Monday, 17 September 2012
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Declared Commercial Fishing Activities) Bill 2012; Second Reading
The government continues to react in an ad hoc, populist way, drawing on the precautionary principle when it suits it. Frankly, the reef has been hung out to dry, as have all those rural communities facing coal seam gas.
I return now to fisheries. For all the talk of stepping up to assure the sustainability of our fisheries, we are on the brink of a federal handover of national environmental responsibilities to AFMA, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority. As part of its upcoming EPBC reforms, the government appears committed to amending our national environment laws so that, rather than having the final approval of strategic assessments of fisheries, the minister will simply accredit the systems of AFMA to allow them and not the environment minister to assess and approve fisheries. This will mean the government's and COAG's approach to offload the environment minister's approvals to the states is now going to be reflected with fisheries management in offloading that to AFMA.
This is a tragic development, and it will see major decisions that have the potential to trash our most value national environmental assets being made by state governments and fisheries agencies, not our national environment minister. This undermines three decades of work to build stronger environment protection in this country. Anyone asking about the implementation risks and the risks to our environment of this handover would know from looking at the atrocious record of the states and territories of late that this is a high-risk, totally non-precautionary approach taken by our government.
I return now to the bill before the Senate. Although our amendments would have made this bill stronger had they not been rejected, we will be supporting this bill. This bill demonstrates that when the political risks are low, and when it is forced to by circumstance, the government can step up and act in a sensible way and apply the precautionary principle.
The tragedy is that across Australia our ecosystems, threatened species and irreplaceable wilderness are facing a fight for their lives. Yet where is the government responsible for protecting the values that we have agreed are of national importance? They are not seeking to be informed by the best science, they are not prepared to press pause despite enormous threats involved in barrelling ahead blindly, and they are not prepared to give our scientists and experts the time to do the work that is needed to make sure our biggest decisions are well informed about what is really at risk, and Australia's environment and our communities are suffering as a result.
In short, on too many of the key issues the government is shirking its responsibilities. It is not stepping up and it is not showing the leadership that is needed—not on the reef, not on coal seam gas and not on the protection of threatened species and ecosystems. I call upon the government to apply the precautionary principle with consistency and to govern like the environment matters.
Proceedin gs suspended from 18:27 to 19 : 30