Thursday, 21 June 2007
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment Bill 2007
This is my final contribution on this wider issue of Indigenous involvement. I am disappointed that there is no willingness to at least provide this minimal bit of extra guarantee about adequacy of consultation. I think the minister is accurate in saying that the consultation done leading up to the major rezoning that was implemented around the marine park did include fairly widespread consultation with Indigenous peoples and that shows that it can be done. For the record, I repeat that the rezoning process, which was very comprehensive and very extensive—it extended over a long period of time—not only involved meaningful consultation with Indigenous people but also produced an extremely positive outcome for the environment. It was also a positive one for Indigenous peoples in general.
For the record, I will repeat my statement that I made in my second reading contribution: I think that rezoning of the marine park is probably the single most significant and positive environmental achievement of the government. It is a major initiative that was extremely beneficial to the environment in the face of some difficult politics for them, and it should be acknowledged. Frankly, I often find myself being more praiseworthy of the government’s achievement in this regard than the government themselves seem to be half the time. So, as they are not keen to talk up their fabulous achievement, I will do it for them. They did it well—obviously some people were not happy, and I will touch on that again in a moment—and it did include consultation with Indigenous people. That is why it is all the more disappointing that it was not done with regard to the review that occurred afterwards. It is ironic that the review that was generated because some people were unhappy with the result and alleged inadequate consultation resulted in far less adequate consultation, at least as far as Indigenous people were concerned. There was plenty of consultation with other people but minimal consultation with Indigenous people. It is a bit of a sad irony that a review which came about because some people were not happy with the consultation and the process failed in a key area of its consultations.
So it is true that the rezoning did include a lot of adequate consultation, but it was not automatic that it would. I would also argue that, now that the authority does not have an Indigenous representative, it is less likely that it would do that part of it as well as it did this time around. And that is unfortunate. I do not think we can just get by with guarantees that say that reviews will be comprehensive, transparent and accountable. I would also include consultation in respect of rezoning plans and preparation of statements, which is an area we failed in so many times, including in the review that has led to this legislation.
But I hear what the minister said—he is obviously not in a position to change his view—so I would conclude by just expressing disappointment, particularly at the Queensland coalition senators. As I said in my second reading contribution, I found it extraordinary that Queenslanders—who are occasionally known for being parochial, but I am sure people from all states can be parochial—would argue that the authority should have been removed, disbanded and brought under the control of the minister and bureaucrats down in Canberra. I am pleased that has not happened, for which I congratulate and thank the government. I should also praise this review for not going down that path, but it is very disappointing that Indigenous people have borne the collateral damage along the way. I would also have to make the point because this is part of how it is perceived and it needs to be put on the record.
We heard from Senator Boswell and Senator Joyce on Monday about how they would have liked the authority to have been destroyed altogether, and they were still very unhappy with the process that occurred. I think it was an extremely comprehensive process—it could have been going all century and it still would not have made some people happy—however, that is the inevitable outcome of these things, and I understand where they are coming from. They have a constituency there, and they have fought for what they could get for them. I note that, even though there was unhappiness with the rezoning and some of the processes, there was an enormous package at the end of it. The current total for the structural adjustment package for the fisheries is $164 million in the budget, with over $120 million already provided to 1,663 different claims. With some of those claims, more than one went to the same business but on average they received over $72,000 per claim and obviously many of those would have been larger than the $72,000. So in that sense those people who fought for that issue can claim some credit.
They got a significant amount of money for their constituents in that regard. If only people would fight so hard for Indigenous representation issues and for the needs of Indigenous people as they did for 1,663 businesses linked to commercial fishing, which managed to produce over $120 million. I have to make a comparison. I know it is not a federal government area, but the example is very relevant for Queensland and for people in these communities adjacent to the marine park, between people who were not seeking compensation for future lost earnings but were seeking payment of earnings that they were owed—the stolen wages issue. They were offered a $4,000 maximum, and for some it was for decades of work. I know it is not this government’s responsibility and not its fault, but that is how these things get portrayed. When there was a major upset amongst commercial fishers—and I am not arguing the merits or otherwise of their case—they received $160 million in uncapped payments, $70,000 or $80,000 per business, whereas Indigenous people with decades of life earnings not paid were offered $4,000, and only if they signed away all future legal rights. That is the disparity; that is why people get upset about these sorts of things. I know that is not the minister’s fault. It might be at a bit of a tangent to marine park issues, but it is not at a tangent to people on the ground, because all these things form a long line of acts and incidents. It is unfortunate that we cannot get that degree of desperation and fighting for this group in our community, who I think we all know are somewhat less well off than most of the rest of us.
Having made those points, I note that the government is not going to support these amendments. That is unfortunate. They are fairly minor amendments. The minister has given us an assurance that all of these processes will be comprehensive, transparent and accountable regardless, and I am sure all best endeavours will be made to make that so. I think our own history shows that all the best endeavours are not always good enough unless there are some extra frameworks in place to increase the chance of them succeeding. I do not think these amendments would have made things any less comprehensive, transparent and accountable, but obviously it is not to be.