Senate debates

Tuesday, 21 August 2012



8:29 pm

Photo of Sue BoyceSue Boyce (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

Last week I spoke in this place about the Gillard government's proposal to increase the marine park reserves of Australia so that we have the world's largest national park. I want to speak again on this topic and give more information because I believe the proposed increase network of marine parks is an issue that, if the current proposal goes ahead, will have a devastating effect on Australia's fishermen, industries that rely on Australia's fishermen—both commercial and recreational—and all of the industries that hang off those, as well as consumers.

Around 90 per cent of the Australian population eat seafood, of which currently 72 to 75 per cent is imported. This percentage will increase if the government's proposal to create the world's largest marine reserve goes ahead after 10 September this year. The wonderful tradition of local fish—including regional specialties from each area—which is an integral part of our heritage and the Australian way of life, will be a thing of the past for most people. The question Australians need to ask themselves is: do they want to continue eating Australian wild caught seafood harvested from our own waters or are they content with settling for imported seafood from oceans that are not as clean or where the fisheries are not as well managed and where the fishing industry is not as well regulated?

In a nutshell, this proposal means that Australians are at very real risk of losing their food security, losing access to a completely renewable and vital source and losing the option of buying fresh, wild caught Australian fish. There is also the matter of sending hundreds of Australian fishers out of business. The question is: why is this radical proposal on the table? I keep hearing that it is a done deal. Overseas billionaires tell us that. The proposal is still on the table because Australians are being conned by a slick and expensive advertising campaign largely funded by overseas groups and peddled by Green groups in Australia. It is the Greens who keep this Labor government in office. To stay in power this government is prepared to do whatever it takes, even if that means selling Australians short and selling our environment short. We know the proposal has nothing to do with conservation and the environment, and no amount of spin by Labor will change that fact.

Australian fisheries are recognised as being amongst the healthiest and best managed in the world according to the UN Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. The Australian Fisheries Management Authority has demonstrated that Australian fisheries have been consistently ranked amongst the world's best in independent reports by international experts in peer reviewed journals. Our oceans are not under threat. Our fisheries are amongst the best in the world because of the green credentials of our fishers and our superbly managed waters. Even the conservation groups running this disgraceful campaign admit that commercial fishing has not adversely affected the Coral Sea. So why are the Gillard government and environment minister Tony Burke proposing to lock Australian fishers out of it?

Last week I pointed out that, if the proposal goes ahead, 77.6 per cent of east coast Queensland waters will be in marine parks. That is almost eight times the international benchmark of 10 per cent. More Queensland waters will be locked up in marine park areas than any other waters in the world. Once we are locked out of our own fishing grounds, we will have to import even more seafood from countries such as Vietnam, Taiwan and Malaysia. Apart from the concerns over the management of these fisheries, how ethical is that when there are growing populations of Vietnamese people suffering from protein deficiency because Vietnamese fishers are finding it more productive to get cash for exports rather than sell their harvest locally? It borders on obscene that Australia, which has the third largest fishing zone in the world and the healthiest fisheries in the world, is deciding whether we will reduce the amount of local catch available to Third World countries nearby.

The threats to Australia's marine ecosystems do not come from fishing. They come from pollution and introduced organisms. We do not knock down mangroves to establish fishing grounds; we do not overfish species to provide seafood, whereas it has been known that other countries will do this. They will knock down mangroves, they will overfish their oceans. Our management of the oceans has been so effective that not a single species of marine fish has been reported extinct as compared with 27 terrestrial mammals, 23 birds and four frogs.

Australian fishers have gone to a great deal of trouble to keep their green credentials by using demonstrably sustainable fishing methods. To give an example, the longline fishers in the Coral Sea since 2002 have had an observer program which works in two ways. They carry an observer from the Australian Fisheries Management Authority onboard. The observer's task is to collect data on catch composition—species and size. They also monitor bycatch, or unintentionally caught non-target species, and they collect information on discarded species—that is, unsaleable species. To complement the observer program, there have been trials and adoptions of electronic monitoring where vessels are fitted with a number of strategically placed cameras that record what the human observer sees. This electronic monitoring is able to be viewed post voyage.

The important thing here is bycatch. The bycatch could be a threatened, endangered or protected species. Neither the observer program nor the e-monitoring program to date have discovered any matters of concern with the target catch or threatened, endangered or protected species. Fishers carry specialised equipment which they have invested in but will not be doing so while the current uncertainty exists around their businesses. Fishers have training in the identification, handling, recovery and release of threatened species, in particular in relation to Coral Sea turtles. The monitoring has proven that if the fishers catch sea turtles, there are almost no interactions and the turtles are returned to the sea after being tagged for research purposes. The industry has participated with researchers in this satellite tagging program.

The program has given the researchers valuable insights into what these turtles do. This information would not be available to these researchers without the cooperation of the longline fishers. We have the most stringent observer program in the world, and the majority of it is funded by the fishers themselves through their levy base. The states also have observer programs which cover prawn trawlers. They use turtle excluder devices—TEDs—which have proven effective in eliminating their impact on marine turtles. It is in our fishers' interests to protect the ocean habitat. Whatever sustainability challenges we have given fishers, they have responded. Other countries who fish in sections of the Coral Sea do not have programs anywhere near as stringent as Australia's. Submissions will close on 10 September 2012.

I am interested to know why there was a half-page ad placed in the Courier-Mail last weekend congratulating Australia on its decision 'to establish a fully protected Coral Sea Marine Reserve'. There were 12 people named in the ad. It was placed by the pompously named 'Ocean Elders'—English, American, French, Canadian and one Australian. They included the likes of Richard Branson and musicians Jackson Browne and Neil Young. What exactly have they to say about Australia's food supply? And how dare they use the term 'ocean elders' when the only elders who have a right to a view about fishing in Australia are our own Indigenous elders.

The environment minister attacked me in parliament yesterday. He used the term 'lie' but he was told by the Acting Speaker, Ms Burke, that he could not say that, and so then he accused me of using 'fake information' and an incorrect map. The map, in fact, came from his own website, as did the information. I suggest that he look to himself and stop placating the Greens no matter what the cost to the industry. (Time expired)


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