Senate debates

Monday, 17 September 2012


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

5:57 pm

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (Queensland, National Party, Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

This is a rather peculiar time. I approach this noting that the whole approach of the Australian Labor Party during the Cubbie decision was that I was a populist and a sovereign risk. You can get no better example of populism and sovereign risk than what they did the next week, yet we have not heard boo from Craig Emerson—the righteous guardian angel of everything in the free market—and we have not heard boo from any of them. They are a total pack of hypocrites.

I want to go through what the minister said, because tonight is Monday. I want to go through what he said last Monday—that is the Monday before last Tuesday. On that Monday night, on Q&A, Tony Burke said this:

On the super trawler I was to have a media conference tomorrow—

that is, Tuesday—

morning but I have signed off on it over the last hour and a half … before I came here.

So he was going to have a media conference on Tuesday—we worked that out—but he was actually having a media conference to say everything is fine. That is what he said on Monday night. He went on to say:

The advice that I received is this: first of all, under national environmental law I don't have the legal power to block it altogether.

Apparently, 12 hours later, he did. He then said:

What I do have is the legal power to impose a number of restrictions on it based on the impact that it can have not on the fish that it’s targeting but on the by-catch: the seals, the dolphins—

et cetera. He then said:

Well, whether it’s economical or not after they see the conditions, that’s a decision for them, not a decision for me.

Not a decision for him, until the next day when it was a decision for him. The following is a classic statement. This is the minister the night before he made the decision to stop the supertrawler. Tony Burke said:

The catch limit had already been imposed on the fishery. So the catch limit exists. The company that has bought the boat already owned the right to catch a particular volume of fish. So in terms of the fish that thank [sic] you’re targeting, that part of it has already been measured as sustainable.

This was the minister less than 24 hours before he made a decision to stop the boat. The question, though, with this one is that, instead of 20 boats going out to all the different parts of this huge fishery, which goes all the way around Queensland and under South Australia, you get a different impact on your dolphins, seals and sea lions if you catch in a very localised area. So for the total catch that they are targeting there is no change.

Why did Minister Burke do it? How could this possibly be the same person within 24 hours? What happened after he left Q&A? Now there is a job for Inspector Clouseau. Where did he go? What happened? What was happening that the wheels of government were turning decidedly at one o'clock in the morning? Where was this meeting that he confirmed the night before? He was going to have a press conference to say that the super trawler was going to go ahead. What happened? Who is running the place these days? Who was there? It is quite surprising. The next day both ministers stood earnestly before the podium, stating that this was a deliberate decision. What were people to think? Apparently, they were being very competent: I saw earnest Minister Tony Burke and earnest Minister Joe Ludwig standing there, telling us that this was a logical decision. Apparently, they now have more competency than these people: the Hon. Michael Egan, FAID chairman; Dr James Findlay, CEO; Mr Richard Stevens, OAM and deputy chairman; Mr Ian Cartwright; Dr John Glaister; Ms Jennifer Goddard; Ms Elizabeth Montano; Ms Denise North and Professor Keith Sainsbury. These people are actually the AFMA commission who approved the decision. They are the people who actually gave it the tick-off, which was then endorsed by the minister. Even the night before the minister had agreed with their decision and was going forward with it, but apparently they must not know what they are doing. What is the minister going to do with the board now? Is he going to sack them? He obviously does not have any confidence in them. Is he putting them off? Did he contact them? Did he leave Q&A that night and go round to see the AFMA board and say: 'Sorry, guys, I was just pulling your leg on that show tonight. I really have no confidence in you and now I'm going to take a decision tomorrow morning that is completely at odds with the decision that you took'? How does it work?

Could this decision possibly be a sovereign risk? I wonder. Where was the op ed from Dr Craig Emerson? He should have been straight onto the Australian to write an op ed about it. He should have written a big op ed about the risk of Minister Tony Burke and Minister Joe Ludwig. Craig Emerson should have written a superlative piece on it, but he did not. I looked at the list and thought: maybe Dr Craig Emerson will give a speech about it, because he is a brave individual—a very brave person, with a very fine hair style. I thought: well, maybe he will give a speech on it. I have looked at the list and Dr Craig Emerson has never given a speech on it—not boo. Nothing. That is interesting. He was probably sick, or there was probably something on. Maybe there was something on telly—Play School. It is a very interesting world that we live in these days. The person who was the patron saint for protecting all against sovereign risk and populism went silent, and the government that had derided me made the most populist and peculiar decision in less than 24 hours from the time that they said they would do it.

We have had the problem in the past where we cannot trust what the government say before an election. 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead.' There is a carbon tax under their government. But now we have the situation where we cannot trust what they say, even for 24 hours. Twenty-four hours means nothing. Nothing they say has any worth anymore. So where did this decision come from? Was it really something about the seals and the dolphins? Minister Burke gave a very good explanation about what would happen if the super trawler caught a seal or a dolphin. It would have to move on for 50 nautical miles. He gave a very good explanation about it, but obviously he must have forgotten it the next day.

So I am thinking the decision has something to do with the left wing of the Labor Party being rather upset about the Nauru decision—the issue about another boat—and they are trying to balance up the scales. They are trying to balance things up a bit. They lost on the refugee thing so they thought they would claim a big win on the fishing thing. That might have had something to do with it. It might have had something to do with the internal dynamics of the Labor Party and absolutely nothing to do with environmental science and absolutely nothing to do with an agreement which had been on foot for about seven years. I think the government's decision had a lot to do with politics—and politics that was hard on foot between the end of Q&A and one press conference conducted by two senior ministers in the press room at Parliament House less than 24 hours later.

I do not know. What other decisions are on the board at the moment? Is that enough? Does that square up the account? Is everyone clear now? Are all debts paid? Can we move on? Or is there another decision that is about to be reversed? The issue about this decision is that it had been on foot for ages. There has been the capacity at any point in time for further investigations, but that never happened. In fact, we find that even the process of affirming the decision was made within 24 hours of the government basically rejecting the decision. It could not have got any stranger.

Every time you think the government are about as strange as they can possibly get, they outdo themselves. All of sudden, from nowhere, guess who popped back up? We thought he had disappeared, that he had become invisible. Guess who popped back up to help the Labor Party out of their predicament?

Who would you look to if you were in a complete and utter pickle? Who would you go to for a safe set of hands? Who would you go to as a reliable and honourable source? Who would you go to as a person who would obviously be endowed with virtue and who would try and pick this situation up from the malaise and, with a flash of the magic credit card, have it all fixed up? None other than the member for Dobell, Mr Craig Thomson. He is back! Of course he is the person you would to go to!

You may think it cannot get any stranger. Others might suggest that you could probably get, I do not know, maybe the minister for the environment to move the amendments, but no—it was Mr Craig Thomson, MP, formerly of the Labor Party—and sort of still with the Labor Party, but they just do not want to talk about it too much. So he pops up, and now we have a complete and utter circus. What the government had almost done there for a while in the rush of this legislation was to shut down everybody—which goes to show you how mindless it was. We were basically putting a caveat on any person who was fishing. And then the government made the decision that they would go back to applying it to commercial fishing, and they thought that would fix it all up.

Try to dig down through the arguments to find out what was so offensive about a boat that had been signed off on by an independent environmental board; a boat that the minister was fully aware of and that he had given his support to, right up to merely hours before he withdrew his support. We had a party—the Labor Party—who had been so virtuous. We had Mr Swan the Treasurer and brave Mr Craig Emerson standing on their soapboxes preaching about sovereign risk and populism, writing op-eds—so what went wrong? Where did these people go?

Anyway, if you peeled it all back and tried to get to the absolute essence of this, apparently the boat is too big. That is it. It is too big. So now we have a quandary: when is big too big and when is big not quite big enough? This is something that has been on the minds of many people since that night. This is something that has obviously been occupying Minister Burke. And I am worried. I am worried about when tractors might be too big, because I do not want to get into a contract to buy a tractor and find out later on that the tractor was too big.


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