Great Barrier Reef Amendment Bill
I can quickly answer the member for Flynn's question: the date that the Queensland borders open is 10 July. It is long-flagged, clearly sign-posted and available for all, but, for you especially, I can clarify that it is 10 July.
The Great Barrier Reef is not just great by name. It is one of the seven natural wonders of the world, a prized heritage area and the biggest living structure on the planet. By every measure, the Great Barrier Reef is seen as the natural asset contributing the most to Australia's global brand. It is a global tourist attraction, renowned for its turquoise waters, kaleidoscopic corals and abundance of wildlife. The Great Barrier Reef is a network of marine sanctuaries of unparalleled ecological importance: 3,000 individual reef systems, 760 fringe reefs, 600 tropical islands and 300 coral cays. The complex maze of habitats is home to incredible marine life, plants and animals, from sea turtles to reef fish, 134 species of sharks and rays and 400 different types of hard and soft corals. Ten per cent of the world's fish species live in the Great Barrier Reef. The reef sprawls over a mind-boggling 344,400 square kilometres—an area so large it can be seen from space. The continental slopes extend to depths of more than 2,000 metres. Few can dive or snorkel in its waters without being moved by the experience. It is a place where peace transcends chaos and where nature reigns supreme.
The Great Barrier Reef is an integral part of Queensland's identity, internationally and at home. Our First Nations people have a profound spiritual, sea country connection with the Reef that spans over 60,000 years. The natural features of the reef are deeply embedded in Indigenous culture, spirituality and wisdom.
In addition to its cultural value, the Great Barrier Reef adds substantial value to the Queensland economy. Over two million visitors come to the reef every year to witness its natural beauty. A Deloitte Access Economics report estimated the Great Barrier Reef to be worth $56 billion in economic, social and iconic asset value, directly generating approximately $6.4 billion each year for the economy through sustainably managed industries that operate in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. It also supports 64,000 Queensland jobs, mostly through the tourism activities generated by the reef and also through fishing, recreational and scientific activity.
Of course, the Great Barrier Reef's tourism industry has been hit hard by COVID-19. This bill seeks to mediate some of the economic damage done by COVID-19 by lightening the financial load of Great Barrier Reef Marine Park permit holders. This bill retrospectively waives the requirement to remit the environment management charge to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority for the period from 1 January 2020 to 31 March 2020. It supplements the Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus Act 2020, which waives environment management charges payable between 1 April 2020 and 31 December 2020.
The environmental management charge is a tax imposed primarily on visitors to the Great Barrier Reef marine Park. The bulk of the revenue collected through environment management charges is through the standard tourist program charge which is generally paid by holiday-makers who take part in tourism programs, under a chargeable permission. The funds received from the charge are important to fund the day-to-day management of the marine park and improve its long-term resilience. Because of economic pressures faced by permit holders due to the COVID-19 pandemic, permit holders have been unable to remit the environmental charge for the period being waived by the bill. In lieu of the usual revenue remitted to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, which is estimated to be approximately $2.9 million, a total of $2.9 million will be appropriated to the authority as part of the economic and fiscal rescue package agreed to by the Prime Minister in April 2020.
Labor welcomes financial relief from the federal government to help tourism operators who are trying to get back on their feet in the post-COVID-19 world. I hope the measures implemented by this bill will encourage more Queenslanders to holiday near the Great Barrier Reef this year, perhaps on the Ekka show holiday that's been moved to Friday by our excellent Premier, and that the appropriated funds promised by the federal government will go some way to making sure that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is maintained.
But we cannot pretend that this fee waiver is the lifeline that Queensland's tourism economy has been waiting for from this federal government. COVID-19 has brought the Queensland tourism industry to its knees. One in three jobs in accommodation and food services have been lost. Some decisions, like closing state and international borders and restricting particular businesses from operating, were painful but necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19 and keep Australians safe and healthy. I believe that with the right mix of support from the state and federal governments we can fix the temporary damage that these restrictions have caused. But, on the other hand, other decisions—like the decision by the Morrison government to not support Virgin Australia and to leave our aviation industry at risk of becoming a monopoly—have put Queensland's tourism industry at serious and further risk, particularly for regional areas like North Queensland, where the Great Barrier Reef is located and where flights are at risk of becoming incredibly expensive and out of the reach of ordinary families.
The tourism industry is the lifeblood of Queensland's economy, contributing 230,000 local jobs and $27 billion to our economy every year. The Great Barrier Reef is a job-generating economic and environmental powerhouse for Queenslanders, and we need to leverage our natural asset as a tool for economic growth in the future. But it's time we started treating the Great Barrier Reef and our environment more generally with the respect that it deserves. It is a natural treasure and an asset that needs to be protected and maintained. While it is a huge tourist attraction, we can't go on treating the Great Barrier Reef as though it's a theme park where we can just build another rollercoaster if the old one gets too rusty or decrepit.
It was for this reason that in 1975 the Labor government, under Gough Whitlam, established the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to properly manage the reef and protect its biodiversity for future generations. Unfortunately, this priority seems to have fallen by the wayside over the last seven long years of having a Liberal-National government in control. The Great Barrier Reef outlook report2019 downgraded the reef's condition from 'poor' to 'very poor'.
Who can forget this government's decision to bestow nearly half a billion dollars on the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, an organisation with annual revenue of approximately $10 million and only six full-time staff? It wouldn't be a Liberal-National government grant if it didn't raise red flags about following transparency and value-for-money rules at the Auditor-General's office and if it weren't awarded without a competitive tender process. We are witnessing asset devaluation, poor maintenance, vast sums of money being allocated without proper process and no plan to preserve its value. If the Liberal-National government were a private sector asset manager for a $56 billion asset and they managed it this poorly, they would be sacked in a heartbeat. They would sack themselves in a heartbeat.
I'm here today on behalf of the Great Barrier Reef shareholders, the people of Queensland, to tell the Morrison government it's time to take real action to protect and preserve our priceless national treasure. The measures in this bill will provide some relief to tourism operators. Still, the best way for the federal government to support tourism in Queensland would be to take a comprehensive look at the overall health of the Great Barrier Reef and commit to a serious plan to tackle climate change. The findings of the Great Barrier Reef outlook report and strategic assessment of the Great Barrier Reef region are very clear—impacts on the reef are compounding. Over the past three decades, the Great Barrier Reef lost half its coral cover and global warming has caused horrific coral bleaching. In the last five years, we've had three major bleaching events, draining the colour from our most precious, treasured wonder. If we continue on this trajectory, at 1.5 degrees of global warming reefs are expected to decline by 70 to 90 per cent, while at two degrees of global warming this loss becomes 99 per cent. It is a highly delicate ecosystem and its ability to recover from human disturbance and climate change is diminishing.
Of course, action to protect our environment needs to extend beyond the Great Barrier Reef. Down south in my electorate of Lilley, we have around 28 kilometres of coastline and we are surrounded by waterways, from Kedron Brook to Cabbage Tree Creek, Nudgee Beach and the Sandgate and Brighton foreshore. We want these waterways to be cared for and we want these waterways to be protected. Our glorious Moreton Bay has more coral than the Caribbean and the most southern population of dugongs. Tangalooma is just off the coast of my electorate of Lilley and is the gateway to Moreton Island. Its stunning national park is a quiet and serene relic of what the world was like before humans inhabited the land. It is home to a wild world of native wildlife, including 36 types of reptiles, 14 species of mammals, 11 species of amphibians and 11 native terrestrial mammals. On 16 November last year, a devastating fire rapidly spread through the northern parts of Moreton Island. Parts of this ancient relic have now been lost forever. The fires affected many of the native animals, which had to flee their homes as trees around them burned.
Lilley constituents are aware of the threats to our beautiful corner of the world and they dedicate many, many hours of their time to preserving our local environment. I would like to acknowledge the Keep Sandgate Beautiful Association, the Nudgee Beach Environmental Education Centre, the Boondall Wetlands Environment Centre, the Northern Catchments Network and the Cabbage Tree Creek catchment coordinating network for their hours and hours of dedicated efforts to keeping our beautiful corner of the earth as clean and protected as they can.
The world is facing an extinction crisis, but the Morrison government is asleep at the wheel. The Liberal-National government has slashed environmental funding since coming to government in 2013, reports suggest by around 40 per cent. We are on a path to a million extinctions, and Australia remains the extinction capital of the world. It is imperative that Australia has a coordinated framework through which to protect its environment and the species within it, but instead we have a government that is fundamentally anti science, disregards departmental advice and is engulfed by scandal.
The Liberal-National government has been in power for seven years now and the policy-bereft Morrison government has failed to offer real solutions that would protect our environment. I call on the Morrison government to meet Labor's commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and to work with us to take meaningful action now to work towards this goal. Acting on climate change and preserving our environment isn't just an economic imperative; it is a moral one. We cannot go on as we have before, and that is why I am here.
When I first came to parliament, I spoke about being a good ancestor and leaving the world a better place for our future generations. I spoke about how the North Pole will cease to be covered with ice, becoming a dark ocean absorbing heat instead of a vast sea of white ice reflecting it. It is irreconcilable that our grandchildren or even our children will only be able to learn about the beauty of the Great Barrier Reef through the records and not for themselves. The cost of not acting to protect our people, flora and fauna from our harshening climate is a cost that we should not and cannot bear any longer.