The Greens’ proposal to protect the Coral Sea from oil and gas mining is the most “irresponsible, reckless and uninformed” policy of the election campaign, the coalition fisheries spokesman says.
The sea off Australia’s northeastern coast is three times the size of its neighbour, the Great Barrier Reef, and home to coral reefs and thriving fish populations, turtles, reef sharks and whales.
Australian Greens Leader Bob Brown said only one per cent of the Coral Sea was protected, leaving the remainder at risk of destructive activities such as overfishing and oil and gas extraction.
He called for a Coral Sea Marine Reserve and for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to be extended to manage it.
“Oil and gas mining in the Coral Sea would put the Great Barrier Reef at risk of a major spill, as we have seen in the Gulf of Mexico,” Senator Brown told reporters in Brisbane on Tuesday.
He said under the plan, oil and gas extraction would be banned and recreational game fishing limited to the western region (near Cairns) of the one million square kilometre park.
“We know the Great Barrier Reef has a $6 billion ticket attached to it each year for business in Queensland – 63,000 jobs,” he said.
“The Coral Sea is the perfect complement to make it an even richer natural heirloom for jobs and prosperity in Queensland in the decades and centuries to come.”
But coalition fisheries spokesman Senator Richard Colbeck said the move would be a disaster for Queensland’s fishing communities.
“Thousands of hard working fishers, small business operators and their employees would be forced to join the dole queue, while the healthy lifestyles of millions of recreational fishing families would be severely impacted upon,” he said.
Senator Colbeck said the policy was the worst of the campaign.
The coalition would only establish marine parks in consultation with the recreational and commercial fishing sectors and with peer reviewed scientific assessment, he said.
Conservation group WWF says more than 80 per cent of Queenslanders surveyed said their vote would be influenced by policies that protect the nation’s oceans.
The results were part of nationwide research conducted by Auspoll for WWF and the Australian Conservation Council.
Both groups are calling on the next Australian government to create a network of marine sanctuaries by 2012.