Australia has the second largest marine protected area in the world, just behind the United States. Some 3.3 million square kilometres in size, it is a wondrous marine habitat that is at the heart of our biodiversity and healthy ecosystem.
Now, after more than three years of consultation, an independent scientific review, public forums around the country and 130,000 written submissions, the Turnbull Government has tabled in Parliament management plans for 44 marine parks.
From the Coral Sea in the east, to Ningaloo Reef in the west and the Great Australian Bight in the south, these world-class management plans reflect a balanced, scientific, evidence-based approach.
Under these plans, 36 per cent of Australian waters are included in marine parks which is well ahead of the Convention on Biological Diversity’s “Aichi target” of 10 per cent by 2020 and a recent World Conservation Congress resolution, calling for 30 per cent by 2030.
For the next ten years, these management plans will provide certainty around a range of conservation, economic and social activities and create opportunities for research, tourism and sustainable fishing.
When the Gillard Government released draft management plans in 2012, they locked out five million Australian recreational fishers from a vast area of Commonwealth waters without proper consultation.
These new plans give greater recognition to the rights of Australians to throw a fishing line off the side of their boat. It gives recreational fishers access to 97 per cent of Commonwealth waters within 100 kilometres of the coast and 80 per cent of the marine park network overall up from 64 per cent under Labor. This represents an additional 400,000 square kilometres accessible for recreational fishing compared to the 2012 plans.
Carefully managed recreational fishing which provides access to reefs in the Coral Sea, like Vema, Marion and Kenn, is not mutually exclusive from ecologically sustainable outcomes and biodiversity conservation.
When it comes to commercial fishing, we also recognise the significant role this billion dollar industry plays in creating local jobs and offering consumers the opportunity to fill their plate with local produce. Again compared to Labor, 17 per cent more of the total area of marine parks will now be open to commercial fishing. While Labor is already running a scare campaign around supertrawlers it is worth noting that it was on Labor’s watch that the supertrawler came to Australia and that it took a Coalition Government to ban them in legislation.
Our support for the fishing industry in these plans has been warmly welcomed by tuna, prawn and other seafood producers around Australia whose livelihoods, including those operating out of Cairns, were put at risk by Labor’s plan.
While under our management plans, opportunities to fish in the water column have expanded, so too has the protections for the sea floor. An additional 200,000 square kilometres of sea floor habitat, nearly the size of Victoria, will now be protected under yellow and green zones, preventing damaging trawling and other like activities.
Over 500 key conservation features, including reefs, canyons and seamounts, are covered by the reserves, with the number of those subject to the highest levels of protection, greater than under Labor.
The Coalition is also reducing the overall area that is open to mining. This includes a complete exclusion from mining for the Coral Sea and waters close to Kangaroo Island which would’ve been open to resource development under Labor’s 2012 plans.
The Coalition’s management plans will also better showcase our country’s ecotourism potential for snorkelling, diving and nature watching. Well known sites near Bremer Bay in Western Australia and Coringa-Herald in the Coral Sea are protected, along with Osprey Reef which for the first time will be managed as a green no-take zone.
Recognising there is a need for ongoing scientific research and monitoring, user engagement and direct assistance for commercial fishers affected by the plans, the Government has set aside $56 million. These funds will be managed by the Director of National Parks.
If the Coalition’s marine park management plans are disallowed in the Senate as Labor is threatening to do, the public need to be aware of the consequences. The status quo will continue which means an absence of management plans and protections for large areas of marine estate while condemning Australian marine users to years of uncertainty.
The finalisation of the marine management plans is the culmination of a long process which has sought to balance at times competing interests. The goal has always been an evidence-based, targeted approach which seeks to protect our natural assets for future generations, while providing certainty and stability for those local communities whose jobs and livelihoods depend on our unique marine environment.
The result is a fairer and more effective system that will deliver stronger environmental and economic outcomes for all Australians.
Josh Frydenberg is the Federal Minister for the Environment and Energy.