Thursday, 1 November 2012
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Making Marine Parks Accountable) Bill 2012; Second Reading
The opposition's assertion that the proposed marine reserves are not based on science is completely false. The science underpinning the proposed reserves commenced more than 15 years ago under the initiative of the Keating government and was then fully embraced by the Howard government. It started with the marine bioregionalisation of Australia, a monumental exercise in integrating multidisciplinary data into a picture of how biodiversity is structured across Australia's oceans. The CSIRO, Geoscience Australia, a number of universities and museums all collaborated on that work.
Commercial and recreational fishing organisations have been involved throughout the process and the final network proposal incorporates many of their suggestions. Ninety-day statutory public consultations were held on the draft marine reserves network proposals between May 2011 and February 2012. Some 245 meetings were held around the country throughout the consultation process. Regional consultations began with multisector information sessions in major centres followed by a number of public information sessions in regional centres. The public information sessions were open to everyone. We advertised locally and provided opportunities for members of the public to view consultation materials and talk to department staff. In addition to the public information sessions, targeted stakeholder meetings were also held throughout the public consultation period.
The outcome we have with the marine reserves network proposal is a win for conservation and ensures low impacts on commercial or recreational users of the marine environment. Approximately 96 per cent of the ocean within 100 kilometres of shore will remain open to recreational fishing. The government has worked closely with recreational fishing organisations and has largely avoided putting highly protected marine national park IUCN II zones in areas important to recreational fishers. For example, it is 445 kilometres to the nearest new marine national park zone from Brisbane and 330 kilometres to the nearest new marine national park zone from Townsville. None of the new Commonwealth's proposed reserves in any region restrict boating in state coastal waters or the types of fishing undertaken by the vast majority of recreational fishers, which primarily occurs from beaches and jetties or in bays and estuaries.
Bioregional planning is important as our marine environment is under long-term pressure from climate change and increased industry activity. Unlike the opposition leader who has stated on the public record that climate change is absolute crap, Labor understand the pressures facing our marine environment and we are committed to establishing long-term solutions. The best long-term solutions are those developed under ecosystem based management approaches. The government believe that these approaches have the greatest ability to protect the health of our oceans and the precious marine life which they contain. We also need to ensure sustainability for our valued fishing and tourism industries.
Producing better outcomes for our marine environment is not a matter of stripping away decision-making powers from the minister for the environment; it is about ensuring the best policy development processes and mechanisms are in place to allow informed decision making to occur. The opposition are merely seeking an opportunity to do what they do so often in the spirit of negativity and whip up baseless fear for their own political purposes. The opposition's bill, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Making Marine Parks Accountable) Bill 2012, does not increase transparency in the decision-making process. Having a legislative ability to disallow bioregional plans will create greater uncertainty for communities as well as commercial and recreational fishers.
But we know the coalition do not really care about the environment. They are even proposing to outsource federal environment management to the states, essentially stripping away and shutting down the federal environment department to devolve powers to their mates in the states. This is a radical abdication of responsibility on the opposition's behalf and will set this country back all the way to the early days of Federation.
We are one nation. We need a nationally consistent approach to marine management protection. The coalition really have regressed a long way when it comes to their regard for the environment, because when the coalition were last in government they actually achieved some significant outcomes on marine reserves. Of particular relevance to my home state was the previous government's decision in 2006 to create the world's first representative network of marine reserves in temperate oceans—the South-east Commonwealth Marine Reserves Network, comprising 13 large-scale offshore marine reserves around Tasmania and Victoria. This achievement received extraordinary and well-deserved praise from around the world. My party, the Labor Party, ultimately supported that decision, despite reasonable criticisms at the time from some sectors that consultation with some key stakeholders had been rushed and that decisions had been taken to protect the environment, necessary in our view, on less than complete scientific and economic evidence. Now we have Senator Colbeck quoted as saying that the coalition will wind back no-fishing areas and scrap the entire marine parks plan if the coalition win power in the Senate and the lower house. I am not sure if the opposition are aware that the proposed changes to the EPBC Act as set out in this bill will have significant financial implications for the Commonwealth because this bill will require the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities to create up to 88 regional committees for a period of two months to provide input to any future proposed marine reserves. These committees' costs will ultimately be borne by the Commonwealth.
I want to talk about recreational fishing and this government's commitment to and record in supporting our fishers, especially in contrast to the opposition. Those opposite were no friends of recreational fishers when it came to stopping the supertrawler. Indeed, every time the opposition have a chance to vote against activities that may have some benefit for recreational fishers they seem to vote against it. Very few of the marine reserves proposed by the Commonwealth have an impact on the recreational sector. Commonwealth marine reserves start over five kilometres from the shore. This means that jetties, beaches, inlets, lagoons and rock shelves—most people's favourite spots—are outside the network. More than 95 per cent of Commonwealth waters within 100 kilometres of land will remain open to recreational fishing and boating.
As a group, recreational fishers are amongst the least impacted by the new Commonwealth reserves announced by the government. In a lot of areas the marine reserves reduce commercial fishing effort, which is better for recreational fishers as there are usually more fish to catch. Opposition to these marine parks is just like the supertrawler debate. The opposition voted against the interests of recreational fishing to allow the supertrawler to steam into Australian waters without the proper checks being done. The opposition has been working hard to create a fear campaign around this issue, telling mums and dads that they will not be able to fish, while at the same time voting to let the supertrawler do its worst. Those opposite have been strangely silent on recent announcements that the Queensland government has cut funding to the state based recreational fishing body Sunfish. They claim to support recreational fishers but do not speak out unless it is to peddle misinformation and fear.
Those on this side support recreational fishers. The government has provided support for a national recreational fishing body, the Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation, a national representative body who are supported by the Australian Fishing Trade Association, Recfish Australia, the Game Fishing Association Australia, Sunfish Queensland, the Amateur Fishermen's Association of the Northern Territory, Recfishwest, Recreational Fishing Alliance of NSW, the Underwater Skindivers and Fishermen's Association, the Australian National Sportfishing Association, the Professional Fishing Instructors and Guides Association, the Victorian Recreational Fishing Peak Body, and the Australian Underwater Federation. I think the Senate may find some recent comments by Allan Hansard, the Director of the Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation, in a media release dated 2 October 2012 quite interesting and relevant to this debate, because I think it goes right to the heart of the treatment recreational fishers can expect from those opposite, should they win government. On the Queensland LNP government's treatment of recreational fishers in that state, Mr Hansard said:
The decision by Mr Newman to basically kill off Sunfish is very disturbing. Before he was elected, Mr Newman promised he would lead a 'fishing friendly' government. Unilaterally cutting all funding to Queensland's peak rec fishing body isn't what we regard as a particularly friendly act. In actual fact, it is a slap in the face to Queensland's 700,000 fishers, many of whom voted for Mr Newman.
We understand the need to rationalise government spending but the fact is that there is a lot of work that needs to be done to maximise the socio-economic benefits of recreational fishing in Queensland. Wiping out funding for the peak body representing Queensland fishers is not the way to get that important work done.
It is understood that Sunfish's annual Government funding was about $200,000. While that allowed Sunfish to operate effectively, it is in essence a fairly insignificant amount of money. We understand most of that funding was actually paid for by fishers, who contributed an $18 fee as part of boat registration. Mr Newman will still be taking that $18 but now fishers won't be seeing any benefits from it. We don't think that is fair or appropriate.
Mr Hansard went on to say:
We would hope that Opposition fisheries spokesman Senator Richard Colbeck would accept our offer to ensure that nothing like this happens following a win by his party next year. We need Senator Colbeck and Opposition leader Tony Abbott to give Australia's 5 million fishers cast iron assurances that funding required to grow the recreational fishing sector will be guaranteed.
I think they are some very pertinent comments from Allan Hansard. Somehow I doubt such an assurance from the opposition will be forthcoming. However, even if the opposition does give such a guarantee, I would not put very much stock in it. We all know that Mr Abbott is prepared to say anything to win government but that ultimately he will savagely cut funding to the services Australians rely on. There is no doubt in my mind that support for our recreational fishers would be right on the top of the pile of things to cut should they win office.
Let us turn to the hypocrisy of the coalition around proposed zoning of marine reserves. The government supports protection of precious areas like the Great Barrier Reef and commends those opposite for taking action. The rezoning of the Great Barrier Reef in 2004 provides an example of the opposition's work, where the area was rezoned from 4.5 per cent 'no-take' to more than 30 per cent 'no-take'. There was limited consultation on the design of the adjustment program for the Great Barrier Reef. It was conducted by an expert panel and the panel's report was never released. A key feature of the coalition's south-east marine reserve network is the extent of the network off-limits to commercial fishing—80 per cent. That figure, 80 per cent of the coalition's marine reserves locking out commercial fishers, underlies the hypocrisy of the opposition in labelling this government's quite reasonable and balanced proposals as a 'lockout' and 'anti-fishing'.
None of the Commonwealth's proposed reserves in any region restrict boating in state coastal waters or the type of fishing undertaken by the vast majority of recreational fishers, which primarily occurs from beaches and jetties or in bays and estuaries. Claims of large-scale recreational fishing lockouts are unfounded, as are exaggerated estimates of the impact on fishing and boating related industries. In the Commonwealth regions in question, 96 per cent of the ocean within 100 kilometres offshore remains open to recreational fishing. All of these decisions have been based on science that has driven the development of a representative network of marine reserves. The government's current marine park proposals have been more than a decade in development. The development of marine bioregional plans and the identification of the Commonwealth marine reserve network proposal have been underpinned by a strong scientific information base, detailed analysis of potential socioeconomic impacts and rigorous and ongoing stakeholder consultation. The science underpinning the proposed reserves commenced more than 15 years ago under the initiative of the Keating government, and then was fully embraced by the Howard government.
The rationale for creating a comprehensive, adequate and representative system of protected areas in our oceans has endured and strengthened for over two decades. It is based on protecting examples of all the major marine ecosystem types around Australia. This principle was enshrined in the Howard government's oceans policy and successive Howard government ministers, from Robert Hill to Malcolm Turnbull, championed and implemented that policy. To their credit, those ministers did not blink in the face of opposition to good policy. It started with the marine bioregionalisation of Australia, a monumental exercise in integrating multidisciplinary data into a picture of how biodiversity is structured across Australia's oceans. The CSIRO, Geoscience Australia and a number of universities and museums, as I have said, have all collaborated on that work.
Forty-one provincial bioregions have been identified in Commonwealth waters and, in order for the Commonwealth marine reserves network proposal to be representative of Australia's marine ecosystems, the government has sought to include a part of each provincial bioregion in the reserve network proposal. The first three years of the marine bioregional planning program were dedicated to the consolidation of scientific information and, in some instances, collection of new data. This resulted in the publication of a bioregional profile for each of the regions. Bioregional profiles for each marine region were prepared using scientific information about the region's biophysical and socioeconomic characteristics and conservation values.
One of the last accomplishments of the member for Wentworth when he was environment minister was to publish the marine bioregional profile for the South-west Marine Region. That document, which bears his picture, contains the goals and principles which have guided the development of the current marine reserves proposal. Clearly, the science was good enough for the coalition when it was in government.
We recognise that some people in the community, as shown with recent debates around the nation to address climate change, will never accept any amount of scientific evidence that does not support their own prejudices and beliefs. We also know that criticism of government consultative processes will always accompany any outcome that does not suit everyone. That does not mean that coalition ministers necessarily got the process right. There were many criticisms from respected scientists during the development of the South-east Marine Reserve network, that they had squibbed some hard conservation decisions, and the socioeconomic analysis was not only right but also it was left to the fishing industry to conduct only after firm proposals were on the table for a brief period of consultation.
As for the furphy that the science behind the reserves is somehow inadequate, we should perhaps rely on the words of respected marine scientists rather than claims by the opposition. In a recent article titled Marine Reserves not about closing fisheries, but about preserving ocean health, published on 27 August this year, Dr Nic Bax, who is Stream Leader, Understanding Ocean Ecosystems at the CSIRO and Dr Ian Cresswell, Director, Wealth from Oceans Flagship at the CSIRO, wrote:
The extensive scientific information upon which it is based reflects Australia's mega-diverse marine environment. The science behind the CMR network, and marine bioregional planning in general, has been consistently and independently provided to Australian governments for at least 10 years. Claims that the CMR network is not based on science are either incorrect or misdirected.
Clearly, this government is getting on with the job of protecting our marine environment and sustainably managing our fisheries, with evidence based science and stakeholder contributions informing a nationally consistent approach. Those opposite simply want us to abandon our Commonwealth obligations in the pursuit of narrow-minded politicking. I urge the Senate to reject this bill.
The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Making Marine Parks Accountable) Bill 2012 is designed to give either chamber of parliament the power to disallow new declarations of bioregional plans and marine protected areas. That is what it is designed to do. We in the coalition believe this step was made necessary by the approach and by the actions of the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities in declaring and administering bioregional plans and marine protected areas, the exercise of which seems to be heavy on ideology and pretty light on consultation.
It is the coalition that commenced the process of establishing the comprehensive marine bioregional plans and marine protected areas around Australia's coastline, to protect and to maintain biologically and culturally significant marine areas of Commonwealth waters. We did that. It is Labor, however, that so very typically has taken on board a sensible policy and—guess what?—botched its implementation. What a surprise that would be, Mr Deputy President, wouldn't it?
The government is failing to engage in proper consultation with all stakeholders affected by its decisions, resulting in an approach to marine management and conservation that is not balanced and is not fair. The government seems more concerned with its own electoral fortunes in the heavily Green inner-city electorates rather than the legitimate interests and valid concerns of fishermen and related industries, and their local communities, directly affected by declarations of these conservation zones.
Let us be honest: this is much more about Greens preferences than about environmentalism. It is more about the swingers in Central Sydney than the strugglers in Northern Queensland. Nearly three years ago, I voted in this chamber to disallow the Coral Sea Conservation Zone declaration that was made in May 2009 by the Minister for Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts. I am sorry to say that the motion was not carried by the Senate, with the government and the Greens voting against the disallowance motion. Honourable senators will remember that grim, black day. It was a shame for many Queenslanders along the central and the northern coast of my state. I and many others were concerned then about a number of issues and problems and with the way the minister and the department went about making their decisions—and there are several concerns.
First of all, the declaration was made after a farcically inadequate consultation process in which the government had only spoken with the Australian Conservation Foundation and a Pew Charitable Trusts, both quite partial in this context, but without bothering to talk to the affected communities, industries or, indeed, even the Indigenous representatives. This failure ultimately called into question the scientific basis for this declaration and evaluation.
Secondly, and fundamentally, there was no assessment made as to the financial costs to regional communities and stakeholders, particularly in relation to the impact the non-transferability of permits would have on local tourist businesses, particularly in the north and the far north of my home state of Queensland. Third, the Coral Sea is a very low-volume, high-value fishery, with about $10 million of fish stock being taken in 2006. A number of charter boats work the area, and the game-fishing is a catch-and-release industry for tourists operating out of Cairns. The area is in pristine condition and has been, so far as I am aware, since time immemorial. There was no evidence that any activity currently undertaken in the Coral Sea threatened that state of affairs—none.
Last, at the time this declaration was made, the Coral Sea Conservation Zone was already included in the eastern marine bioregional planning process that runs from Cape York to Batemans Bay in southern New South Wales. That process included a significant public and scientific consultation. In other words, this was the proper, comprehensive, fair and scientific process to determine the level of environmental protection that the Coral Sea needs, and not the declaration process which the minister seems to have used as a convenient shortcut to ride roughshod over all the affected parties.
The most unfortunate saga of the Coral Sea Conservation Zone illustrates perfectly what is wrong with the way the current government approaches marine conservation and therefore why we need to empower both chambers of this parliament to disallow the minister's declaration. The current requirements under section 176 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act dictate that the minister must engage in public consultation—must. But, as we have seen, the public consultation is barely adequate, and in the end the environment minister is not achieving community support in the process. In weighing up the competing interests, the minister clearly tends to privilege what he might say are the interests of the environment over and above the economic interests of fishermen and retailers.
In reality, however, all too often the interests that the minister ends up protecting are not those of the environment but those of the environmental movement, and they are two very, very different things. We know that the two are not necessarily the same. It seems that the current Labor-Greens government follows the Finding Nemo school of marine conversation: all fish are cute, all fish are endangered and all humans are rapacious predators and despoilers. That is the view. But life is not a Walt Disney movie, and Australia is not like other parts of the world such as the Pacific coast of South America, Siberia or South-East Asia where the fisheries have indeed been depleted—that is true.
Australian fisheries—and no-one seems to want to accept this—are well managed and sustainable. That is the truth. In fact, Australia is widely seen around the world as a leader and exemplar in how to care for fisheries and for the environment. There is no strong case that we need further 'locking up' of our waters to protect from overfishing. Stopping fishermen from harvesting our waters does not lower the demand for seafood. Australian demand will instead be satisfied by what? Imports. Imports from where? Most probably from Asia. So in an attempt to relieve our fishing reserves from a perceived stress—and that is the argument—additional stress will be placed on the fishing reserves where? Foreign countries. Our well-managed fisheries will be untouched, while endangered fisheries elsewhere will be further depleted. That is what will happen.
The environmental left prides itself on supposedly thinking globally and acting locally. But the attempt to shut down Australian fisheries is simply NIMBYism—or rather NIMOism: not in my ocean. It merely exports the problem to places which are far less likely than Australia to care about proper management and sustainability of their resources.
But putting aside the debates about the state of the environment and our fisheries, the issue at hand is the process. Currently the environment minister has sole power to approve the adoption of bioregional plans—the sole power. Declarations of bioregional plans and marine protected areas have significant environmental and social and economic consequences. It is not a matter than should be treated lightly. It is therefore quite inappropriate for these declarations to be made without the opportunity for review, and that is why the coalition believes that bioregional plans should be disallowable instruments. They should be subject to the full review through both chambers of this parliament. This is a matter of balance, fairness and proper democratic accountability.
I rise today to contribute to the debate on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Making Marine Parks Accountable) Bill 2012. I support my coalition colleagues who have already made contributions, and the member for Dawson who has put this bill forward. The member for Dawson has spoken passionately about the representations which have been made to him in his electorate in Queensland, but I assure the member for Dawson that those representations have been echoed in my home state of South Australia. The concern about the way in which marine parks are proposed to be managed is a significant concern amongst industry, recreational fishers and the general public who are concerned about good government.
This bill looks to increase the transparency and accountability around declaring marine parks. It makes any proclamations of a Commonwealth reserve a disallowable instrument. My Senate colleague Senator Mason has spoken eloquently about the issue of disallowable instruments and their role in our lives as Australians, and how good government is conducted. The bill will allow the parliament to consider any proposed marine parks and the potential social and economic impacts that they might have. If this government engaged in genuine consultation with stakeholders and the community rather than taking an 'announce and defend' approach, then this bill might not have been necessary, but this government is determined to listen only to a vocal minority on this issue.
In my home state of South Australia—and, as we all know, politics is always local—we have seen a similar approach taken to the creation of marine parks by the Labor Weatherall government. The South Australian draft marine park boundaries have been widely condemned by the fishing industry. Recreational fishers have also come out in outrage and the regional communities which they support are shaking their heads in dismay. This is similar to the situation federally, where everyone has come out and condemned the marine parks—apart from a number of fringe, alarmist environmental lobbyists.
In early October the residents of Port Wakefield, in the electorate of Wakefield in South Australia, lined Highway 1, the major thoroughfare, with giant coffins, boats and handmade banners to highlight the devastating impact the state government's proposed no-take sanctuary zones are going to have on their community. They have formed a group called the Marine Park 14 Action Group to try to save their town, which might lose 50 per cent of its prime fishing waters.
The South Australian Labor government's marine parks were announced over 10 years ago, but it has only just released the draft management plans and the regional impact statements. While that government has had 10 years to mull it over, it now expects South Australians to comprehend the full impact of the proposed changes in just two months. Doesn't that have a familiar tone to it? Just like their federal counterparts, there is no accountability, no transparency and no genuine consultation with the community and industry.
In a state that has just had the Olympic Dam expansion shelved, is the highest-taxed state in the nation and has the worst credit rating, the government's marine parks plan will cost $63.9 million to implement and will cost the state economy $100 million per year in lost revenue. That is without even considering what it is going to cost the various state departments to monitor, police and oversee these marine parks.
What we need in South Australia and Australia is a breakdown and a removal of this red tape, yet we see an increase of it at both state and federal levels. At state and federal levels Labor is destroying communities through its interventionist and ill-thought-out marine parks. What is the cost of policing and enforcing this? As I just said, nobody has put any figure on it from either a state or a federal point of view—a bit like last week's MYEFO, where we announced policies but we did not announce funding for policies.
But I digress—back to the bill we are debating here today. It would help to overcome some of the issues our communities are facing. This bill requires the minister to commission an independent assessment of social and economic impacts of the proposed proclamations. I would have thought that was reasonable governance. It certainly would not be an unreasonable path to expect a federal government to take. Through this process, the issues which are now being aired angrily could have been aired through genuine consultation.
This bill requires the environment minister to commission an independent, social and economic impact assessment before any proclamations are made. I have just spoken about that. Any government looking for credibility and that has integrity would try to assess the impact on people in their constituency before running roughshod and introducing this legislation. The minister must also obtain independent scientific peer reviewed advice before making any proclamations and this advice should be publicly available. Let the sun shine in. Let us have people who are experts in this—world authorities—who can judge the scientific research and allay any fears the community might have. Proper scrutiny is all that this bill is after—proper scrutiny of such a vital and important industry to this country. The bill would also establish an independent scientific reference panel and stakeholder advisory groups for each region to ensure that each region's issues, which are quite local in nature, are addressed and that this one-size-fits-all piece of legislation would obviously treat with disrespect.
This bill, put up by the member for Dawson, will increase the checks on government decision making. We all know that good decision making has not been a hallmark of this government. The Gillard government's inability to properly manage Australia's fisheries saw the bungling of the Abel Tasman saga. The government invited the Abel Tasman—or, as it was known back then, the Margiristo come to Australia in 2009 as part of Minister Burke's small pelagic fishery harvest strategy. The vessel arrived in Australia and, after three years of negotiations—all very hospitable, all very encouraging—legislation was introduced on the run to ban this trawler from fishing here. The trawler was brought here to turn a catch that would normally be fishmeal—because the boats that traditionally caught these fish do not have refrigeration so the fish finished up as stock feed—into protein for northern African countries as a food source for humans, thus addressing the food task that the world is faced with as we head into the prospect, in 2050, of nine billion people on this planet. This good initiative of efficient farming is like, as the member for Grey put it to me the other day, a wheat farmer buying a bigger header. It did the same job. There were no extra fish quotas, no extra fish taken per season, no extra grounds that were going to be covered by this operation. It simply was a bigger header, to use that analogy.
Yet once again, as we saw during the live cattle ban, Minister Ludwig got rolled by caucus. He got rolled by the Left of his party and the pressure that the Greens bring to bear when they have their joint party meetings, and was told that he was not going to get his way. And they sent Minister Ludwig down the path of the live cattle ban again. Even he believed it was unjustified; he said that it would open up the Commonwealth to significant legal and reputational risk. Apparently the documents that were obtained by the Australian newspaper showed that the minister did not want to cave in to pressure from Labor backbenchers and the public campaign to ban the Abel Tasman. The documents state he argued that its operations would be 'sustainable and efficient'. The documents allegedly show deep divisions within the government, with the minister not wanting to undermine the reputation of Australia's independent fisheries and their world-class management by changing the rules on the Abel Tasman at the last minute.
This has again raised the issue of sovereign risk in this country. We hear miners talking about it through the MRRT, we hear the cattlemen of Northern Australia talking about it; now we hear the fisheries of Australia talking about the fact that their bankers are saying, 'We now have a new risk in your business plan. It's called the federal government,' because they have shown themselves to be not trustworthy when it comes to people's licences and their right to fish, and they certainly have no regard for communities in regional Australia and their business plans and their right to earn income.
Let us remember that we are not discussing the sustainability of Australia's fisheries or fisheries management. As I say, the Australian fish zones are regarded as some of the most sustainable in the world, and our fisheries management are a professional group of highly respected scientists who are internationally acclaimed. All of them cannot believe what happened. If we apply flip-flop gymnastic backflips like the Margiris, the Abel Tasman and the Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association, which are the way this government manages agriculture, aquaculture and fisheries in this country, we are not being well served. Minister Ludwig is quoted in documents obtained by the Australiansaying:
To those people who say the FV Margiris (the Abel Tasman 's previous name) is responsible for overfishing, I say to them it won't in Australia. You can't overfish an Australian fishery.
He then went on to say:
Were I to amend the legislation, I would also be saying we don't value economic efficiency when we harvest our natural resources sustainably.
The article says that Minister Ludwig denied he was rolled by cabinet, arguing that the issue was environmental uncertainty, which was not within his portfolio remit. Clearly, from what we have just heard and what we know now, it sounds like a complete cop-out. I am sure he will be embarrassed when he has to face the next fishing convention over that whole fiasco.
However, this bill is a move by the coalition to further improve the sustainability of Australia's marine environment. It was the previous coalition government, as Senator Mason pointed out so eloquently, which commenced the process of establishing marine protected areas around Australia's coastline, in line with Australia's internationally declared commitments. The coalition is committed to sustainable fisheries in this country. The intention was to develop an integrated network of new marine reserves to provide balance between multiples uses and highly protected areas. For this purpose, the Commonwealth waters surrounding Australia were divided into five bioregional planning regions—the south-east, the south-west, the north-west, the north and the east. But in recent times the east region has been divided in two—the Coral Sea zone and the temperate east zone—so there are now six separate bioregional plans in various stages of development for Commonwealth waters.
The coalition guided development of the south-east marine bioregion plan, which was formalised in 2006. It includes a network of 14 marine reserves which were agreed after careful consideration and consultation with all stakeholders, including the recreational and commercial fishing sectors. But, instead of continuing with our sensible, measured and thought-out plan for marine parks, Labor has locked up the oceans and handed the keys over to the Greens. What we now face with this bill is a good solution to try and resolve this. We put our hand out to the government for it to support this bill, to provide it with a mechanism by which it can fix this problem. This bill should be considered by all those opposite as it makes Australian fishers far more sustainable a proposition when all of those people go to their bankers and say, 'This is our business plan for the next five years.'
I did particularly like Senator Mason using the acronym, NIMBY, not in my back yard, because if we continue to lock fishers out of our sustainable fisheries zones—our world-class fishing zones—then we will transfer the problem of where the world gets its protein from. We know that the South China Sea and the areas to our north are overfished. There is no question about that. What is going to happen if we lock up in Australia our sustainable food source? They are going to continue to fish those overfished zones. Pristine waters off the coast of Europe, particularly off the coast of Greece, have no fish in them.
Senator Feeney interjecting—
I will take the interjection, Senator Feeney, because I know that, while you might be bored with this whole issue of fisheries, I can assure you that around the coastline of Australia there are fishing communities that do not understand what your government is doing. They are deeply concerned about the way in which there has been no consultation and this has been foisted upon them. I am sure that in your cabinet you are not impressed by the Greens dictating policy for you.
It is always good to have Senator Feeney's input into these things because, of course, he spends so much time listening to the concerns of people in agriculture and fishing that, obviously, he would be concerned as to what their representations are to me about the way in which this government seems to have no kind of insight into the issues of funding, and obtaining capital for, various commercial enterprises which this government has compromised. I urge all in the chamber to restore some credibility to this marine park debate and get behind this bill.
What a sterling contribution from my colleague Senator Edwards. I too rise to speak on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Making Marine Parks Accountable) Bill 2012. I love the title. I think we could use the word 'accountable' a little more in this place. There currently are six separate bioregional plans in various stages of development for Commonwealth waters. To the layman, a marine park is designed to protect and maintain biologically and culturally significant marine areas in Commonwealth waters. Indeed, it was the previous coalition government which commenced the process to establish marine protected areas, so we have got some skin in the game in terms of managing appropriately our fisheries. The intention is to develop an integrated network of new marine reserves to provide a balance between multiple uses and highly protected areas. The coalition guided development of the south-east marine bioregion plan was formalised in 2006. That is down my way in Victoria. It is made up of 14 marine reserves and the end result was agreed to following careful consideration and consultation, because the coalition understands the importance of engaging with local stakeholders to ensure that they are on board, particularly when you are looking at the types of changes that setting up these marine parks entails for local communities and the users. The south-east Commonwealth marine reserves network is the first temperate deep-sea network of marine reserves in the world, covering over 200,000 square kilometres wrapping around the far south coast of New South Wales, right around Tasmania and Victoria and all the way to Kangaroo Island, off South Australia. The Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Tony Burke, wants to establish new marine reserves, taking the overall size of Commonwealth marine reserves to 3.1 million square kilometres—the largest representative network of marine protected areas in the world. And wasn't he skiting about that! But I can tell you that they are not rapt on the ground near the water.
Australian fisheries are globally benchmarked and recognised as among the best-managed anywhere in the world. Do not listen to me; listen to the scientists who worldwide proclaim how good we actually are at this stuff. We can sustainably manage things. We have heard the beat-up, the scare campaign, being run by the Labor government and the Greens that we are somehow fishing in a Newfoundland-ish style, around the cod issue a while ago, but that is simply not occurring out there when we look at how we have constructed and managed fisheries.
It is not only about being environmentally sustainable; we also need to recognise that our fisheries are economically productive. Commonwealth fisheries generate over $300 million and produce 52,000 tonnes of catch. We could not maintain those sorts of figures if our fishers did not maintain and care for their work environment. Again, I draw the analogy to those who work on the land. We, as human beings, understand our relationship with the environment and the need to manage and work with it sustainably, whether that is how we practice our farming or how we practice our fishing. It has to be a renewable resource. That is something that we understand because we actually live there and work there. Also, the fishing industry would not employ around 16,000 people—9,700 directly and 6,200 indirectly.
Minister Burke intends creating the world's largest marine reserves network but, unlike the coalition when we were last in government, he has failed to properly consider and consult with the stakeholders. The explanatory memorandum for the bill states:
The Government’s current process of declaring Marine Protected Areas is not the result of rigorous scientific analysis that has been made publicly available or extensive industry and community consultation.
Those are two things which would be hallmarks for good policy intention: consultation and scientific evidence. I am sure Senator Waters would agree with me that we want scientific evidence that is independent and robust. It must have integrity. We do not want it to be besmirched by conflicts of interest or selectively chosen to inform policy decisions that are already made. The community needs to have confidence in the way we make decisions in this place on issues that directly affect their lives and their businesses. So having rigorous scientific analysis is important.
I welcome Senator Boswell—a huge champion of the fishing industry right around this nation—sitting next to me. Indeed, Senator Boswell needs to be extremely proud of a Young Nationals party room member, George Christensen, who brought this bill before us.
In this instance it is the minister for the environment who needs to be made accountable—and I refer to the title of the bill—in the decisions he makes. For the remainder of my speech I will outline that it is not just the minister for the environment who needs to be accountable to community and provide them with confidence that the decisions that he is making are based on rigorous science and that he has consulted appropriately with communities affected. Maybe it is a template for the Gillard government as a whole regarding their approach to governance.
The bill before us today requires Mr Burke to commission an independent social and economic impact assessment before any proclamations can be made. He needs to obtain independent, scientific, peer reviewed advice before making any proclamations and for this evidence to be publicly available so it can be scrutinised. He needs to establish scientific reference panels and stakeholder advisory groups for each region to ensure rigorous decision-making. We need to talk about the issue of socioeconomic impacts. In the coalition we understand the importance of policy that delivers a triple bottom line that recognises and sustains the environment but also ensures that people living with the environment can make a reasonable living and can be part of vibrant communities. So socioeconomic impact assessments need to be done, and they need to be done before we make the decision. We should not just let the people hear about it as an after-effect.
In terms of the fisheries adjustment package, the discussion paper says:
A socio‐economic assessment will be prepared in consultation with fishing industry and local community stakeholders and experts, to guide decision‐making and to ensure the implications of MPA proposals are known to the Government before any decision for adjustment assistance is made.
So the implications are, if everything is going to plan and already known to government, but we have not seen this yet for the regions. ABARES is apparently doing the work, but it seems that their work is only focused on compensation. These communities and business holders would like to continue working in their business. Some are generational businesses. They want to be part of a profitable and sustainable industry, not have their tax dollars spent on government dreaming up another handout to get people out of work and into something less profitable, less interesting to them and less around their skill base. We have numerous examples throughout our economy of this government being focused on handouts—to foresters, fishers and farmers—rather than getting on with giving them a hand to remain profitable and sustainable going forward. I completely digress.
I might say to the fishers that they just need to maybe get in line with this government. The communities right throughout the Murray-Darling Basin have been waiting since 2010 to obtain a similar assessment. We are really quite sick of this government making decisions that directly impact our communities and our profitability. Similarly, growers in my area of Ballarat, in Victoria, are interested in the socioeconomic impact of the decision by government to import potatoes from New Zealand which may be severely infected with the zebra chip virus, a disease that has devastated areas of the potato crop in New Zealand and, if it gets loose in our communities, will have similar impacts in Australia. The government needs to take the socioeconomic impacts of its decisions seriously.
Like the marine industry, I am sure almost all stakeholder groups that have interacted with the government through planned legislation would like better stakeholder consultation. Perhaps this could occur through stakeholder advisory groups, as long as they actually have stakeholders and not just government officials reporting back on behalf of or talking to each other on what they think people in the community think or industry thinks. It is those people on the front line, the locals, who need to have greater input into government decision making.
When Minister Burke released the maps of the new park, he said it was too late to change boundaries or zone classifications—too late, even though it was reported that there was still a 60-day consultation period remaining. But Minister Burke has form in terms of being flexible and nimble around his decision making and responsive to community need. We only need to look at his decision on the super trawler Margiris to see just exactly how nimble and flexible Minister Burke can be when he needs to be. Unfortunately, though, when he quickly changed his mind around the Margiris, it was not as a result of direct feedback from stakeholders within industry—locals affected by the Margiris; it was actually by an email campaign coming out of our capital cities based on an ideological assumption. So Minister Burke needs to be consistent. If he is going to listen to the supplications of concerned citizens, then let's make sure he is listening to the supplications of local industry, not just people in urban centres concerned about their holiday resorts and the NIMOs, as Senator Mason referred to.
Clearly, the Gillard government has no consideration for those directly affected. There are a considerable number of stakeholders in the marine parks matter who feel their concerns have not been heard. Kathryn Williams, who described herself as an 'irate Australian citizen', said:
The Government seems to rush into these types of proposals and not take into account what the layman says. You say you listen to us at these Marine Park meetings but I think you are only there to show your presence and that you have already made the decision to go ahead.
It sounds very similar to the commentary heard at the Murray-Darling Basin community consultation meetings—and I note Senator Birmingham is in the chamber. Those of us who attended those meetings heard very similar types of comments around this government and this minister's approach to consultation. Mr Cameron Talbot said:
seem to get access to Ministers and control of what happens. The Department does not consult us or simply ignores what we have to say. I feel that democracy has been lost and further more—
and here is the telling part—
my faith in the Labour party has gone with it. I along with all labour supporters that I know who also fish, are so disenfranchised with this government that at the next election we will do what I never thought we would do and vote LNP.
I am hoping down south that they will vote for the Victorian Nationals and the Victorian Liberal Party. This is what is at stake here. This is what happens when the Greens party gets control of your agenda, Australian Labor Party. Your crucial heartland supporters are turning away because you are not listening to them. You are not listening to the industry and you are not listening to your core constituents, and they are turning away as a result of your Greens-hijacked agenda.
I will return to the bill, if I may. One of the amendments to the bill, at the end of section 343, states:
The Minister must obtain, and the Director must report on, scientific advice, stakeholders' views and an independent social and economic impact assessment before Proclamations over areas of sea … are made.
We are just trying to fix up bad process. These are things that sound so sensible if you want good policy outcomes, so I look forward to bipartisan support for this legislation so that we as a community and a nation can start implementing policy that is sustainable and sensible but is also backed up with consultation with the appropriate stakeholders and the appropriate scientific review.
Minister Burke's grand plan to develop the world's largest representative network of marine protected areas is also going to cost money. It is clear people are going to be put out by Mr Burke's vision, and the discussion around socioeconomic impacts is apparently only focused on compensation. We do not want a handout; we just want to get on with doing what we do well, which is managing the most sustainable fisheries on the planet. The Gillard government will apparently have to design and implement a fisheries adjustment assistance package. The Prime Minister has indicated that this package could cost $100 million; however, all estimates suggest that figure will be much higher. The decision around assistance will be made only after an assessment of all the impacts is undertaken, including positive impacts such as increased tourism opportunities, apparently. But how can you take into account the value of something like tourism of an industry that is yet to be established? I mean, it is rubbery figures. We are going to take into account an industry that somehow we are going to set up as a result of all of these people that own boats and are fishers suddenly deciding that they are all going to get into tourism. As we have seen in other sectors of the economy, they are individuals and have views about what they want to do with their lives, what businesses they want to be involved in. They might not want to be tourism operators. So basing the figures around flawed assumptions is always going to get you in trouble.
Through this marine park plan, regional Australia will face an enormous social and economic losses. Regional Australia suffers again under the Gillard government—what a surprise. It seems that every single sitting week we are standing here bemoaning one aspect or another of this government's agenda for this nation that slugs regional Australia over and over again. I sound like a broken record, Madam Acting Deputy President, but I am simply putting on record the frustration that is out there outside of urban Australia with this government. Don't come out to our communities, sit down, have a cup of tea, hear our pain, pat us on the head and come back here and do what you like anyway. We are over it. Negotiate with us, connect with us, understand us and develop policies that will benefit our communities, that will allow us to do what we do best, which is get on and do it. It is very frustrating. Minister Burke and the Gillard government cannot be trusted to take care of regional Australia.
But there is another key player to these issues of how regional Australia is over and over again being impacted by the Gillard government's policy. That is the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. I have talked a lot about Minister Burke this morning but we have not mentioned Senator Ludwig and I think we should. I am sure that you, Senator Boswell, are going to make mention of it but before you rise I will briefly say that Minister Ludwig is playing again second fiddle to Minister Burke and that is disappointing from a man who is meant to be our champion and the champion of the fishing industry.
I have got several comments that I would like to put on the record around the importance of peer-reviewed science. Professor of Aquatic and Fisheries Sciences at the University of Washington Dr Hilborn said:
It's difficult to understand why Australians believe they need to implement additional alternative restrictions on fishing … Australians should embrace the success of their fisheries management and consume Australian seafood with extreme confidence.
I commend the coalition's bill to the Senate.
I rise to speak on the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Making Marine Parks Accountable) Bill 2012. This bill returns the balance and fairness to marine conservation so that all Australians can have confidence that the best decisions are being made to protect both our marine biodiversity and the fishers and the communities that feed so many Australians. The current government certainly has displayed no genuine concern for fishers or their families or their communities in the way it has gone about developing its current marine reserve policy. It is a cynical policy that lacks proper science and lacks proper social and economic impact assessment.
It is likely in the next month that the federal government will proclaim the marine reserves, which would take the overall size of Commonwealth marine protected areas to 3.1 million square kilometres, by far the largest marine park network in the world. This will be a cause of celebration for international and local environmental activists who have spent millions of dollars campaigning to have huge areas closed to fishing in these marine reserves. However, it is no cause for celebration for the families in the recreational and commercial fishing sector, allied marine industries, tourism and coastal communities that will be decimated by these vast closures. Lacking sound science and a genuine understanding of the human and economic impacts of these latest marine parks, the government nonetheless is pushing ahead with the declaration. Once again science is trumped by politics and a government that depends on the Greens and panders to environmental activists.
This declaration is opposed by both commercial fishing and the recreational fishers. Earlier this year I attended a packed-out meeting at Redcliffe, overlooking Moreton Bay, where commercial and recreational fishers stood side by side and condemned the marine reserves this government wants to introduce. This government is demonstrating it has little understanding of the value of recreational fishing and the valuable social and economic role that recreational fishing plays right around the Australian coast. I certainly value recreational fishing's contribution to the health and wellbeing of Australian communities and the economic contribution it makes in regional areas. This government's marine reserve plan is a slap in the face for recreational fishers.
While the government has promised $100 million in assistance for impacted fishing businesses, though nothing for all the other fishing related businesses that will always also be impacted, fishers are unlikely to see that money for another year or year and a half. For many that will be far too late, for many fishing businesses fatally late. Earlier this year environment minister Tony Burke and agriculture minister Joe Ludwig said an assistance package would begin to flow to the fishing industry before the marine reserves are activated. There was certainly no sign of any allocation of funding for impacted fishers in the 26 October midyear federal budget update, nor was it expected. A senior environment department bureaucrat indicated to a Senate committee in mid-October that the gap between declaring the reserves and actually bringing in the management plan for six marine reserves circling the coast would be approximately 18 months. That means it is likely to be 18 months after the reserve proclamation before impacted fishers see any money. That is sometime in 2014. But, of course, their fishing operations will be devalued immediately. Who is going to invest in capital or loan funds, or sign long-term contracts knowing that the axe will inevitably fall?
What it means for fishers is an immediate loss of business value but no compensation until some time in the future. What it means for the government is kudos with the Greens and the environmental lobbyists immediately, with the dollar cost deferred until well after the next federal election, when the coalition will probably have to pick up the bill. What a cynical ploy that is. The Labor government can claim credit with its green mates and deferred compensation until, probably, at least 2014. On current polling, they will not even be in power then. An incoming coalition government would have limited room to manoeuvre, but we would certainly look at every option.
Labor is putting in these reserves because of politics, not true conservation. The reserves have been set up without proper science, and the real economic and social costs have not been properly analysed. On 15 October, in answer to a question from me, Mr Stephen Oxley, First Assistant Secretary of the Marine Division of the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, SEWPAC, told the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee that it was still the government's intention, through the Director of National Parks, to proclaim all the marine reserves before the end of 2012. Further, Mr Oxley estimated that the process, from the proclamations through to bringing the management plans into full effect, would take approximately 18 months. When I asked Mr Oxley directly, 'When do you believe the money will start to flow?' his answer was, 'That is a decision yet to be taken by government.'
Clearly, the details about what will be in the government's compensation arrangements, what they call the 'adjustment assistance package', are all still to be worked out somewhere down the track. What was also made very clear to the committee is that, beyond the fishing businesses themselves, the government does not plan to provide any help whatsoever for impacted upstream and downstream businesses. These are businesses like seafood processors and wholesalers, ship chandleries and repair facilities, and all the other suppliers of goods and services that are so heavily dependent on business from fishers. These impacts are certain to be felt hard at many ports round the Australian coast, including Karumba, Cairns and Mooloolaba in Queensland, but also at a lot of other places.
So here we go again with this government hurting the important primary industry of fishing. This government's ill-planned and poorly researched marine reserves will hurt the businesses of fishing families, fishing operations and fishing-dependent businesses right round the country as soon as the reserves are proclaimed, which we know is intended to be before the end of this year, and with no idea when they will pay for the pain and suffering they will cause, and that is typical of this government. Do what the Greens want.
Ministers Burke and Ludwig in their media release of June 14 talked about a total assistance package 'in the vicinity of $100 million'. But all the details are still to be worked out and argued about in the future. How generous can the fishing industry expect Treasurer Wayne Swan to be in trying to balance the budget? Short answer, 'Not very generous at all.' You are talking about $100 million, which anyone with any nous knows will not cover the damage that is going to be done by this government to the fishing and related businesses. One hundred million dollars—what is Mr Swan going to do when he sees a bill like that land on his table? This is the Treasurer who has already seen his much touted $1.1 billion surplus blown out of the water by the government's financial mismanagement and inability to balance the books.
Here is another uncosted government policy: they do not know what they will pay fishers, but we can be sure they will try to dodge and delay as long as possible. Has anyone calculated how much these huge new marine parks are going to cost to manage every year? Not so far as I have heard. How is the government going to police three million square kilometres of parks, to make sure the rules are being obeyed and foreign fishermen are not just coming in and catching what our Australian fishers will no longer be allowed to catch? The last time I heard anyone in the government talk about policing the Coral Sea, they wanted recreational scuba divers to do it as they were passing through on the way to their dive sites. Political parks, not true conservation areas, dodgy science, sketchy economic and social impact studies, no proper costings, no long-term management arrangements and, yet again, not enough details worked out before the policy is proclaimed. All this is from the same people who gave us the pink batts fiasco.
This government has placed more importance on the praise of environmental activists than on the future of Australian families in our coastal regions. This national marine reserve policy has been driven by a coalition of green groups and financed by the American based Pew foundation. The marine reserves will hurt fishing families. As an example, the federal government's own Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, ABARES, has estimated that the planned fishing bans in the Gulf of Carpentaria will cost every person in the port of Karumba more than $2,200; on the East Coast, Cairns will lose $3.6 million a year and Mooloolaba, $1.5 million. The promised one-off payments to fishermen, with nothing scheduled to go to related onshore businesses that will also suffer because of these closures, will not be anywhere near enough.
The government has misrepresented from the outset the true cost of this policy, saying it will cost $100 million to compensate what they estimate to be 186 fishing businesses. Compensation for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park alone blew out to $230 million and the true financial impact was not known for some years after the declaration of that marine park in mid-2004. After examining the government's regulatory impact statement for the Commonwealth marine reserve network, Associate Professor Daryl McPhee, from Bond University, made several criticisms, including the fact that the RIS limits discussion of impacts to lost production income from the commercial fishing industry and it has not adequately considered economic impacts to support businesses that rely on the catching sector or the impacts on seafood consumers. He said:
There is an urgent need to ensure that a structural adjustment package is comprehensive and of a sufficient magnitude to offset impacts.
Professor McPhee said in a recent report:
Failure to do this will compromise the management of fisheries, conservation, and the viability of 100s of regional businesses.
And one of Australia's most experienced fisheries management researchers, Emeritus Professor Robert Kearney from the University of Canberra, was so concerned about the flaws and bias in the RIS that he wrote direct to Minister Burke, warning that the RIS advocates:
… for more marine reserves ... based on serial and serious misinterpretation of the available evidence, including the literature cited in the RIS.
A report from Professor Kearney complains about bias, distortion and exaggeration in the RIS—but no-one should be surprised that experienced fisheries scientists are openly criticising this government's document.
The government is stumbling from one disaster to another over its fishing policies, and time and again it is listening to environmental lobby groups rather than considering the science and the futures of hardworking Australian fishing families. We saw the same situation with the government's backflip on the permission for the trawler Margiris to work in Australian waters. As with the Margiris, the government has allowed a highly organised and well-funded campaign by environmental NGOs to distort the facts over marine reserves. It is simple: Minister Burke will do anything to keep the environmental lobbyists onside. The government apparently sees no irony in the fact that some 31 per cent of the entire planet's marine parks will be in Australian waters at a time when we already import over 70 per cent of our seafood and demand for seafood is rising.
While the new network of 'no-go' areas ring the continent, Minister Burke and his environmental cheer squads see the Coral Sea region as the 'jewel in the crown'. The Coral Sea marine reserve will cover nearly one million square kilometres—an area more than half the size of Queensland. However, a Pew spokesman has admitted that, while his organisation had demanded the Australian government ban fishers from vast areas of the Coral Sea, Pew would not pursue a similar lockout in the Gulf of Mexico, because that would hurt the US economy and disadvantage local fishermen. It is ironic that Pew will drive in Australia something that it will not even propose at home.
The government admits the marine environment in this vast Coral Sea region is 'in near pristine condition' and then goes on to propose commercial fishing bans of one form or another throughout virtually the whole reserve. The government is locking away enormous potential future food resources for Australia and the world that could be harvested sustainably. One example is yellowfin tuna. Scientists tell us that yellowfin tuna are significantly under fished in Australian waters, particularly the Coral Sea, and are capable of supporting sustainable yields at least several times higher than current catch levels. The government is just creating a fattening paddock for foreign fishing fleets, who will catch these tuna when they swim out of Australian waters.
What this government is doing is closing down well-managed fishing businesses in Australia and forcing the country to import more seafood from countries with a far less impressive record. As a prominent international fisheries management scientist Professor Ray Hilborn from Washington State University said:
Fifty two percent by value and more by volume, of Australia's imports of seafood come from Thailand (26%), China (14%) and Vietnam (12%) …
More than 70 per cent of the seafood consumed in Australia is imported, as Professor Kearney has said—
… all countries that have much less impressive records for sustainable fisheries management than Australia. In a 2009 estimation of adherence to the United Nations Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries Australia ranked 4th out of the 53 countries surveyed. Thailand was ranked 42nd, China 22nd, and Vietnam 45th.
Therefore, by continuing to import the bulk of its seafood, Australia is effectively exporting responsibility for the sustainable management of the world's fish stocks to countries with a far inferior record for sustainability. All this is coming at a time when Australians are being told to eat more seafood for their health and the demand for seafood is rising. Australia already imports more than 70 per cent of its seafood. As Professor Kearney has said:
Human population and per capita consumption of seafood have both been continuously increasing suggesting that by 2020 Australia would require as estimated 610 000 tonnes of seafood imports … The most recent nutrition survey by the National Health and Medical Research Council … projects that on average Australians should eat 40% more seafood than they currently do ... To meet this projection without increasing its domestic fisheries production (a prospect for which there is no explicit policy and little likelihood under current management strategies which are focused on further restriction of fishing) Australia will need to import approximately 850 000 tonnes of seafood per year by 2020.
So, make no mistake, Australian seafood consumers, Australian fishing families and others in the seafood business will be badly hurt by the government's decision on marine parks. It is a government driven by a green agenda and by orchestrated public comment, where literally millions of dollars have been spent on a sophisticated advertising and propaganda campaign headed by Pew.
These fishing families represent the very best of the Australian character: physically courageous, battling the elements in unforgiving environments, and prepared to work hard in remote locations to harvest natural resources and create real wealth for the country. For many of them, these marine parks will mean an end to all that. When the reserves are declared, there will be the usual fanfare from the government and the usual line-up of environmental luminaries with pre-scripted endorsements. It is a familiar tactic from the usual green playbook. Missing from the official celebration will be hundreds of families in fishing related businesses right around the country for whom it will be a tragic day, when their investments, skills and life experience will be further devalued by a government desperate for green support, at any cost.
I rise to comment on the proposed bill from the coalition around the Commonwealth marine reserves. Can I say that the language that we have heard from many opposite during the debate on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Making Marine Parks Accountable) Bill 2012 has been quite emotive. There have been quite outlandish claims made. We have heard that communities are going to be decimated. We have heard that the axe will fall, that there will be fatal implications of this bill. I do urge people to be careful with their language. We are talking about people and their lives. We are talking about the protection of a natural asset. We should be careful about the language we use in this place as it does impact on the way people understand or, in fact, misunderstand what is being proposed.
On this side of the chamber we recognise, and I think those on the other side do too—I have heard many comment in this way—that Australian fisheries are among the best managed in the world. However, and this is terribly important, the creation of marine reserves is not about managing fisheries; it is about helping our oceans to remain healthy and resilient to pressures such as climate change.
The claim that the government is locking commercial and recreational fishers out of Australia's oceans is plainly false. There is no evidence that the new reserves will affect the supply of seafood to Australians in any significant way. The government's decision is the outcome of a transparent process in which the science, the socioeconomic analysis and the stakeholder and public consultations all played key roles in achieving a balanced outcome.
Analysis undertaken by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, ABARES, estimates that around one per cent of the national annual value of wild-catch fisheries production in Australia will be displaced by the proposed reserves. The total wild-catch production in Australia is 171,512 tonnes—from the Australian fisheries statistics 2010 published by ABARES in August 2011. When combined with aquaculture product, total annual seafood production is 241,123 tonnes. ABARES estimate that the reserves network will displace a maximum of 1,530 tonnes. That amounts to 0.6 per cent of total seafood production, or 0.9 per cent of the wild-catch production. To provide context: the displacement of catch arising from the new marine reserves—that is, up to 1,530 tonnes—is similar or smaller than the seasonal variations in catch experienced by Australia's wild-catch sector over the last two years.
The new marine reserves network announced by the government on 14 June this year is the result of a lengthy process of science-based planning and consultation with stakeholder organisations. Commercial and recreational fishing organisations have been involved throughout the process and the final network proposal incorporates many of their suggestions, and in the area that I am most interested in, the Coral Sea, there have been significant amendments to the original proposal following those consultations. The marine reserves network proposal achieves a strong conservation outcome with low impacts on commercial or recreational users of the marine environment.
Approximately 96 per cent of the ocean within 100 kilometres of shore will remain open to recreational fishing. Commercial and recreational fishing will continue in the Coral Sea. The government's final Coral Sea proposal has a lower socioeconomic impact than the draft option that was released for 90 days of public consultation in November 2011. The final Coral Sea proposal is estimated to displace approximately $4.1 million, or around 2.3 per cent of Coral Sea annual fisheries income.
The marine reserves network proposal will have a very minor impact, if any impact at all, on recreational fishers. All areas of the proposed marine reserves network, except areas zoned as highly protected in marine national parks, will remain open to recreational fishers. As I said, 96 per cent of the ocean around Australia within 100 kilometres of shore will remain open to recreational fishing.
The government has worked closely with recreational fishing organisations and has largely avoided putting highly protected marine national park IUCN II zones in areas important to recreational fishers. For example, it is 445 kilometres to the nearest marine national park zone from Brisbane. It is 330 kilometres to the nearest marine national park zone from Townsville. It is 380 kilometres from Mackay to a marine national park and 210 kilometres from Cairns. Anyone who knows much about what recreational fishers do and how far they travel off the coast, will know there will be no impact on their regular activity. None of the new Commonwealth proposed reserves in any region restrict boating in state coastal waters or the types of fishing undertaken by the vast majority of recreational fishers which primarily occurs from beaches and jetties or in bays and estuaries.
At a local meeting in my home city of Cairns—let's say I do not know who organised it—there was an allegation made by one of the people in the audience that she would not be able to fish from Machans Beach because of the Commonwealth marine reserves proposal for the Coral Sea. No-one disabused her. No-one said, 'I'm sorry, Madam, that's just not true because the area that we are talking about is 210 kilometres from Machans Beach.' No-one is allowing the truth to come forward in this debate. In fact, I will say that there are some on the other side who are intentionally muddying the waters, who are intentionally using language like 'the axe will fall', that 'communities will be decimated'. I am sorry, but we have to be very careful with our language in this debate. The new marine park reserves will add 2.3 million square kilometres to the Commonwealth marine reserves network, taking the overall size of the network to 3.1 million square kilometres, including the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Let us go now to the issues around consultation. Statutory public consultations, each of 90 days duration, were held on the draft marine reserves network proposal between May 2011 and February 2012. There were 245 meetings held around the country throughout that process; 19 of them were held in Queensland to talk about the Coral Sea, and the Gulf of Carpentaria zoning had its own consultation meeting. Regional consultations began with multisector information sessions held in the major centres, followed by a number of public information sessions held in regional centres. The public information sessions were open to everyone, were advertised locally and provided opportunities for members of the public to view consultation materials and to talk to department staff.
In addition to the public information sessions, targeted stakeholder meetings were also held throughout the public consultation period. Around 567,000 submissions were received on the draft marine reserves network proposals and other 480,000 submissions were received on the draft Coral Sea marine reserve proposal. Of the 907 non-campaign submissions received on the draft Coral Sea proposal, 77 per cent supported higher levels of protection than that proposed in the draft proposal. The marine reserves announced by the government on 14 June are different from the draft proposals released for consultation between May 2011 and February 2012. Boundaries and zonings have been adjusted and new areas added in response to issues raised during the consultation process. A key input into the government's decisions on the final marine reserves network was a series of socioeconomic impact statements conducted by ABARES. These studies looked at the potential impacts on commercial fishing and the flow-on impacts for regional towns and economies.
The Australian government is committed to ensuring that measures are put in place to support those fishers and fishing dependent communities that are significantly affected by the new reserves. The minister released the government's fisheries adjustment policy in May 2011, and the government has announced that a fisheries adjustment package, designed in consultation with the commercial fishing industry, will be in place and delivering assistance prior to the marine reserves coming into effect. The minister is required to consider a report prepared by the Director of National Parks on the comments received on the final Commonwealth marine reserves network proposal in deciding whether to proclaim the reserves.
After the marine reserves network has been proclaimed, there will be two further opportunities for stakeholders and the public to provide input to the development of statutory reserve management plans. During a 30-day consultation period, feedback will be invited on a proposal to prepare a management plan for each regional marine reserves network, a draft management plan will be prepared, taking into account the comments received in the first round of consultation, and feedback on the draft plan will be sought during a further 30-day consultation period.
When the coalition were last in government, they achieved several key milestones, including the rezoning of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and the creation, in 2006, of the world's first representative network of marine reserves in temperate oceans, the South-east Commonwealth Marine Reserve Network, comprising 13 large-scale offshore marine reserves around Tasmania and Victoria. Both of these achievements have received extraordinary and well-deserved praise from around the world. When we were in opposition during that time, we supported those decisions, despite reasonable criticism from sectors that consultation with some key stakeholders had been rushed and that decisions had been taken to protect the environment—necessarily, in our view—on less than complete scientific and economic evidence.
Senator Colbeck has been quoted as saying that the coalition will wind back no-fishing areas and scrap the entire marine parks plan if the coalition win power in the Senate and the lower house. Additionally, the proposed changes to the EPBC Act as set out in this bill will require the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities to create up to 88 regional committees for a period of two months to provide input into any future proposed marine reserves. However, the coalition say this will have no financial implications for the Commonwealth and they define 'affected regions' as the same as an area proposed for proclamation—that is, each individual reserve.
The government supports protection of precious areas like the Great Barrier Reef and commends those opposite for taking the action that they did when they were in government. The rezoning of the Great Barrier Reef in 2004 provides an example of the opposition's work, where the area was rezoned from 4.5 per cent of no-take zones to more than 30 per cent no-take zones. There was limited consultation on the design of the adjustment program for the GBR. It was conducted by an expert panel, and the panel's report was never released. A key feature of the coalition's South-east Marine Reserves Network is the extent of the network off-limits to commercial fishing. It is 80 per cent.
Eighty per cent of the coalition's marine reserves locking out commercial fishers underlies, I have to say, the hypocrisy of the opposition in labelling our government's quite reasonable and balanced proposals as a lockout and anti-fishing. When they were in government, 80 per cent of the South-east Marine Reserve was a no-take zone for any fishing. Yet when we put balanced proposals in front of the opposition, they call it a lockout. None of the proposed Commonwealth reserves in any region restrict boating in state coastal waters or the type of fishing undertaken by the vast majority of recreational fishing. Claims of large-scale recreational fishing lockouts are totally unfounded, as are exaggerated estimates of the impact on fishing and boating related industries.
The government's current marine park proposals have been more than a decade in development. The development of the marine bioregional plans and the identification of the Commonwealth marine reserves network proposal have been underpinned by a strong scientific information base, detailed analysis of potential socioeconomic impacts and rigorous and ongoing stakeholder consultation. The science underpinning the proposed reserves commenced more than 15 years ago under the initiative of the Keating government, then was fully embraced by the Howard government.
The rationale for creating a comprehensive, adequate and representative system of protected areas in our oceans has endured and strengthened over two decades. It is based on protecting examples of all of the major marine ecosystem types around Australia. The principle was enshrined in the Howard government's oceans policy and successive Howard government ministers, from Robert Hill to Malcolm Turnbull, championed and implemented that policy. To their credit, those ministers did not blink in the face of opposition to good science and good policy.
It started with the marine bioregionalisation of Australia, a monumental exercise in integrating multidisciplinary data into a picture of how biodiversity is structured across Australia's oceans. CSIRO, Geoscience Australia and a number of universities and museums all collaborated on that work. Forty-one provincial bioregions have been identified in Commonwealth waters and, in order for the Commonwealth marine reserves network proposal to be representative of Australia's marine ecosystems, the government has sought to include a part of each provincial bioregion in the reserves network proposal.
The first three years of the marine bioregional planning program were dedicated to the consolidation of scientific information and, in some instances, collection of new data. This resulted in the publication of a bioregional profile for each of those regions. Those profiles were prepared using the scientific information about the region's biophysical and socioeconomic characteristics and conservation values.
One of the last accomplishments of the member for Wentworth when he was the environment minister was to publish the marine bioregional profile for the South-west Marine Region. That document, which bears his photograph, contains the goals and principles which have guided the development of the current marine reserves proposal. Clearly, the science was good enough for the coalition when it was in government. But, as we have seen with many debates in this place, when the science does not support a person's certain point of view it is the science that is vilified.
Senator Boswell talked a lot about how this was a slap in the face for the recreational fishing industry. No-one, not one speaker from the other side, took the opportunity in this debate to talk about the slap in the face that Sunfish has received from Mr Newman. Sunfish has lost its funding. Sunfish was defunded to the tune of $200,000. Mr Newman saved $200,000 by removing the funding for the recreational fishing representative organisation in our state. Sunfish members, though—recreational fishers—pay a fee of $18 every year with their boat registration on the understanding that that money will be used to support their representative organisation, Sunfish. Now, that $18 is still being charged but their peak body has been defunded. If we are going to talk about a slap in the face, let us be fair about it, Senator Boswell, and talk about your colleagues in the state government who have defunded the recreational fishing representative organisation, Sunfish.
I do not support the bill before the chamber. It is bad policy and it will undermine the good science that has supported and informed Australia's Commonwealth marine reserves program.
I rise today to make a contribution to a very important piece of legislation, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Making Marine Parks Accountable) Bill 2012. This is a very sensible piece of legislation which would help to alleviate a great deal of concern that is being felt across the Australian community, particularly by those people who are concerned about the environment and those who are concerned about their livelihoods—their jobs—especially in coastal communities. Coming from New South Wales, as I do, I know there are many communities that are concerned about this.
It is also of concern to those people in the scientific community who want to continue to maintain that Australia not only has the best fisheries management regime in the world but also that we are managing our marine estate with the very best possible legislation. This bill will require the environment minister to commission an independent, social and economic impact assessment before any proclamations are made. It would require him or her to obtain an independent scientific peer-reviewed advice before making any proclamations and for this advice to be made public. It would require the minister to establish independent scientific reference panels and stakeholder advisory groups for each region to ensure that the decision-making was rigorous. Finally, the bill would put parliament in charge of final decision-making, to enable it to make proclamations disallowable because, currently, they are not disallowable.
We know that Australia's fisheries are globally benchmarked and recognised as amongst the best managed in the world. So the question needs to be asked: why do we then need to lock Australians out of our oceans? Let us look at Minister Burke's declaration and what it actually means. The new marine reserves take the overall size of the Commonwealth marine reserves network to 3.1 million square kilometres, which would be by far the largest representative network of marine-protected areas in the world. The effect of this would be that together the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and the Coral Sea Commonwealth Marine Reserve would become the largest adjoining marine protected area in the world, covering 1.3 square kilometres.
Following the release of the maps of the new parks, Minister Burke has said it was too late to change the boundaries or zone classifications, even though there still is a 60-day consultation period to complete. Reference to that was made in the Financial Review of 14 June 2012. How can this possibly be consultation? Basically it is a take-it-or-leave-it approach with no consideration being given to the views of Australia's coastal communities. But of course lack of consultation is endemic within the Gillard Labor government, as it was under the Rudd Labor government. In my own portfolio areas and in health in general, which I cover in this place, we have seen many examples of that. I have traversed that at length in many debates in this place.
As part of this declaration the government will also have to undertake design and implementation of a fisheries adjustment assistance package. The Prime Minister indicated on the day of the announcement that this could be around $100 million, although it appears that estimates of this could be much higher. Recreational and commercial fishers, as well as many of those related businesses and those communities that rely on fishing, have raised substantial concerns about the ALP's handling of marine protected areas.
Justifiably there are concerns by many communities who believe that they will face enormous economic and social losses unless there is proper and effective consultation on potential marine protected areas. Only proper and effective consultation will ensure that in the future marine protected areas achieve a balance of preservation of our environment with economic growth, ensuring that our coastal communities remain strong. The question is: can Minister Burke be trusted? That is the concern that many have in this area. In particular many are saying that Minister Burke cannot be trusted, and that is blindingly obvious after the recent declared commercial fishing activities amendment to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
This is another political decision by this government. It is certainly not a scientific decision. It is another example of the political fix rather than sound policy. This has also meant that amendments are needed, because they have not thought the process through properly. This is another example of policy on the run. Minister Burke has trashed the reputation of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority Commission, even though he himself appointed every member of the commission. He also has trashed the reputation of some of our world-leading scientists in the scientific community and institutions that have done the science in this area. The government has demonstrated that even if you do everything asked of you and then some extra, it is still not enough.
Businesses are very concerned they have been dudded—not only the businesses themselves but also their employees. How can business operate under this sort of environment? Should Australian fishers trust a man with this shambolic track record? Currently the environment minister has sole power to approve the adoption of bioregional plans. Declarations of bioregional plans and marine protected areas have significant environmental and social consequences. Therefore it is not appropriate for these declarations to be made without the opportunity for proper review, because they are not disallowable instruments. Regrettably the minister has displayed a complete lack of leadership and an inability to inform himself of the fundamental peer reviewed science that supported the small pelagic fish harvest strategy that he oversaw as fisheries minister. How can we trust him to have understood the science around marine parks? The issue is: who has he consulted? What reputable scientists has he talked to?
This is another vote against the minister, against sound peer-reviewed science that supports fisheries management in Australia. The latest Commonwealth fish status report confirms the ongoing improvement of Australian fish stocks. The Fisheries Status Report 2010, produced by the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics and Sciences shows that the fish stocks managed by the Australian government are more sustainable in 2010, building on improved performance in recent years. Of the 96 fish stocks assessed, 71 are not subject to overfishing which means that they are being harvested at an appropriate level. The Australian Fishing Trade Association estimates that the economic contribution that recreational fishing makes to the Australian economy is between $10 and $15 billion per annum.
Yet the government have bungled their recent announcement about 33 new marine parks because they have failed to adopt a balanced approach to marine protected areas. They have also failed to engage in the appropriate consultation with the fishing industry and the wider communities. The recreational and the commercial fishers, as well as many of their related businesses and communities that rely on fishing, have raised substantial concerns about how the government has handled the issue of marine protected areas. I turn now to the coalition's position. The coalition has supported a balanced approach to marine conservation; it was our policy for the 2010 election and we stand by it. We started the process of establishing comprehensive marine bioregional plans which include determination of marine protected areas around Australia's coastline. The former coalition government engaged in extensive and cooperative consultation processes before any marine protected areas were declared. It was this consultation which ensured that the appropriate balance was struck between protecting marine biodiversity and minimising the social and economic impacts on fishermen, businesses and coastal communities to achieve better outcomes overall. The result of all of this was a greater protected area with less impact on industry. As I indicated earlier, we know this government does not have a good track record of effective consultation.
There is considerable angst amongst fishermen regarding the declaration of the marine national parks. Their concerns are not being heard. The consultation process is absolutely flawed and as a consequence of that the results of that process will be absolutely flawed. The coalition is committed to returning balance and fairness to the issue of marine conservation, an issue that should be subject to scientific and commercial rigour and, above all, conducted in an open and transparent manner.
As I have indicated, the environment minister currently has sole power to approve the adoption of these bioregional plans. The declarations of these plans and marine protected areas have significant environmental, social and economic consequences that need to be properly assessed. As a consequence, we will look at returning balance and fairness to marine conservation.
Let us look at some of the practical effects of these changes. At the last federal election one of the most lasting images for me, particularly in seats such as Richmond and those along the northern areas of New South Wales, was the bumper sticker that said, 'I fish and I vote'. It was an issue that created enormous angst up and down the New South Wales coast. Whilst, as a New South Wales senator I am particularly concerned for that area, I know that angst is shared right around Australia. When I last spoke on this matter I raised the issues around the federal seats of the Central Coast, such as Paterson.
Residents are quite rightly concerned about the devastating impact that the reduction in fishing will have not only on their communities in general but also, and especially, on tourism and the flow-on consequences to their local communities. It was against this background that at the last election we saw, particularly in New South Wales, the damage that recreational and commercial fishers have already sustained as a consequence of the previous Labor government's deal with the Greens which saw large areas of state marine parks made into no-go fishing zones. Naturally, the fishing industry and the recreational and commercial fishers, particularly in New South Wales, are justifiably concerned about the impact that this legislation will have on them.
These issues were canvassed at great length when the Environment and Communications Legislation Committee inquired into the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Bioregional Plans) Bill 2011. At that time there was overwhelming support for parliamentary review of the marine bioregional planning process, and that was evident in the many submissions to the committee. For example, the submission from the Abalone Industry Association of South Australia said:
It is a real slap in the face to the good work done by our Government Fisheries Managers and Industry. We are very uncomfortable with the fact that the final decision of adopting the bioregional plans rests with the Minister for Environment only. We would prefer to have a far more rigorous and robust process through the parliament that doesn't have the potential to be clouded by extreme green views.
The Government seems to rush into these types of proposals and not take into account what the layman says. You say you listen to us at these Marine Park meetings but I think you are only there to show your presence and that you have already made the decision to go ahead.
How typical is that reflection from Ms Williams about what this government does! Whether it be about marine parks or in my own area of mental health, I listen to Minister Butler go off on his conversations with people, mostly in Labor seats and the odd Independent seat, basically talking to his own people and giving the appearance of consultation when, in effect, it is clear the government is not going to make any changes or listen to people at all.
In that inquiry we also heard from Mr Greg Haines, the Managing Director of the Haines Group. He said:
The apparent political power of these minority groups, combined the perceived shallow public consultation conducted on Marine Parks zoning has left an indelible impression in the minds of many that Democracy is dead. At least in the matter of Marine Zoning. If this all sounds far-fetched, you need look no further than the submissions to the 2005 Review of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act.
The Australian Fishing Trade Association said this:
To date no briefing regarding the science being used with Bio Regional Planning has been transparently tabled to stake holders. Thus no comment from stake holders has been achieved. This vacuum of information has not been helpful in any understanding of current process, future process or past process.
In conclusion, unlike Labor and their Green alliance partners, the coalition does not believe that the scientific and economic challenges of fishing and marine protection are incompatible. The Australian fishing industry is one of the most environmentally responsible fishing industries in the world, and the very last thing that the fishing industry wants to do is to destroy the environment that is providing them with a living and with the opportunity for recreational fishing.
The coalition believes that the establishment of such areas should not be about politics but, above all, about protecting marine biodiversity and minimising social and economic impact on fishers, businesses and their communities. The coalition will return balance and fairness to marine conservation so that all Australians can have confidence that the best decisions are being made in protecting our marine biodiversity as well as the fishers and communities that feed so many Australians. I commend the bill to the Senate.
I too rise to speak to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Making Marine Parks Accountable) Bill 2012. Firstly, I put on the record that, like all my coalition colleagues, I strongly support the role of government in ensuring the conservation of our nation's natural resources and the protection of the environment for the benefit and enjoyment of everybody in Australia. It seems a pity that the government either misunderstands this role or is deliberately misdirecting it to satisfy the extreme protectionist views of groups that care nothing about the massive benefits that flow to society from the sustainable harvest of these resources.
I support the establishment of marine parks, reserves, protected areas and even no-take zones where necessary, but they must be based on addressing identified threats and demonstrate that they are dealing in a cost-effective way with the processes that constitute these threats. We have a number of national and international agreements that outline how we should be handling this, including the EPBC Act itself, but we see none of that in the approach that has been taken by this government to marine parks. What we see is a government that is prepared to chuck out the window everything, including these intergovernmental agreements, and things that for the last 20 years have been established as protocols. If you have a look at the agreement between the Commonwealth and the states, it actually states that action must not be disproportionate to the significance of the environmental problem.
It appears as if there really is very little in the way of environmental problems associated with fishing that cannot be dealt with under the current traditional fisheries management techniques. Closing off large areas of fishing when there are no identifiable threats associated with that fishing does not make a great deal of sense. We need to get back to the basics of applying some of these precautionary approaches to how we deal with the issues instead of taking emotional, reactionary ones. It is a case of making policy on the run, and I think it is probably designed to appease extremists and to hoodwink the masses.
The additional no-take zones proposed in the current plans do not represent unique ecosystems threatened in any way by fishing. The environmental benefit of closing those areas is likely to be absolutely nothing. There may be more fish in these areas if we do it, and there might be bigger fish swimming around inside these marine areas, but that will be at the expense of seafood production and it will be a great loss to the recreational fishing industry as well.
Not a single species in Australian marine waters is threatened or has been made extinct as a result of fishing, and our fisheries are ranked among the best in the world in terms of sustainable management. The enforcement costs of establishing these zones, which run up to 200 kilometres off the coast of Australia, are absolutely massive—and for what benefit? It really does appear to be nothing more than satisfying the hardcore left-wing Greens who seem to be holding this government to making some decisions that certainly are not in the best interests of Australia and particularly our fisheries.
There is no doubt that there are some things that are possibly threatening our marine environment at the moment, things like: the southern seastar that we see in Tasmanian waters, zebra mussels in the Northern Territory, and even the Caulerpa weed in South Australia, to name a few. There are substantial impacts from things like pollution and environmental run-off, coastal developments in some regions, and so on. These are real threats and they need to be addressed. But the idea of addressing these threats by closing down huge areas to fishing seems a little preposterous, because we would be closing down and damaging a whole heap of our industries and addressing the problem not at all. We saw this in the recent 20-year report on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park which showed that the reef was declining due to the effects of run-off and changing conditions—despite it being the largest marine park and sanctuary zone in the world. These are not just views that I am putting forward. The coalition supports this position, the commercial fishing sector supports this position, and regional communities support this position.
In my home state of South Australia, the Liberal Party strongly supports the protection of our marine assets. In fact it was Liberal Party back in the 1990s that first floated the idea of marine parks. And going back to the 2002 state election, it was the Liberal Party who committed to establishing marine parks. What we do not support is the way in which these sanctuary zones are determined. We do not support the process to determine those sanctuary zones because the process is fundamentally flawed. It is fundamentally flawed because it has not followed the established protocol for arranging protection zones within a marine park. Marine park protection zones need to be based on identified, scientifically evaluated threats to marine biodiversity and the response must be proportionate to that threat. Where are the threats from fishing? We want the government to start addressing this issue of no-take sanctuary zones on a threats basis because if we do not we are going to see it costing us jobs. It is going to cost us regional communities, it is going to cost us exports, it is going to reduce our food production, it is going to hurt our recreational and commercial fishing sectors and it is going to cost taxpayers millions and millions of dollars in enforcement and management fees.
There has been increasing controversy over marine parks with fishing interests claiming that there has been a disproportionate priority being given to unjustified and unrealistic demands from so-called conservation groups like the Pew foundation and the Wilderness Society, which are largely about preservation and not about conservation. People such as South Australian fishing industry authority Michael Angelakis has stated that if government departments have their way seafood prices will go through the roof as those who fish will be excluded from zones that are rife with fish and are thriving.
Unfortunately, what has happened with marine parks is a further demonstration of how the economic and social fabric of our society is being threatened by minority groups and the lack of this government's ability to make a considered judgement in the best interests of all Australians. The recreational and commercial fishing industry, regional communities and marine experts are overwhelmingly saying that marine parks are important. They are saying these sanctuary no-take zones are incredibly damaging because they are not supported by scientific evidence. There is no doubt that the whole of the industry is respectful of the fact that we need to be responsible in terms of our management of our marine parks. But let us not be silly and throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Therefore we as a coalition support the fishing industry in their call for a threats based determination of any protection zone as per the COAG agreement approach that is cautionary and not emotional. There is absolutely no sense whatsoever in proceeding with no-take zones that have been determined with the same level of science and precision as pinning the tail on a donkey and are likely to destroy Aboriginal communities.
On 14 June this year Minister Burke said Australia will create the world's largest network of marine parks as the world 'turns a corner' on ocean protection. He made much of the five proposed zones in offshore waters surrounding every state and territory. But we did not hear him say terribly much about the hundreds of millions of dollars or so in compensation that commercial fishermen are entitled to claim for being locked out of the marine parks. The plan drew fire from the commercial fishing sector and the recreational fishers, who said it went too far, and, predictably, from the Greens, who said it did not go far enough.
The coalition is instinctively against anything which impinges on the rights of our fishers. We know from this government's record that they cannot be trusted to get consultation right, they cannot be trusted to get implementation right and often they cannot even be trusted to get the science right. So fishers in every affected area are saying they are going to lose the very waters from which they can supply good, local, fresh product to all Australians.
Dean Logan, from the Australian Marine Alliance, said the plan would hurt commercial fishers. He said:
It's basically saying to Australians you cannot be trusted to be good custodians of the environment …
Professional prawn fishing groups say the marine park reserves will have a severe impact on the prawn industry in northern Australia. Austral Fisheries general manager Andy Prendergast said the marine reserves, particularly in the Gulf of Carpentaria, will exclude them from their most important fishing grounds for tiger and banana prawns. He said the decision could effectively wipe out Australia's free-range prawn fishing industry.
"There is a tipping point," he said. "If we can't get access to these areas, that could effectively put us out of business …
Recreational fishers believe the government's plans are all about winning votes from the greens in the cities and say it is absurd to protect areas where fish are actually thriving.
Unlike Labor and the Greens, the coalition does not believe scientific and economic challenges over fishing and marine protection are incompatible. In support of this argument, let me quote Dr Ray Hilborn, a professor of aquatic and fishery sciences at the University of Washington, who says, 'Australian fisheries are well managed, sustainable and do not need further locking up to protect them from overfishing; the existing tools are working'. He goes on elsewhere to say that there is no threat to marine conservation and no marine species have gone extinct. He says, 'Closing Australian areas to fisheries will not increase food production from fisheries; it will reduce it'. He then goes on to say, 'Reducing access to Australian fish stocks results in Australia importing more fish, often sourced from areas that have less sustainably managed fisheries at a much higher environmental cost, effectively offshoring our domestic requirements.'
Well-managed fisheries are more environmentally sustainable than most other sources of protein. If we close the ocean and take less seafood the environmental cost of the alternative is much higher than the environmental cost of our responsible fishing methods. In Australia, the US and a number of other countries fishing stocks are actually rebuilding, not declining. Australian seafood consumers have been misled by the prophets of gloom and doom. Public perception has been distorted by overzealous and uninformed protest groups who would rather see their name in lights than deliver good policy outcomes from Australia. The result of antifishing rhetoric has falsely demonised fishing and led to ill directed calls for restrictions, particularly in areas that are closed to fishing and then call protected. Australians have been told by health professionals and authorities to eat more seafood, yet the country has a serious and growing shortage of locally produced product and no obvious policies for food security or increasing domestic supply of fish. It is difficult to understand why Australians believe they need to implement additional alternative restrictions on fishing such as more fishing closures in marine parks.
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