Finding Nemo will be much harder if we mine the reef
I’ve been told that some people don’t associate the Greens with money, people or facts. So I’m starting this piece on the Great Barrier Reef with some facts about money and people:
5.1 billion dollars. This is how much Great Barrier Reef tourism contributes to the Australian economy every year.
54,000. That’s how many people are employed full-time in Great Barrier Reef industries, mostly tourism.
3 million. That’s the number of visitors who come to see this World Heritage icon every year, about 2.1 million domestic and nearly 900,000 international visitors to gateway towns.
5 billion dollars. This is the Government’s estimated value of the “ecosystem services” the Reef provides every year – cleaner air, cleaner water. And we get it for free.
Extraordinary, isn’t it? And this awesome economic powerhouse is just sitting on the doorstep of Queensland. Here are some more Great Barrier Reef numbers, which you might find extraordinary for different reasons:
Six. The number of weeks Tony Burke was Environment Minister before he approved two major coal seam gas plants within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. This is also the number of huge port developments planned for Queensland’s coast, shipping mass exports of fossil fuels out through the Great Barrier Reef.
112 million. The number of cubic metres of seabed that are currently planned to be dredged out of the Great Barrier Reef, or 65 Melbourne Cricket Grounds, with likely more to come.
22 million. The number of cubic metres of that dredge spoil that has already been approved to be dumped back in the World Heritage Area.
11,777. The Government’s incomplete estimate of increased shipping movements from the expanded Queensland coal and gas ports. This is already a three-fold increase on current ship movements, meaning more than one ship through the Great Barrier Reef per hour.
26. The number of times United Nations officials said “It’s a World Heritage Area, what the hell are you thinking?!” to the Labor Government behind closed doors.
All right, so that last number is just a guess. When the United Nations expressed themselves publicly about the Government’s plan to turn the Great Barrier Reef into a coal and gas superhighway, they went with the more diplomatic phrase “extreme concern”.
As you can see, these numbers can’t add up. With complete disregard to the existing Reef industries, Labor’s planned fossil fuel export expansion is risking damage to the Great Barrier Reef on an unprecedented scale, and the Coalition has every intention of continuing that.
Just imagine the size of the Melbourne Cricket Ground at grand final time, with 100,000 screaming fans, two aggravated and sweaty football teams, Delta singing at half time and all the air in between. Now imagine this being dug out of the Great Barrier Reef, not once, but 65 times over. That’s why the Reef is in deep trouble.
Of course, the numbers that are missing are the potential profits and jobs to be made from the boom in fossil fuel exports out of Queensland. By any account, the revenue is likely to be well into the billions of dollars. So it’s worth noting a few things about these benefits:
Firstly, around 83 per cent of that money is going to foreign investors. Because that’s just what mining profits do. In contrast, most of the six billion dollars from Great Barrier Reef tourism, earned by small business operators, flows straight back into our local economies.
Secondly, the mining industry is still fighting tooth and nail to avoid paying fair taxes on the super profits they make from these minerals which belong to all of us. Twiggy Forrest recently bragged that he might pay no MRRT taxes at all.
Thirdly, there will be more mining jobs to support increased fossil fuel exports. But these jobs won’t be created out of thin air: they will be sucked from other industries. As Treasury officials explained in February, there really isn’t job creation when the economy is close to full employment.
(So every time you see headlines like “Coal Seam Gas creates another 200 jobs!”, you can read instead “Coal Seam Gas sucks another 200 workers away from industries already doing it tough because of the two-speed economy they helped create.” Not quite as catchy.)
And here’s the real kicker: all of these profits and jobs are finite. Not even the most fervent devotee of the mining boom can claim that it’s an indefinite joyride: once we’ve dug up these resources and refined them, burnt them or shipped them overseas, they’re gone. Just like the Great Barrier Reef.
But if we save the Reef from the export boom, it can continue to support the original Reef economies which are sustainable: as long as there are people and a Great Barrier Reef, there will be never-ending stream of tourists coming to marvel at this natural wonder of the world.
But I can hear the detractors already – the economy isn’t the only issue on the real Greens agenda! The Greens want to save the Reef because they care about whales and coral! The Greens want to slow down the mining boom and phase out of fossil fuels because of climate change and Clive Palmer!
Yes to all of that. But I have an equally important reason to save the Great Barrier Reef – I have a three year old daughter.
Every parent with a small child knows the torment we’re going through - we live, eat, sleep and breathe Finding Nemo. I can recite the entire script, do the funny voices, and flinch at the sight of anything with stripes.
And I dread the day might come when I have to tell my kid that Nemo, Bruce or Dory is dead. Forever. Because, incredibly, scientists have said that one in six Finding Nemo characters are facing extinction.
So jump on board, whatever your politics, and join the thousands of Australians who are telling the Government to stop destroying the Great Barrier Reef. Do it for the economy, not just now but into the future. Do it for the jobs that won’t disappear when the mining boom does. Do it for small towns, for the whales, for the tourists.
And if none of these reasons move you, do it to avoid the fury and heartbreak from our kids the world over, when we confess we sold out Nemo for coal and coal seam gas.
Surely that’s a cause we can all agree is worthy.
Senator Larissa Waters is the Australian Greens Senator for Queensland, and the spokesperson for the Great Barrier Reef.
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