Environment minister Steven Miles calls on federal government to fast-track extra $1.65m for agency tasked with protecting the reef
November 7, 2016 — Queensland’s environment minister has flagged concerns that the agency tasked with protecting the Great Barrier Reef is running as a “shell of its former self” amid the underfunding of a cornerstone program.
Steven Miles called on the federal government to fast-track an extra $1.65m for the main “on-water” management program for the reef, which had seen no increase to its funding since 2008.
This was despite the program, run by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, holding the key to almost a third of Australia’s 139-point action plan to conserve the threatened area, Miles said.
Australia is due next month to lodge a progress report on its conservation plan with Unesco, which last year spared the reef an “in danger” listing by its world heritage committee.
The Unesco ruling called on Australia last year to enact a long-term “investment framework” for reef conservation as “a matter of priority”.
Miles said he had outlined his frustration about the lack of urgent commonwealth funding commitments in a letter to the federal environment minister, Josh Frydenberg. He also wrote to his previous counterpart Greg Hunt five months ago.
He plans to confront Frydenberg over the funding issue at a meeting of the Great Barrier Reef standing committee of officials in Brisbane on Tuesday.
“There is widespread concern that the [reef filed management program], which supports more than 100 state and commonwealth positions, is being starved of funds and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is operating as a shell of its former self,” Miles said.
The Australian Marine Conservation Society reef campaigner, Shannon Hurley, said the eight-year freeze on funding increases for a key reef program was “a disgrace” and highlighted the “need for a properly independent Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority”.
The authority risked being left unable to deal with the challenges of coral bleaching, the impacts of climate change, poor water quality and industrialisation of the reef, Hurley said.
“[Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority] was established to be the reef’s guardian. It is disappointing that at a time when the natural icon is under extreme pressure, the authority is forced to face funding shortfalls,” she said.
“We think that GBRMPA has a critical role in protecting the Reef and keeping it off the world heritage ‘in danger’ list – but not without proper funding and proper independence.”
Miles said joint state and commonwealth funding for the program had remained at $17m a year since 2008, leaving an “unacceptable shortfall” of $3.3m after rising costs and wages.
The Queensland government has pledged an extra $1.65m to make up the shortfall but made that contingent on the commonwealth matching the funding.
Miles appealed to the federal government to immediately commit to the funding rather than wait for the findings of an internal review into the field management program due next year.
He said it was “the primary on-water program that conducts the day-to-day management of the reef to provide for best reef resilience, and is responsible for leading and supporting 39 of the 139 actions in the reef 2050 plan”.
“Given the increasing visitation to the reef, continuing challenges with climate change, and specifically considering the latest (unpublished) results of survey of the worst coral bleaching episode on record which has seen greater than 50% mortality of inshore and mid-shelf reefs in far northern tracts, and the international focus of our reef efforts, an appropriately resourced field management program has never been such an important and urgent aspect in our response,” Miles said.
Comment was sought from Frydenberg’s office.