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Abbott promises $100m for the Great Barrier Reef

By Mark Beale

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.

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.

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