Federal election blog: the sleeper issue of the campaign

Published: 15th April 2019

Every now and then, the media hits upon something that moves people outside of the daily political narrative dominated by the major parties.  The pundits call these “sleeper” issues. That is, issues that don’t get much attention in the hour-by-hour arm wrestle that is modern political campaigning but matter to voters all the same.

The Great Barrier Reef is a sleeper issue in this campaign

Reports about how much the Reef is under stress have been a regular feature of news bulletins and newspaper headlines for the past decade. However, the solutions as to what to do about relieving that stress have often fallen victim to the political argy-bargy over climate change policy.

Whether climate change is man-made or not is an argument fraught with uncertainty and political battle lines. But what is certain is that the Reef is suffering. And, as with other climate related impacts, the level of government that is most aware of the daily changes occurring on the Reef as a result of this stress is local government.

Hear from Whitsundays Regional Council Mayor Andrew Willcox, about why the Reef should be a key issue this Federal election. 


The Great Barrier Reef contributes $6.4 billion every year to the national economy. For regions like Douglas Shire, the Reef, combined with the Daintree National Park, generates 80 percent of all economic activity.  It is a $60 Billion asset and it needs to be maintained with the same care as we would with any other infrastructure of that value.

The councils within the Reef’s catchment collectively invest about $230 million a year in protecting and managing the values of the Reef through coastal and waterway protection and rehabilitation, land use planning initiatives, stormwater management, sewerage treatment upgrades and community education and awareness. But it is not enough.

The Reef Guardian councils are among the principal organisations working to protect this most iconic of Australia’s natural assets. They meet regularly to discuss the latest proposed policy, strategic responses and stress the importance of working collaboratively to protect the Reef’s future.

They do this by contributing to the policies and actions being undertaken through the Reef 2050 Plan.

Given all this and the importance of the Great Barrier Reef to job creation and business investment, local government’s ask of $57 million in federal funds over seven years to help councils protect the Reef is modest to say the least. And councils have practical solutions that will make a real difference.

It’s a sleeper issue all right, but not one that is going to cost the Earth. Unless we ignore it.