Senate debates

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Regulations and Determinations

Marine Parks Network Management Plans; Disallowance

9:58 am

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

In my six years in the Senate, this vote before the Senate today is one of the most important moments for me. I was involved in the marine protected areas campaign. I did some work for the Wilderness Society in South Australia over 10 years ago. Like my colleague Senator Siewert and hundreds of thousands of Australians, I've been campaigning to get better marine protections put in place for over a decade now. In fact, the campaign to get proper marine protections in Australia started well over two decades ago. What we have in the Senate today is the culmination or end point of a two-decade-long campaign for marine protections. However, it is a shameful version or blueprint of what campaigners in this country have been working on for decades now.

The decision is very clear for senators here today: we can reject or reward this government and their systematic attempt since they were elected in 2013, in the last five years, to completely gut plans that were put in place by the community, by the fishing industry, by campaigners right around this country; plans that were put in place by the Labor-Greens government in 2012; and plans that were put in place based on the best available science. In fact, the science has shifted since that time, as you would expect it would over a period of six years. The science shows we need increased protections in our marine environment, not reduced protections.

The government were elected in 2013 on the back of a promise that they would rip up marine protections, and that is exactly what they have done. This disallowance today does not give them the satisfaction of ripping up decades of hard work by campaigners around this country for marine protection. This disallowance today means we go back to the drawing board. It means we have momentum and a campaign to continue what we started decades ago to get proper marine protections in place in Australia.

I ask senators to reflect on the fact that the campaigners, the environmentalists, the stakeholders in the rec fishing industry, some in the commercial fishing industry and so many in the science industry are telling you to support the Greens-Labor disallowance today and not reward the government for what they have done to marine protections. Today is the culmination of their campaign to undermine marine protections in this country at a time when they are so desperately needed.

I myself have seen things change, with my own eyes, since I have been a senator. I was campaigning for marine conservation—as my colleague Senator Siewert was—well over 10 years ago. But I have seen changes in the marine environment where I live in Tasmania. I have seen them on the Great Barrier Reef. I have seen what is happening to our oceans. We talk a lot about the Great Barrier Reef, and so we should. But the south-west waters off Tasmania are known to be a global hotspot for climate change, for a changing ocean environment. And it is not just a greenie conservation thing. Our aquaculture and fishing industries in Tasmania are suffering because of what is going on in our oceans. We have seen our salmon industry have mass mortalities. Over a million fish died in Macquarie Harbour this summer because of warming waters and dissolved oxygen problems. Our abalone industry off the east coast of Tasmania, for the first time, voluntarily decided not to fish their quota because the industry is under so much pressure because of changes in the marine environment. We have seen the same thing in our rock lobster industry. We have seen our oyster industry decimated by viruses from our changing marine environment, from warming waters and from the pressure our marine environments are under.

And we know beyond any reasonable doubt that the only way, the best way, to put in place an insurance policy for these oceans and for future generations is to have proper protections in the ocean through marine parks. We know that is the case. I was interested to see the release of a marine report by scientists at IMAS in Tasmania. Professor Graham Edgar, rather than taking a fisheries management approach to estimating populations of fish, wrote a scientific report, published in peer-reviewed journals, that showed that, contrary to what the Australian Fisheries Management Authority and fisheries stakeholders are saying, we have seen a decline of more than a third in our large biomass fish. That is based on thousands of observations by divers and statistically fed into models. A third of our large biomass fish in our fisheries have disappeared in the last 10 years—a third. Interestingly, that corresponds with a 32 per cent decline in our official catch in these fisheries in the last 10 years. What that study also showed—because there is variability in different areas around those declines—was that, when marine protected areas were in place, they had much less drastic declines in fish biomass. And that just backs up what we have known for years. I won't go into detail today, but I do want senators, and anyone listening to this debate who wants to understand the pressure our oceans are under and just how dire the situation is, to read an article in The Monthly this month that talks about the pressure that our oceans are under. It's called 'The end of the oceans' by James Bradley. It says how the world's oceans and all marine life are on the brink of total collapse.

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting—

I have never been an alarmist; I have always been evidence based and rational in my deliberations. You may laugh, Senator Macdonald, but I have chaired a number of inquiries in this Senate, initiated a number of inquiries and participated in a number of inquiries around what's going on in our oceans, from our Southern Ocean through to the Great Barrier Reef: warming waters; pollution from the salmon industry; opposing supertrawlers; looking at the impacts on our oceans from shark nets—a whole range of things. And I have to come to the same conclusion: things are dire in our oceans.

Senators, and those following this debate, this plan today is the culmination of six years of a systemic campaign by this government to undermine marine protections. This plan, that you can either reject or accept, has been brought to you by the same people who brought supertrawlers to the country. Senator Colbeck, when he was shadow fisheries minister, and Senator Ruston—both champing at the bit—are the champions of bringing supertrawlers and industrialised vessels to our fisheries. This is the same government that has ignored the recommendations of its own scientific panel. When it set out with its plan to reduce marine protections, it put in place an independent panel, and even its own independent panel recommended much stronger protections than we have in place here. In fact, we have had no explanation from this government as to why it has ignored the advice of its own scientific panel, and ignored the advice of the 1,400 scientists who signed a petition saying, 'Do not reduce marine protections'. And that's why we must have a proper debate today. All we know from Senator Ruston's comments is that she wants to bring more balance to the debate and that means: to give the stakeholders being represented here, the big end of the fishing industry and oil and gas, what they want. That's what that is code for. It is the same fishing industry that made big donations to the Liberal Party around the 2013 election—record donations to the South Australian Liberal Party and the federal Liberal Party from the fishing industry. We all know how they're in the pocket of big oil and gas.

The decimation of the protected green zones in the Coral Sea are a classic example of representing the big end of town—a few vested interests. But it shouldn't be a surprise considering what is happening with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and what has happened with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park sits hand in glove with a future marine protected area for the Coral Sea. Combined, they will make one of the biggest marine protected areas in the world. And look at what this government is doing, giving a $444 million grant—seemingly, a captain's call by the Prime Minister—to a relatively unknown private charity with no track record in managing those kinds of funds or dealing with large, complex, scientific projects, supposedly to save the reef, as Senator Birmingham said in here yesterday. Well, we know what will save the reef, and it is not any of the projects that the Great Barrier Reef Foundation will look at. They have been labelled by scientists, including some of the best marine scientists in the world, as bandaid solutions. The Australian Academy of Science has put a submission into the inquiry, Senator Macdonald, which I am chairing, that call them bandaid solutions. They will not save the reef. Acting on climate, emissions and land clearing will save the reef. That's what will save the reef.

The corporatisation—the attempt to give companies the ability to greenwash the sad death of the Great Barrier Reef—is very similar to what we are seeing with a shameful six-year attempt to decimate marine protections in this country. Senators have a choice whether they support that today or they take a stand for our oceans and reject it. The choice is simple: oceans or Mr Abbott, the wrecking ball of Australian politics who started this in the first place—just like he did with climate action in this country, which still hasn't been solved to this day. This is a continuation of that legacy, and I urge senators to reject it.

I'm a politician. I wanted to read the words today of someone who I deeply, deeply respect. Unfortunately, I missed the chance to talk to him when he came to Launceston recently to launch his latest book. However, I was fortunate to receive a card from him. His name is Mr Tim Winton. He is, in my opinion, along with my brother, David Whish-Wilson, one of the best writers in this country. I love what he writes about and how he writes about the oceans. It reflects so much of my own childhood and my own experiences. I know he's a friend of Senator Siewert. Tim, like Senator Siewert and many others, has campaigned for years to get these marine protected areas in place. I'll read you what he said to me:

Dear Peter, I'm sorry we didn't get a chance to talk when I was in Launceston; it would have been a great pleasure. I saw your comments in Hansard last week and was grateful for your attempt to bring some sanity and perspective to this debate. Like Rachel, I've been working for more than 20 years towards these marine protected areas, so it will be a bitter defeat if they get legislated. My advice to the movement was to reject this plan outright. There's no honour or integrity in it. What we got under Tony Burke was a massive and painful compromise. To be fobbed off with a filleted version of that is unconscionable. Maybe we should talk about this further.

That's coming from a man who has, like so many people, hundreds of thousands—


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