Tuesday, 18 September 2012
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Declared Commercial Fishing Activities) Bill 2012; Second Reading
I do have to take the interjection from Senator Whish-Wilson, who said 'leadership'. I think it is probably unruly to laugh uproariously in the chamber at an interjection, but it is so completely ludicrous we have to get it on the record. As I said to the Greens, good luck to them that the Labor Party are letting them push them around. But it is no way to run a country. What happens when we have a government like this, when we have this sort of cobbled-together Labor government, is that we get bungled policy decisions on the run, we get inept policy development and we get the shambolic situation that we are seeing in front of us today with this piece of legislation regarding the FV Margiris.
I would say that there are many, many Australian people at the moment ruing casting their vote at the last election that gave us this shambolic government. This country deserves better. This country deserves much better. This country deserves a government that is actually going to consult with industry when it is developing policy. This country deserves a government that is actually going to care about rural and regional Australia. The people of this country absolutely deserve that. As a Nationals senator, I will, 150 per cent each and every day, make sure that, in government, rural and regional Australia is a priority. I know my good colleague sitting down at the other end of the chamber, Senator Scullion, and Senator Williams will be doing exactly the same thing. And I know that the same goes for my fabulous colleague here behind me, Senator Boswell—who, I note, early next year is coming up to his 30 years in parliament. And 30 fabulous years they have been in his service to this nation.
We have a government that simply does not care. It could not care less about rural and regional Australia. It is not talking to rural and regional Australia. It is not consulting. As we understand it, the minister barely consulted in the development of all of this—particularly the backflip, the change of view. The overreach in this legislation is extraordinary. Even if you agreed that the FV Margirisshould not be able to go ahead at this point in time, you could never agree to this legislation. The overreach is so extensive you simply could not do it. What is really interesting is the nature and the size of the backflip. The size of the backflip is bigger than the boat. The backflip is spectacular—with the same degree of difficulty as a 3.0 pike with a twist. It is extraordinary.
I was there at the beginning of all of this. I was actually on the panel of Q&Athe night that Minister Burke was on that panel talking about the FV Margiris. I will share a little of that with the chamber, though I am sure many of you are already aware of it. The minister was very calm and very concerted in his commentary about having just approved the FV Margiristo go ahead—that it was all being ticked off and it was all going ahead. Tony Jones, in his excellent way, commented that the minister could not have the whole press conference right there that evening, that the press conference on the approval of the boat was going to have to wait for the next day. The minister, Tony Burke, said:
Okay. 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, 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 is targeting but on the by-catch: the seals, the dolphins, the other fish that are protected and listed and I have a responsibility for. So what I've signed off on today—
'today' being 3 September—
is effectively the big vessel will have to fish with the rules so the impact it has on the environment is no more than if it was fishing like a small vessel.
Isn't that interesting, colleagues? This is one of the concerns for people out there in the community, and I appreciate that concern. Indeed, I had that concern myself—that we do not want localised impact and that we want to make sure that a boat of this nature is going to operate effectively. So I took quite some comfort from the words the minister used that night. It seemed that the proper conditions were going to be in place and that it was going to work appropriately. The minister went on to talk about all the other conditions he had put in place to make it appropriate for this vessel to be utilised by Seafish to use their quota to fish in Australian waters. But it did not last long, did it? What was it, 11September? It took all of eight days for the spectacular backflip to happen.
How on earth can the Australian people have any trust in this government, when they say one thing one day and then, eight days later, three months later, two weeks later—as we have seen with other pieces of legislation—they simply change their mind and do the opposite thing? How can they possibly trust them? As a parent, if I were to say something to my children one day—'No, Will; no, Henry, you cannot do that'—and then turn around five days later and say—'Yes, you can do that', or the reverse—how would they ever know what was yes and what was no? How would they ever know that whatever came out of my mouth was not going to change the next week? It is the same principle. People have a right to expect this government to make decisions on proper facts and science and to stick to their decisions and not overturn them simply as a reaction to a social media campaign. That is no way for any government in this nation to make decisions.
The government has absolutely got form on this, and there is no clearer example than the government's stupid—that is the best word I can come up with, because it is the most appropriate word—decision to ban the live export of cattle out of the north. That was so stupid. Again, it was a knee-jerk reaction by the government to social media, to emails, to Twitter—rather than consulting and then thinking things through properly. That decision has done so much damage to the north of this nation. I was on the Senate committee that looked into that whole issue, and when we talked to the people that this affected it was very clear that the government had not. If they had, there is no way in the world they would have made that decision just to put the snap ban on, and there is no way in the world they would have left those people to hang out to dry. Probably nobody understands this better than Senator Scullion. Again we saw it: this knee-jerk, backflipping reaction.
The inability of this government to manage the nation is just extraordinary. The list of mismanagement goes on and on—as I know you that you know so well, Mr Acting Deputy President Edwards—and I think it is worthwhile pointing it out for the Senate. We have had Labor's failed border protection policies that have blown out the budget by about $5 billion. We had the home insulation program, the pink batts. What an absolute disaster that was. There was the computers in schools blow-out; the Green Loans and Green Start bungles, with the $175 million Green Loans Program mismanaged; the solar homes program, which was an $850 million blow-out; the talk fests, Fuelwatch and GroceryWatch. The mismanagement is never-ending, and I do not know how those on the other side can sit there and not be embarrassed by how bad a government they are. Senator Conroy's NBN is worthy in principle, to try to get faster broadband out to regional and remote communities, and nobody feels that more than those of us in the National Party and nobody has done more to focus on it than those of us in the coalition. But the mess we have now got with the NBN is extraordinary. And the mismanagement! When we see the government selling the pool tables that were here in Parliament House for $5,000 and then spending $102,000 trying to determine whether or not they got value for money, it is not surprising that people probably are not surprised to see this absolute bungle. They probably are not surprised that this whole issue of this fishing vessel is such a bungle, because Labor has such form on it.
There are obviously concerns around the localised impact and any bycatch. This has become a national debate, obviously, through the social media, but I would just ask that people avail themselves of the facts before they make a decision. There is no doubt that this is a big boat; it is 140 metres long—so obviously people's initial reaction would be, 'It's huge. We cannot possibly allow it.' But I would say: look at the facts. The fact is that the net itself is not as big as some that are already being used. And I would ask people to think about the issue of making sure that it is appropriately fished. Senator Colbeck has put forward a very good amendment on spatial management to make sure that there is not a detrimental localised impact. If the minister had any judgement—
Senator Williams interjecting—
I did think about that, Senator Williams—he would have picked up the suggestion from Senator Colbeck, which I understand has been discussed for some time now, that the fisheries act introduce amendments to take into account expanding the powers for the spatial management provisions. It makes absolute sense to do that. If the issues are around the bycatch, of course nobody wants any kind of marine life other than those fish that are being targeted to be caught. My understanding is that the practices that are in place to oversee that are very good. And the issue of localised impact certainly does seem to be able to be managed by this issue of the spatial management. I think that everyone needs to just have a very calm look at this. Again I would ask people to look at all the facts on both sides before they make a determination on whether or not they support this. This has gone through seven years of consultation. As I understand it, the FV Margiris and Seafish have done all the right things. AFMA have ticked off on it; the science underpins it. I would just ask people to look at all those things before they make a determination about whether or not they support it. Do not just listen to the hype. Do not just listen to what people think they know; listen to what people actually do know. It is very interesting on another issue that the initial bill certainly gave the minister powers when it came to environmental, social and economic impacts. In the other place there has been an amendment to remove those. However, I understand that the Greens are moving an amendment to reinstate those social and economic impacts. While I certainly understand the Greens' position and their right to have their view, I would simply ask the Greens to take exactly the same position on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. Why is it that the social and economic impacts are so important for the Greens when it comes to fishing, when it comes to this FV Margiristhis particular ship or boat—that they must be enshrined in legislation, yet, when it comes to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, when it comes to managing water through our system and all of the impacts that permanently removing water out of any of the rural and regional communities will have, the Greens do not have the exact same focus? When it comes to water, the Greens do not have the same focus on the social and economic impacts on regional people living in those communities as they do for a boat and its impact on fish. Now, if there has ever been a case of hypocrisy this is it.
So I would expect from now on that, if the Greens are going to be consistent in their view on social and economic impacts when it comes to primary industries, they will demand that this Labor government assesses equally the economic, social and environmental impacts from the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, because to date, colleagues, as you well know, the government has not addressed them with balance. Again, it has not consulted properly when it comes to how that plan will be implemented. But the breathtaking hypocrisy of the Greens on this one is just outstanding; it is extraordinary. I will retract 'outstanding' and I will put 'extraordinary', because it is anything but outstanding.
We have a government that simply cannot properly deliver policy for this nation. We have a government that simply cannot have a proper process in terms of running the economy, in terms of running the nation and in terms of having the right and appropriate policies in place for the people of this nation. Australian people are getting heartily sick of the shambolic nature of this government. It is becoming clearer day by day that this Labor government has absolutely no ability in any way, shape or form to run this country properly.