Senate debates

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Proclamation Dated 14 May 2009 [Coral Sea Conservation Zone]

Motion for Disallowance

5:34 pm

Photo of Ron BoswellRon Boswell (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On behalf of Senator Macdonald and me, I move:

That the Proclamation dated 14 May 2009 [Coral Sea Conservation Zone], made under subsection 390D(1) of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 declaring an area to be a conservation zone, be disallowed.

I rise in support of this motion to disallow the proclamation of the Coral Sea Conservation Zone that was made on 14 May under section 390D(1) of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 declaring an area to be a conservation zone. I am moving this motion on behalf of Senator MacDonald and me. Senator Macdonald is a resident of North Queensland, his office is in North Queensland, and he understands this issue very well. I have delayed this motion for a number of days to let the Independents get their minds around it. I know that they are very busy people and they are inundated with requests, so I willingly did that. But it is an important issue.

On 14 May 2009, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Peter Garrett, proclaimed the Coral Sea Conservation Zone—972,000 square kilometres of Australian waters east of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and out to the edge of Australia’s exclusive economic zone. The Coral Sea Conservation Zone is within the proposed eastern bioregion that runs from Cape York to Batemans Bay. At present, the bioregion is under investigation by various scientific groups. Public consultation has started and dialogue with user groups has taken place. The process has been extended for a further six months and the draft plan should be ready halfway through next year. The Coral Sea Conservation Zone was declared on 14 May 2009 at the Sydney Aquarium—not in North Queensland, which it was going to affect, because it would have invoked a lot of ill feeling, but a stone’s throw from Minister Garrett’s Kingsford Smith electorate office.

The Pew Charitable Trusts has campaigned long and hard for this conservation zone to be declared. Pew is an environment group based in America and funded from America. Not only has it campaigned hard for a conservation zone; it has argued strongly that a no-take zone should be included in the Coral Sea Conservation Zone. It has the first leg of the double up if this disallowance is not carried.

The Coral Sea is a very low-volume, high-value fishery with $10 million of fish stock taken in 2006. There is no increased pressure on the fish stock in this area. The area is in pristine condition and has been for 200 years. A number of charter boats work the area. A game fishing industry works the Coral Sea for the marlin fishery, which is a catch and release fishery. It is a very important tourism operation for Cairns. Multimillionaires go to the area to partake in this catch and release fishery. They hire mother ships, which are big and expensive, and then they hire the game boats. When they are in the area, it really benefits the Cairns economy. Mr Acting Deputy President Bernardi, Senator Macdonald and I will tell you that Cairns is going through a severe economic downturn and to lose this fishery would be very difficult for the area.

The fishery supplies data to various government departments and anyone else who needs the information. There are no current or proposed oil, gas or mineral explorations or production operations in the conservation zone, despite the area having been open and available for exploration for many years. There is no threat to the environment from anywhere or anyone. Yet Minister Garrett declared this Coral Sea Conservation Zone without any consultation. This was confirmed in the estimates committee when I asked Steve Oxley, manager of the marine division, whether there had been any consultation. He assured me there had been no public consultation. The amateur and professional fishing industries were not consulted nor were any other user groups or the public. The declaration was made at the Sydney Aquarium.

An East Marine Bioregional Plan will be declared in 2010. That region will run from Cape York to Batemans Bay, just east of Canberra. The east marine bioregion will include the whole area of the Coral Sea Conservation Zone. The process for the bioregion plan is taking place as we speak. The process includes input from the general public, public meetings in various areas and consultations with user groups, environment groups, state and Commonwealth departments, marine scientists, oceanographers, fish experts and fish management experts, and all the other interested parties. It is a process designed so all parties involved will be able to place their submissions on the public record. This is an open process that has been extended for six months. This raises the question: why was the Coral Sea not dealt with in the same way, because it was supposed to happen in the same way?

The Coral Sea Conservation Zone was declared without any impact statement, without any consultation and without any scientific process, yet the whole East Marine Bioregional Plan is being extensively examined. Why was it declared on 14 May 2009 when the processes that will take place next year have not been completed? Senator Ian Macdonald asked the question in estimates: if this disallowance is carried, will it in any way impact on the assessment process of the marine protected areas or the East Marine Bioregional Plan? Steve Oxley, manager of the marine division, gave a clear, concise no to that question. Why was the Coral Sea Conservation Zone declared on 14 May when it could have waited until next year when all the investigations will be completed?

On 8 September, I placed on notice question 2122 regarding the East Marine Bioregional Plan and the Coral Sea Heritage Park. I asked what meetings had taken place and with whom. I was informed that on 19 March 2009 the department met with the Australian Conservation Foundation regarding Coral Sea conservation issues. I was told that on 14 April 2009 the department met with Pew Charitable Trusts regarding the Pew proposal for the Coral Sea Heritage Park. Two groups were consulted: the Australian Conservation Foundation and Pew Charitable Trusts. On 14 May, one month later, the minister declared the Coral Sea a conservation zone. We were told at estimates there was no public consultation. The first hint of the existence of the Coral Sea Conservation Zone was given to the Coral Sea industry stakeholders when they received Minister Garrett’s media release announcing the proposal. I do not consider that very fair.

I think everyone has the right to lobby but these were special groups. There was consultation with two groups: the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts. This is proof that the government listens to the green groups but ignores everyone else. Only the Australian Conservation Foundation and Pew got the ear of the department. Ms Zethhoven from Pew acknowledged that she had spoken to Minister Garrett, albeit a short conversation on the heritage park. No-one else got a look in—not the charter boat operators, the boating industry, the amateur and professional fishermen or the public. I submit that this was unfair. The people of North Queensland did not get a fair go. They never got a chance to express their views on their fishing areas that are adjacent to Cairns, nor did anyone who made their living from the Coral Sea. The Pew Charitable Trusts is campaigning openly for a no-take zone in the Coral Sea. Pew told Steve Oxley that that is what it wants and it has told that to many other people.

I believe that in Australia everyone has the right to lobby governments on any issue. We all get many people in our offices asking for support on many issues. That is what our system of government is all about, and I support it. Everyone should have that right. What our system of government is not about is only giving two green groups their say to the department and Ms Imojen Zethoven a meeting with the minister, even if it was only once. Peter Garrett has been captured by the green groups. This is happening more and more in state politics and federally as we see the Labor Party introducing legislation that prevents people going about their daily lives without complications and uncertainty.

Adjacent to the Coral Sea Conservation Zone in North Queensland we are seeing Aboriginal communities losing the right to use their land for farming and grazing enterprises by the introduction of the wild rivers legislation. This is just one of the many examples of legislation that is impacting on regional Australia, and it has received a lot of publicity over the past several months with Mr Pearson. It is happening in Aboriginal communities. It is happening to farmers. It is happening to the forestry industry. It is happening to beekeepers in that they are being thrown out of the forest. We are seeing Peter Garrett and his state environmental ministers surrender more and more territory to the environmental groups and the Greens. My friend and colleague Nigel Scullion, who is a master fisherman and a master mariner, will give some practical examples of how this will impact on fishermen and charter boat operators.

We are told that nothing is going to happen, we will all be free and it will be okay; everyone will be allowed in. But the charter boat operators are very worried. They are having their rights withdrawn to go into the Coral Sea zone, but they are going to be given a permit. I am told—and I think Senator Scullion will be able to expand upon this, and possibly Senator Macdonald, who is a lawyer—that a permit is a sort of—

Photo of Brett MasonBrett Mason (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

Property right.

Photo of Ron BoswellRon Boswell (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, it is not a property right. It is a gift that can be repossessed. The fishing and boating industry have sought some advice from the ANU, the Australian National University. They paid for the advice and received a presentation to their stakeholders advisory group which suggested that the issuing of permits is regarded as a privilege which can be withdrawn without compensation. I want to refer to the permit and read out one of the conditions. I know Senator Nigel Scullion will expand on this further, because he is a fisherman and a boat operator. This is from general condition 2:

The Permit cannot be sold or transferred (including transfer of the benefit of the Permit, whether by lease, hire or otherwise) to another person, body or organisation.

You might have a fishing boat or a charter boat. These boats are not cheap; they could be worth $1 million, particularly the mother ships. They could be worth $2 million, and that would just be a good boat—nothing flash, but a reasonable boat. That is accompanied by a fishing boat, which would be a 42-footer or something like that. So if you had two permits and for some reason you wanted to sell—if you wanted to retire or get out of the industry—you have to put those permits in. They cannot be transferred; they cannot be leased out. So you, in effect, have lost control of your business. If you have lost control of your business, you cannot sell your business. People are worried. I know Senator Macdonald was visiting some people on the jetty the other day that were particularly worried—deckhands thought their jobs were on the line. He will expand on that more.

In summary, the East Marine Bioregional Plan will provide detailed information about key habitats, species, natural processes, conservation, heritage values and human issues in this region. The draft plan will be released halfway through next year, and that is when this decision should be made—when everyone has had the right to put their submissions in and be judged. But that has not happened now. Two people have had this right—Pew Charitable Trust and the Conservation Council. That is unfair.

The declaration of the Coral Sea Conservation Zone has created uncertainty with professional fishermen. They have already been through great disruption with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park closures—as we know them, RAPs. They are concerned that the declaration of the Coral Sea Conservation Zone and the continuing campaigning by Pew Charitable Trust in going for a no-take zone is going to have a huge impact on their industry. They are concerned that licensing will be devalued, and they just cannot face any more uncertainty on their livelihoods. They want out. The uncertainty has become too much for them. They have been through it once, and it looks like they will have to go through it again, under a similar process to RAPs. They now want the government to buy them out. With no public consultation, with only two green groups having had their say, this disallowance motion should not be carried. It is unfair. It is uncertain. The whole issue of the Coral Sea will be addressed with the Eastern Marine Bioregional Plan, the correct consultation process taking place over the Coral Sea area, and the outcomes will be known next year. I urge the Senate to disallow this regulation.

5:52 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The Greens will not be supporting this motion. I am sure that does not come as a surprise to the movers of the motion. The Coral Sea is a very important natural area. It also is an important heritage area. The Coral Sea provides essential habitat for an abundance of species, including critically endangered hawk’s bill turtles and endangered green turtles, 25 species of whales and dolphins and 27 species of seabirds. It is one of the last places on earth where populations of shark, tuna and bill fish—for example, swordfish and marlin—have not yet been severely depleted.

The underwater landscape of the Coral Sea is highly varied, with reefs, lagoons, inlets and cays, and with plateaux, canyons and underwater mountains. It is an important area for smaller fish that gather in these habitats seeking refuge. It has endemic species that are found nowhere else in the world. The majority of reefs in the Coral Sea lie on the Queensland Plateau. This area contains about 440 species of demersal fish. The seafloor of the Coral Sea, and its reefs, lagoons and cays, are different to those in the Great Barrier Reef. There is less hard coral and a greater proportion of sponges and coloured algae. Many species of starfish, brittle-stars, feather-stars and sea cucumbers are rich in this area.

This area is also an important source of life for the Great Barrier Reef. The ocean currents flowing west from Vanuatu replenish the biological communities that grow on the emergent reefs of the Coral Sea. In turn, these communities are important sources of recruitment for the Great Barrier Reef. This area is an undisturbed habitat for nesting green turtles and, as I have said, it is also important for other turtles such as loggerhead turtles, the olive ridley turtle, and the hawk’s bill, the flatback and the leatherback turtles. In other words, this is an important area for turtles.

As I have said, there are many species of seabird. It is an important breeding area for seabirds. It is also a regionally important area for the east coast humpback whale. In other words, as I was saying, this is an extremely important area. If you look at this in the context of what is happening globally to our oceans you would know that our great fish species are being substantially depleted globally. So this is important not just for the Great Barrier Reef and for the region; we know that 90 per cent of the world’s big fish—such as shark, tuna, marlin, groper and snapper—have vanished in the last 50 years from overfishing. We believe that there is also danger of other fisheries collapsing or facing collapse. We believe very strongly that we need to be protecting this area.

This conservation zone is being put in place so that the dialogue over what areas should be included in marine protected areas can begin. It is important, we believe, that this conservation zone be put in place to allow the discussion that Senator Boswell has been talking about. The issue at hand here is whether the proclamation of the Coral Sea Conservation Zone is having specific impacts. Then we need to look at the consequences of disallowing this proclamation. We do not want to be sidetracked or distracted by conspiracy theories or speculation and concern about possible future acts. The proclamation of the Coral Sea Conservation Zone does not prevent or impose upon the rights and activities of commercial fishers, recreational fishers and/or tourist operators operating within the Coral Sea. What it does is put in place some interim protection and data collection measures—that’s threatening: data collection measures!—that ensure that a proper consultation and planning process can be undertaken so that we can have an informed debate about the future management of the Coral Sea. It does not and should not cost existing users or prospective users of the Coral Sea—commercial or recreational fishers—anything. Existing commercial fishers already have licences and permits which will be continue to be recognised. Tourist operators running—

Photo of Ron BoswellRon Boswell (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Boswell interjecting

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I was quiet when you were talking. Could you please do the same for me.

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Ignore the interjections, Senator Siewert.

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I am trying, but when he is doing it in your ear it is very distracting.

The Acting Deputy President:

May I just remind the Senate that interjections are disorderly. I ask you to listen to Senator Siewert in quiet.

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Tourist operators running fishing charters into the Coral Sea and scientists conducting research merely need to apply for free permits, which will simply allow DEWHA to monitor the level of activity taking place within the area as part of the assessment process and the development of the bioregional plan for the East Marine Region. The affected area of the Coral Sea, which lies between the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and the boundary of our EEZ, is, people will acknowledge, a long way off the coast. In fact, this makes it difficult and expensive to get to. As a consequence there are, in fact, few recreational fishers and fishing charters operating in this area who are likely to be affected. The impost on them, we believe, is very small—particularly when you consider the conservation value and the environmental values of this area.

As we understand it, at the moment there are nine commercial trap and line permits operating in the Coral Sea. We believe that decisions about the management of our natural resources need to be made on the basis of the best scientific evidence available and with a view to ensuring the sustainability and long-term health of those resources and the industries that depend upon them. We need to be reasonable in balancing the demands of industry—who are often driven by the immediate commercial imperatives rather than the long-term imperatives and the need to protect these areas—with the long-term interests of management and maintaining these resources so that we can continue to maintain the health of the fishery and the environment on which it depends, to ensure industry productivity for the long term.

In other words, we need to be looking not just at the short term but at the long term. We believe that this is what this process is designed to do. We believe that we have a responsibility to make sensible decisions and not short-term populist ones. We also have the tools available to work with industry and the community to provide a fair and equitable process to support industry into the future, as has been demonstrated previously. We are well aware of the problems that have been experienced in the past—both on land and at sea—when public discussion and debate has taken place, about natural resource management and conservation management, without an effective interim process being put in place during this discussion.

When we look at the history of land caring in the country in recent years, we see that the greatest periods of clearing of private land have corresponded with a public debate around the possibility of introducing restrictions on land clearing. Much of this activity has been unnecessary and, in our opinion, ill-informed, and the result of the use it or lose it attitude. This is deliberate misinformation and attempts to whip up hysteria to oppose what we believe are sensible conservation measures.

We also need to not forget the contribution to Queensland and in fact to the Australian economy made by tourism, and the need to preserve and enhance the existing natural values of an area that, in the future, may draw increasing numbers of tourists to this area. Of course, we then need to put in appropriate management plans to ensure that those tourists do not damage the very thing that they have come to look at and love. There are possibilities for us, and for conservation, to promote this area that will lead to it being enjoyed by many people in the future. But we need to make the decision about which areas will go into the marine protected area and we will need to put in place appropriate management plans.

We believe that this proposal is a sensible proposal. We are concerned that there has been a great deal of misinformation about the impacts of this particular proposal. There has been a lot of hysteria in this debate and misinformation about what it actually means to people, about the impact of the conservation zone and about the compliance and enforcement mechanisms. There has been some misinformation that is simply not substantiated by the law itself about the likely consequences for recreational fishers and charter operators operating unknowingly in this area.

DEWHA’s paper states the compliance process and what will happen if people unwittingly contravene the Coral Sea Conservation Zone regulations. I draw your attention to the department’s discussion paper and the process it undertakes for compliance and enforcement policy. It sets out the framework for sensibly dealing with these sorts of issues and lays out a process of progressive and proportional response. The focus is on using communication, education, timely information, advice and persuasion to encourage and achieve cooperation, with legal enforcement very much an option of the last resort. That is in the discussion paper.

When collaborative approaches fail, the policy lays out a range of sanctions that escalate in severity in response to the lack of compliance and the scale of its impact. This policy lays out specific criteria for determining the appropriate level of response: cancelling permits, injunctions, remedial orders, fines and criminal prosecution. In other words, there has been some hysteria around this. The department clearly sets out what its process is for noncompliance. But the point here is: this is a conservation zone designed to enable the discussion of the consultation process to put in place the permanent marine protected area, which, I am quite sure, the broader community is very strongly supportive and in favour of.

I am deeply concerned that there has been this push to disallow this conservation zone. I am wondering what the motive is for getting rid of any appropriate conservation process to ensure the protection of the Coral Sea, because that has certainly been the rhetoric and the nature of the debate that has been occurring. The message that is being sent to the community is: we do not want any marine park over the Coral Sea; we do not want to protect the Coral Sea—it is doing very well thank you very much. They are trying to isolate the Coral Sea from the broader issues of the marine environment, whereas I have said that the marine environment in the world is suffering. Coral reefs around the world are declining, we have lost 75 per cent of our coral reefs around the world and 90 per cent of our big fishes have already been lost. One of the reasons for the need to put some conservation protection over this area is to protect those species that are left because we have so few natural, unaffected and virtually pristine areas left in the world and it is imperative that we protect these areas. The measures that have been put in place by this conservation zone do not impact on commercial fishers, recreational fishers or on charter boat operators other than requiring them to provide information for data collection that will enable a more informed debate over the marine protected areas. These people get free permits—they do not have to pay for permits—but they do have to provide information. As I understand, it was the previous government that put in place the process for establishing marine protected areas in terms of requiring extensive community discussion.

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

Quite right.

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I will take that slight interjection by Senator Macdonald. In fact, I think he was a member of the government at the time and was the minister for fisheries. They did put in place a process for marine protected areas. This is a conservation zone; it is not a marine protected area yet. It is to enable the consultation process to start and to progress in a meaningful way with an informed database. I do not see what the fishing operators have to fear from this conservation zone when they are getting their permits. Yes, they have to provide data, but is that an issue?

Photo of Ron BoswellRon Boswell (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

No, that is not the issue. I fail to see why people are so scared of what is, I think, a very sensible process to enable further discussion about putting in place, in the future, a marine protected area. This will ensure the protection of not only the conservation values, which are very high for this area, but also the significant heritage values of the Coral Sea. People would be well aware of the heritage values of the Coral Sea, particularly as a result of the Second World War. I understand there are heritage values there from the First World War. Matthew Flinders had a historical association with the area as well.

This area is important not only from a heritage perspective but, particularly, from a conservation perspective. This proposal is for temporary measures to be put in place for the period of discussion about the extent of boundaries and more accurate detailing of boundaries for a marine protected area into the future. We do not support this disallowance, because we do not believe that the scare campaign developed around this conservation zone should scare the community away from ensuring effective conservation for this area into the future. As I said, this conservation zone is put in place while we have that discussion. It does not threaten current recreational or commercial fishing. I have heard various comments like, ‘You won’t be able to take on deckhands.’ I think they are all furphies—some people simply do not want to see marine protection in this very important area. Our marine environment is under desperate threat around the world. We need to take this issue very seriously and ensure that Australia protects its highly important and highly biodiverse marine areas.

6:08 pm

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to first of all respond to some of the things that Senator Siewert said. In my contribution I am talking of course to the whole Senate, and the people of Australia who are listening, but I am particularly talking to Senator Xenophon and Senator Fielding, who I understand are as yet undecided.

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

No, that’s not quite right.

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

I am told that being undecided is not quite right! Let me try, lest your decision, Senator Xenophon—through you, Mr Acting Deputy President—not be in support of us, to urge upon you some reality checks. Senator Siewert quite rightly and graciously said the marine planning process was all put in place by the Howard government, and the coalition is not intending to trash that process. I was very much involved in the south-east marine protected area process, in the south-east of Victoria. After a lot of negotiation, consultation, and working and talking it through in meetings with conservationists, fishermen, boating people and anyone else concerned, we got to a stage where there was a multi-user marine protected area in place, and it brought the whole community with it. Once it was implemented, it was followed without compulsion being necessary because it was a consultative process. The fishermen and conservationists were all involved. Whilst at the end of the process not everyone was 100 per cent happy, 100 per cent of the people were 80 to 90 per cent happy. That is the coalition’s position, and we are not going to change that.

This bioregional process that is in place is a result of the process put in place by the Howard government some years ago. The process for the bioregional planning for places including the Coral Sea is already in place. It will indeed continue—I just pause while Senator Brown interrupts my conversation with all senators, including, particularly, Senator Xenophon. That process will continue. It is already happening.

Do you know what that kind of process should involve? Consultation, taking people with you, making sure at the end of the process you have everyone on board. You also find out that, by consulting with people, you get a result that gets rid of some of the unintended consequences. I regret to say, in relation to green zones on the Great Barrier Reef—and Senator Boswell will hate me for this—that the end result was a good conservation measure, but we got into all sorts of problems because we did not properly consult on it. The consultation that occurred with the department at the time was, I regret to say, not always truthful. Because of that, we have had years of battles in court. The process started off with a compensation bill of $10 million and has now added up, at the last count, to over $300 million. That all happened because there was not sufficient consultation. We learnt our lesson there, and with the south-east marine protected area we got consultation going and we got a pretty good result. That is how this process should happen.

What happened in this particular instance? Without explaining to those who were involved, we woke up one day and found that there had been a proclamation to declare a conservation zone—not a multi-user reserve or anything—in the whole of the Coral Sea. Most Australians waking up and hearing that on the news would think: ‘The Coral Sea—that’s the coral reef, the Great Barrier Reef. Yeah, we like that—good idea.’ But of course the Coral Sea is anything but the Great Barrier Reef; it is nowhere near the Great Barrier Reef. It is beyond the Great Barrier Reef. It is hardly fished at all. I think the estimates answers told me that less than 500 tonnes of fish were caught from the Coral Sea in the last year, and it has been going down. The fishing impact on the Coral Sea is negligible.

What does happen on the Coral Sea is that the charter operators—they were called ‘marlin boats’ in the old days—go out there. They are the boats that put Cairns on the map, and currently there are hundreds of them in Cairns, providing employment and investment returns for those who have invested in the Cairns tourism industry. I remind senators, as I have done in this place before, that Cairns currently is suffering a 17.5 per cent adult male unemployment rate. Across the board, unemployment in Cairns is about 14 per cent, the highest for a region anywhere in Australia. I was in Cairns the other day and was privileged to be staying at the Shangri La Hotel, right on the waterfront. I went for a walk in the morning past the marlin boats that were all lined up there. I thought it would be interesting to wander into the marina and talk to a couple of deckhands there. I asked them: ‘What are you doing? Getting the boat ready?’ ‘Yes,’ they replied, ‘we have got three people flying in from America in about two hours time. They will come straight out from the airport and jump on board.’ I did not ask how much they were charging them, but my understanding is that it would be $5,000, $10,000 or $15,000 to go out marlin fishing for the day. I said to these young fellows, ‘You go out to the Coral Sea.’ ‘Of course,’ they replied. I said: ‘You go out beyond the Great Barrier Reef, where the marlin are. It is the thing that put Cairns on the map.’ I then asked, ‘Did you hear about the conservation act?’ They said: ‘Yeah, we heard about that. We’ll lose our jobs.’ I said, ‘Perhaps not,’ and they said, ‘Yes, we will.’ Whether they are right or wrong, I do not know. I suspect they are right.

Photo of Jan McLucasJan McLucas (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I will follow it up.

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

I will give you the name of the boat and the owner. The owner was not there. I was talking to the deckhands and they said, ‘We will lose our jobs out of this.’ Unemployment is 17.5 per cent. I see that Senator McLucas is going to take some part in the debate. Tell me what the government is doing about 17.5 per cent unemployment in Cairns. What are they going to do? They are going to knock off one of the few remaining profitable industries on the Cairns waterfront. That is what this regulation is all about.

I will look now at the proclamation. It says:

The environmental significance of the Coral Sea derives from the globally unique assemblage of scattered coral reefs, seamounts, atolls, abyssal plains, deep sea canyons and islands and the extent to which the region’s natural and heritage values have remained relatively undisturbed by direct human impact.

Hang on! This is the area they want to save with a conservation zone, but they are saying that it is ‘relatively undisturbed by direct human impact’. What is going to change in the next year or two that is going to alter that? It is so pristine that after 100 years of being used by the marlin boat operators, the few fishermen who are out there, the scuba divers and anyone else, it is still in a pristine state that remains relatively undisturbed by direct human impact. So what are we trying to correct with this conservation zone?

I say to those senators who might be wavering: here we are with a process in place—the marine regional process—which, as Senator Siewert rightly said, requires the government to consult with everybody, to take them with them and to listen to what they might say about unintended consequences. That process is in place. So why come in in the middle of that and slap this conservation zone on it—a conservation zone that will impact upon the investment potential, the investment confidence, of those still investing in the marine industries in Cairns. I can assure the Senate that were the coalition in power we would continue with the bioregional planning process—and Greg Hunt, the shadow minister for the environment has asked me to make this point. We, after all, started it and we understand the importance of it. But we want to take people with us. We want to make it a multiuser park. Senator Siewert is throwing in things about these sunken ships. Well, thanks, Senator Siewert, but you know better than I that they are already protected by the Historic Shipwrecks Act. You do not need this conservation zone for that, and you know it.

I say to you that the amount of research done out in the Coral Sea—and I know this from the time when I was fisheries minister—is absolutely minimal. I know AIMS, that great institution, tries to do some work, but they are starved of funds and are unable to do it. Do you know who does the most research out there in the Coral Sea? Do you know who tells them where the sea mounts are? Do you know who tells them where the tuna are running—but that is not important because they do not fish for tuna? Do you know who tells them where the marlin are running when they come in—with which tide and which current? Do you know who provides all of this information to the research agencies? It is the charter boats; it is the marlin boats. They are the ones who go out and catch fish, tag and release them and then when they are caught again in a couple of years time they read the tag and take the information and pass it back to the research agencies. It is those boats that are doing the only data collection out there. And this silly regulation actually wants those people to be stopped. Sure, they say, ‘Oh, we will give them a permit anyhow and we are not going to charge them any money.’ Well, why bother if that is the case?

This is the thin end of the wedge. It does not need to be done. We do not want another great conflict like we had at the Traveston Crossing dam—I see Senator Bob Brown here; he ran both sides of the fence on the Traveston Crossing dam, you might recall. We do not want that sort of conflict in environmental issues. We want people to be taken with us, together.

Mr Acting Deputy President McGauran, I think there is someone breaching standing orders by wandering around the chamber. Perhaps it was the person who I mentioned had walked both sides of the fence with the Traveston Crossing dam—on one occasion he opposed it and floated down the river and on the other occasion he gave preferences to the government that wanted to build it. But I know independent senators and others who are listening to this will not be distracted by a pretty obvious ploy by the Greens leader to distract their attention.

The data is there. We want to take people with us to make sure that we get an arrangement in the Coral Sea that has universal support—and it can happen. Ms Zethoeven, for whom I have some regard as a person in a social capacity, is saying: ‘The fishermen would like to get out of there. Give them four or five million dollars for their licences and they will be out tomorrow.’ But, hang on—this arrangement does not provide four or five million dollars for a fishing licence; in fact, it provides nothing. It tries to give them a permit which could well impact on any compensation that might come or be able to be insisted upon if this should eventually become part of the bioregional marine planning process.

We do not want to confiscate people’s licences without reward, so let’s have a look. I think Senator Scullion is full bottle on this, and he will be talking shortly. Is it the case that, when a permit is given, you are then taking away or giving by government grant a right that has existed under the fisheries act for some time and which, if taken away, might entitle those fishermen to some compensation? Why do this? That is the bit I cannot understand.

I have demonstrated that it is a pristine area already. It is there, it is so pristine, everybody wants to preserve it. So why bother? The marine planning process is going to continue. If the Australian public decides to get rid of this government at the next election, which I hope it will do, I can assure you that the next government will continue the process that the Howard government started—that is, the marine protected areas and the bioregional planning process.

We were the first government in the world to start the marine planning process. That was an initiative of the Howard government and it will continue with the Turnbull government. We are very proud of that. There is no doubt that we will continue it, but we will do it in conjunction with all of those people involved. We will do it in conjunction with the fishermen. We will do it in conjunction with the marlin boat operators. We will do it in conjunction with the conservationists.

I think at times that Ms Zethoeven has a belief—and I do not want to verbal her here—that the ends sometimes justify the means. In this case you can get to the ends, but you can get to them by taking everyone with you. Someone should have a look at the regulations themselves. I did; I used to be a lawyer. The regulations that this proclamation brings into play, and I know that Senator Scullion is going to talk about this, are quite horrific. Why bother? Why go through it all? Why cause that division? It is not necessary. By the time the bioregional planning process comes around, it might be a year. It might be two years. It might be three years. But it is on the way. It is happening now.

Photo of Ron BoswellRon Boswell (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is happening next year.

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

Next year, is it? Thank you, Senator Boswell. It is happening now, so why interfere with that process? Why have half the people demonstrating in the streets, arguing against it and getting all upset when it is not necessary? This conservation zone is not needed. The bioregional planning process will continue. So why bother with it?

I pay tribute to Senator Ron Boswell. We have not always agreed, and some of the things that I have said today I know Senator Boswell will not agree with, but I commend a senator who has been passionate in his support for the fishing industry in Queensland and, beyond that, for the tourism industry. He, as do I, has this great concern about the unemployed in Far North Queensland and the impact that this will have upon their jobs.

I plead with those in the Senate who have not yet made up their minds to ask themselves: why is this being pushed forward? I do not subscribe to conspiracy theories, but it is not necessary, so why is it being done? Why is it being pushed by a group from America—who were formed, I might say, with oil money? Perhaps there is a guilty conscience there. Why not talk to some people in Cairns rather than talking to some Americans? What is behind it? There is no conspiracy, perhaps, but what is the purpose of it all when it is quite unnecessary? It was announced without any warning, without any consultation with those directly involved and it is completely unnecessary.

I, like Senator Boswell, am passionate about these things. I am passionate about the Barrier Reef. I am passionate about marine conservation. I am also passionate about my fellow North Queenslanders who do not have a job—all they want to do is argue with the government, because the government in this instance and in one other instance has not taken them with it. We can solve all that. We can pursue the bioregional process and keep it going at a fast rate, but let us not destroy the goodwill for the sake of these regulatory measures, which are completely unnecessary. No-one who has spoken in this debate so far has in any way convinced me that there is anything that this proclamation will do that would not happen otherwise.

6:29 pm

Photo of Joe LudwigJoe Ludwig (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Manager of Government Business in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the debate be adjourned.

I seek to allow a second motion to be moved by leave so that we can extend this debate until 7.20 pm. I would prefer that this matter be dealt with by 6.50 pm. We could then go on to deal with the youth allowance during the last remaining hour. Hopefully, those opposite might be able to confine their debate to that period. I would then be able to make that time available for the youth allowance debate. Otherwise, we would end up in a position where this debate continued without a resolution of the Senate.

6:30 pm

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek clarification. The effect of the motion would be that the disallowance motion is not voted upon. Is that correct?

Photo of John FaulknerJohn Faulkner (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Vice-President of the Executive Council) Share this | | Hansard source

No, it gives you more time to debate it.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

When will the additional time be applied?

Photo of John FaulknerJohn Faulkner (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Vice-President of the Executive Council) Share this | | Hansard source

From 6.50 to 7.20.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It would have been nice if you had consulted with us so I could have discussed this matter with you.

Photo of Joe LudwigJoe Ludwig (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Manager of Government Business in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

We tried.

Photo of John FaulknerJohn Faulkner (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Vice-President of the Executive Council) Share this | | Hansard source

To be fair, Senator Ludwig—

Photo of Julian McGauranJulian McGauran (Victoria, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Senator Faulkner, you should have this debate outside the chamber, if you wish, not across the chamber.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I will speak against the proposition to adjourn and the opposition will not be supporting that motion.

6:31 pm

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

The Manager of Opposition Business has spoken. I think that is appropriate. If anyone wanted to consult with him perhaps now would be an opportune time. What if we go for half an hour and we have not finished the debate then? That is my concern. Do we have another half-hour extension and do we then go to Christmas time?

Photo of John FaulknerJohn Faulkner (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Vice-President of the Executive Council) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Faulkner interjecting

The Acting Deputy President:

Senator Macdonald and Senator Faulkner, you are not to carry on the conversation across the chamber. Any questions can be asked outside the chamber.

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

Indeed. I am concerned about this. The government again is demonstrating how it cannot manage this chamber. It is in complete disarray, in the same way as the economy will be in a year or two when we have to turn around and start paying off the huge borrowings that this government has embarked upon—

The Acting Deputy President:

Senator Macdonald, on advice from the Clerk I should put this motion now. There should be no debate on a motion to adjourn the debate.

Question put:

That the motion (Senator Ludwig’s) be agreed to.

6:39 pm

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the question be now put.

Question put.

Photo of John HoggJohn Hogg (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question now is that the motion moved by Senator Boswell and Senator Macdonald be agreed to.

Question put.