NSW Labor's Marine Conservation Policy: Address to the Nature Conservation Council's Annual Conference 1/11/14


The Nature Conservation Council has played a central role in the New South Wales environment movement for over half a century. And you honour me with the invitation to address you today.

Over the next five months NSW Labor will release a suite of policies that respond to the contemporary environmental challenges that our state faces.


Rather than pay lip service to a long list of environmental issues in one short speech today, I will instead focus on one major challenge confronting us all, and unveil State Labor’s policy response to that challenge.

I want to speak about our marine environment.

The world’s oceans have changed more in the last 30 years than in all of prior human history.

Marine ecosystems worldwide face a perfect storm of threats – ocean acidification, pollution, oil spills, algal blooms, plastics and overfishing.

The world’s oceans have lost 75 per cent of their megafauna – large creatures such as whales, dolphins, sharks, rays and turtles. And worldwide fish populations are also in crisis.

There is a strong consensus among scientists that marine protected areas provide critical protection for our ocean life.

Such protection can also underpin fisheries management, boost regional economies, address climate change and maintain our beach and oceans lifestyle, while allowing a range of uses that include diving, sailing, ecotourism, scientific research and education.

NSW Labor has an outstanding marine conservation record, creating a network of six multiple use marine parks, covering around one third (345 000 hectares) of the NSW marine estate, between 1998 and 2006.

In addition, the NSW national parks estate, built by successive Labor governments, includes a further 20 000 hectares of estuarine and oceanic habitats.

Labor, when last in office, also:

  • • established six aquatic reserves in Sydney waters,
  • • banned jet skis from Sydney Harbour,
  • • ended commercial fishing in Sydney Harbour, and
  • • left this State with strong laws to protect and conserve whales, dolphins and all our marine mammals.

Today I announce NSW Labor’s comprehensive Marine Conservation Policy for the 2015 state election, a 6 Point Plan to protect our oceans, waterways and marine life.

You will have heard that a future NSW Labor Government will complete the task of building a world class network of marine parks by delivering the missing link – a Sydney Marine Park, extending from Pittwater to Port Hacking (see map attached below).

Let me share some detail with you.

It will include Sydney Harbour, Parramatta and Lane Cove Rivers, Middle Harbour, Pittwater, Narrabeen Lakes, Dee Why Lagoon, Botany Bay, Port Hacking and all their creeks and tributaries, and extend three nautical miles off the coast to the limit of state waters.

Of the major city ports around the world, Sydney’s is the most biologically diverse. Almost triple the number of fish species have been recorded from Sydney Harbour than from the entire coast of the United Kingdom.

In total an astonishing 3000 marine species have been documented in Sydney Harbour, including:

  • • 586 species of fish;
  • • 672 species of crustaceans, including the blue swimmer, mud crab, eastern rock lobster and
  • school prawn;
  • • 118 species of echinoderms, including sea urchins, sea stars and sea cucumbers;
  • • 1339 species of molluscs, including squids and octopuses, slugs and snails, mussels and
  • clams;
  • • over 300 species of polychaetes, or marine worms.

We have an obligation to protect and care for Sydney’s remarkable Harbour and coastal environment. The marine park will incorporate the ten existing aquatic reserves in Sydney waters, all of which were established by Labor governments to protect marine life.

The Sydney Marine Park will be multiple use, protecting marine habitats and species while catering for a wide range of sustainable activities. Visitors to Sydney and local residents will be able to enjoy activities including fishing, boating, dolphin and whale watching, swimming, snorkelling, kayakingand other water sports.

We will establish an advisory committee for the Sydney marine park, drawing representatives from:

(a) marine conservation,

(b) marine science,

(c) Aboriginal people,

(d) Surf Life Saving Clubs,

(e) the tourism industry,

(f) recreational fishers,

(g) scuba divers,

(h) commercial fishers, and

(i) local councils.

The Advisory Committee will consult widely in preparing a zoning plan for the marine park, including a call for public submissions. The draft zoning plan will be delivered to government within twelve months of the declaration of the marine park. The draft zoning plan will then be put out for further public consultation, including public meetings, before a final zoning plan is adopted.

The creation of a Sydney Marine Park will complete the unfinished business of our marine park estate – a marine park for the Hawkesbury Shelf marine bioregion.

The Liberal – National Government’s moratorium on the creation of any new marine parks will be lifted, making it possible to deliver the jewel in the crown, a Sydney Marine Park.

Sanctuary zones in NSW will be returned to full protection under a Labor Government.

Marine sanctuary zones cover just under 7% of NSW waters, yet the Coalition Government has removed the internationally recognised fully-protected status of sanctuary zones – an unprecedented backward step in marine conservation internationally.

Hundreds of marine scientists have signed a statement calling for the reinstatement of protection levels for the state’s sanctuary zones.

Under a Labor Government, sanctuary zones will once again become areas within marine parks that provide a level of protection similar to national parks on land. They will again become areas where wildlife and habitats are protected.

Labor’s Marine Conservation Policy does not stop at the marine estate - recognising the need for conservation of islands, headlands and beaches with significant seabird presence.

There are many threats to our seabird populations, including longlining and netting of baitfish, dogs, foxes and 4 wheel drive vehicles.

In building the terrestrial reserve system, Labor will prioritise protection of breeding areas such as islands, headlands and sections of beaches where penguins, shearwaters, oystercatchers and plovers nest and raise their young.

I now turn to threatened species.

Only eight species of marine turtle remain in the world’s oceans, from a lineage that stretches back millions of years - to the age of the dinosaurs.

A Labor Government will ask the NSW Scientific Committee to make a determination on the possible addition of the hawksbill sea turtle to the State’s Threatened Species List, to give this rare and beautiful creature the protection it deserves.

In 2011, 88 hawksbill sea turtles were stranded in NSW. This was the worst year on record.

Hawksbill sea turtles are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as critically endangered, with fewer than 25,000 nesting per year worldwide.

Hawksbill sea turtles are harvested in the Solomon Islands and Fiji and sold onto the black market to supply the Japanese Bekko industry.

The beautiful shell of the hawksbill sea turtle is the sole source of commercial 'tortoise shell'. As a consequence they have been hunted to near extinction.

A Labor Government will immediately reinstate protections on the State's mid north coast for the Grey Nurse Shark, which were rescinded by the Coalition within weeks of coming to power.

One of the Liberal – National Government's first acts in office was to lift bans on high risk fishing methods on the State's mid-North Coast designed to protect the grey nurse shark.

Labor in office had introduced the ban on high risk fishing around Fish Rock and Green Island following extensive consultation with professional and recreational fishers.

These restrictions on the types of tackle that were allowed to be used on the mid north coast still allowed recreational fishing and were accompanied by measures to improve recreational fishing in the surrounding areas.

Labor's measures recognise the benefits recreational fishing brings. In fact, they actually enhance recreational fishing, while also introducing vital protection of the Grey Nurse Shark habitat.