Senate inquiry into Great Barrier Reef seen as attempt to discredit Queensland laws | Great Barrier Reef
The Senate has approved a Liberal-backed inquiry into whether agriculture and poor water quality are harming the Great Barrier Reef, interpreted as an attempt to debate controversial scientist Peter Ridd’s claims and discredit the laws of Queensland to protect the reef.
Greens and marine conservationists have warned that the inquiry – due to be reported in October 2020 – will be used by Queensland’s Liberal National Party to attack the state’s Labor government, which is seeking to change land management and will be re-elected the same month.
Ridd – who became a Tory martyr when he was sacked by James Cook University – took part in a speaking tour backed by sugar cane industry officials campaigning against new EU regulations State claiming that pollution of agricultural land does not significantly damage the Great Barrier Reef.
A panel led by former chief scientist Ian Chubb has warned that Ridd is misrepresenting sound science about the fate of the natural wonder and likened his claims to the strategy used by the tobacco industry to cast doubt on the impact of smoking.
On Monday, National Sen. Susan McDonald and Liberal Sen. James McGrath gave notice of a motion to initiate an inquiry into existing evidence regarding the impact of agricultural runoff on reef health and existing and proposed regulations.
McDonald was to address the media alongside Ridd, the Green Shirt Movement coordinator Martin Bella and a delegation of regional landowners just hours before the Senate’s vote on the inquiry on Tuesday, an event that was later canceled due to a supposed scheduling conflict.
During Question Time in the Senate, Prime Minister Mathias Cormann said the Coalition was “absolutely committed to the health of the Great Barrier Reef” and supported the proposed inquiry as “an opportunity to make better to protect the Great Barrier Reef in the future”. .
After Question Time, the Senate voted 33 to 30 in favor of establishing the inquiry, with One Nation and Senator Rex Patrick of the Center Alliance voting with the Coalition.
Patrick told Guardian Australia he had concluded the terms of the inquiry were neutral, so he defaulted to the party’s general position of voting for all inquiries “unless [they are] politically charged.
“The outcome of the investigation will fall according to the evidence,” he said.
Imogen Zethoven, director of strategy at the Australian Marine Conservation Society, said the survey was “entirely political”, suggesting it was “inspired by Peter Ridd throughout” and timed to coincide with the debate over the environmental regulations in Queensland.
She said the survey was “a waste of time” because the science was “rock solid”. “It gives the LNP a platform on which to campaign until October.  … it will be a political tour along the entire coast.
Greens Senator Larissa Waters said the LNP would campaign ‘to win the national election by blaming Labor for trying to protect the reef’.
“After years of the government denying climate science and saying water quality not climate is the biggest threat to the reef, now it [has set up] an investigation to find out if the water quality is really an issue for the reef,” she said.
“This government is at war with science and the reef will suffer.”
McDonald dismissed suggestions that the motion was an attack on science, explaining that the inquiry was “simply investigating the evidence used by the Queensland Labor Government to advance what is clearly a disturbing anti-farm agenda”.
“After years of not being heard in Brisbane, farmers have come to the federal government in desperation,” she said.
“There are many people on the ground upset by Labour’s claim that they are environmental vandals, and I hope we can find out why this has become official public policy.”
The Queensland government has introduced a bill to limit the amount of nutrients, sediment and pesticides that flow from farms, sewage works and mines into the reef.
It would set limits for land-based agricultural and industrial operations to limit runoff into watersheds in the Cape York, Wet Tropics, Burdekin, Mackay Whitsunday, Fitzroy and Burnett Mary areas.
On Tuesday, Queensland Environment Minister Leanne Enoch agreed to a request from a group of government MPs that if the proposed changes were passed, they would remain in place for five years before any other substantial changes were made.
Mackay MP Julieanne Gilbert and three Townsville MPs, Scott Stewart, Coralee O’Rourke and Aaron Harper, have sought and won a five-year freeze on any further regulatory changes if the legislation is passed this week.
They said the reef and the state’s agricultural sector were important to Queensland, but an approach that fostered both was needed.