Representatives of Queensland’s agriculture and tourism sectors say Australia’s Great Barrier Reef progress report to UNESCO could make or break their industries.
- The joint 2050 progress report to UNESCO says land clearing poses a significant challenge to the reef
- The report says land clearing could put the reef on UNESCO’s ‘in danger’ list
- Farmers and tourism operators warn such a listing would harm their business
The Queensland and Federal Governments’ reef 2050 progress report to UNESCO says land clearing is a significant challenge to future sustainability.
Scientists link land clearing to sediment runoff and poor water quality, and the report says it could put the reef on UNESCO’s ‘in danger’ list.
Cynthia Sabag, who runs a tropical fruit farm halfway between Townsville and Cairns, said she is concerned about the health of the Great Barrier Reef, but does not think farming is to blame for its deterioration.
“It seems that agriculture has often been made the scapegoat in this debate,” she said.
“There was no evidence on our land that any of our farming was causing runoff, which would affect the Great Barrier Reef.”
The State Government recently failed to pass laws to stop clearing, and now the Federal Government says it might intervene.
That would be a win for conservationists, but for Ms Sabag a return to more precarious times when she was not allowed to clear land for farming.
“The way it was prior to the legislation, we had no hope whatsoever of ever selling our property and no hope of retiring, which is pretty demoralising,” she said.
“This sort of has given us some hope, but we’ve lost 10 years of our life and 10 years of developing a property.”
Land clearing not the problem: AgForce
Agricultural industry body AgForce echoes Ms Sabag’s concerns.
President Grant Maudsley said some politicians do not understand the challenges of managing rural properties.
“It’s easy on the left side of politics … to point at the bush and say the bush is doing the wrong things,” he said.
“It’s simply not the case.”
“We would prefer to go down a policy outcome … and have a little talk about things, but to keep pointing the finger consistently time and time again at one issue as being the problem is rubbish.”
Mr Maudsley hopes the reef will not make UNESCO’s ‘in danger’ list and disputes evidence that land clearing is the problem.
“What we’re all looking for is reducing runoff, but you don’t do that by having all trees and all grass, you have a combination of both,” he said.
“If you have a complete tree landscape, you actually end up with a really high density of trees, which actually reduces the cover on the ground and water actually runs off.”
Mr Maudsley also points out other sectors, including mining, have a role to play in restoring health to the reef.
Conservationists agree and criticise the report’s failure to make any substantial policy commitments to dealing with climate change.
Imogen Zethoven from the Australian Marine Conservation Society said reducing fossil fuels is a key part of that.
“We really have to start taking some tough decisions, and one of them is that we really should not be opening up any new coal mines,” Ms Zethoven said.
She is concerned about the proposed controversial Adani coal mine in the Galilee Basin, which has just secured a rail line, a temporary construction camp and is now seeking federal government funding.
“[It’s a] devastating mine that will really spell disaster for the reef,” she said.
“We are also extremely concerned that the Federal Government appears to be using taxpayer money to fund this reef-destroying project.”
“We know that there is a serious issue with jobs in north Queensland, but it’s not about any old job, it’s the right job.
“It’s about jobs that are in industries that are the future, like renewable energy, jobs that are in the tourism sector, which is growing, that will be terribly hurt if this massive Adani coal mine goes ahead.”
Tourism could suffer
If the reef is placed on the ‘in danger’ list it could potentially lose its world heritage status and that could have devastating impacts on the tourism sector.
Daniel Gschwind from Queensland’s Tourism Industry Council said it could deter visitors and undermine Australia’s reputation as a tourist destination.
“The money they spend on the visits to the reef, to Queensland, to north Queensland amounts to between $5-6 billion every year,” Mr Gschwind said.
“That money circulates through local communities, regional communities, on and on, and it employs and generates employment for about 50,000 Queenslanders.”
He said UNESCO’s assessment is putting the international spotlight on Australia, and the next few years could see it emerge as either the hero or the villain of environmental management.