Senate debates

Monday, 17 September 2012


Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Declared Commercial Fishing Activities) Bill 2012; Second Reading

5:06 pm

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | Hansard source

It is quite fitting to note that the best Senator Thorp can do is read an editorial from last week's Examiner rather than arguing her case regarding the supertrawler, rather than making a broader contribution in relation to where we are at the moment. It probably signifies the embarrassment that the government have about the way that it has managed this issue. Up until Monday last week, Senator Ludwig was actually defending the process—defending AFMA and defending the scientists. Yet through the introduction of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Declared Commercial Fishing Activities) Bill 2012, we effectively have a motion of no confidence in AFMA and in the science.

It might be worth looking at Minister Burke's role in this entire process given he appointed the AFMA commission; he appointed the former New South Wales Treasurer as chairman of AFMA commissioners. Now he has effectively moved a motion of no confidence in the whole process. It might be worth working through Minister Burke's role in this process because last week in the media he claimed that he had no knowledge of the harvest strategy that supports the management of the small pelagic fishery.

When you look over a chronology of events, particularly between 2007 when Minister Burke was appointed Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and 2010 when the election occurred, there was a lot of action in this particular space with respect to how the small pelagic fishery would be managed. I will start in December 2004 when the AFMA board—as it was then, not a commission—agreed to develop the fisheries management plan. In October 2005 there was the first independent advisory panel report on quota allocation.

Between 2006 and 2008 there were a number of scientific studies on fish stocks and ecological risk assessments. The small pelagic fishery management advisory committee developed a draft management plan and the harvest strategy. It is at that point in 2008 when the harvest strategy was released that the concept of a large-scale freezer vessel came into being. The introductory comments to that document canvassed the use of a large-scale freezer vessel as perhaps the most economical way to work in the fishery. So already Minister Burke's comments in relation to his role do not have any credibility. In September 2009, a small pelagic fishery management advisory committee recommended the draft management plan to AFMA. In 2009, the harvest strategy was also reviewed. So not for the first time but for the second time a large-scale factory freezer vessel was foreshadowed as part of the management of this fishery.

In October 2009, then Minister for Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Peter Garrett, wrote to AFMA endorsing the management plan, including the harvest strategy. Not only do we have Minister Burke involved in this process; but then environment minister Peter Garrett wrote to AMFA and specifically endorsed the Small Pelagic Fishery Management Plan and harvest strategy, and he agreed to accredit it under the EPBC Act. If Minister Burke did not look at it, Minister Garrett certainly did and he agreed to accredit it in accordance with the EPBC Act—the act that Minister Burke now administers. For Minister Burke to say that he had no idea what was going on perhaps reflects his interest in his portfolio at the time. As I said this morning, a lot of us wondered what he was doing while he was in that portfolio—and his 1½ page ministerial statement at the 2010 election indicates probably not much.

In December 2009, the Small Pelagic Fishery Management Plan was accepted by Minister Burke. Of course that management plan also refers to the harvest strategy, the document that Minister Burke says he does not have any ownership of. On 6 January 2010, Minister Garrett issued a wildlife trade operation certificate. For those who are not aware, any native wildlife fish species exported out of Australia needs a certificate to indicate that the fishery is sustainable under the EPBC Act. It is a very wise system and provides a second check that the fishery is sustainable.

In February 2010, the Small Pelagic Fishery Management Plan was tabled in the parliament by Minister Burke. That management plan refers to and incorporates the harvest strategy. So Minister Burke actually tabled this document in parliament, yet last week he denied any knowledge of it. Senator Bernardi earlier today referred to a Sergeant Schultz's response, but I think that does a disservice to Sergeant Schultz. The small pelagic fishery strategic assessment under the EPBC Act was tabled at the same time.

Over a period of time, particularly during the period that Minister Burke was the responsible fisheries minister, we can see significant involvement in the development of the management of this fishery. For Minister Burke now to be saying, 'I didn't know about any of this' and that he had no involvement in this completely lacks credibility. He was a part of the development of the process—or if he was not, he should have been and he should have been across it, particularly given he tabled documents in the parliament. If you are going to table something in the parliament, you should have some sense of what it is. But then again, given the way this piece of legislation has been managed, you have to wonder.

In his press conference last week when he announced he was going to introduce this piece of legislation—legislation that today has had its name changed; another element in the whole sorry saga of this bill—he said that it would only apply to prospective events in the commercial fishery.

That is what he told the broader community when he announced this at the press conference with Minister Ludwig last week, and I think that those who were watching and listening were entitled to believe him. That is what a minister says; that is what a minister should do. But, then again, we have the example of the Prime Minister who said, six days before the last election, 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead'. It did not take any more than a few hours for Minister Burke to break his commitment that this would only be around commercial fisheries and in relation to prospective events.

On reading the legislation, which the opposition did not receive until after it was tabled—we received a briefing on the legislation after it was tabled and the legislation after it was tabled—it became quite apparent that it related to everybody. So, yet again, Minister Burke's word cannot be trusted. The recreational fishing sector know that he cannot be trusted on marine parks, because the consultation that occurred under marine parks was siloed, separated from everybody else in the process and people were played off against each other. They are very reticent to believe Minister Burke about his promises in relation to marine parks. They learned very quickly that they should be concerned about his promises in relation to this bill too.

Before question time the day after the bill was presented, of course, we have the situation where Craig Thomson comes in with an amendment to try and sort out the mess that has been created in relation to recreational fishers. True to form, that amendment does not actually do the job. It takes out recreational fishers but leaves charter fishermen in, given that charter operators are regarded as commercial. This gives a clear demonstration that neither Mr Thomson nor the government have a real understanding of the recreational fishing sector. Of course, the opposition made this quite evident. In fact, we advised the recreational fishers of the situation that was going on, and then of course the government had to walk away from Mr Thomson's amendment and bring in its own.

The other thing about this piece of legislation—and I note Senator Siewert saying that she wants the social element back in—is that it provides an entree for GetUp! and like organisations who want to run social campaigns against industry in Australia to do that. Anyone else who is involved in any form of resource based industry ought to be really worried about this legislation, because it sets a very nasty precedent. If you can raise a social campaign, if you can get enough emails on Twitter, if you can get enough emails on GetUp!, this government will flip, particularly given the influence that there is on this government from the Greens. That is a real concern.

We have seen it in Tasmania. We have seen the effective de-industrialisation of Tasmania. We are seeing that Tasmania has negative growth, which is the ambition of the Greens. It is the stated ambition of the Greens; they do not want to see growth. Tim Morris, their Treasury spokesman, has said they do not want to see any growth. They want to see transitions rather than growth. So they are effectively going about their policy of de-industrialising Tasmania. We ought to be concerned that they have the same policies here and they are having that influence on the government, particularly the Labor Party.

Having got through that, the government moves amendments itself to take out social and economic. The Greens want to put that in. We will not be supporting that amendment. Then, to deal with the prospective issues—or, what they thought were the prospective issues—that are in the legislation, the government put a start date into the legislation of 11 September. So anyone who is doing something at the moment is protected, but if they want to change anything that they are doing in their fishery they have the risk of these provisions being enacted. Again, there is a problem in the drafting and the design of the bill, something that the minister promised just the day before would not occur, still exists. Then, in trying to get their votes across the line, to get Mr Oakeshott to agree to the bill and in the acknowledgement that this bill was just so bad, they had to put a sunset clause in it.

I acknowledge that what Mr Ludwig is going to do in having a review of the Fisheries Management Act—which was initially enacted in 1991, although I think we ought to be very aware that it has been amended a number of times since that period of time; you only have to look at the website to see that it has—to improve Australia's fisheries management. We are quite comfortable with the review of the Fisheries Management Act, but I am concerned that the Greens will use this as a way to insert into the Fisheries Management Act things that they are trying to deal with now. We will be watching very, very closely for that.

Next, we have here today the last amendment: to try and change the name of the act to give the impression that it is only about commercials. But we all understand that what the Greens want is what the government usually gives them. We have seen with changes to the carbon tax legislation how the whacky ideas that the Greens impose on the government as part of their legislative design process end up not working. Then, of course, what they have to do afterwards is come back and change those things because they do not work in the real world. I expect that that is exactly what we have seen here, with Minister Burke, as Senator Abetz quite rightly said earlier, who has his campaigning foundations in the Wilderness Society, effectively reverting to type and designing a very poor piece of legislation which has had to be amended five or six times before it got here, including changing its name so that we can get to a reasonable situation. Yet, any fisher who is still in any fishery and wants to change their method of practice is subject to his signature. I can tell you, there are a number of people in the commercial sector who are very concerned about this.

In fact the Tasmanian Labor senators ought to be very concerned about the attitude of the aquaculture sector; they are absolutely devastated at this legislation. They are really worried, particularly given the influence of the Greens in Tasmania, who are opposing the expansion of the aquaculture sector. When we talk about global food security and the importance of seafood in the global protein task—25 per cent of the globe's protein comes from seafood—aquaculture is going to be a very important part of that. But the Greens don't think so, because their policy is deindustrialisation.

A well-managed wild fishery will have less impact on the environment than almost any other form of growth of protein. Something that has been talked about a number of times during this debate is the strength of Australia's fisheries management. It is a real tragedy that what has happened as a part of this debate is that the reputation of Australia's fisheries management has been tarnished. It is a real tragedy. If you consider this particular fishery, and the way we manage it in the context of global fisheries, we are very conservative in the way we establish our quotas.

I refer to—and I think I have mentioned it in this place before—the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force, which reported back in April on the way that we manage our fisheries. Their document says that, if you have a high level of science, your fishing harvest rate should not exceed 75 per cent. You can take out up to 75 per cent of the biomass. With an intermediate level of science, you can take up to 50 per cent of the biomass. With a low level of science, you can take out up to 20 per cent. The harvest strategy for Australia's small pelagic fishery says the maximum you can take is 20 per cent. So we are more conservative than even the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force. That is how conservatively we manage our fishery. I think it is important that we actually understand that.

Can I just address one final thing. It has cropped up in Senator Siewert's speech. I have only just received a copy of the document that Senator Siewert referred to that came out of IMAS a day or so ago. It is an important piece of the puzzle and an important point for discussion. I have referred to the way this was managed in a public sense in some previous statements. I do not walk away from those. Science is about discovery and it is about a contest of ideas. Professor Andrew Wadsley—who is very much a competent and well-regarded scientist in his field, particularly in risk management, something that I am also interested in—made some comments about calculations in respect of the science a few weeks ago. The thing that really disturbed me about it was that, rather than talking to the scientists who were involved in doing the work in the first place, he went to media, which immediately places a question on their standards and their efficacy.

Nobody questions the issue of the contestability of the science. I wrote to the vice-chancellor of the university on 3 September and said:

I am therefore concerned at the recent criticism by Dr Andrew Wadsley of IMAS and the calculation of the biomass and therefore the quota for the small pelagic fishery. I would appreciate any relevant information the university has on this topic to enable me to better understand the issues raised by Dr Wadsley.

My understanding is that this document is it. Unfortunately, I have not had it transmitted to me yet. I received it today by looking on the Tasmanian Times website. I will have a look at it and I will study it. But it is very disappointing that I have to go through that process to get that information. It is an important part of the equation, and I acknowledge that.

I also acknowledge the concerns of the recreational fishers—they cannot be left aside—particularly in respect of localised depletion. I have supported their concerns about that all the way through this process.

I move:

At the end of the motion, add:

"but the Senate calls on the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities to:

(1)   explain:

  (a)   the reasons for his decision to reverse the policy that he introduced as Fisheries Minister in October 2009 which stated: 'There are considerable economies of scale in the fishery and the most efficient way to fish may include large scale factory freezer vessels';

  (b)   why he effectively invited the Margiris into Australia by promoting 'large scale factory freezer vessels'; and

  (c)   what actions he will take to compensate the 50 Australian workers who are losing their jobs as a consequence of this legislation; and

(2)   introduce amendments to the Fisheries Management Act 1991 to expand the powers for greater spatial management provisions'."


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