Abbott promises $100m for the Great Barrier Reef

Sharon Smallwood

UPDATE: AUSTRALIA'S Prime Minister Tony Abbott Is serious about protecting the Great Barrier Reef if his words today on Hamilton Island are to be believed.

Mr Abbott flew into the Whitsundays shortly after 1pm to finally release the 2050 Reef plan - a plan developed in conjunction with the Queensland Government to oversee the management of the Great Barrier Reef for the next 35 years.

Background: Australia failing in "stewardship" of Great Barrier Reef

Flanked by Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt on the one hand and the Queensland Labor Government's newly appointed minister for the Great Barrier Reef, Steven Miles, on the other, Mr Abbott's comments were meant not just for the ears of Australians - he and his fellow politicians were speaking to the world.

They are all hoping their joint commitment to ban the dumping of dredge spoil in the entire World Heritage area of the marine park, limit port expansion to just four sites and reduce the levels of pesticides, sedimentation and nitrogen run-off into the reef's waters, will save it from UNESCO's endangered list this June.

Further to the 2050 plan, Mr Abbott promised an additional $100 million of Commonwealth money for the Reef Trust, a program through which landholders will able to work with governments to ensure the quality of water running into the Barrier Reef is as good as it can possibly be.

Crime: Mackay skipper guilty of fishing in prohibited green zone

L-R State Minister for Environment Dr Steven Miles, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and Federal Minister for Environment Greg Hunt.
L-R State Minister for Environment Dr Steven Miles, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and Federal Minister for Environment Greg Hunt. Sharon Smallwood

Under the plan, a 50 per cent reduction in nitrogen run-off is to be achieved by 2018, with an 80 per cent reduction by 2025.

The big 'elephant in the room' in terms of criticism of the plan is still the allowance of so-called sustainable development at ports such as Abbot Point and of course climate change.

With regard to the former Mr Abbott said he believed economic development and a better environment could go "hand in hand" and as for the latter, he insisted Australia was on track to not only meet but exceed its emissions targets.

Mr Hunt said the 2050 Reef Plan dealt with climate change through "mitigation and adapton" and Mr Abbott reiterated his old war cry that it would do so "without an economically destructive carbon tax".

Ultimately Mr Abbott said he believed "at the highest level… Australia is telling the international agencies that we are utterly committed as an entire nation to the protection of the Great Barrier Reef, which is one of the natural wonders of the world".

He and Mr Hunt said there was no contingency plan for not meeting UNESCO's requirements as they didn't intend to fail. 

Earlier: Prime Minister Tony Abbott has just landed on Hamilton Island for the highly anticipated announcement of the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan.

An initiative of both the Australian and Queensland governments, the plan has been described as the overarching framework for protecting and managing the Great Barrier Reef from now until 2050.

In instigating the plan Mr Abbott and Queensland's new minister for the Great Barrier Reef Steven Miles are satisfying one of the key recommendations of the world heritage committee and are hopefully coming a step closer to persuading UNESCO not to list the reef on its endangered list in June.

A draft version of the plan met with criticism from some sectors of the scientific community who called it a plan for sustainable development rather than one that put the protection and conservation of the reef first.

This is also the view of several environment groups who continue to fight against the expansion of ports such as Abbot Point, only a short distance away from where today's announcement is about to be made.

As Mr Abbott was leaving Canberra today, representatives from the Whitsunday branches of groups such as the Australian Marine Conservation Society were already arriving on Hamilton Island in the hopes of having their voices heard.

Security around the Prime Minister's arrival has been expectedly tight and it is likely he will be on and off the island before they or any of the holidaying general public have caught more than a glimpse of a Whitsunday version of a diplomatic car.

Topics:  abbot point george christensen great barrier reef greg hunt prime minister steven miles tony abbott

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