Twice this week I have been employed as a driver for the ADS tour groups; the one with a “zidai” tour leader; a non-Australia based tour leader/guide who is an employee of the tour agency in China. These guides typically travel with the group for the duration of their tour, meeting at the airport in China, sharing a hotel room with one of the guests and tightly controls where their customers go. Being a driver for these groups is among the easiest of the jobs I’ll do over the course of a month and usually involve long periods of sitting around waiting for people and being told by the guide 3 or 4 times when I first meet them “please don’t drive past any shops… take the long way around places, tell them there are no shops in Cairns.. locals all have to leave town to buy anything”. I have more than enough “zidai” stories to start a whole other blog but this week I was asked questions by their customers twice(!).. namely asking me for a date when the Great Barrier Reef is going to be closed. The whole reef. Closed to the public for a period of around 50 years apparently, starting any week now. According to their tour leader… (who else?) as a result of pollution occurring from tourism, the Australian government has decided to close access to the Reef for all tourists. Now, while this idea may seem beyond ridiculous to anyone who lives in Queensland, to a foreigner with limited English who lives in a country where the state has absolute and almost limitless power this may seem more plausible. As a result, I have written this, in Chinese and English, to list the reasons as to exactly why that can only be a (poorly thought out) lie.
1. Tourism on the Reef is not a significant cause of pollution.
The Great Barrier Reef is a protected area around 2000+ square kilometres large. Plainly speaking, the numbers of boats filled with people going snorkelling isn’t going to impact upon such a large area. Add to that the fact there are so many rules and regulations at the moment including boats not being able to dump anything anywhere and tourism, bar maybe a couple of swimmers losing their snorkel, has little to no impact on the health of the reef.
2. Tourism on the reef is absolutely vital to certain areas in Queensland.
Cairns, Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays are just 3 areas in Queensland whose economies would be devastated by even a small rule change. Unemployment would go through the roof with the lay-offs of people of not just those who work on boats but the surrounding economies. Property prices would crash in those areas with real possibilities of that crash being felt elsewhere in the country including Townsville and even Brisbane and Sydney.
3. Mining is a much bigger problem for the environment… and that is being approved faster than ever
Approvals for new mines, probably a much better indicator of the Governments willingness to sacrifice the economy for the environment, is not slowing down at all. The Federal and State Governments have just recently approved the biggest coal mine yet in Australia off the Queensland coast; off the Great Barrier Reef. Scientists are in agreement this will have a significant impact on the health of the reef, a much larger impact than taking tourists swimming.
4. The Australian Government isn’t that strong.
Whatever political party that is in power in Australia at a Federal or State level ultimately wants to be re-elected to another term. Such major decisions would have to have broad public support for the Government to even consider such a move. That any Australian would allow this to happen is unlikely.