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The Cairns Post, 8 October 2009
Minister dives into Reef debate
By The Cairns Post
Thursday, 8 October 2009 — "AN old boat hardly comes close to 2900 reefs, 600 islands, 300 coral cays stretching 2300km along Queensland's pristine coast."
That was the verdict of Queensland Tourism Minister Peter Lawlor as he waded into the decidedly one-sided fight between Cairns and Geelong over which city offers the best diving experience.
Last week, Geelong welcomed the scuttling of the HMAS Canberra into the depths just outside Port Phillip Bay, proudly declaring it a new diving attraction that would be "better than the Great Barrier Reef".
Mr Lawlor said about one million people a year undertook nearly two million dives and snorkels on the Great Barrier Reef, contributing just under $3.6 billion to the Queensland economy in 2006-07.
"Can a single dive wreck be compared to one of the world’s great natural icons and a world heritage listed national park?" Mr Lawlor said.
"The Great Barrier Reef is the only place in the world where two world heritage listed national parks meet.
"When international visitors come to Australia, the Great Barrier Reef is on their must-see list of experiences."
The announcement was also ridiculed by Far Northern tourism officials, who accused Geelong Otway Tourism of leveraging off the success of Tourism Queensland’s successful GBR marketing campaign.
Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators executive director Col McKenzie said Geelong was ignorant of what constituted a great diving experience.
But cairns.com.au readers aren't so sure. In a web poll run since the weekend, 61 per cent of respondents said Geelong's sunken warship be more popular with divers than the Great Barrier Reef.
And the comments online reflect a similar verdict.
"It's all in the eye of the beholder," Paul Simpson wrote.
Cairns diver Adam Pantlin wrote: "Yes the water is colder, that's what wetsuits are for, but there is a greater variety of diving. If you know what you are looking for, you will find more interesting creatures on any given dive."