Marine Parks Amendment Bill
Debate resumed from 23 November.
The Hon. I. COHEN [3.00 p.m.]: The Greens support the Marine Parks Amendment Bill, the object of which is to strengthen the Marine Parks Act. It is certainly not before time that we consider areas that should receive some additional and deserved conservation. The trend towards marine parks is something that the Greens hold very dear. Whilst there will be ongoing and healthy debate over no-take areas and the various usages of marine parks and the allowance of certain exploitation of those parks—which are different from terrestrial parks, which have a far higher degree of protection—nevertheless, the Greens believe that this bill is a move in the right direction.
Marine parks can assist and this bill is partly sponsored by Fisheries and partly by the National Parks and Wildlife Service portfolios. It is obviously an integral part of the environment and of great importance for the conservation of species, including commercial fish species, which, if there are to be sufficient no-take zones, would allow for the maintenance of fish stocks. It has been proved in many areas that this is of great value to the commercial fishing industry, quite apart from the conservation value of no-take zones. It has received the support of all peak organisations. I would like to quote from a note forwarded to my office by Andrew Cox of the National Parks Association of New South Wales. In that note he states:
The Marine Parks were passed by Parliament in June 1997 and allows for the creation of marine parks, but as we have seen by the progress of the Marine Parks Authority, there is still a long way to go.
Presently there are three marine parks in New South Wales waters—Solitary Islands Marine Park, Jervis Bay Marine Park, created in January 1998 and Lord Howe Island Marine Park, created in February 1999.
Marine parks under the Marine Parks Act are far from being protected areas. Only with the sanctuary zone can the area be regarded as adequately protected. At present New South Wales Fisheries have shown little interest in incorporating large sanctuary zones into marine parks. With only the little "pocket" sanctuary zones we presently have you create the impression of protecting marine ecosystems while providing little control.
NPA and other environment groups advocate that at least 20% of all marine waters be fully protected. Since marine parks cannot be expected to cover all New South Wales waters … then what few marine parks we have should consist of a major sanctuary zone component well above 20%.
In political terms, the effect of 20% of marine waters zoned as sanctuary areas (ie fully protected areas—look but don't kill or take) leaves a full 80% of waters open to responsible fishing.
Marine parks need to be regarded not as multiple use areas, but as actively managed areas that safeguard marine biodiversity and systems. This provides the dual benefit of nature conservation and the protection of the commercial and recreational fishing resource base. Substantial sanctuary areas are critical to achieving this.
Aquatic reserves have historically failed to protect marine ecosystems. The legislation is not strong and they have only covered small areas.
Unfortunately, marine reserves encompass less than one-quarter of 1 per cent of the world's oceans. Of these areas, only a fraction have been designated as no-take reserves. During debate in the other place Andrew Fraser, the member for Coffs Harbour, claimed that restrictions on the use of Solitary Islands Marine Park would be bad for business. This is where Mr Fraser, as usual, has missed the point completely. He is speaking for Coffs Harbour, which has had some very significant spurts of development but has also had major problems in relation to sustainable tourism.
One only has to drive through Coffs Harbour to see a number of virtually empty resorts of significant size, perched in what were beautiful coastal rainforest valleys near the sea. All sorts of problems have occurred with that type of development, very much under his auspices, I am sure. To say that somehow these marine park restrictions would affect business is typical of Andrew Fraser's shortsightedness. Really, this restriction on use and the enhancement of the Solitary Islands Marine Park will be good for business in the long term, in a not dissimilar way to how the world heritage listing of the Blue Mountains area will be excellent for tourism in the future. It is up to the authorities to maintain the infrastructure so that those areas are not downgraded to the point where people are no longer attracted to them.
It is quite clear, and the Greens have said it time and again, that marine parks and tourism activities, such as diving, have significant economic benefits to sustainable, high-level employment to ensure that an industry is ongoing and is not just a boom-or-bust, short-term proposition. It can become, as has happened in my home town of Byron Bay, an all-year-round event. We then become responsible as managers of the asset and it is set up in such a way that it is ongoing. That is of great significance, particularly to young people in these country areas who would otherwise not have access to reasonable levels of employment. A marine park has helped to create and foster these activities in a community on the North Coast of New South Wales.
There are certainly also some key economic reasons for restricting fishing in marine parks. The protection of fish breeding grounds results in economic benefit for the fishing industry. I enjoy distance swimming in the ocean. It is wonderful to swim season after season and see the different stages of productivity in the ocean; to see new schools of juvenile fish coming into an area, breeding and then moving on. One can see the resource developing before one's very eyes. Restricted fishing and no-take and sanctuary zones will assist in breeding up the resource so that the professional and amateur fishing industries can survive, and can survive sustainably.
There are important scientific reasons for marine park closures. Unless there are areas that are free from exploitation and available for study, scientists have little ability to evaluate the true impacts of fishing or other forms of disturbance on the marine environment. A note from Mr Ron Billyard, Planning Officer, Solitary Islands Marine Park in the Coffs Harbour area states:
The very small group of fishers, commercial or otherwise, affected by the fishing closures required by sanctuary zones, are unlikely to suffer. The New Zealand experience suggests that the issue of displaced effort is largely a red herring. The sanctuaries there have become spawning grounds which make fishing at the edges very productive indeed. On the odd occasion when an active commercial fishing licence is genuinely affected, the Government might consider buying out that licence, but the Government should be wary of accepting at face value the claims of fishing licence holders that they have been affected by closures in sanctuary zones of marine parks. All such claims deserve careful scrutiny. The US has taken the lead with a number of proposals for 20 per cent full protection, and large no-take reserves off the Florida Keys.
It is important to recognise the positive steps forward undertaken in other parts of the world. We have seen many cases, and I know the Minister for Fisheries and a number of members of this House have been involved in the investigation into the fishing industry, as part of the activities of the Standing Committee on State Development. We have heard time and again of attempts to create balance in the ocean. No-take zones and allowing fishing only around the edge of those zones will create a biological mass that can be utilised without being harmed.
The ocean is an area of subsurface activity. Very little is seen on the surface but there is that point where we need to maintain areas in a close to original state, without interference, for their own sake. The concept of maintaining and respecting the environment of marine parks is not dissimilar to the respect that we have come to have for old-growth forests and various other areas. I accept that it might be easier to respect terrestrial reserves because they offer a greater opportunity to participate in the environment and to view it. Many people do not go into national parks—they may not be able to withstand the rigours of walking through them—but that does not mean they do not gain a degree of satisfaction from knowing that these types of ecosystems are there.
Similarly we need to maintain the oceans for their own sake quite apart from man's desire to utilise that resource or extract from it. We need to acknowledge that oceans are part of our viable ecosystem, part of the beautiful fabric of our environment. The oceans enable us to sense that there is something beyond the constraints of so-called civilisation and the man-made world; they offer the concept that there is a sense of wildness in nature, which is of great benefit. Although many people do not recognise that, it is an ideal for us to aim towards rather than continue to destroy so much of what is left of our planet.
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti: Are you still going? You said all of this during the debate on the water bill.
The Hon. I. COHEN: I would have expected that the Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti, as an avid fisherman, would be one to agree with me. I saw him fish from pens containing a massive number of fish. He was so imbued with fishing that he took a rod about six inches long and started fishing for fish about the size of a minnow. That is how keen he is. I would have thought that he would have a great appreciation of the wondrous aspects of marine reserves and protection areas in which he may stand on the edge of a non-polluted area and catch his share of the fish. Opposition claims that the bill interferes with land-holders' rights between mean high-water mark and mean low-water mark are rejected by the Greens. Even if the claim were true, interference would be justified.
It is essential that marine parks protection cover the intertidal zone. The ecology of tidal zones is very much impacted upon. One only has to compare Sydney beaches to other areas of the non-urban coastline to see how severely degraded they are. The crowds who go to the beaches on the weekends are not educated about the value of the ecosystems which impact on coastal areas. The coastline offers a wonderful opportunity for children to see the various life forms in intertidal areas. I remember participating in school excursions to the flat intertidal zone at the north end of Bungan Head where an absolute wealth of biodiversity could be observed in its natural state.
It is important that that type of balanced ecosystem is maintained in a low-level pollution environment, because all the areas are interdependent. The tidal areas breed small fish and invertebrates that later move out into the deeper waters—they are all part of the food chain. We cannot break down one part of the ecosystem in the ocean without it seriously impacting on other areas. The Greens support the efforts of the Marine Parks Authority and the Government in establishing a representative system of marine parks. It is essential that a sample of all marine bioregions be included in marine parks. As I said, 20 per cent of New South Wales waters should be included in sanctuary zones. Andrew Cox, the Executive Officer of the NPA, wrote:
The Government must accelerate the bioregional assessment program of the five bioregions within NSW waters. At least one substantially-sized marine park should be created in each bioregion within the next two years. The Manning Shelf Bioregional Assessment is near completion, and by the first half of next year the Government should propose areas for declaration as marine parks.
For all marine parks, zoning plans should be developed rapidly, in conjunction with an operational plan, and these placed on public exhibition, then adopted within a year after the creation of the Marine Park.
Amendments to the Marine Parks Act in the future are still required to ensure that:
• holders of mining leases have no power of veto over the creation of a marine park.
• zoning plans are created within a set time, such as one year, from the creation of the marine park. At present there is no time limit, and as the example of the terrestrial national parks has shown, the preparation of a plan of management "as soon as practicable" can mean more than 25 years!
• removal of an area of a marine park should not be possible without an Act of Parliament, regardless of the reason. This provision currently exists without major problem for terrestrial national parks, so there is no reason that this level of accountability could not be provided to marine parks.
• management provisions for sanctuary zones and other zones within marine parks should be defined in the legislation. Boundaries for these areas should also be accountable to Parliament, making them consistent with internationally recognised standards for protected areas.
The Greens support the Government's efforts to tighten up the Act. In particular we support the proposed licensing systems for moorings and jetties, the redeclaration of marine parks to ensure that the boundaries are accurate, and the concurrence requirement prior to the granting of consent for a development application which may impact on the marine park. The Greens also support the amendments proposed by the Hon. R. S. L. Jones, which aim to further improve the operation of the Marine Parks Act. With those words I commend the bill and congratulate the Government on the first step along a long road toward marine conservation.
The Hon. D. T. HARWIN [3.16 p.m.]: Marine parks are a critical part of the natural heritage of this State, having the object of preserving remnant marine biodiversity along our coastline, and I strongly support them. Conceptually, they are quite different from our national parks system as they involve multiple use within protected areas. Under marine park legislation, a range of conservation, recreation and commercial opportunities are possible as part of the multiple-use conservation management philosophy contained in the legislation. The Coalition supported the legislation establishing marine parks in 1997 and we want to see the concept work, and work well. There are a number of areas along our coastline with high biodiversity, relatively undeveloped coastal environments, enormous natural beauty and a range of diverse habitats that have to be protected.
As a resident of Huskisson, I have a unique perspective on marine parks. Our town is surrounded on three sides by the Jervis Bay Marine Park, as the waters of Currambene Creek, Moona Moona Creek and the bay have been declared part of the marine park. I have the very considerable pleasure of living across the road from the Jervis Bay Marine Park. Without a doubt the Jervis Bay Marine Park is one of the most outstanding examples of temperate marine ecosystems in an almost pristine environment. The warm and cool currents of the bay contribute to a diverse range of animal and plant habitats. The Marine Park Authority Jervis Bay office is situated in Huskisson, along with its three very helpful and polite staff members.
Of course, the natural environment of the area is inextricably linked with the recreation and economy of the town of Huskisson and surrounding areas. While tourism and increasingly ecotourism dominate, fishing and boat building, which are the traditional industries of Huskisson, continue to employ local people. Dolphin and whale-watching cruises from Huskisson wharf and scuba diving are key contributors to the local economy. All those activities coexist with the marine park and will provide an interesting case study in multiple-use conservation management in the coming years.
It is important to record on this occasion the mixed experiences with the marine parks legislation. The 1997 Act authorised the making of regulations, which occurred during 1999. Honourable members should note Regulation Review Committee Report No. 7/52 on this Government's Marine Parks Regulation, which was gazetted last year. The committee, on which I serve, unanimously reported its unhappiness with the process that led to the making of these regulations. This started with the breathtakingly short time between gazettal and commencement—a matter of just a few days. We also reported on what we felt was non-compliance with the spirit and possibly the letter of the Subordinate Legislation Act 1989 in relation to regulatory impact statements. We called for full regulatory impact statements and consultation to occur at the same time as zoning and operation plans are prepared. We considered that as critical. We also called for the Minister to publish a timetable on the preparation of zoning and operation plans.
In December 1999 the National Parks Journal, which is issued by the National Parks Association, contained an enlightening article by Tim Anderson entitled "Slow progress with Marine Parks". Among the criticisms he records are: a minimalist Marine Parks Authority, implying that it is not adequately resourced to fulfil its legislative obligations; an inherent weakness in the approach with no effective increase in the protection of marine biodiversity as a result of the legislation until zoning plans are completed; and what he refers to as glacial progress towards actual protection. I am pleased that the authority released a planning issues and options paper for Jervis Bay in August 1999. However, almost 18 months later there is no greater certainty about the nature of protective measures. Uncertainty also remains about the way various issues will be resolved.
Twelve months later the situation described in the journal article is an accurate picture of the management of marine parks in New South Wales. Tim Anderson is right in saying there is effectively no protection of marine biodiversity while the Government fails to resource the preparation of zoning and operation plans. Sadly, in this regard, our marine parks reflect the experience of the national parks system. This Government's preparation of plans of management for national parks has not kept pace with the declarations of new national parks. In fact, there has been no significant increase in funding for the National Parks and Wildlife Service since the Coalition was in office and my former employer the Hon. Tim Moore was Minister for the Environment. This Government's counterfeit approach to conservation has been to chalk up the declarations while doing nothing to properly manage and therefore protect this wonderful asset for the State. Within the marine parks system, we have declarations but there is no proper protection in sight.
Apart from failing to protect marine biodiversity, the failure of this Government to adequately resource the preparation of zoning and operation plans means that a great deal of uncertainty remains about the future of the multiplicity of users currently occurring in our marine parks. I will give a few examples of activities facing an uncertain future from the "Planning Issues and Options Paper for the Jervis Bay Marine Park". Concerns were expressed in the paper about the protection of the reefs in the bay and the implications for the scuba diving industry. It also complicates finding a solution for proper refuelling and vessel effluent disposal facilities in an environmentally friendly boat facility, as proposed by Shoalhaven City Council. Concerns about the seagrass beds and mangroves put a question mark over recreational fishing in Currambene and Moona Moona creeks, around the edges of the town.
The paper discusses the option of restricting the number of dolphin-watching cruises, and there is the issue of commercial fishing in the bay, which has a value of about $1 million per annum. I note the remarks of the Hon. R. S. L. Jones and the Hon. I. Cohen about the benefits of sanctuary zones for commercial fishing. They are points that need to be made. I make the more general point about process and the resource end of the preparation of zoning and operation plans, so that Jervis Bay Marine Park will have sanctuary zones. The marine park does not currently have sanctuary zones. The finalisation of zoning and operation plans will give certainty to residents and commercial operators. Where sustainable alternatives cannot be found for activities that are environmentally unfriendly, those activities will cease and the biodiversity of the bay protected, as it should be.
It is useful to contrast this State's experience with that of the Commonwealth and its marine parks. By contrast, the Commonwealth recognised that there was a problem of delay in preparing management plans. When the Commonwealth issues a notice of intent to declare a marine park, it also issues proposed management arrangements, so that recreational and commercial users of the proposed protected area are aware of likely changes. While these proposals do not have legal force, they have resulted in users being able to approach the future with certainty. Also, actual protection of marine biodiversity has occurred before a final management plan is gazetted, as some incompatible activities have ceased even before legally forced to do so. This has been the experience with the Great Australian Bight Marine Park—in other words, the opposite to what has occurred in this State's marine parks—and is a much more desirable outcome.
The experience in this State does not inspire a great degree of confidence about where we are headed with this legislation. The Opposition does not have any particular difficulty with several provisions. In fact, we welcome them. These provisions include sensible changes, such as broadening the classes of persons who can be appointed as rangers and the provision for the removal of shipwrecks. No-one could object to the inclusion of a scientist on advisory committees. But this amendment is a smokescreen for the major change to the advisory committees, which is to remove their appointment from the Marine Parks Authority and give it to the Minister. The advisory committees are also being downgraded in another important respect which relates to the closure of marine parks. That is not referred to in the Minister's second reading speech. Subclause (3) of clause 31 of the Marine Park Regulation 1999 provides that the authority has to consult with the relevant marine park advisory committee before renewing a marine park closure.
This bill brings that power into the legislation and takes the closure power from the authority and gives it to the Minister. However, in the new section in the bill there is no equivalent role for the advisory committee for reviewing closure renewals. I ask the Minister: Why is the advisory committee role being downgraded? I would appreciate a response from the Minister in his reply to the second reading debate. Another change in this bill which the Opposition has difficulty with is the extraordinary decision to revoke the declaration of the three marine parks, declare them for a second time and, in the process, remove the obligation for the authority to obtain consent for the incorporation of any private holdings, fixtures or permissive occupancies below the mean high-water mark in the marine parks. I describe it as extraordinary because of the complete disregard for process. It is an example of this Government's philosophy on marine parks. I do not disagree with the Hon. I. Cohen about the importance of intertidal zoning to the integrity of marine parks. However, I am concerned about the issue of process.
It is clear from the Minister's speech and honourable members' contributions in this place and in the other place that consultation with and the consent of affected landowners and users cannot be resourced by the Marine Parks Authority in the course of preparing zoning and operational plans. That is why the Minister has not been able to provide the Opposition with details of how many people are having their rights taken away by this bill. Today, before this legislation passes, Huskisson residents who live on the banks of Currambene Creek in permissive occupancies below the high-water mark were excluded from the Jervis Bay Marine Park unless the Marine Parks Authority obtained their consent for incorporation. When this legislation passes they will lose their rights. Because we still do not know what the zoning and operational plans will be for the Jervis Bay Marine Park, their future rights over permissive occupancies on the creek are uncertain. In the case of other marine parks, people with title to land below the high-water mark will have their property rights taken away without any consultation, consent or compensation. This legislation is an unsatisfactory outcome for marine parks. It will not advance the cause of marine parks which, by definition, must co-operatively and meaningfully involve their multiple users.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE [3.30 p.m.]: I will speak briefly in support of the Marine Parks Amendment Bill. The enactment of the Marine Parks Act 1997 and the subsequent declaration of the State's first marine parks have been positive achievements of the Government, and we support them. The Act will now advance marine conservation and the ecologically sustainable use of marine resources. To date three marine parks have been declared: the Solitary Islands, Jervis Bay and Lord Howe Island. All parks are administered by the Marine Parks Authority. Draft zoning and operational plans for the Solitary Islands and Jervis Bay will be prepared as a consequence of submissions on the issues and options papers, and the advice received from interested parties. The Christian Democratic Party is particularly pleased that the legislation will again declare the Solitary Islands, Jervis Bay and Lord Howe Island as marine parks to remove any uncertainty as to their status.
I ask the Minister to inform us about the relationship of the naval facilities and the naval college at Jervis Bay with the marine park. I assume that they are now parallel. We are pleased that the legislation will preserve native title rights and interests in respect of areas declared to be a marine park. However, as the bill extends the classes of persons who can be appointed as marine park rangers, officers or employees of government departments, or public or local authorities, will the Minister indicate what action has been taken to encourage Aboriginal persons to seek employment as marine park rangers, particularly in the Jervis Bay area, which has a large Aboriginal population? Usually the level of unemployment in that area is high. As I have said in previous national park-type legislation, one of the priorities of such legislation should be to provide employment opportunities for Aborigines who live in reserve areas. Aborigines would make excellent rangers and they would be able to assist the public.
It is good for tourists to meet Aboriginal persons working in such roles because they could impart the Aboriginal background of the areas, which Australians and overseas visitors, particularly, would appreciate. Often overseas visitors hope that they will meet Aboriginal people who will talk with them and share with them their concern for the protection of the environment. I note that the bill will enable the removal of sunken vessels and other obstructions from a marine park. Obviously, if a vessel is causing obstruction it should be removed, but who would meet the cost of such removal? Some wrecks are historic and there may be an argument that such wrecks should not be removed but be protected as part of our history. Now that we live in Gerroa, a small 400-person village right on the edge of Seven Mile Beach National Park, we are far more conscious of the need to protect the environment. Perhaps we were not so aware of it when we lived in Ryde for 17 years, right in the middle of suburban Sydney.
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti: You are lucky to have been able to afford to retire there.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE: We have not retired there; that is where we live. We can now experience first-hand places such as Jervis Bay and other national parks. We are pleased to support the bill.
The Hon. Dr P. WONG [3.33 p.m.]: I support the Marine Parks Amendment Bill. The bill will allow the Government to move towards establishing a more comprehensive and representative marine parks system in New South Wales. I will also support the amendments that will be moved by the Hon. R. S. L. Jones, which will provide strong environmental protection. I am aware of the views of the Environmental Liaison Office and the National Parks Association, and the reasons for their support for the amendments. I commend the Government for negotiating in good faith on the detail of the bill. It will result in significantly improved legislation.
Ms LEE RHIANNON [3.34 p.m.]: I support the comments of my colleague the Hon. I. Cohen, who has outlined the Greens position on the proposed legislation. Like many of us, my home is beside the sea. Therefore I welcome these moves by the Government, even though they are limited in part. I was particularly pleased to see that it will no longer be necessary to get the approval of the owners and occupiers of a piece of land that is below the mean high-water mark if that land is to be put into a marine park. That position cuts out some ridiculous requirements that were previously in place. I acknowledge and thank Tim Anderson, who has spoken to me many times over many years about the necessity for marine parks and for a whole number of provisions to be tightened up.
I note that he has commented on the slow progress of this matter in New South Wales. The Greens will watch with interest how the legislation plays out. We already know that it will need to be revisited because the full aquatic area is in great need of preservation, and many of the rock platforms are particularly devastated as a result of intensive human use. When I was a young person, when I was studying and later with my children, I spent a great deal of time enjoying the rock platforms. I look forward to taking my grandchildren to the rock platforms of Sydney and along our coast. They are most enjoyable places to spend time and they are very educational. The bill goes some way to dealing with the problems, but it is something we will pay close attention to because there are clearly some weaknesses in it.
The Hon. JAN BURNSWOODS [3.36 p.m.]: I am delighted to support the Marine Parks Amendment Bill, particularly because of my involvement, with other members, in helping to birth, so to speak, our marine parks. The Act that was introduced in 1997 and the declaration of the first three marine parks in New South Wales are key achievements of the Government. I pay particular tribute to the work of the previous Minister for the Environment, Pam Allan. The marine and coastal environment in New South Wales represent a complex and important set of ecosystems that support a diverse city of plants and animals. The marine and coastal environment are a valuable, natural and cultural resource. As population pressure and resource pressure grow along the coast it will become even more important for us to manage the environment in a responsible way, to look after the coast and to create more marine parks. In many ways it is puzzling that it has taken us so long to create marine parks after 100 years or more of activity in creating terrestrial national parks.
Marine parks are important not only for marine biodiversity and other environmental benefits but also for the fishing industry. They are becoming increasingly important to the tourism industry and to all those involved in it, such as charter boat operators, dive operators and tourism groups. I would like to mention three national parks already created: Lord Howe Island, Jervis Bay and particularly the Solitary Islands in the waters just north of Coffs Harbour. I refer to the foolish days of the Fahey Government. Some honourable members may remember that I was one of the people in this House who made a number of speeches and raised many questions about the fight of the people of the Emerald Beach-Woolgoolga area against the ludicrous proposal to create a sewage ocean outfall at Look at Me Now Headland, right in the middle of an area that even then was proposed to be part of the Solitary Islands Marine Park.
There were those who, like myself, visited the area at that time and took part in the protest movement on the beach, supporting the people stopping the bulldozers as the Coalition Government and Coffs Harbour City Council tried to push the ocean outfall into that area. It was obvious to everyone that the area was not only one of outstanding beauty but also one of marine biodiversity. Anyone can see today that the marine park contains an enormous diversity of marine ecosystems and habitat types. These include estuaries, island reefs, submerged coral reefs, sandy beaches, rocky shore lines, open oceans and the soft ocean bed. It contains a huge diversity of marine plants and animals due to its location on the edge of the subtropical and temperate zones. The Solitary Islands area is home to a number of threatened species, including humpback whales, dolphins, grey nurse sharks, sea turtles and many seabirds. For all those reasons and many more it is an important area for biodiversity, tourism and associated areas.
For its management and operation the marine national park will be required to work closely with Commonwealth authorities using the adjacent Commonwealth waters as a Commonwealth marine reserve. Planning for the park involved the preparation of a zone plan and an operational plan. That work has been under way for some time. In April this year an issues and options paper for the Solitary Islands Marine Park went on public display and more than 750 submissions were received. There was significant community interest in the management proposals generated and facilitated through public meetings and workshops with community associations, industry groups and local media. I have been pleased to see this work taking place and to see the continued development of the precious Solitary Islands Marine Park that was declared under the Carr Government's important legislation in 1997.
In many ways this bill is a machinery bill in that it attempts to come to grips with some issues that have emerged since the 1997 legislation, particularly those issues that delayed the progress that we all would have liked to see in the operation of these marine parks and in the declaration of new ones. It has proved to be difficult to make contact, to consult and to obtain consent from adjoining land owners. I do not want to go into these matters in great detail because they have already been talked about by previous speakers in the debate. However, I am very disappointed in the attitude of Opposition members to this matter. In 1997 the Opposition supported the Marine Parks Bill. I listened carefully to earlier speakers in this debate and I gather that the Opposition still wants to be believed to be supporting the legislation, but everything it has to say is followed by a "but".
It is all very well for Opposition members to talk about some of the specific administrative issues. I listened with care but also with confusion to the Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti talking at great length about the history of financial compensation from the days of the Bible, but some difficulties have emerged over the last three years. Everyone who supported the bill originally and who claims still to support the concept of marine parks should support the variety of provisions in this bill to make sure some of those difficulties have been fixed up and we can get on with making marine parks a reality in New South Wales.
The Hon. M. I. JONES [3.44 p.m.]: I will probably be the only person who opposes this amendment to the Marine National Parks Act. The Marine National Parks Act was enacted in 1997—it is now 2000 and zoning regulations have only recently been introduced. There was much controversy over the initial bill by people, particularly in the Coffs Harbour area. I believe Andrew Fraser was right to raise the concerns he did and I support his comments. When the marine national park was originally proposed it was not supported by the people of Coffs Harbour in general. However, the tactics I have come to expect from the Carr Government is that planning is made, the goals are set and then things tend to arrive by stealth. Marine national parks are no exception.
When the park was first declared nothing happened. There were no changes to anything and people thought, "This national park business is not too bad. There are no problems. We are still able to do what we have always been able to do." Then, bit by bit, zoning comes in, except this time it took an unusually long time—nearly 2½ years had passed. The Marine National Parks Authority is not an efficient organisation. People who phone it end up talking to National Parks and Wildlife Service staff. The national parks budget contains no expenditure for marine national parks because it is in the fishing portfolio. It takes a long time to come to terms with these problems. However, I shall try to restrict my comments to this amendment to the Act.
This bill imposes a specific infringement upon people's property. The bill contains the words "the consent of owners or occupiers of areas above but not below the mean high water mark". With shifting sandbanks the mean high-water mark could be a movable feast. A person could buy a property that may have an abundant sandbank, for which he pays a premium at a specific point in time, and then moving currents can remove that and he loses all rights to that area over which he once had sovereignty. This is 2000, not 1984! This is an incursion on people's rights that is wrong, wrong, wrong! During the debate I heard honourable members come out with various attitudes on fishing which, strangely enough, were quite opposed to those positions they purported to take during the debate on the fishing legislation. I shall revisit that topic at another time.
I oppose this amendment as I believe it is an unjust imposition on the citizens concerned. After listening to various comments I believe people have an attitude about a specific part of the coast. We now have three or four national parks and other specific areas are being looked at. As marine parks proliferate, as they surely will, more areas will be declared and as those areas have different topographies, wetlands and all sorts of things the problems will be compounded and more complex. This amendment will infringe upon the rights of those people. I do not believe it has been thought through properly. I do not support the bill.
The Hon. A. G. CORBETT [3.49 p.m.]: I support the bill and the amendments to it moved by the Hon. R. S. L. Jones. Together they provide the necessary adjustments to strengthen the Marine Parks Act and to progress towards a comprehensive marine park reserve system in New South Wales. Currently, New South Wales has three marine parks in its waters—Solitary Islands Marine Park, Jervis Bay Marine Park and Lord Howe Island Marine Park. Protection of marine ecosystems is paramount. In some parts of the world marine reserves are sanctuaries where no fishing or collecting is permitted. But marine sanctuaries represent only a tiny proportion of the world's oceans.
In some countries—for example Australia—governments have adopted a multiple-use approach, which allows for various uses such as tourism, diving, fishing and collecting within reserves. Multiple-use marine reserves usually cover larger areas and may or may not include sanctuary zones within their boundaries. Sanctuary zones within marine parks are extremely important to protect critical ecosystems from exploitation. The benefits of sanctuaries or no-take zones need to be better understood and more extensively demonstrated to specific user groups that do not always support their establishment or appreciate the benefits they can provide. No-take areas can assist with the recovery of species diversity and habitat quality, and can help increase the reproductive output of sedentary species which spawn within the protected areas. They improve public awareness and understanding and provide scientific and monitoring control sites.
Protecting fish breeding grounds is also to the economic benefit of the fishing industry. In one New Zealand study in 1990 it was shown that the abundance of the New Zealand spiny lobster in a marine sanctuary was 10 times higher than in surrounding unprotected areas. The average size of individuals was also greater and the local lobster fishery was enhanced by the protection. Compared to our knowledge of terrestrial ecosystems, there is far less known about the marine environment and there are far fewer marine areas protected. Making an area of the ocean a sanctuary ensures minimal disturbance and acts as an insurance policy against accidents or poor management elsewhere.
There is no question that the diversity of life in the ocean has been declining and is dramatically altered by unsustainable fishing practices. United Nations figures indicate that most major fisheries are overexploited and better protection of marine areas is vital. It is critical that the New South Wales Government accelerates the bio-regional assessment program of the five bio-regions in New South Wales waters so they can be protected as soon as possible. The dramatic collapse of the Canadian cod fishery in 1992 serves as a bleak reminder that the unimaginable can happen. Previously it was one of the world's most productive fisheries and was considered inexhaustible, having been fished for over 500 years. The collapse put 40,000 people out of work and cost the Canadian public $C2 billion. The long-term social and ecological costs have not been assessed and the fishery remains closed today.
It is not just fish species and numbers at risk. Many other creatures are affected and habitats are destroyed by wasteful and indiscriminate fishing methods. Over 40,000 albatrosses are killed annually on tuna longlines. I am encouraged to see the recent launch of SeaNet, a national fisheries extension service which aims to provide easy access to information and advice about environmental best practice for the commercial seafood industry on the minimisation of the catch of non-target species. Currently one-quarter of all marine life caught worldwide as by-catch is thrown back dead. The bill before us, and the amendments proposed by the Hon. R. S. L. Jones, will ensure marine parks are more effectively and comprehensively protected by speeding up the process of preparing zoning and operational plans while still ensuring full public consultation and public exhibition of draft plans.
There have been lessons learnt from the previous consultative approach, which resulted in considerable delays in the preparation of zoning plans for the first two marine parks, and this has hindered their declaration and full protection. In declaring marine parks, there have been difficulties in gaining the consent of all owners and occupiers because there are no comprehensive databases of owners of moorings, oyster leases, jetties, et cetera. I support the Government's amendments to remove the requirement to obtain the consent of owners or occupiers. In particular, I support the Government's amendments that ensure concurrence between the relevant Ministers before the granting of consent to a development application; that enable notifications of marine park closures to be published, that will prohibit certain activities from being carried out in a marine park; and that clarify the boundaries of existing marine parks through redeclaration. I am supportive of increasing penalties for offences under the Act, but I hasten to add that enough resources must be provided to ensure compliance with the Act.
The Hon. Dr A. CHESTERFIELD-EVANS [3.54 p.m.]: The Australian Democrats support the bill. We believe that marine parks are a good thing. Removal of the requirement to obtain consent obviously is somewhat controversial. In New Zealand people cannot own land within one chain of the high-water mark, an area that was called the King's chain. This means that public access to the foreshore is automatic, which is a wonderful thing. Sydney Harbour has been described as a public pond in a private garden. This is the case for most of its length. I recognise that in some situations people are in danger from king tides occasionally coming up their front lawn. But these are small problems in the overall scale of things.
It is necessary to declare parks in order to maintain fish habitats. Whatever inconvenience it may cause holidaymakers, as they get used to the idea that fish are there to be enjoyed in other ways than by simply catching them, they will not consider holiday resorts to have been degraded by the declaration of marine parks. In a speech in the lower House an Opposition member complained about overloaded boats. I do not see that that has anything to do with marine parks, particularly given that overloaded boats have overturned, killing people. We support environmental groups in their sponsoring of the amendments moved by the Hon. R. S. L. Jones and will support the amendments to improve the bill.
The Hon. E. M. OBEID (Minister for Mineral Resources, and Minister for Fisheries) [3.56 p.m.], in reply: I thank all honourable members who have contributed to the debate. The Marine Parks Amendment Bill provides sensible and necessary refinements to allow the effective administration of the Marine Parks Act 1997. Importantly, the bill strengthens the Government's ability to meet the objectives of the Act by requiring local councils and authorities that are assessing development proposals within marine parks to obtain the concurrence of the marine parks Ministers. Previously only "consultation" was required. I would expect that the powers of concurrence would normally be delegated to the Marine Parks Authority and that local marine parks staff would routinely be involved in making the decisions. The decision itself would be based on whether or not the proposed development was permissible under the zoning plan for the park; whether or not the development was consistent with the objectives of the Marine Parks Act and the zone in which it was proposed to occur; and an assessment in accordance with the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act of the environmental impact of the proposed development.
If it were concluded at any of these steps that the development should not proceed, concurrence would not be given. If no zoning plan were yet in place, a decision on the proposal would be based on the latter two of these criteria. If the proposed development were permissible but considered controversial, it would normally be referred to the local advisory committee for comment before a decision was made. The proposal would only be referred to the Marine Parks Advisory Council. However, if the proposal had statewide policy significance. The Opposition raised no real issues. It specified just one real concern relating to changes in the consent requirements for the declaration of marine parks. Its concerns are exaggerated. Freehold land only rarely exists below the mean high-water mark. Wherever such land was included within a marine park, however, ownership of the land would not change. So the entitlements of the owner would not be affected by the declaration itself.
The entitlements of the owner could be affected by the zoning plan which regulates activities within the park, but I would point out that zoning plans are developed only after exhaustive consultation with stakeholders and the community—in particular with land-holders whose entitlements could be affected. The bill makes specific provision for consideration of submissions from landowners, in a deliberate attempt to mitigate any such impacts. Moreover, any impacts would be only slight. The main activity that is likely to be affected would be fishing. And that can happen under the Fisheries Management Act whether or not a marine park is put in place. The land we are talking about is intertidal land, land that lies between mean high water and low water. This is land that is almost always covered by water. How significant could the impact on owners be?
The impact on lessees has been similarly exaggerated. The main type of lessees affected are oyster farmers, but their rights are specifically protected in the Act. I refer the Opposition to section 12 of the Act. Moorings normally only have short-term permissive occupancies and so their rights could hardly be significantly affected. The Opposition has referred to jetty owners. There are not many jetties in places such as the Solitary Islands Marine Park. I assure the Opposition that the Government will normally plan zoning of the parks in a way that mitigates as far as possible any significant impacts on existing jetty owners. The whole matter has been exaggerated. The Hon. R. H. Colless objected to the inclusion of diligent inquiry provisions. For the information of the honourable member, such provisions already exist in other legislation, including the Mining Act, so this is nothing new; it is just sensible administration.
The Carr Labor Government is committed to the conservation of marine biodiversity. It introduced the Marine Parks Act and declared the State's first three marine parks, and it is making sensible changes to ensure that the whole system is workable. The Hon. R. S. L. Jones had it right when he said that the Coalition has shown very little interest in this issue. The bill presents a series of sensible, practical and measured changes that should considerably ease the administration of the Act. In response to the comments by the Hon. D. T. Harwin, I advise that this bill upgrades the status of advisory committees; it certainly does not downgrade them. For the first time advisory committees will have ministerial status. Furthermore, the functions of the committee will now be set out in the Act and have legislative force. Advisory committees will continue to be consulted on the renewal of closures as appropriate.
Pursuant to sessional orders business interrupted.