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Sussan Ley and Terri Butler

Politics with Michelle Grattan: Sussan Ley and Terri Butler on the Great Barrier Reef being ‘in danger’

Sussan Ley and Terri Butler on the Great Barrier Reef being ‘in danger’

The government’s response to the UNESCO recommendation that the Great Barrier Reef be listed as “in danger” was one of surprise and shock.

The recommendation will be considered at UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee meeting next month.

While the proposal calls attention to the need to address the effect of climate change and other factors which are degrading the reef, the government alleges it’s part of wider global politics.


Read more: Australian government was 'blindsided' by UN recommendation to list Great Barrier Reef as in-danger. But it's no great surprise


Environment Minister Sussan Ley is adamant UNESCO’s recommendation represents “international politics at play” which have “subverted the normal and proper process.”

In the background, the government points to China – which chairs the World heritage Committee – but Ley treads carefully.

“Others can make judgements about what those international politics are…”

“If the politicisation of a process that we have constructively contributed to for over 40 years is now going to be the norm, the points that I will make with the 21 member countries [on the committee] and others who might influence them is that this is the moment to reflect on what the World Heritage Committee is all about and consider the risk to your own properties.

"Because if the entire system is politicised, then we aren’t going to be acting in the interests of the natural heritage values of these places.”

Her opposition “shadow” Terri Butler wouldn’t speculate on what might be underlying the decision but “Australians would be very disappointed if they thought there was anything behind the decision other than concern for the reef.”

“What’s important here is for people to be able to have confidence in UNESCO in this decision making process.”

Butler says heading off the listing is important not just to avoid discouraging tourists from overseas but also for Australia’s image on the global stage.

“It’s really important [the government] demonstrate to the world they’re serious about protecting the reef, preserving it for future generations. And if they do that, they should also be in a position to fight really hard to avoid this particular listing.

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Additional audio

A List of Ways to Die, Lee Rosevere, from Free Music Archive.

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