Senate debates

Tuesday, 18 September 2012


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

12:31 pm

Photo of Sean EdwardsSean Edwards (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise today to speak on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Declared Commercial Fishing Activities) Bill 2012 and I will talk largely about trust. What this government has done in bringing this bill to this chamber is: it has largely questioned trust. I must compliment my colleagues' contributions. Last night, I sat in the chamber and listened to my coalition colleagues who spoke about the various issues that mar this bill, and that is why we are here. What the government is proposing is a fisheries management largely dependent on who can get the biggest scare campaign running. Labor must tell us why it spent three years helping to plan, support and encourage this boat to come to Australia only to welsh on its assurances.

Why didn't this government make it clear from the onset that the boat was not welcome? There has been an internet campaign of several thousand people—I call it political terrorism by text and click. You go onto a couple of websites and click to spam your local member of parliament and all your senators with a generic grievance about something that you are misinformed about. I take you to my own experience. My 84-year-old mother rang me and said, 'I'm quite concerned about the fishing vessel that is proposed to come.' I said, 'What are your concerns, Mum?' She said, 'I'm concerned it's going to vacuum all of the fish out of the ocean,' or words to that effect. I said: 'Have you considered that government scientists have been involved in the process of this trawler coming here for a number of years—in the first instance, seven years, and more importantly for the last three years?' AFMA is an organisation which has been trusted by this government and previous governments. AFMA's expertise has not been brought into question at any other time as it is being now. What we have now is parliamentary interference in what is seemingly a sustainable operation.

I will also speak about the amendment proposed by my colleague Senator Colbeck, but I would like to sympathise with the operators of this vessel because of what they must be going through. I revert back to my mother. She said, 'All these fish are going to disappear.' I said: 'No, these are pelagic fish. They are migratory fish that exist in Commonwealth waters, largely outside recreational fishing waters. They really do not interfere at all. Australia is seen as the second-most sustainable fisheries area in the world, and our fisheries are well managed.' She said, 'What about the issue of depletion?' 'No depletions; these fish are not targets for recreational fishers, for a start. Recreational fishers do not fish for these fish and these fish, until now with the trawler, were not known for their protein supply to the food chain. That is the defining difference.'

I told my mother that this boat would turn around the practice of fishing for these fish—remember, these are existing quotas—and the use of these fish from fishmeal fed to pigs to protein to be supplied at food grade to the millions of hungry people in north Africa. That was my first point. The other point is that she did not know that these were existing quotas. She thought these were extra quotas that this boat had been given, quotas in excess of what had already been allocated. They were not. The quotas of 12, 13 or 14 other boats which have been fishing for these fish uncommercially in these waters have been transferred to the new trawler. Those boats did not have the freezers on board or the space to store the fish, so they could not provide these fish at food grade and the fish went into stockfeed. This new vessel can turn these fish into food grade efficiently in these waters. I made this point to my mother and she said, 'That makes sense.' Also the quotas were brought together by Australian businesses and this boat was hired to do the job. This boat has regulatory approval by virtue of the fact that it had unprecedented security over unwanted catch—seals, dolphins and all of those things that none of us would like to see caught in any fishing venture. All the practices, the observations and the independent observers were in place to ensure that this operation was going to happen in probably one of the most efficient ways. But no! What happened? We had what we now call—I am sure he is not a bad bloke but, clearly, he gets rolled in caucus and cabinet every time—our gymnast minister, Joe Ludwig, who after the live cattle ban has obviously now faced deja vu, groundhog day, or whatever you would like to call it and is back defending this decision which he obviously did not want to make.

As an example of what happened with that live cattle ban, welfare was distributed to those people in need in the Northern Territory. They did not need welfare—they just wanted their businesses kept intact. The Department of Human Services were asked to deliver welfare to the people of Northern Australia after the live cattle ban, and in one case they delivered $68,000 worth of welfare. The cost of delivering that aid—the charge that the Department of Human Services made to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry—was $1.22 million to deliver aid of $68,000. When I questioned him on this at the time, the minister said, 'Would you rather we didn't deliver the aid?' Yes, I would rather you did not deliver aid because it cost $1.22 million to deliver $68,000 to people who really did not want it.

We want to talk about trust. We want to talk about the reasons people invest in Australia and in Australian assets. If you want to take the foreign investment debate further—the locals, domestic investors, bankers—what do bankers think about fishing now? If you have a fishing licence is it as bankable as it was two weeks ago? Ask a Northern Territory cattleman what happened to the price of his cattle station when they banned live cattle exports and Indonesia reduced its quota. Ask the bankers what their LVR—their loan to value ratios—are now. How many people in the Northern Territory have breached their loan covenants and are under financial pressure? What about the fishing industry? Overlay that onto the insecurity the fishers now have when they go to their bankers and say: 'I would like to do this. I would like to have another boat. I would like to buy an extra fishing quota.' What is the value of a fishing quota? Ask Minister Burke, because he does not think there is any value.

Whatever you would like to think about the Margiris, or the Abel Tasman, as it is now called, it is a flip-flop business environment in which the people of Australia work, and there is nothing worse than insecurity in a business environment. It undermines your banking, all your financial prospects and all of your business planning. The first thing you learn at business school is that you have to have a plan. But you cannot plan for instability or jelly-backed politics driven by a left-wing campaign, a Greens campaign, with conservation councils hiding under everything that is good. We are effectively starving people of the northern African nations through not supplying what is sustainable.

Finally, I turn to the amendments proposed by Senator Colbeck. I ask that this chamber support them. Minister Burke, as the reason for his decision to reverse the policy that he introduced as Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in 2009, stated:

… there are considerable economies of scale in the fishery and the most efficient way to fish may include large scale factory freezer vessels.

That is point No. 1. You people in the gallery should note this is the same minister that overturned this fishing rights bill. Why did he reverse that decision? Where is the science to support the reversal of that decision? We do not get it.

Secondly, he effectively invited the Margiris into Australia by promoting large-scale factory freezer vessels. The minister promoted it and now he has overturned it. See what actions he will take to compensate the 50 Australian workers who are losing their jobs as a consequence of this legislation. These are people that the director of this business, Mr Geen, has said were largely unemployed people who were given jobs. Fifty people were given jobs and now face an uncertain future.

I ask everybody in Australia to consider what this government is doing about business security and the ability to do business in this country securely without fringe groups coming in and rocking the boat. I have had several thousand emails, like everybody else, from all of these groups. This is single-click terrorism on websites; they can just spam all the parliamentarians with generic 'don't do this' mail. Inform yourselves of the facts and get the policy behind it before you click, before you believe everything that you read in the newspaper. All of you out there listening to this know there have been newspaper reports you have seen where you have thought: 'That's not true. I know about that; it's not true.' Do not believe everything you read. Be informed. Get involved in the debate. Have a sensible discussion. Email me if you want; I have no problem defending good, sound business policy. I am told by scientists in this country that this is a sustainable resource and it will feed people in need.


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