Senate debates

Monday, 17 September 2012


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

9:30 pm

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

Here we go yet again. As if almost on cue, we have another failed government, another failed act, another exercise of government by GetUp and, of course, we see the end result being, as usual—because they do not know and they do not care—the trashing internationally of Australia's reputation as a safe place in which to invest and do business. You would not believe, Senator Joyce, would you, that we are actually an exporting country, that we depend on our reputation internationally? And who has got their fingers all over it? Of course I go to none other than Greenpeace. I refer to an article entitled 'Greenpeace trashes Australian GM wheat trial'. Do you remember that one, when Greenpeace protesters destroyed a genetically modified wheat growing trial exercise being carried out by CSIRO—one of our most prestigious scientific and research organisations? But do not worry about them; Greenpeace protesters claimed that the GM crops were unsafe for human consumption so therefore they illegally trashed it and destroyed it.

So whose fingers do we see all over this exercise? We see the hands, the footprints and the fingerprints of Greenpeace yet again—this time trashing not only CSIRO's reputation for its scientific excellence but also the reputation of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority and the state authorities. We are not exactly a banana republic, contrary to the words of a previous Treasurer of this country. We are not a banana republic; we happen to lead the world when it comes to fisheries research. But you would not think that after the events of the last few days.

Let me at the outset of this contribution make the very strong point that we in the coalition hold very, very strongly and dearly sustainable management of our agriculture, fisheries and forestry resources. Indeed, who was it that introduced and brought to this parliament the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act? It was none other than a Liberal minister, Robert Hill. He brought that legislation into the parliament—legislation which has been not only the cornerstone of environmental conservation and biodiversity security in this security but also the model for many other countries. And it is the failed amendment to that legislation that the failed Minister Burke is trying to amend. We do not quite know which of the latest iterations of the amendment that he is up to, but it is that which he is trying to amend to bring about this tawdry solution to a problem of his own creation.

I refer to the document put out yesterday by the chair of the Australian Fisheries Management authority, Mr Michael Egan, in which he defended the organisation against unreasonable and unsustained attacks. We would expect that from Mr Wilkie, the member for Denison, but we certainly would not have expected it from the Ombudsman of this country. Nevertheless, it fell to Mr Egan to say that the catch limits set by the commission for the small pelagic fishery small were legally set. He was responding to an update letter from the Ombudsman to Mr Wilkie. Mr Egan went on to say that 'neither Mr Wilkie, nor the Ombudsman’s office, seemed to understand'—not surprising for Mr Wilkie but I would have thought the Ombudsman might have had a go—'that the total allowable catches for this fishery were not set by the South East Management Advisory Committee, nor were they set by AFMA management or staff.'

Mr Egan went on to say that the limits were set by the 'AFMA commission, a completely non-partisan, independent statutory authority' and that the AFMA commission had the responsibility 'to set the total allowable catches for Commonwealth fisheries'. Perhaps you should have engaged their services to assist in the pool in London, Senator Lundy. We might have come home with a greater catch. Mr Egan said:

In setting these catch limits the Commission considers the advice of AFMA staff, together with scientific advice from our relevant resource assessment group and the advice of the relevant management advisory committee, which is set up to gather the opinions of various interest groups …

He makes the point that the views are not always unanimous, that the commission takes on board all this information and that it is the commission that sets these limits. As Mr Egan says:

Ensuring that all interests are heard is the very purpose of the laws that require these groups to be established.

Mr Egan went on to draw attention to the embarrassment of the Ombudsman's office and the subsequent falling on his sword of the Ombudsman last year, with the controversy over that office preparing questions for Senator Hanson-Young during estimates. He said:

I would have expected it—

the Ombudsman's office—

to be exceedingly careful not to behave in any way which raised the slightest concerns about its impartiality and objectivity.

What a sad reflection on the otherwise eminent office of the Ombudsman to have that written by the chairman of one of our most prestigious fisheries authorities.

I have been somewhat bemused and amused at the comment of recreational fishers over the last few days. As we know, in one of the earliest iterations of the failed Minister Burke's efforts at amending this legislation, he actually included recreational fishing and he made the point that should there ever be an occasion in which there might be environment, economical or social reasons for him to act against any of those interests, he would have no hesitation and would have the legal capacity to do so.

Of course in iteration No. 2, recreational fishers were excluded and they for some reason have now taken it upon themselves to support this legislation very, very closely in the failed belief that they will never be the subject of it.

Let me share with the chamber a conversation I had on a cattle station north of Carnarvon in the Gascoyne region of WA last year. A station manager and his wife told me they had several kilometres of coastline in Shark Bay where with their family they had fished, swum, dived and snorkelled. But, with the legislation being proposed to create what became the Shark Bay World Heritage Area, they thought they were engaging in consultation at that time with the then minister of the day only to be told, by agency of that minister turning up at Exmouth at the airport at Learmonth and not even bothering to turn the engine off—and I believe I am fairly accurate—'I've got more votes in the western suburbs of Melbourne and Sydney than I have got here in Shark Bay, so I'm going to ignore and overlook your concerns and your considerations and I am going to bring in this legislation.'

The nonsensical and the ridiculous sequel to all of that is that this station manager and his family can no longer even dip their toe in the water, let alone have a swim, put a fishing line in the water, go snorkelling, spearfishing or whatever in that area. If recreational fishing people who are listening this evening think for one minute that they can take any comfort out of the latest iteration of the amendment by this failed Minister Burke, I assure them, they need not rest comfortably in their beds this evening.

Part of the discussion that we have heard in this particular context has been that one or two states—I think Victoria is an example—have actually said, 'We don't want a vessel of this size and scale et cetera in our waters therefore we are going to ban it.' Of course the states only have responsibility out three nautical miles at which time, as we all know, the Commonwealth takes over responsibility out to the 200-kilometre or whatever limit of our maritime responsibilities and surveillance. It is totally logical that any one of the state governments might take this position but it affects in no way the failure of the amendment as it is now being proposed.

Anybody in this chamber would know that I have been intimately associated with what became the live export debacle during 2011—and I do not want to dwell on it for too long. It has its parallels and they are these—let us cut to the chase with what this is all about with the Margiris or the Abel Tasman: approval was given and then subsequently withdrawn for this vessel to fish in mid ocean well out from the coast, well out from the areas where recreational fishermen in the main fish or where many of our smaller commercial trawlers fish. It had permission to catch 18,000 tonnes of a product—as my colleague Senator McKenzie said—not a fish product that we consume or indeed is of any great opportunity for our fishermen. It has the capacity for 18,000 tonnes, so the alternative then, as we know, is that smaller vessels without the capacity to process on board can go out into those waters and between them, how many tonnes do we think they can catch, Madam Acting Deputy President? You would not believe it: it is 18,000—it is the same amount of fish. The only difference is that the smaller vessels, because they cannot process on board, can only use that fish for fishmeal. Where do you think it ends up? It ends up as a high-protein supplement in pig feed. But of course with this vessel, the Margiris, the Abel Tasman, because it had the capacity to be able to process, chill and freeze on board, that particular product would have gone not for pig feed but for human consumption—high-protein human consumption to low-socioeconomic communities in Africa. Where is the parallel between that and low-socioeconomic communities in Indonesia getting much needed protein? We can all see the direct relationship.

It is nothing more and nothing less. It had approval for 18,000 tonnes. It had conditions placed on it that would never be imposed on our domestic, commercial fishermen: numbers of observers on board; cameras underneath the vessel et cetera. Once again, as we now see, in the cattle exercise, live cattle and sheep, we have conditions imposed on our exporters vastly greater than those on our domestic suppliers.

What has this government actually achieved? As we know, in 2011—it is a shame the now foreign minister has gone because it would have been good for him to hear it—they trashed the Indonesian relationship and, along with it, the relationship with many of Indonesia's Asian neighbours. As I have said in this place so often, the Asian communities are always looking to see whether we have learnt anything from the European arrogance of the past. The exercises and the actions of Senator Ludwig last year merely reaffirmed in the minds of most Asian communities that we have learnt nothing in terms of the arrogant approach with which he dealt with the Indonesians.

We know that many Middle Eastern countries now find themselves in the same position with the SCAS legislation to which they are supposed to be subject. Naturally, many Middle Eastern countries—Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, probably Egypt and Turkey—have turned around politely but, nevertheless, firmly and said, 'We're not interested in dealing with Australia on those terms and conditions.'

What was amusing with regard to the Abel Tasman or the Margirisis that we have now extended our arrogance and our rudeness towards Asia and the Middle East further into Europe. Isn't it ironic? It was only in the last two or three weeks that the failed exercise of the failed Labor government to try and comes to terms with the carbon tax, the ridiculously high $23 a tonne, was rejigged. They came along and said, 'We're going to link it with that trading partner of ours with whom we spend so much time, so much money and share so much business'—none other of course than the European Union.

And yet, weeks later, we now see the Dutch government going to the EU and querying—if not complaining about—the actions of the Australian government in relation to the Margiris or, now, the Abel Tasman.

So, along with those three regions of the world which now see Australia as a laughing stock, we can only ask the question, 'Whose turn is it next?' Is it Japan's? Is it China's? We know, of course, that having boosted our fishing organisations for so long we have trashed the reputation of AFMA, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority; we have trashed the reputations of those academics around Australia; and we have trashed the reputations of our state departments of fisheries—all on the altar of convenience to an organisation led by GetUp!

Let me reflect on this failed Minister Burke, if I may, for a few minutes. On coming into this place, the first contact I had with this gentleman was when he was the minister for agriculture and fisheries; that was in the time of the then Prime Minister, Mr Rudd. I think the then trade minister was Mr Crean. It was in regard to bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE—mad cow disease. It was the intention of this holy trinity over there on the blue carpet to open our borders to accept meat from those countries that have had BSE. It was a coalition-led attack by Senator Heffernan and me, with assistance from others, that over the space of five or six months pointed out the stupidity and the inappropriateness of allowing this to take place without Minister Burke requiring what is called an import risk analysis. In October 2009 we said to him, 'Demand an IRA, Minister.' 'No' through the months of November, December, February and into March until a cow in Canada—a seven-year-old Angus cow—contracted bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Only then did Minister Burke eventually come back and said, 'What do I have to do to get this monkey off my back?' and the answer was, 'What we told you last October.' That was the first inkling I had of the incompetence of this particular man.

We see it now, as Senator McKenzie has said, in his misguided and leaderless efforts to try to bring the Murray-Darling Basin disputation to some degree of resolution; and he is so far away from it that I think he is further away than when he started. Within his environmental portfolio we know of his incompetence. It is there for everybody to see. On the one hand he has invited those participants associated with the Margiris to come to this country. He is quoted, as Senator Colbeck and others have said, as having said that larger-scale fishing vessels with their own processing capacity and able to work independently offshore, are desirable for Australia—but in the light of the opposition that he has faced in recent days he has folded. He does not have the courage of his convictions and as we know he has now rolled over on this one.

I go to the marine reserves, if I may, around Australia—those that are going to impact adversely on my own state, as they will in many other areas. As a scientist I am one very, very strongly in favour of the science. I am also in favour of consultation. But we know what consultation is by this government and this minister—consultation is a process in which you can all gather around and I am going to tell you what is going to happen. That is exactly what we have seen with the marine reserves. There has been no consultation. The decisions on those areas which are to be tied up as marine reserves have not been subjected to rigorous science. They certainly have not been subjected to a process that will allow, for example, reconsideration so that, on the basis of more and better science, better decisions can be made.

It is really in this final point—in the trashing and the total and utter disregard of the science of those associated with this area—that his greatest guilt lies. Time does not permit me to speak of those facts that have been given but if there is one message to take away, it is the fact that your government, Senator Lundy—the Labor government—has to get back to the stage of not being governed by GetUp! Govern yourselves. Do not be governed by GetUp!


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