Glenn Bourke, who has formerly been a passionate advocate for the Great Barrier Reef, even adding his voice to the recent dredge spoil debates, said he welcomed the plan and additional $100 million funding from the Federal Government in the Reef Trust.
“As custodians of the reef, Australia must do all it can to protect this natural wonder for generations to come [and] today’s announcement is a step in the right direction,” he said on Saturday as he waited to welcome Prime Minister Tony Abbott to the location chosen for his press conference on One Tree Hill.
Tony Brown from the Whitsunday group ‘Businesses United For Reef Protection’, said he believed the plan was certainly a move in the right direction and showed the governments were “taking it much more seriously than they have in quite some time”.
“It’s definitely good to see they’re taking the big steps that are required to bring the reef back to a more resilient state to fight what’s predicted to be its greatest threat of climate change,” he said.
Canegrowers Proserpine manager Michael Porter was also heartened to see the governments’ ongoing commitments to improving water quality, although he noted the targets for reducing sedimentation and nitrogen loads would be “very challenging” to meet.
Queensland Resources Council CEO Michael Roche said he too welcomed the plan but thought it raised an already high regulatory bar even higher for the resources and ports sectors.
“And in the case of some of the restrictions on dredging, [it] will inevitably mean that over time some necessary port projects in Queensland will not be able to proceed,” he said.
Conversely some sectors of the scientific community have criticised the plan as being a blueprint for sustainable development rather than one that puts the protection and conservation of the reef first and environmental groups say it has “fundamental gaps”.
FORWARD LOOKING: Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Hamilton Island CEO Glenn Bourke, Sandy Oatley, Member for Dawson George Christensen, Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt and Queensland Minister for the Great Barrier Reef Steven Miles, admiring the Whitsunday scenery ahead of Saturday's release of the Reef 2050 Plan.