Thank you Dawn for the introduction and thank you Richard Walley for your beautiful welcome to country.
I acknowledge the Hon Kim Beazley, his wife Suzie, Dr Han Seung-Soo – the former Prime Minister of South Korea and your Excellency I look forward to seeing you in South Korea in about 10 days’ time for further dialogue on the Korean Peninsula crisis, thank you for being here today. Other parliamentary colleagues Senator Linda Reynolds, I know Senator Wong will be here later and of course Premier Mark McGowan, special guests, all. It is a pleasure to welcome the thalassophiles here today, those who love our ocean, speakers and delegates from Australia and abroad, to Perth my home town, and Australia’s Indian Ocean capital city.
I congratulate the Perth USAsia Centre and Professor Gordon Flake for this event and as Dawn said, since 2009, the University of Western Australia’s ‘In the Zone’ conference has played an essential role in attracting the best minds from across the Indo-Pacific region to develop innovative and creative approaches to challenges and opportunities in our region.
This year the conference is turning its focus to the Blue Zone – the vast potential of our oceans and marine environments.
Let’s put this in context. This year alone, the Blue Economy, that is our use of the seas and oceans for sustainable economic development, is estimated to contribute up to 3 per cent to the world’s gross domestic product – or around 3 trillion dollars. It provides a primary source of protein to 13 per cent of the global population. It directly employs about 350 million people in fishing, aquaculture, tourism, research and the like.
Australia is undoubtedly a maritime nation: the largest island in the world, a continent in fact, with over 80 per cent of our population living within 50 kilometres of our vast coastline. Our Exclusive Economic Zone – our EEZ – is the third largest in the world, spanning three oceans. From the Salmon farms of Tasmania to the lustrous pearls of Broome and the massive offshore oil and gas rigs to our North West – maritime industries contribute almost five per cent to Australia’s annual GDP.
By 2025, with continued strong growth in aquaculture and offshore exploration in particular, the economic contribution of Australia’s marine industries is forecast to grow to around $100 billion a year. This is double the growth rate of the broader economy.
Australia already has the largest network of marine protected areas in the world – stretching from our tropical north to the Southern Ocean. However, our oceans and those across the globe, are under immense pressure, facing threats from over fishing, from climate change, from pollution. For too long the world’s oceans have been harvested unsustainably and the fragility of the ecosystems ignored. The oceans are global public goods that demand global cooperation and action. More than ever its imperative that we work together to promote the sustainable use of ocean resources.
Australia is taking a leadership role in the global response to managing the world’s oceans. In fact I took the opportunity during the UN General Assembly leaders week in New York just 10 days ago to speak at the United Nations Secretary General’s launch of a Climate Advocacy Leaders Group about our work on sustaining oceans and coral reefs in particular.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14 – known as the ‘oceans goal’ provides a focal point for global cooperation on oceans. Australia was key to the United Nations decision to include Oceans as a stand-alone Sustainable Development Goal, which commits United Nations members to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.
The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS, provides the underlying framework for cooperation across sea borders. As states parties reaffirm every year in the ‘Oceans and Law of the Sea’ resolution in the UN General Assembly, ‘the Convention sets out the legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out’.
Although its implementation is ongoing, UNCLOS provides us with a place to start building legal frameworks for ocean and sea activities. UNCLOS compels countries to cooperate to conserve the living resources of the high seas and to protect and preserve the marine environment. It also guarantees navigation rights, which are vital to Australia’s interests, as an export-orientated trading nation.
The 1995 Fish Stocks Agreement – an implementing agreement under UNCLOS – sought to respond to the challenges of managing migratory fish stocks.
This work continues today - Australia strongly supports efforts to develop an agreement under UNCLOS to address the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.
Australia has been one of the primary drivers of efforts to address this challenge from the very beginning. We are now working in partnership with our Pacific neighbours to help them implement UNCLOS – principally as it relates to maritime boundary delimitation.
Of course, there’s been an UNCLOS arbitration over the South China Sea which clarified what gives rise to maritime rights and Australia and Timor-Leste have recently successfully completed and UNCLOS conciliation over maritime boundaries.
By the end of this year, it’s our hope that at least two-thirds of Pacific Island Countries will have concluded negotiations for their maritime boundaries – giving them the certainty of access and security that is so fundamental to recognising the potential of the Blue Economy.
Each year, illegal fishing takes almost $600 million from our region, threatening livelihoods in vulnerable economies right on our doorstep. Providing the security of jurisdiction helps ensure these economic stocks can be sustainably used for generations to come.
To our west, we are working in close partnership with our neighbours in the Indian Ocean Rim Association - IORA. It was first formed in 1997 to foster regional economic cooperation. IORA now has 21 member states and it has evolved into a peak regional group at ministerial level that covers Indian Ocean issues. I hosted the IORA ministerial meeting in Perth in 2013 and at that time we committed to the first ever ministerial declaration to conserving and sustainably using the Indian Ocean and its resources known as the Perth Principles.
During Australia’s term chairing IORA from 2013 to 2015 I also introduced the Blue Economy as a cross-cutting IORA priority. IORA members have overwhelmingly embraced the blue economy as the central focus for our collective effort. In 2015 and 2017, IORA held ministerial blue economy conferences to guide priorities and decisions.
The Blue Economy is now a critical component of our Action Plan for the next four years, endorsed at the IORA Leaders’ Summit in March. By the way, the membership of IORA comprises countries who’s shores touch the Indian Ocean. It’s a very diverse group including Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Mauritius, Madagascar, Kenya, South Africa, Iran, Oman, the UAE, Yemen. It makes for very challenging dialogue given the diversity of our outlooks on so many issues but I can tell you there is significant consensus when it comes to the sustainable use of the Indian Ocean.
For our part, Australia has invested over $4 million since 2014 in activities that contribute directly to blue economy growth, trade and investment in the Indian Ocean region.
For example, in 2015 and 2016, we have worked with India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka to enhance the skills, mobility and productivity of port workers in the Indian Ocean region. To achieve this, we worked together to develop a common set of occupational standards for specific jobs in the ports sector. This work paves the way for minimum region-wide standards.
Through our founding membership of IORA we are continually looking ahead at new and emerging challenges for the Indian Ocean region as well as tackling the existing ones. Climate change threatens the sustainable economic growth of marine resources.
Our oceans are a significant long-term sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide and play an important role in controlling the rate at which carbon dioxide is increasing in the atmosphere. Blue carbon ecosystems, mangroves, tidal marshes and sea-grasses, contain more sequestered carbon per square metre than almost any other ecosystem.
The inverse is also true, as ocean health will rely on our capacity to mitigate the effects of climate change.
Coral reefs are a key early warning signal, a key one, of the impacts of climate change. Australia is the custodian of the largest coral reef structure in the world, the Great Barrier Reef; it’s about the size of Germany, or Italy, just off the coast of Queensland. We are committed to preserving and conserving and maintaining our Reef to the highest possible standard, indeed, world leading best practice and we’re investing to build the resistance of the Reef to safeguard its environmental, social, cultural and economic value. The Reef alone supports about 64,000 full time jobs and generates nearly $6.5 billion, mainly in tourism dollars.
The coral reef, the Great Barrier Reef, is under stress. In fact over the past three years, three quarters of the 29 World Heritage reefs globally have been subjected to the severe and, repeated heat stress that causes mass coral bleaching. I invited the foreign diplomats based in Canberra, our Ambassadors from countries overseas, to visit the reef earlier this year to inspect it and to enable me to demonstrate how Australia is playing its part in the collective global effort to protect coral reefs and combat climate change effects.
Overall, we are reducing emissions while ensuring sustained economic growth. Australia indeed met and exceeded our emissions reduction commitments under the first Kyoto Climate Change Agreement, and we are on track to do the same for our 2020 commitments.
Again, at UN General Assembly Leaders Week I attended the Major Economies event. It was hosted by the United States by Senior Economic Advisor Gary Cohn and the focus was on climate change. I spoke about our commitment to reducing our share of global emissions while we pursue an affordable and reliable energy security policy at home.
Our Paris Agreement commitments are ambitious, effectively representing a halving of emissions per person in Australia or a two-thirds reduction per unit of GDP.
We’ve a suite of policies in place to support our commitments, such as the Emissions Reduction Fund, which is driving abatement across the Australian economy.
Blue Carbon as an umbrella term means bringing together the vast carbon reserves captured in the world’s oceans and coastal ecosystems.
Australia is a leader in Blue Carbon management – including, for the first time this year, mangroves and tidal marshes in our National Greenhouse Gas Inventory.
With Indonesia we were a founding member, of the International Blue Carbon Partnership and this initiative aims to protect coastal Blue Carbon ecosystems by raising awareness, sharing best practice knowledge and stepping up practical conservation action.
In fact we established this partnership during the Paris Climate Change Conference in 2015 and it provides a vehicle for us to come together as a region and give voice to the ambitions expressed in the Paris agreement.
Building on this work, I’m very happy to announce today that the Australian Government will provide our peak scientific body –CSIRO – with almost half a million dollars to take forward Blue Carbon initiatives in the Indian Ocean region. As part of this program the CSIRO will convene a Blue Carbon symposium right here in Perth to bring together the best minds to share perspectives and agree forward priorities relevant to the Indian Ocean and will build on the work of this In the Zone conference.
The work will be complemented by Australia Awards Fellowships, our program, and we’ll be focussing on IORA members, the CSIRO is running these fellowships to build capacity on managing the Blue Economy, with a particular focus on Blue Carbon we will support 11 fellows from Madagascar, Seychelles and Mauritius with their research.
A very strong foundation of Blue Carbon science exists and many IORA member state research institutions have contributed to this work. Bringing these groups together, and establishing the professional networks that drive progress, is, I think, the missing link to scale up protection and restoration efforts.
Of course many of the leaders in this field are already assembled right here in Perth, at the Indian Ocean Marine Research Centre at the University of Western Australia. This centre brings together four of Australia’s leading research organisations working in and around the Indian Ocean - the Australian Institute of Marine Science, the CSIRO, the University of Western Australia’s Oceans Institute and the Western Australian Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development.
These sort of practical partnerships are essential to managing the opportunities of the Blue Economy.
Innovation is at the core of these efforts. For example, to help us understand and manage the response of coral reefs to a changing climate, a consortium of Australian organisations, including the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, Australian Institute of Marine Science, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and others has undertaken a world-first. It has sequenced an entire coral genome, including the coral animal and its associated symbiotic organisms. An entirely new species of coral was discovered through the process which has been funded by the Australian and Queensland governments and Rio Tinto.
This project has also developed a new method of sequencing coral genomes, fast tracking the process exponentially and setting the path for more corals around the world to be sequenced.
CSIRO, in partnership with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation and Rio Tinto has established the first large-scale observing system for ocean acidification on the Great Barrier Reef. This system is monitoring ocean chemistry along the entire length of the Reef, some 2300 kilometres, for the very first time. It is providing important insights into patterns that occur along the Reef and the effects of events such as flooding and recent bleaching events.
CSIRO has also been instrumental in the development of the first and largest water information system of its kind in the world, we call it ‘e-Reefs’, which has been developed through a $32 million partnership between CSIRO, Great Barrier Reef Foundation, Bureau of Meteorology, Australian Institute of Marine Science and the Queensland Government.
So this is another great example of the public and private sectors working together in partnership for the common good as this e-Reefs was supported by funding from the Australian and Queensland governments, BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance and from the Science Industry Endowment Fun – this was a fund established back in 1926 it is a mechanism for endowments for scientific research.
Applying innovations in remote sensing, e-Reefs is transforming management of the Great Barrier Reef and laying the foundations for future coastal information systems across Australia.
Importantly, these are innovations addressing challenges common not just to Australia’s coral reefs, and that of course includes Ningaloo Reef here in Western Australia, but to reefs around the world and I can’t emphasise enough coral reefs are critically important ecosystems.
They support 25% of all marine life and some estimate that they have a global value of $10 trillion based on their contribution to tourism, food security, recreation and protection from storms and they do sequest at four times the carbon that our forests do.
To drive international action on the threats facing the world’s coral reefs, I am establishing a Coral Reef Innovation Facility. This $5 million Facility will help find, incubate, and accelerate solutions to coral reef management challenges common to developing countries. It will seek to harness the deep Australian expertise on coral reefs that is driving the innovations I have mentioned today.
We will also commit $2 million to improve sharing of knowledge, experience and innovation between countries though the International Coral Reef Initiative, which we helped establish more than two decades ago.
In 2015 I established within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade an ideas hub, we call it the innovationXchange. We bring together public and private thinkers, innovators from across Australia, from around the world, entrepreneurs. We give them a development challenge and they come up with the best, most efficient solutions that we can then test, pilot, scale up for our aid program. The InnovationXchange has already convened a global challenge on how to rethink aquaculture to help discover solutions for sustainable development, and environmental sustainability. The Australian Government committed $3 million dollars to pilot or scale up the answers and the ideas that have come forward from around the globe could be game-changers.
I’m delighted that two of the Blue Economy Challenge winners are present today: Bonnie Hobbs, from EnerGaia; and Sharon Suri, from WorldFish.
EnerGaia has devised an ingenious method of farming Spirulina, a protein rich seaweed, in virtually any free space. Their method involves modular, one meter tall containers which can be set up on an urban rooftop, as the team has done on top of the Novotel in Bangkok, or in a system of 1,000 containers at their pilot site in Madurai, India. With support from innovationXchange they are taking this technology to communities throughout the Indo Pacific.
The partnership between WorldFish and CSIRO is another great example of innovation at work in the Blue Economy. An aquafeed made from plant wastes – developed by CSIRO – is being made available to small holder farmers in the WorldFish network across the Indo Pacific. This is bringing commercial quality technology to local farmers, with the potential to significantly increase productivity in shrimp and fish production.
Later today, both of our winners will be speaking about the role of innovation in sustainable aquaculture – and I encourage you to listen to their stories.
Australia is ensuring that we are committed to the Blue Economy.
The ‘Blue Zone’ is a sustainable asset for the planet. Oceans have always been critical to Australia’s prosperity. Yes, we’ve broken a world record this year, we’re entering our 26th consecutive year of unbroken economic growth but that can’t be taken for granted. We place great importance on our marine resources to drive growth and on maintaining the balance between economic potential and sustainability.
Through international and regional collaboration, we are taking a leading and innovative role in the response to the pressures our oceans are facing.
So ladies and gentlemen, I commend this event to you as we bring forward our ideas for better cooperation to make the most of the Blue Zone, for the benefit of all. Enjoy this conference.
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