Australia’s proposed marine reserves have been proclaimed and will be law from midnight tonight, spanning about 2.3 million kilometres of ocean, complete with a $100 million fund to buy out affected commercial enterprises.
In his announcement – again with the backdrop of the Sydney Aquarium – Environment Minister Tony Burke said the majority of the 100,000 submissions sent to the government since it outlined in June the borders for the new reserves were in support of such reserves.
'There are some areas where you've got fishing still continuing but some activities such as trawling are banned. You've got some areas where oil and gas exploration is banned. And then you've got a number of areas that are highly protected where all forms of extractive activity are banned,' said the Minister, emphasising that the marine reserves were based on science and 10 years of consultation.
'The declaration of these new marine reserves delivers on an election commitment and represents a major achievement for the long-term conservation and sustainable use of Australia's oceans,' Mr Burke said.
Imogen Zethoven, director of the Pew Foundation's Coral Sea campaign, said declaration of the park areas would be 'world-leading and historic'.
There were no changes to the boundaries, despite consultation with the fishing industry and its objection to some of the areas under the zoning and despite the wishes of green groups that tighter limits be put on oil and gas exploration and that the Coral Sea marine zone be extended further.
Fishing industry groups have questioned the science of marine reserves and the federal opposition has sought to challenge the power of Mr Burke to make the decision.
Queensland Senator Ron Boswell said: 'It's very significant and very damaging to the professional fishing industry and also the amateur fishing industry.'
He says coastal communities right round Australia will be hurt financially by the federal government’s soon-to-be-declared marine reserves – but will receive no compensation until some time after the next election.
'This is a cynical ploy. The Labor government can claim credit with its green mates immediately but put off paying compensation,' Senator Boswell said today. 'For fishing communities, it will mean pain and suffering right now but no compensation payments until some time later, probably at least 18 months they expect. On current polling, Labor won’t even be in power then.
'It is a typical of a government dependent on Green preferences and pandering to the international environment movement but with no real concern for hard-working communities in regional Australia.
'On the government’s own estimate, $100 million will be needed just to compensate fishers alone, and they have not even considered the harm that will be done to related businesses also affected by Labor’s planned fishing bans.'
The Commonwealth Fisheries Association called for a 'proper socioeconomic impact assessment' to be undertaken before the parks were declared. According to its figures, 77% of fisheries operating in commonwealth waters would be displaced to some extent while 100 regional communities would be directly impacted upon, and no provision had been made for future food production.
Mr Burke is yet to outline how the government will allocate about $100m in fisheries adjustment assistance to support creation of the network of reserves.
A process to develop the management plans for the new reserves, which cover six areas of commonwealth waters between three and 200 nautical miles offshore, will begin immediately.