Senator Peter Whish-Wilson
Senator Peter Whish-Wilson

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Education and Training (Senator Birmingham) to a question without notice asked by Senator Whish-Wilson today relating to the Great Barrier Reef.

It is genuinely really hard not to despair—as a senator and as someone, who, like most Australians, loves the ocean, lives near the ocean and has had some of the best moments of my life in the ocean—that I cannot ask a very serious question to the federal environment minister through his representative here today, Senator Birmingham, about what is unfolding in the greatest living organism on this planet, the Great Barrier Reef—a devastating, back-to-back mass coral bleaching event. Not only can he not answer my question as to what is the current state of this bleaching event that the Great Barrier Reef is experiencing right now, with unprecedented warming waters off the coast of Queensland, and not only do we not even have data from last year’s bleaching events that he cannot tell us about, but then he laughs. He thought it was a big joke when I read him a quote from one of the scientists who are studying the Great Barrier Reef—one of the international experts from James Cook University—who said on his Twitter:

I showed the results of aerial surveys of #bleaching on the #GreatBarrierReef to my students, And then we wept.

All Senator Birmingham can do is tell me that I need to get a hanky, as though somehow it is funny that the biggest environmental catastrophe that I am ever likely to see in my life is occurring now on the Great Barrier Reef. The representative for the environment minister in the people’s Senate thinks it is a joke. I hope that Australians look at the footage of Senator Birmingham and the rest of the Liberal-National Party senators. They will see the hooting, the laughing, the cajoling and the crass, shallow politics of the Liberal Party. I hope Australians look at the footage and they realise who is representing them in their parliament, in this government, and that they do not care about the environment and about rising global emissions that are killing our Great Barrier Reef.

The environment minister’s representative could not even answer a well-intentioned question and give this house an update on what is going on in the Great Barrier Reef. The whole world is looking at this. It has been reported in all the major newspapers across the US, in Europe and in the UK, because the Great Barrier Reef is one of the natural wonders of the world and it is dying. Eighty per cent of the northern sector of the reef—the top third of the reef—experienced mass coral bleaching last year, in 2016, the third bleaching event in 20 years. Not even in their worst nightmares did scientists expect that we could get a bleaching event two years in a row. This bleaching event is occurring in the central part of the Great Barrier Reef. We have heard evidence directly from Professor Hughes and other scientists recently that it looks severe. This area is what the tourism industry relies on. There are 70,000 jobs on the Great Barrier Reef.

I ask each and every senator in here today: have you been lucky enough to go to the Great Barrier Reef—to go snorkelling with your kids, with your partner, with your friends or on your own? If you have not been lucky enough, who knows when you are going to get the chance?

I heard recently in a Senate inquiry that the giant kelp forests off Tasmania that used to stretch from the top of Tasmania to the bottom of Tasmania have now died this summer as well—10,000-year-old giant kelp forests that, like the Great Barrier Reef, make up the backbone of the ecosystems for our fish and our fisheries industries. This is no laughing matter for the government to come in here and treat my question with contempt, laugh at it, scorn it and tell the scientist who posted this, who has been studying the Great Barrier Reef for most of his life, that I need to get a hanky for asking this question, because they think it is funny that the Great Barrier Reef is dying on our watch.

Source Parliament of Australia Chamber Senate on 28/03/2017 Item QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE: TAKE NOTE OF ANSWERS – Great Barrier Reef Speaker :Whish-Wilson, Sen Peter

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