PLAN TO PRO­TECT

PM launches reef ini­tia­tive on Hamil­ton Is­land

Whitsunday Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Sharon Small­wood

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.

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