Senate debates

Monday, 17 September 2012


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

8:50 pm

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

I am disappointed to hear that Senator Xenophon is not going to be supporting the coalition's opposition to this bill. I would hate to point out that breathing space is the last thing that has happened here. We have had Minister Burke at breakneck speed amending amendment after amendment. It might be the complete lack of breathing that has been the problem—perhaps he got lightheaded and came up with this very thinly veiled attempt to stop the Abel Tasman and only the Abel Tasman.

Australia's fisheries have been consistently ranked as amongst the healthiest and best managed in the world. In fact, we are ranked fourth in the world behind Norway, the USA and Canada, according to the UN Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. International experts have also ranked Australia's fisheries as amongst the best in the world, and they are amongst the best in the world because of the green credentials of our fishers and the efficient and professional way that the Australian Fisheries Management Authority has managed our waters. Unfortunately 'efficient' and 'professional' are not words that one could use in a million years to describe the behaviour of Minister Burke in relation to this matter.

Just imagine a department doing an excellent job and the boss—that is, Minister Burke—coming in and trashing the efforts simply because of populism. You have a minister saying, 'I'm not interested in rigorous scientific analysis; I'm only interested in trying to secure as many votes as possible, so I'm going to cave in to the backlash against the Abel Tasman.' How weak is that behaviour? As I said, perhaps he is lacking oxygen to the brain because of the speed at which he has back-flipped on this.

No wonder Australians are saying they are feeling a deepening sense of anxiety and unease. They cannot depend on the government to do the right thing, even if it is unpopular. What a great way for a minister who has responsibility for an entire department to engender loyalty and confidence in that department! Not only has he been disloyal to his department, which leads the world in fisheries management and sustainability, but he has also done the Australian people a great disservice and undermined even further the public's confidence in this government to try to do anything other than stay in government.

Minister Burke and this government are tearing down decades of sound decision making that has built up Australia's structures, processes and system of government which have given us all such a sense of security. This certainly develops into far wider issues and far wider concerns than those simply related to a supertrawler in Australia. It comes to every aspect of how this government goes about—I suppose I should say 'conducting business', although it is a travesty of a statement to talk about this government having even a clue what business is or how to conduct it. The motto of this Labor government is 'government at any cost'.

It is a bit hard to believe, or indeed stomach, but initially the voice of reason from the government on this was that of the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Joe Ludwig, who on 26 July backed AFMA when questioned about the Margiris on ABC radio. Minister Ludwig said:

To be clear about this, the Government does not make decisions about our fisheries. It is a sensible place to leave it to the science-based decision making of an independent regulator. Otherwise you get yourself into a place of where politicians would be making decisions, not based on science, not based on what the facts demonstrate but on political decisions.

I am sorry, Minister Ludwig, you have failed on that one.

Of course, that is not how Minister Burke goes about carrying out his portfolio duties. He has dragged the sycophants of the Labor government along with him and has caved in to public pressure. Not content with undermining Australia's structures, Minister Burke also wants to lock us out of a valuable food source in Australia—that is, our seafood. I am talking, of course, about Minister Burke's proposal to create the world's largest marine reserves, which will close off millions of square kilometres of the ocean to fishing. The Gillard government wants to increase the number of marine reserves around Australia's coast from 27 to 60, much of which would be in my home state of Queensland. If this extension of marine parks proposal goes ahead, 989,842 square kilometres of the Coral Sea will become a no-go zone. Almost 78 per cent of east coast Queensland waters will be in marine parks, and that is almost eight times the international benchmark of 10 per cent. In an attempt to give you some perspective on what 989,000 square kilometres looks like, it is more than half the size of the land mass of Queensland.

The saddest thing about this proposal is that it will harm our fisheries rather than protect them, because Australian fishers will be largely taken out of the equation. Overseas fishers from countries which do not require the same environmental credentials will get free rein where our fishermen cannot go. Other countries will be permitted to fish in their parts of the Coral Sea—Korea, China, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, the US and Japan are being gifted the world's biggest fishery, and the Australian government is locking Australia out of that same fishery.

Even though we have the third-biggest fishing zone in the world, we rank only 61st in fish production. That is, we are No. 3 for the number of fish we have but we are No. 61 for the volume of fish we catch. Once this proposal goes through it is quite likely that we will fall down that ranking to 100 or 120. In Australia we already import between 72 and 75 per cent of our seafood, and that percentage will increase if Minister Burke's proposal on the Coral Sea goes ahead. His proposal will diminish our oceans, wipe out many businesses relating to the fishing industry, affect tourism, impact on Australia's food supply and deny Australians the option of fresh, wild-caught Australian seafood as the cost becomes prohibitive.

Australian families are already struggling with the cost of living under this government, and this proposal will only increase the cost of local fish, if they are able to source them at all. The option for most Australians will become frozen, imported fish from waters that are not as clean as ours, caught by fishing industries that are not as environmentally friendly as ours, and those imported fish will simply replace anything else we have.

Queenslanders are starting to realise how this proposal will affect them. I am getting more and more calls from people who cannot fathom how this government could go about setting up a situation that decreases the ability of commercial and recreational fishers to use our own waters.

One Queenslander, Paul Kelly, ccd my office today with an email he sent to Minister Burke. Mr Kelly said: Minister, I am appalled that you could even consider closing the bulk of the Coral Sea to Australian commercial fishermen and still expect Australians to support you. You are forcing Australians who wish to eat seafood as part of a healthy diet to buy imported goods. These imports are fished or farmed in waters unknown for the health conditions as opposed to the clean and clear waters abounding on the Queensland coast. Our waters have for decades supplied countless quantities of basic fish stocks and they are a renewable source of food supply.

Your government has an appalling record on ecopolicies and has failed on every project or plan instigated since Kevin Rudd was elected in 2007.

You appear to be beholden to the wishes and whims of the Greens party without consideration of the impact caused on fellow, everyday Australians down the chain. Fishing fleets up and down the coast of Queensland will have their livelihoods ripped out by your plan to close down such a huge area of the Coral Sea. The domino effect will fall to suppliers to these fleets and suppliers to those suppliers, and so on.

Mr Kelly continued:

I do not believe you are honestly foolish enough to trust that overseas fishermen won't come and harvest our waters just because you decided, for obvious political reasoning, to close it off to Australian men and women. How do you plan to police these policies and what cost are you budgeting for this security?

I trust you will understand that the legacy you so much want to leave Australia for you time in office will, in time, cause more pain and angst than any possible short-term gain for your benefit.

Mr Kelly concluded:

I strongly urge you to reconsider this proposal.

I believe the current bill before the chamber and the proposal to extend the marine parks will have far more negative, unintended consequences than we can ever imagine. It is just beyond belief that Minister Burke came up with four different amendments to this bill over four days. Apparently it had not occurred to him that to declare it closed for all fishing activities for social reasons, as well as others, was an issue. Apparently that had not occurred to him. Certainly, this was concocted in such haste that the first comparison that one thinks of is Minister Ludwig's apocryphal, appalling attempts in terms of the live cattle trade. It is based on the fact that their understanding of how business operates, what might attract a business to Australia or how to give a business the options of going elsewhere is completely unknown—it is outside their ken. They have not worked in business. They do not understand business and it would appear they do not particularly care, although quite where they think they are going to get their money from when the mining industry decreases is of course a very large question.

It is not just the fishing industry or a particular company—Seafish Tasmania—that should be concerned about this legislation, it is every resource-based industry. What this bill does to commercial fishers could one day—any day that this government chooses, with the support of their friends in the Greens party—happen to any other business that is reliant on access to natural resources: 'Oops, we don't like the law because we think it might make us unpopular. All right, let's just come up with a new law.' And they did this seven years down the track from when negotiations for this started.

All of Australia's leading marine experts have said that the science in relation to the small pelagic fisheries stacks up for the supertrawler project to go ahead. But Minister Burke spoke to no-one, except perhaps some of his closer allies in the leadership group of the Labor Party I suppose, in developing this bill—not the FRDC, not the scientists, not AFMA, not the recreational fishers. He spoke to no-one, absolutely no-one. It just goes on. For seven years Seafish Tasmania was attempting to negotiate, and being encouraged by Minister Burke to come along. Time after time, as I quoted earlier, we have examples of both Minister Burke and Minister Ludwig, until the GetUp! campaign got them, supporting the development and the ongoing negotiations that had been carefully organised by Seafish Tasmania.

I suppose at least that Minister Burke's decision in this matter is consistent with his performance to date. There is no science at all behind Minister Burke's decision to lock up the Coral Sea, and many businesses in Queensland that are related to the fishing industry are now being questioned by their banks about the ongoing valuation of their businesses and the level of their loans. Uncertainty in any industry is going to cause serious problems in terms of the value of the businesses of these poor people, who are victims of this government. As the potential valuation of businesses falls, so does the banks' interest in whether they are going to call in loans. This applies not just to fishing businesses, it applies to dozens of other businesses that are also reliant on the fishing industry, whether they be commercial, recreational or tourist-based. There are hundreds of them.

So there is no science in Minister Burke's effort to lock up the Coral Sea and there is absolutely no science behind Minister Burke's bungle, bungle, backflip on the Magiris/Abel Tasman legislation.

The Dutch government is demanding answers from Australia on behalf of the joint venture partners, as they well might. There are not too many countries, and I do not think Holland would be one, where you simply change the law if you do not like the result you are getting in terms of whether you are going to win Greens vote at the next election. There is no science whatsoever behind Minister Burke's efforts on this one either. He is being consistent. The Dutch government is demanding answers. We not only have the Australian banks asking questions about Minister Burke's unacceptable and erratic behaviour in relation to the Coral Sea; we also now have governments and hundreds of international corporations very concerned about the level of sovereign risk in trying to deal with Australia and this unprofessional, erratic government.

Senator Xenophon might very well speak of breathing space, but this government is not going to have much more breathing space. It is beyond belief that these changes could have been brought in as they have been. Of course, Minister Burke now has himself stuck in the situation where he needs to get this legislation passed today or else—quite why that provides breathing space for anybody I do not know. I continue to be very, very bothered by the unprofessional, erratic behaviour of this government. It is not reasonable for this legislation to be brought in. It is not just the fishing industries that should be frightened by this; it is everybody trying to do business in Australia now and everybody who might want to do business here in the future. How on earth this can be persevered with I have no idea. Despite the lack of patriotism for this, I hope that Seafish Tasmania does seek compensation and is successful in getting that.


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