Labor creates the world’s biggest marine reserves network

Yesterday, the Gillard Government announced a reform that will see Australia lead the world in marine protection.

Our final network of marine reserves, published by Environment Minister, Tony Burke, will cover more than a third of Commonwealth waters.

It will extend the type of protection we have given to parts of our land to our big, blue backyard.

Protecting our big, blue backyard...

Through these reserves, we are protecting parts of our ocean that would have been protected decades ago had they been on land.

The South West plan includes the Perth Canyon, which is Australia's largest ocean canyon - as large as the Grand Canyon.

The North West plan will protect the migration paths of humpback whales, as well as the habitats of whale sharks at Ningaloo Reef and turtles at Eighty Mile Beach.

These new reserves mean that Australia will now protect 3.1 million square kilometres of ocean, which is by far the largest representative network of marine protected areas in the world.

Congratulations to all the crew from the Save Our Marine Life campaign for championing the protection of our big, blue backyard! We couldn't have done it without you. It has built on a strong tradition of community marine campaigning in WA that has helped protect many of our important marine and coastal environmental assets.

... and protecting jobs!

In environmental policy, Labor has always been set apart by its willingness to make tough decisions, while also protecting Australian jobs.

That's why in protecting these areas, the Gillard Government is also committed to mitigating the impact on the fishing industry.

In fact, the reserves are estimated to displace approximately 1-2% of the annual value of wild catch fisheries production in Australia. We have also set aside roughly $100 million to build, with industry, a tailored package to support fishers where needed.

And we shouldn't forget that there is plenty of evidence that marine reserves increase fish stocks outside of their boundaries, which will ultimately benefit our fishing and tourism industries.

Tony Abbott - Mr Negative again!

Of course, Mr Abbott has nothing positive to say about this announcement.

Mr Abbott has said that he is "instinctively against" the plans, despite the Howard Government's unusually decent commitment to marine preservation.

As Dr Margi Prideaux wrote in Crikey back in 2010, "Even though marine conservation is probably the only positive point of contrast the Liberals have on the environment, Tony Abbott seems intent on throwing the legacy overboard."

That has certainly turned out to be true, and I don't think any of us are surprised. Tony Abbott is a man whose instinct is to tear down, rather than build up.

In the Labor tradition of reform

These plans will be an extraordinary addition to Labor's record of environmental protection and reform. They also show the depth of the Gillard Government's policy agenda.

In this term of government alone, we have put a price on carbon, passed legislation to spread the benefits of the mining boom and put the budget back into surplus.

On top of that, we are now delivering historic protections for our ocean - a reform that I know we will be thanked for by our grandchildren.

Best wishes