Senate debates

Monday, 17 September 2012


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

4:57 pm

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

To begin where I left off, I take this opportunity to quickly go through the amendments that the Greens have circulated. One, as I touched on before we finished, was to put in place a ban on super trawlers based on a size of 2,000 tonnes. We believe that super trawlers have no place in this day and age in modern fisheries management and do not believe they should be operating in our waters.

We also have an amendment which essentially reverses the onus of proof. Instead of the declaration lasting only two years we believe there needs to be a process in place where the declaration remains in place until that declaration is revoked based on the science. In other words, there is no automatic assumption that it lasts for only 24 months.

We are also seeking to put back the issues around social and economic factors. Quite frankly, I am fascinated that Mr Oakeshott seems to have supported this removal of consideration of social and economic factors. The plain fact here is that a super trawler and this particular type of fishing activity could have a devastating impact on local communities, and it certainly has a social impact on recreational fishers. The consideration of social and economic factors is a very important issue, and I would have thought it was an issue that Mr Oakeshott would have supported given that members in his electorate have in the past spoken out quite strongly on issues related to recreational fishing and, in particular, impacts on recreational fishing and fish stocks. We seek to put that particular provision back.

We also seek to remove the sunset clause. What that effectively does is say it is for this particular activity and for no others. What happens into the future if there are other activities that adversely impact, or are likely to adversely impact, on the marine environment and fish stocks? We believe it is an important new provision that is going into the legislation, and one that we do not believe should have a sunset clause on it.

This is about the future of our fisheries management and of our fish stocks and, as I have articulated in the rest of my speech, the science is not clear. That is why we need to have this. That is why it is important that we have put this issue of uncertainty into the legislation, because if there is one thing that has become clear from this debate it is that the science is not clear. We need more work and we need some rigorous analysis of the science and the fish stocks. I articulated previously all those things that go into a proper assessment, none of which has been done or done enough, because we were using old data for the previous assessment. New data needs to be collected; it needs to be a very rigorous process and, as the scientists said, it is likely to take the full two years if we do it properly.

5:00 pm

Photo of Lin ThorpLin Thorp (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to be able to speak to this urgent legislation to toughen up environmental controls on vessels like the supertrawler, now known as the Abel Tasman, and to have been involved in its development. This legislation will give the minister for the environment, working with the minister for fisheries, the power to establish an expert panel to conduct an assessment of all the potential impacts of this supertrawler before it can be given approval to fish in Commonwealth waters. The amendments to the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 will provide the community and the industry with a process to establish the high level of certainty that is needed for vessels like the FV Abel Tasman to operate in Australian waters.

I do not believe that existing concerns around bycatch of other fish, birds and marine mammals, particularly dolphins and seals, have been adequately addressed. Indeed, the present legislative framework did not provide the necessary safeguards, and it is in this context that the EPBC is being amended and updated to allow the minister to deal with issues not envisioned when the act was created.

The community needs to be assured that the environmental controls in place are reflective of the expectations of the community and that the expert panel will be able to assess the science to answer those very important questions. Importantly, this process will be undertaken over a period of up to two years, during which this vessel will not be allowed to trawl in Commonwealth waters. This time frame is required in order to collect much of the seasonally-specific data necessary to ensure the science is fully robust.

The major concern with the operation of this vessel for recreational fishers in my home state of Tasmania—and right around Australia—has been the potential for localised depletion of fish stocks. On this matter I have not been convinced that the existing science has been as robust as some have claimed, with some of the research around localised depletion and on-flow consequences to other fish stocks being several years out of date. I am also pleased that, separate to this bill, the minister for fisheries has announced a major review into Australia's fisheries management. The review is the first of its kind in 20 years, and will be a root-and-branch assessment to maintain our fisheries' world-leading status.

I first attended a rally against the supertrawler at the Derwent Entertainment Centre in Hobart in late July. Over the last six to eight weeks I have been contacted by recreational fishers from all over Tasmania and have spoken with stakeholders and community members across the spectrum. It has been my role as a senator for Tasmania to convey the concerns of the Tasmanian community to our federal ministers and lobby on behalf of the people of my state in this place. I am very pleased that through the efforts of Labor members of parliament to approach this issue sensibly and to speak directly with our colleagues and responsible ministers we have been able to achieve this outcome.

In his contribution earlier, another senator from my home state of Tasmania, Senator Colbeck, actually berated many of the people who were supportive of lobbying the ministers to try to effect some change around this issue. I think Senator Colbeck really needs to rethink some of the comments he is making, given that he is a senator for Tasmania—it is quite important, and one of our primary roles, to make sure that we are representing the interests of our electorate. I am not on my own in thinking that, and wish to quote from an article that was printed in a newspaper from the northern part of the state, the Examiner, last Tuesday, in which the author Barry Prismall said under the headline, 'Liberals surrender field of battle to ALP':

The Tasmanian Liberal party is being outfoxed and toppled from its fortress comfort zone.

The party that once prided itself as the paragon of states' rights has surrendered its fortress to Labor.

The Liberals were warriors for their state but now they appear like soldiers of fortune, with no apparent purpose.

Mere flotsam, hoping to drift to shore with a king tide, given their federal party's current supremacy in the polls.

…   …   …

They don't oppose the super trawler. The rest of Australia does.

They won't take on Tony Abbott over the threat of population-based GST funding.

…   …   …

The GST, a successful Howard government reform, is a dream issue to run with in terms of the threat to our share, and yet federal Labor MPs are the ones making flawless baton changes.

The Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association is having a meltdown over the disease threat of New Zealand potato imports, but barely a peep out of the Libs.

…   …   …

Our Liberal senators are taking the luxury of a year's fact-finding tour to produce election policies based on feedback while federal Labor MPs, who should be on the defensive, are on the attack; …

…   …   …

Now is the time for these Liberal bravehearts to be seen standing up for their state, but, they have meekly squandered the battle ground to Labor.

I also congratulate the Tasmanian community members who lobbied so strongly and raised awareness around this issue. To them, I say, 'This victory belongs to you.'

Above all, this government wants to see a sustainable fishery with appropriate management to ensure that fish stocks remain robust for future generations and that our marine environment continues to thrive. I wholeheartedly support this legislation.

5:06 pm

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

It is quite fitting to note that the best Senator Thorp can do is read an editorial from last week's Examiner rather than arguing her case regarding the supertrawler, rather than making a broader contribution in relation to where we are at the moment. It probably signifies the embarrassment that the government have about the way that it has managed this issue. Up until Monday last week, Senator Ludwig was actually defending the process—defending AFMA and defending the scientists. Yet through the introduction of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Declared Commercial Fishing Activities) Bill 2012, we effectively have a motion of no confidence in AFMA and in the science.

It might be worth looking at Minister Burke's role in this entire process given he appointed the AFMA commission; he appointed the former New South Wales Treasurer as chairman of AFMA commissioners. Now he has effectively moved a motion of no confidence in the whole process. It might be worth working through Minister Burke's role in this process because last week in the media he claimed that he had no knowledge of the harvest strategy that supports the management of the small pelagic fishery.

When you look over a chronology of events, particularly between 2007 when Minister Burke was appointed Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and 2010 when the election occurred, there was a lot of action in this particular space with respect to how the small pelagic fishery would be managed. I will start in December 2004 when the AFMA board—as it was then, not a commission—agreed to develop the fisheries management plan. In October 2005 there was the first independent advisory panel report on quota allocation.

Between 2006 and 2008 there were a number of scientific studies on fish stocks and ecological risk assessments. The small pelagic fishery management advisory committee developed a draft management plan and the harvest strategy. It is at that point in 2008 when the harvest strategy was released that the concept of a large-scale freezer vessel came into being. The introductory comments to that document canvassed the use of a large-scale freezer vessel as perhaps the most economical way to work in the fishery. So already Minister Burke's comments in relation to his role do not have any credibility. In September 2009, a small pelagic fishery management advisory committee recommended the draft management plan to AFMA. In 2009, the harvest strategy was also reviewed. So not for the first time but for the second time a large-scale factory freezer vessel was foreshadowed as part of the management of this fishery.

In October 2009, then Minister for Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Peter Garrett, wrote to AFMA endorsing the management plan, including the harvest strategy. Not only do we have Minister Burke involved in this process; but then environment minister Peter Garrett wrote to AMFA and specifically endorsed the Small Pelagic Fishery Management Plan and harvest strategy, and he agreed to accredit it under the EPBC Act. If Minister Burke did not look at it, Minister Garrett certainly did and he agreed to accredit it in accordance with the EPBC Act—the act that Minister Burke now administers. For Minister Burke to say that he had no idea what was going on perhaps reflects his interest in his portfolio at the time. As I said this morning, a lot of us wondered what he was doing while he was in that portfolio—and his 1½ page ministerial statement at the 2010 election indicates probably not much.

In December 2009, the Small Pelagic Fishery Management Plan was accepted by Minister Burke. Of course that management plan also refers to the harvest strategy, the document that Minister Burke says he does not have any ownership of. On 6 January 2010, Minister Garrett issued a wildlife trade operation certificate. For those who are not aware, any native wildlife fish species exported out of Australia needs a certificate to indicate that the fishery is sustainable under the EPBC Act. It is a very wise system and provides a second check that the fishery is sustainable.

In February 2010, the Small Pelagic Fishery Management Plan was tabled in the parliament by Minister Burke. That management plan refers to and incorporates the harvest strategy. So Minister Burke actually tabled this document in parliament, yet last week he denied any knowledge of it. Senator Bernardi earlier today referred to a Sergeant Schultz's response, but I think that does a disservice to Sergeant Schultz. The small pelagic fishery strategic assessment under the EPBC Act was tabled at the same time.

Over a period of time, particularly during the period that Minister Burke was the responsible fisheries minister, we can see significant involvement in the development of the management of this fishery. For Minister Burke now to be saying, 'I didn't know about any of this' and that he had no involvement in this completely lacks credibility. He was a part of the development of the process—or if he was not, he should have been and he should have been across it, particularly given he tabled documents in the parliament. If you are going to table something in the parliament, you should have some sense of what it is. But then again, given the way this piece of legislation has been managed, you have to wonder.

In his press conference last week when he announced he was going to introduce this piece of legislation—legislation that today has had its name changed; another element in the whole sorry saga of this bill—he said that it would only apply to prospective events in the commercial fishery.

That is what he told the broader community when he announced this at the press conference with Minister Ludwig last week, and I think that those who were watching and listening were entitled to believe him. That is what a minister says; that is what a minister should do. But, then again, we have the example of the Prime Minister who said, six days before the last election, 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead'. It did not take any more than a few hours for Minister Burke to break his commitment that this would only be around commercial fisheries and in relation to prospective events.

On reading the legislation, which the opposition did not receive until after it was tabled—we received a briefing on the legislation after it was tabled and the legislation after it was tabled—it became quite apparent that it related to everybody. So, yet again, Minister Burke's word cannot be trusted. The recreational fishing sector know that he cannot be trusted on marine parks, because the consultation that occurred under marine parks was siloed, separated from everybody else in the process and people were played off against each other. They are very reticent to believe Minister Burke about his promises in relation to marine parks. They learned very quickly that they should be concerned about his promises in relation to this bill too.

Before question time the day after the bill was presented, of course, we have the situation where Craig Thomson comes in with an amendment to try and sort out the mess that has been created in relation to recreational fishers. True to form, that amendment does not actually do the job. It takes out recreational fishers but leaves charter fishermen in, given that charter operators are regarded as commercial. This gives a clear demonstration that neither Mr Thomson nor the government have a real understanding of the recreational fishing sector. Of course, the opposition made this quite evident. In fact, we advised the recreational fishers of the situation that was going on, and then of course the government had to walk away from Mr Thomson's amendment and bring in its own.

The other thing about this piece of legislation—and I note Senator Siewert saying that she wants the social element back in—is that it provides an entree for GetUp! and like organisations who want to run social campaigns against industry in Australia to do that. Anyone else who is involved in any form of resource based industry ought to be really worried about this legislation, because it sets a very nasty precedent. If you can raise a social campaign, if you can get enough emails on Twitter, if you can get enough emails on GetUp!, this government will flip, particularly given the influence that there is on this government from the Greens. That is a real concern.

We have seen it in Tasmania. We have seen the effective de-industrialisation of Tasmania. We are seeing that Tasmania has negative growth, which is the ambition of the Greens. It is the stated ambition of the Greens; they do not want to see growth. Tim Morris, their Treasury spokesman, has said they do not want to see any growth. They want to see transitions rather than growth. So they are effectively going about their policy of de-industrialising Tasmania. We ought to be concerned that they have the same policies here and they are having that influence on the government, particularly the Labor Party.

Having got through that, the government moves amendments itself to take out social and economic. The Greens want to put that in. We will not be supporting that amendment. Then, to deal with the prospective issues—or, what they thought were the prospective issues—that are in the legislation, the government put a start date into the legislation of 11 September. So anyone who is doing something at the moment is protected, but if they want to change anything that they are doing in their fishery they have the risk of these provisions being enacted. Again, there is a problem in the drafting and the design of the bill, something that the minister promised just the day before would not occur, still exists. Then, in trying to get their votes across the line, to get Mr Oakeshott to agree to the bill and in the acknowledgement that this bill was just so bad, they had to put a sunset clause in it.

I acknowledge that what Mr Ludwig is going to do in having a review of the Fisheries Management Act—which was initially enacted in 1991, although I think we ought to be very aware that it has been amended a number of times since that period of time; you only have to look at the website to see that it has—to improve Australia's fisheries management. We are quite comfortable with the review of the Fisheries Management Act, but I am concerned that the Greens will use this as a way to insert into the Fisheries Management Act things that they are trying to deal with now. We will be watching very, very closely for that.

Next, we have here today the last amendment: to try and change the name of the act to give the impression that it is only about commercials. But we all understand that what the Greens want is what the government usually gives them. We have seen with changes to the carbon tax legislation how the whacky ideas that the Greens impose on the government as part of their legislative design process end up not working. Then, of course, what they have to do afterwards is come back and change those things because they do not work in the real world. I expect that that is exactly what we have seen here, with Minister Burke, as Senator Abetz quite rightly said earlier, who has his campaigning foundations in the Wilderness Society, effectively reverting to type and designing a very poor piece of legislation which has had to be amended five or six times before it got here, including changing its name so that we can get to a reasonable situation. Yet, any fisher who is still in any fishery and wants to change their method of practice is subject to his signature. I can tell you, there are a number of people in the commercial sector who are very concerned about this.

In fact the Tasmanian Labor senators ought to be very concerned about the attitude of the aquaculture sector; they are absolutely devastated at this legislation. They are really worried, particularly given the influence of the Greens in Tasmania, who are opposing the expansion of the aquaculture sector. When we talk about global food security and the importance of seafood in the global protein task—25 per cent of the globe's protein comes from seafood—aquaculture is going to be a very important part of that. But the Greens don't think so, because their policy is deindustrialisation.

A well-managed wild fishery will have less impact on the environment than almost any other form of growth of protein. Something that has been talked about a number of times during this debate is the strength of Australia's fisheries management. It is a real tragedy that what has happened as a part of this debate is that the reputation of Australia's fisheries management has been tarnished. It is a real tragedy. If you consider this particular fishery, and the way we manage it in the context of global fisheries, we are very conservative in the way we establish our quotas.

I refer to—and I think I have mentioned it in this place before—the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force, which reported back in April on the way that we manage our fisheries. Their document says that, if you have a high level of science, your fishing harvest rate should not exceed 75 per cent. You can take out up to 75 per cent of the biomass. With an intermediate level of science, you can take up to 50 per cent of the biomass. With a low level of science, you can take out up to 20 per cent. The harvest strategy for Australia's small pelagic fishery says the maximum you can take is 20 per cent. So we are more conservative than even the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force. That is how conservatively we manage our fishery. I think it is important that we actually understand that.

Can I just address one final thing. It has cropped up in Senator Siewert's speech. I have only just received a copy of the document that Senator Siewert referred to that came out of IMAS a day or so ago. It is an important piece of the puzzle and an important point for discussion. I have referred to the way this was managed in a public sense in some previous statements. I do not walk away from those. Science is about discovery and it is about a contest of ideas. Professor Andrew Wadsley—who is very much a competent and well-regarded scientist in his field, particularly in risk management, something that I am also interested in—made some comments about calculations in respect of the science a few weeks ago. The thing that really disturbed me about it was that, rather than talking to the scientists who were involved in doing the work in the first place, he went to media, which immediately places a question on their standards and their efficacy.

Nobody questions the issue of the contestability of the science. I wrote to the vice-chancellor of the university on 3 September and said:

I am therefore concerned at the recent criticism by Dr Andrew Wadsley of IMAS and the calculation of the biomass and therefore the quota for the small pelagic fishery. I would appreciate any relevant information the university has on this topic to enable me to better understand the issues raised by Dr Wadsley.

My understanding is that this document is it. Unfortunately, I have not had it transmitted to me yet. I received it today by looking on the Tasmanian Times website. I will have a look at it and I will study it. But it is very disappointing that I have to go through that process to get that information. It is an important part of the equation, and I acknowledge that.

I also acknowledge the concerns of the recreational fishers—they cannot be left aside—particularly in respect of localised depletion. I have supported their concerns about that all the way through this process.

I move:

At the end of the motion, add:

"but the Senate calls on the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities to:

(1)   explain:

  (a)   the reasons for his decision to reverse the policy that he introduced as Fisheries Minister in October 2009 which stated: 'There are considerable economies of scale in the fishery and the most efficient way to fish may include large scale factory freezer vessels';

  (b)   why he effectively invited the Margiris into Australia by promoting 'large scale factory freezer vessels'; and

  (c)   what actions he will take to compensate the 50 Australian workers who are losing their jobs as a consequence of this legislation; and

(2)   introduce amendments to the Fisheries Management Act 1991 to expand the powers for greater spatial management provisions'."

5:27 pm

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

I am glad Senator Colbeck got to the heart of the issue in the last four seconds of his speech.

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

What, my amendment?

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

Just prior to your amendment, Senator, where you talked about local depletion and the concerns of recreational fishers. Perhaps I can set the record straight from my perspective. I have had several discussions with Dr Wadsley about sharing his information with scientists at AFMA. I have even tried to facilitate that process. He did not go straight to the media. He put his report up on a blog—

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

A blog on the Tasmanian Times? Give me a break!

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

to get comment on a community blog, and it was picked up by the media. He has been very happy to talk to scientists.

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

A complete lack of respect.

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

Senator Colbeck, I listened to you your speech with a respectful silence; I would expect you to do the same. As far as picking on Dr Wadsley, I think you are out of line.

We have discussed the science here in the chamber for three weeks. The Greens have had a very consistent position in the supertrawler debate and that is we want to see the quota disallowed. The key reason for that is that the doubling of the quota, from our point of view, was not based on necessarily science itself, but there were issues that were not addressed in that science. So, while there has been a lot of scientific work done by AFMA and other agencies on this fishery, we also believe that key risks were not addressed. We broke the science down into two parts. Before I get into that I will read some new information that has come to light in the last two days. Also the report there that Senator Colbeck was holding up I will go into in a little bit more detail on—and I also only received it this afternoon. It is quite telling in terms of the science on the setting of the quota, and it certainly raises more questions than it answers.

The letter from the Commonwealth Ombudsman to MP Andrew Wilkie last Friday, clearly stating—while its investigation has not been concluded because other matters are under investigation:

In the course of our investigation, AFMA has admitted that the SEMAC—

the South East Management Advisory Committee; part of AFMA—

failed to comply with s.64C of the Act in this regard. By allowing Mr Geen to remain in the meeting while the TAC matter was deliberated, after noting his conflict of interest as the holder of statutory fishing rights for the fishery, the SEMAC chairperson failed to follow the process set out under s.64C of the Act.

That is the first piece of information. It has been out in the media. It has been a point of public interest and public concern that perhaps the fisheries act was not followed and that there may have been a level of illegality in the setting of this quota, and we now have confirmation from an investigation that it does look like there is some smoke there in the fire. We will wait to see what further information comes from that investigation.

The second bit of information which we received this afternoon was on a report downloaded on the AFMA website called, Re-analysis of mean daily egg production in jack mackerel. This was posted to the AFMA website incorrectly—I understand, from speaking to Dr Wadsley. It was posted under their August databank rather than in their September databank, but it was picked up by Dr Wadsley. Essentially, to cut a long story short, 'After peeling away the scientific jargon'—and these are Dr Wadsley's own words—'the lowest plausible biomass estimates should have been used to set the jack mackerel quota.' Following through on this analysis, Dr Wadsley—and he has had this verified by another mathematician in the country about whom he speaks very highly—the TAC should have been set between 1,500 and 1,800 tonnes for jack mackerel, versus the 10,800 tonnes that was set under the existing analysis.

I have avoided using Dr Wadsley at all in any of the media that I have done on the supertrawler debate or in any of the forums I have spoken to and I have avoided bringing up his name in the Senate, because I have not seen it as being useful pitting one scientist against another. I have always tried to respect the AFMA scientists involved in the debate. But this is new information, and I think it has got to the point where Dr Wadsley has done so much work in this area that it does beg some specific answers from AFMA. The questions that Dr Wadsley has now put to AFMA include:

1. Why didn’t they have such a simple re-analysis carried out BEFORE they used the Neira (2011) report to set such an absurdly high and irresponsible TAC? Surely they have in place such checks?

2. Why didn’t they immediately inform their own Minister, the Hon Joe Ludwig, about the implications of the report for the jack mackerel quota, given that the report was lodged on the evening of Wednesday 12 September at the height of the 'supertrawler' debate?

I would also like to make it clear that, in all of my analysis and all my talking as a Greens senator on this issue, I have never focused on the setting of the quota for red bait or jack mackerel. The issue that I have been most interested in is not so much the quota itself but how the quota is going to be fished by a giant, industrial-scale vessel.

I have mentioned this before, but I would like to mention it again. A couple of months ago, a peak recreational fishing group, TARFish, along with conservation groups and other fishery groups, walked away from a working group with the Labor government. They put out a media release saying that they entered the negotiations in good faith and were prepared to see a trawler operate in Australian waters subject to their concerns being addressed. I will quote from their media release:

Following detailed discussions and a review of all the scientific information, provided to the Working Group

presumably by AFMA and the Labor government—

TARFish has come to the conclusion that there is a lack of detailed scientific knowledge surrounding:

1. the extent and rates of movement of each species of small pelagic fish

2. the amount of time it would take for local populations of small pelagic fish to recover from intensive localized fishing, and

3. the size of the resident population of Jack Mackerel on the East Coast of Tasmania.

They posed a question: 'What would happen if a boat, a large trawler, was to take 2,500, 5,000 or 10,000 tonnes of fish from one area?' They also asked what impact this would have on their local fishing spot or on local ecosystems.

The lack of answers to those specific questions is the reason that we are here today debating this. Based on my discussions with these groups—and with Senator Colbeck, by the way—if those questions had been answered, if the data had been in place, and if a management plan had been put in place based on science that addressed these issues, I think we would have a situation where perhaps conservation groups would still have issues with bycatch but probably the fishing groups across this country would have walked away from their campaign.

It is disappointing to see again today the typical Green bashing that we got from Senator Colbeck. I missed Senator Abetz's discussion earlier but, based on previous—

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You didn't miss a lot.

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

So I did not miss a lot? Based on previous speeches I have heard, I am sure it was there. This is not just a Greens issue or a conservation issue, and I really do believe that they have missed the point. Saying that, I do acknowledge that it was mentioned in the last three seconds of Senator Colbeck's speech that there are concerns from local fishers. This is an issue that they have run very hard on, and they have been in discussions and negotiations since at least March. They were part of the resource assessment group at AFMA and part of previous campaigns against supertrawlers in this country.

On the issue of localised depletion, I would like to read a few select quotes from The Commonwealth Small Pelagic Fishery: General background to the scientific issuesa report tabled in the Senate the day before our disallowance motion and a report which Senator Colbeck said he commissioned the scientists at AFMA to write. It is the only research we had on local depletion. Even in that report, although they said that the overall risks to local depletion across the entire fishery were low, they said:

- fishing should be spread out so as to avoid localised depletions, especially in relation to any local ecological ‘hotspots’ where there is particularly strong local dependency between predators and prey (e.g. in the vicinity of some seabird rookeries).

Another quote from the final section says:

However given uncertainties about detailed movement patterns of several of the species targeted in the SPF

small pelagic fishery—

it would be prudent to distribute catches to minimise the chance of local depletion. This is consistent with global scientific advice on best practice for managing such species.

The message is very clear as it was to TARfish and rec fisher groups when they walked away from negotiations. There is no specific research on fish stock movements in Australia's small pelagic fisheries. I do not blame AFMA or the scientists for this. If the research had been in place then we would have the answers. The issue here is funding, which raises the issue of it having been seven years since we began planning to bring an industrial-scale vessel to Australian waters—and this was brought up by Commonwealth Fisheries Association in their recent advertising campaign.

We have on record Senator Abetz saying that they have been working for three years since 2009 to bring this vessel here. I would like to piece together the time line at some point to work out exactly what has happened behind the scenes. Who are 'we'? We have been planning to bring out a supertrawler to Australia for seven years. Who are we exactly: is it AFMA; is it the scientists; is it the Liberal Party; or is it the fisheries minister? Who are we? If we have been planning for seven years, why hasn't the issue of local depletion been addressed and answered?

Senator Colbeck talked about the last harvest strategy released in 2008. We are now overdue for another harvest strategy; in fact, we were expecting it four or five months ago, but it has not been completed. I would have expected, given the planning for the last seven years to bring this vessel here, that we would have a harvest strategy in place and these risks would have been addressed.

This brings me to a critical point in this piece of legislation. The Greens wanted a disallowance motion. It would have allowed the government—whom we have now found out have the same concerns; they have come round to our way of thinking on the supertrawler—to stand back, cancel the quota, address the risks and get it right. In this new piece of legislation, it is very concerning to us that the words 'social' and 'economic' have been taken out of a clause, so we are only dealing with environmental impacts. From our perspective, sometimes it is very hard to separate environmental, social and economic. Think about a fisheries management plan that might be required to satisfy stakeholders.

I have sought some scientific advice on this from one of the country's leading fisheries experts, and he said a spatial management plan—apart from marine protected areas which are designed to be a spatial management plan—to protect ecological hot spots, would require a target catch for a geographical area and move-on clauses for a boat. In other words, a boat would only be able to catch a certain tonnage of fish from any given area before it was required to move on. It may also include—and this is from my discussions with the CEO of Seafish, the proponent—the fact that the vessel cannot go anywhere near existing ecological hot spots such as seal colonies or bird rookeries or, for that matter, anywhere near the coastline where it can be seen. The exact words from the CEO of Seafish in my office were: 'We are quite happy to stay out of mind, out of sight.'

So a fisheries management plan, if it were going to satisfy stakeholders and it was legislated and enforceable, which is what the rec fishing groups have been asking for, would have to be based on social and economic considerations. Rob Pennicott, who runs one of Tasmania's leading tourism businesses and employs 58 people, is very concerned about depletion of fish stocks in the areas where he takes tourists out every day to look at dolphins and seals. If his feedback was not incorporated in a fisheries management plan, which, by the way, will be required if the public is going to accept this trawler in two years time, what is the point? If it is just an ecological based assessment by scientists, it is ignoring why we are here today debating this.

This is a big social issue across the country and it has been a huge learning curve for me. I met fishers right across the east coast of Tasmania. I must admit: I had no idea how important fishing is to the culture of my state. Being a surfer, I have always focused on my community but I had no idea just how important fishing is. I have been misquoted by the Liberal Party and by journalists such as Greg Barns in the Mercurysaying that I am antiscience and antieconomics because I said at a forum and on ABC Radio that the feedback I have received from the community is that they do not want to hear about science. They do not want to hear about economics. They have made up their minds. All the transcripts show that I was surprised and I had learnt something from these people. I believe in science and I believe in economics to some extent, but people make their decisions based on a number of reasons, not the least being that they do not trust the science of the economics in this matter.

Sometimes it is little things that tip you in your path in life. I have shared this with Senator Colbeck face to face. When I met with AFMA for the very first time, I specifically asked them: did you double the quota of jack mackerel to facilitate the arrival of this boat, the supertrawler? Their answer was:' No, it was based on science.' We found out just weeks later under freedom of information that Seafish had written to AFMA specifically asking them to double the quota to allow them to bring the supertrawler. That might just be a coincidence, but you would think when a senator was asking you questions, you might at least say, 'Yes, we did get a request to double the quota to allow a boat but it was based purely on science.'

I lost trust in the process after that and I have shared that with Senator Colbeck. If I cannot trust AFMA when I meet with them to give me a straight answer, it is not surprising that other people in community cannot either. We are looking forward to talking to the fisheries minister a little later about what he is going to do with the restructuring with his root-and-branch approach to the Australian Fisheries Management Authority.

On the economics, very quickly: I also believe that one of the issues underlying the big reaction to this supertrawler is the fact that a lot of people cannot see what is in it for them. When you explain to them that the quotas were set several years ago and given to commercial fishermen—who used to operate in these fisheries and who have invested their money, time and equipment but the majority of whom have not been using the quotas; most of them are not being utilised—the next question you get is, 'So if they are not buying the quotas off us what do we get as taxpayers?' My response is, 'If Seafish makes a profit, we can tax that profit—a federal tax; you may get some dividend through the company if it makes a profit.' A lot of people are very surprised that there is no resource rent on these fisheries. There is no direct return to the taxpayer. Yes, there are jobs—and I do not at all belittle the fact that we need jobs, especially in Tasmania—but our job as parliamentarians is to weigh up all the costs and potential risks against the benefits. We need to get that right before we proceed any way down the track of allowing supertrawlers to operate in Australian waters.

Lastly, on social media: it is here to stay whether you like it or not. You are not going to get rid of it. Campaigns run by GetUp! and other organisations are here to stay. The issue for a much bigger debate at some time is how policy can be set effectively with direct marketing campaigns to politicians. I used to teach my economics students at university about the special interest model: how companies who could afford lobbyists used to get in the ears of politicians and get what they wanted. The world has changed now. Individuals can go directly to politicians and companies and set up online communities. This is something we need to wake up to and understand is a new reality. In finishing, I am hoping something positive will come out of this and that we look at how we can better manage and fund fisheries and have a sustainable fishery for the future.

5:47 pm

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to add my contribution to the debate on the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Declared Commercial Fishing Activities) Bill 2012.

We are all aware that, while this bill will do a number of things, its main purpose is to ensure that the supertrawler, the Abel Tasmanformerly known as the FV Margirisis not able to fish in Australian waters. It is a 140-metre trawler with an onboard-processing facility capable of storing over 6,000 tonnes. This has been a long-running issue that has generated great debate and high levels of community concern. The Gillard Labor government acted to stop the supertrawler because we believe that new environmental issues are raised by this ship that had not been contemplated when the science was last undertaken.

I believe that this legislative course of action is the only course of action that can stop the trawler. This is because only a long-term legislative outcome can deliver the result of stopping the supertrawler and that is what the Gillard Labor government has done. Last week the minister for the environment, Tony Burke MP, announced plans to legislate to extend his legal powers over the supertrawler to prevent the vessel from fishing in Australian waters. Minister Burke announced that he would make amendments to the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999—the EPBC—to prevent vessels like the supertrawler from fishing so that further assessment can be undertaken and the science can be reviewed.

As I have said, we have never seen a ship of this size operate in Australian waters so it raises a number of questions regarding the science. When the science was done, it did not take into account that a vessel of this size would be fishing the quota and, particularly, it did not take into account the large storage capacity which allows it to stay in the same area of the ocean for an extended period of time. Before the introduction of this legislation, Minister Burke had put in place an interim two-week period with conditions that would have imposed strict requirements on the fishing operations of the vessel. Minister Burke found that he did not have the legislative powers under the act to suspend the fishing activity because of the uncertainty around the potential impacts of the vessel. The only power available to Minister Burke was the power to place extra restrictions on the vessel and so Minister Burke, reflecting community concern, recognised that new legislation was required to ensure that we continue good management of our fisheries and the environment. That is why the Labor government has taken action to legislate for the minister for the environment, working with the minister for fisheries, to have the power to establish an expert panel to conduct an assessment of all the potential impacts before a vessel like the supertrawler can be given approval to fish in Commonwealth waters.

The minister for fisheries, Minister Ludwig, has also announced the first major review of Australian fisheries policy and legislation in over 20 years. The review of Australia's world-leading fisheries system will identify what, if any, improvements are needed to ensure community and industry expectations can be met into the future. The review will look at the entire fisheries management regime. Australia has some of the best and most well-managed fisheries in the world so it is important that we maintain responsible management of this resource, ensure that it is sustainable now and into the future and is meeting expectations.

While the announcements made by Minister Burke and Minister Ludwig last Tuesday were extremely positive and welcome, I would like to go back to where the campaign began and how we reached this position. A couple of months ago recreational fishers and the Tasmanian community began to object to proposals by Seafish Tasmania to bring the supertrawler to fish in Australian waters, and as part of this campaign rallies were held around Tasmania against the supertrawler. Those rallies were first held in July this year. I attended community rallies, as I know many other members of parliament did, and held meetings with key stakeholders raising numerous concerns about the impact the supertrawler would have on our fisheries and ecosystems. Together with the member for Franklin, Julie Collins, and Senator Lin Thorp, I raised these issues with the federal parliament, ministers, MPs and senators; and we were pleased to gain support from our caucus colleagues against this supertrawler. There was a lot of concern on the part of caucus members, because this is not just an issue that affects Tasmania; it affects the whole of Australia. The proposed area that the supertrawler would fish in would have extended all the way from the Western Australian coast across to Queensland.

The nationwide campaign played a key role in highlighting the high level of community concern, particularly in Tasmania where the campaign began. So I want to commend and congratulate a number of people from the Tasmanian recreational fishing community who played a key and active role in the excellent grassroots campaign to stop the supertrawler: Neil 'Nobby' Clarke, Kellie-Ann Brown, Martin Haley, Brett Cleary, Mark Nikolai and Tyson Clements—all who worked tirelessly to raise awareness and gain strong public support amongst the Tasmanian community to fight to stop the supertrawler from fishing in Australian waters.

However, as it appears, this concern has not reached the Liberal Party who have voted against this bill in the House of Representatives. The Liberal Party are not listening and are not hearing the community concern. As part of this community campaign, there have been petitions with over 78,000 signatures from around the nation tabled in this chamber and I have received many hundreds of emails, letters and representations. I was recently contacted by a Tasmanian constituent—one of many hundreds—a self-described life-long Liberal voter. In his correspondence he asks Tasmanian Liberal senators to support this legislation and oppose the supertrawler. I want to quote part of that correspondence. He said:

I am also a self confessed fishing nut and in the same breath conservationist. I have always exercised catch and release fishing, taught my children the same practices who all fish.

This week I sat and watch the federal Labor party introduce legislation to protect Australia's precious fish stocks from plunder from a foreign owned monster trawler. While passing this stage of the process I find it so disappointing that the party—

he means the Liberal Party—

cannot do the right thing for this generation and for generations to come by supporting the bill.

Now the legislation comes to the senate and an opportunity for you all to show some common sense. Pass the legislation and in doing so show the true value of our marine resources.

These sustainable assets and resource can then be with us long after the mineral resource boom is forgotten. That cannot be mined more than once, our fish stocks could be with us for generations.

Please pass the legislation.

He makes a good point, because we do have well-managed fishing stocks and they are a sustainable resource that can be very valuable to us, so it is our job to ensure that the appropriate protections are in place to ensure that our fishing stocks are around for generations to come. He simply asks the Liberal Party, his Tasmanian Liberal senators, to show some common sense, to understand and acknowledge the community concern, to understand and acknowledge the concerns of our recreational fishers, to understand and acknowledge the uncertainly that surrounds the impact of the supertrawler, and to protect our fisheries from uncertainty.

What we have seen is that the act currently does not have sufficient powers to suspend a fishing activity where there is uncertainty to the impacts and where those impacts need further assessment, and so legislation is required. As Minister Burke said:

Marine environments once wrecked take generations to recover, if they ever do. A precautionary approach is not only good policy; it is the only decent option.

It is because the Labor government took the action it did to protect Australian ecosystems and fishing stocks that we are here today debating this legislation. Whilst there continues to be uncertainty about the impacts of a fishing vessel of this size, it is only appropriate that we stop the supertrawler from fishing in Commonwealth waters while further assessment is undertaken. The bill before us allows that to happen. This is the only responsible course of action to ensure the future of Australia's fisheries. I commend the bill to the chamber and urge all senators to support it.

5:57 pm

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (Queensland, National Party, Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

This is a rather peculiar time. I approach this noting that the whole approach of the Australian Labor Party during the Cubbie decision was that I was a populist and a sovereign risk. You can get no better example of populism and sovereign risk than what they did the next week, yet we have not heard boo from Craig Emerson—the righteous guardian angel of everything in the free market—and we have not heard boo from any of them. They are a total pack of hypocrites.

I want to go through what the minister said, because tonight is Monday. I want to go through what he said last Monday—that is the Monday before last Tuesday. On that Monday night, on Q&A, Tony Burke said this:

On the super trawler I was to have a media conference tomorrow—

that is, Tuesday—

morning but I have signed off on it over the last hour and a half … before I came here.

So he was going to have a media conference on Tuesday—we worked that out—but he was actually having a media conference to say everything is fine. That is what he said on Monday night. He went on to say:

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.

Apparently, 12 hours later, he did. He then said:

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’s targeting but on the by-catch: the seals, the dolphins—

et cetera. He then said:

Well, whether it’s economical or not after they see the conditions, that’s a decision for them, not a decision for me.

Not a decision for him, until the next day when it was a decision for him. The following is a classic statement. This is the minister the night before he made the decision to stop the supertrawler. Tony Burke said:

The catch limit had already been imposed on the fishery. So the catch limit exists. The company that has bought the boat already owned the right to catch a particular volume of fish. So in terms of the fish that thank [sic] you’re targeting, that part of it has already been measured as sustainable.

This was the minister less than 24 hours before he made a decision to stop the boat. The question, though, with this one is that, instead of 20 boats going out to all the different parts of this huge fishery, which goes all the way around Queensland and under South Australia, you get a different impact on your dolphins, seals and sea lions if you catch in a very localised area. So for the total catch that they are targeting there is no change.

Why did Minister Burke do it? How could this possibly be the same person within 24 hours? What happened after he left Q&A? Now there is a job for Inspector Clouseau. Where did he go? What happened? What was happening that the wheels of government were turning decidedly at one o'clock in the morning? Where was this meeting that he confirmed the night before? He was going to have a press conference to say that the super trawler was going to go ahead. What happened? Who is running the place these days? Who was there? It is quite surprising. The next day both ministers stood earnestly before the podium, stating that this was a deliberate decision. What were people to think? Apparently, they were being very competent: I saw earnest Minister Tony Burke and earnest Minister Joe Ludwig standing there, telling us that this was a logical decision. Apparently, they now have more competency than these people: the Hon. Michael Egan, FAID chairman; Dr James Findlay, CEO; Mr Richard Stevens, OAM and deputy chairman; Mr Ian Cartwright; Dr John Glaister; Ms Jennifer Goddard; Ms Elizabeth Montano; Ms Denise North and Professor Keith Sainsbury. These people are actually the AFMA commission who approved the decision. They are the people who actually gave it the tick-off, which was then endorsed by the minister. Even the night before the minister had agreed with their decision and was going forward with it, but apparently they must not know what they are doing. What is the minister going to do with the board now? Is he going to sack them? He obviously does not have any confidence in them. Is he putting them off? Did he contact them? Did he leave Q&A that night and go round to see the AFMA board and say: 'Sorry, guys, I was just pulling your leg on that show tonight. I really have no confidence in you and now I'm going to take a decision tomorrow morning that is completely at odds with the decision that you took'? How does it work?

Could this decision possibly be a sovereign risk? I wonder. Where was the op ed from Dr Craig Emerson? He should have been straight onto the Australian to write an op ed about it. He should have written a big op ed about the risk of Minister Tony Burke and Minister Joe Ludwig. Craig Emerson should have written a superlative piece on it, but he did not. I looked at the list and thought: maybe Dr Craig Emerson will give a speech about it, because he is a brave individual—a very brave person, with a very fine hair style. I thought: well, maybe he will give a speech on it. I have looked at the list and Dr Craig Emerson has never given a speech on it—not boo. Nothing. That is interesting. He was probably sick, or there was probably something on. Maybe there was something on telly—Play School. It is a very interesting world that we live in these days. The person who was the patron saint for protecting all against sovereign risk and populism went silent, and the government that had derided me made the most populist and peculiar decision in less than 24 hours from the time that they said they would do it.

We have had the problem in the past where we cannot trust what the government say before an election. 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead.' There is a carbon tax under their government. But now we have the situation where we cannot trust what they say, even for 24 hours. Twenty-four hours means nothing. Nothing they say has any worth anymore. So where did this decision come from? Was it really something about the seals and the dolphins? Minister Burke gave a very good explanation about what would happen if the super trawler caught a seal or a dolphin. It would have to move on for 50 nautical miles. He gave a very good explanation about it, but obviously he must have forgotten it the next day.

So I am thinking the decision has something to do with the left wing of the Labor Party being rather upset about the Nauru decision—the issue about another boat—and they are trying to balance up the scales. They are trying to balance things up a bit. They lost on the refugee thing so they thought they would claim a big win on the fishing thing. That might have had something to do with it. It might have had something to do with the internal dynamics of the Labor Party and absolutely nothing to do with environmental science and absolutely nothing to do with an agreement which had been on foot for about seven years. I think the government's decision had a lot to do with politics—and politics that was hard on foot between the end of Q&A and one press conference conducted by two senior ministers in the press room at Parliament House less than 24 hours later.

I do not know. What other decisions are on the board at the moment? Is that enough? Does that square up the account? Is everyone clear now? Are all debts paid? Can we move on? Or is there another decision that is about to be reversed? The issue about this decision is that it had been on foot for ages. There has been the capacity at any point in time for further investigations, but that never happened. In fact, we find that even the process of affirming the decision was made within 24 hours of the government basically rejecting the decision. It could not have got any stranger.

Every time you think the government are about as strange as they can possibly get, they outdo themselves. All of sudden, from nowhere, guess who popped back up? We thought he had disappeared, that he had become invisible. Guess who popped back up to help the Labor Party out of their predicament?

Who would you look to if you were in a complete and utter pickle? Who would you go to for a safe set of hands? Who would you go to as a reliable and honourable source? Who would you go to as a person who would obviously be endowed with virtue and who would try and pick this situation up from the malaise and, with a flash of the magic credit card, have it all fixed up? None other than the member for Dobell, Mr Craig Thomson. He is back! Of course he is the person you would to go to!

You may think it cannot get any stranger. Others might suggest that you could probably get, I do not know, maybe the minister for the environment to move the amendments, but no—it was Mr Craig Thomson, MP, formerly of the Labor Party—and sort of still with the Labor Party, but they just do not want to talk about it too much. So he pops up, and now we have a complete and utter circus. What the government had almost done there for a while in the rush of this legislation was to shut down everybody—which goes to show you how mindless it was. We were basically putting a caveat on any person who was fishing. And then the government made the decision that they would go back to applying it to commercial fishing, and they thought that would fix it all up.

Try to dig down through the arguments to find out what was so offensive about a boat that had been signed off on by an independent environmental board; a boat that the minister was fully aware of and that he had given his support to, right up to merely hours before he withdrew his support. We had a party—the Labor Party—who had been so virtuous. We had Mr Swan the Treasurer and brave Mr Craig Emerson standing on their soapboxes preaching about sovereign risk and populism, writing op-eds—so what went wrong? Where did these people go?

Anyway, if you peeled it all back and tried to get to the absolute essence of this, apparently the boat is too big. That is it. It is too big. So now we have a quandary: when is big too big and when is big not quite big enough? This is something that has been on the minds of many people since that night. This is something that has obviously been occupying Minister Burke. And I am worried. I am worried about when tractors might be too big, because I do not want to get into a contract to buy a tractor and find out later on that the tractor was too big.

Photo of Scott LudlamScott Ludlam (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

A supertractor!

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (Queensland, National Party, Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

A supertractor—we do not want a supertractor! I am worried about garages—we do not want garages that are too big. And we certainly do not want, I don't know, tinnies that are too big. We have to make sure that we know, and I think it is now the responsibility of the minister to clearly explain to us, when big is too big—because that is the only thing that we can find wrong with this ship.

So, why is it big? It is big because what is usually located on the shore—that is, the freezing works and the processing works—is now located on the ship. By doing that, they have the capacity to get greater efficiencies. And who else thought that? Well, the scientific department that signed off on it thought that.

So what exactly are we going to do now? What, exactly, does the government have to do? After Q&A, the government has reversed a decision on something that they had formerly approved, because the left wing of the Labor Party had their noses out of joint about the Nauru decision and this was the way they squared the accounts.

With something like that where we cannot get a logical decision, the other party is going to trot off to court. And who will pay for this debacle? Well, of course, it is the taxpayer. The Commonwealth will get sued by the owners of the ship and the Australian taxpayer will have to cough up. That is where the money for this one is going to come from. So you can add to your $246 billion in gross debt, you can add to the $2 billion that they borrowed last week, and you can add to the $10 billion they borrowed in the last month just another little addition; that is, the money—the liability that will now have to be paid out to these people.

The Dutch government have been on the phone to us saying: 'What are you up to? What is going on in Australia? What has happened down there?' I do not know what the answer is. I really cannot explain it. They cannot explain it. So, what is the next step?

Another issue has been brought up, which is that for the quantity of catch that this boat would have taken, the environmental effect on seals and dolphins would actually have been less than that for a multiplicity of ships, or a multiplicity of trawlers. But that does not matter anymore. If it was all just purely about seals and dolphins, then you would go with the process that prevented the unnecessary bycatch—but it is not about that. It is not about seals and dolphins. If it were just about seals and dolphins—and merely days before this, we could not even get the Treasurer go out and properly explain his position on the sale of Cubbie Station; the only thing we could get out of him was a Twitter account, and that somehow it was a sovereign risk and populist—then maybe we should have straightaway somehow got some seals and dolphins into a dam at Cubbie Station so we could get the government's attention! But no luck, because we find it is not about seals and dolphins. This ship, this supertrawler, this floating iniquity—apparently—was actually going to catch fewer seals and dolphins than the same catch plied by a number of other trawlers. The only thing that we can get out of this is that this ship was too big. And the only defence we can get for it from within the government is nothing: mute. It is hopeless.

What this shows, yet again, is the sense of complete chaos and the complete hypocrisy of everything that comes out of this government from Treasury to trade. You cannot rely on them. Every time you pick up their opining in their opinion pieces, just disregard it. It is just babble. It has no meaning. It has no substance. They do not stand by what they say on anything. The only thing that is changing is that they used to change their position over a longer time frame; now they are changing it overnight.

We had another decision like this—and this was also associated with Minister Ludwig—and that was the live cattle trade debacle.

That was another one that happened overnight. We went to our nearest neighbour, our most important neighbour with 250 million people off our coast, a country with which we were trying to establish a distinctive and hard-earned trade relationship, but overnight they shut down the live cattle trade. Why? It was an emotional decision. It was like the X-Factor of politics. It was like Dial-a-Decision and what we have there has been completely and utterly replicated in what we have here. It is Dial-a-Decision, Twitter politics, Facebook friend politics. But it is also a total and utter insanity. You could not run a house like this. No mother running a house would run a house like this. No school principal running a school would have a school run like this. No farmer running a farm would have a farm run like this. No businessperson in the business world would have his business run like this. But we are running the nation like this, and it has to stop because it is looking absurd.

Photo of Michael RonaldsonMichael Ronaldson (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

Making it up as they go along!

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (Queensland, National Party, Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

That's dead right, they're making it up as they go along. They do not even make it up. If they made it up it would sound all right, there would be some sort of story. It is just utter chaos. It is chaos at the podium with a flag behind you. Every day there is a bizarre new adventure, but every result is the same. There is a scorecard for this bizarre result and the place you always have to go is the Australian Office of Financial Management, AOFM, website—google it and look at Australian government securities outstanding. There you will see the scorecard for chaos. Today it is $246 billion in gross debt. It went up by $2 billion last week and $10 billion in the last month. That is because the common sense that should be running the country is not present. When we carry on like this, the business that is called Australia goes out the back door.

6:16 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise speak on Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Declared Commercial Fishing Activities) Bill 2012 as a Queensland senator concerned that the Margiris, now insultingly renamed the Abel Tasman although I will continue to call it the Margiris, is now licensed and flagged in my home port of Brisbane. Queenslanders, like many Australians, have been outraged at the potential for the Margiris to denude Australian waters of fish. My inbox has been overflowing with such concern and with good reason. The massive 9,500 tonne, 142-metre supertrawler is twice the size of the largest trawler that has ever fished in Australian waters. This boat has the capacity to catch more than 90,000 tonnes of fish every single year. Australia's oceans have never been subjected to an onslaught like this.

Supertrawlers around the world have trashed the local marine environments, destroyed vital food chains by clearing the local environment of tonnes of baitfish and left a wake of dead dolphins, seals and turtles in addition to untold volumes of other bycatch species. Fishing communities, some marine scientists and a whole host of community organisations have asked to see more work done on the science backing supertrawlers, especially in the area of potential local depletion of fish stocks from this huge fish vacuum cleaner. So in the view of the Greens, the onus of proof must be reversed—supertrawlers must be banned until the best possible science has proven that supertrawlers are not causing the untold damage the community is so concerned about.

The Australian Greens put forward amendments to this bill in the House which sadly did not get up. These amendments would have made it an offence for ships capable of processing and storing more than 2,000 tonnes of biomass to fish in Australian waters. As the Magiris is the only ship with a storage capacity of 2,000 tonne or more this was an effective permanent ban on the supertrawler. All other fishing vessels currently operating in Australian waters would not have been affected by this ban. The minister's bill before the Senate allows a ban of up to two years, but sadly this means that our oceans only get a brief relief from the Margiriswhereas the solution put forward by the Greens would give our oceans permanent protection from mammoth fishing operations like this.

I want to talk now about the selective application of the precautionary principle by this government. Our national environmental laws say that major decisions which involve a high risk of causing irreversible harm to our precious species and wild places should be made in accordance with the precautionary principle. It is commendable that in this instance this principle seems to be guiding the government's approach. In announcing these changes last Tuesday, Minister Burke said he was seeking to amend the national environmental laws to give him the powers he had hoped to have to 'be able to apply a much more precautionary approach to the supertrawler'. He set out that the purpose of this amendment was to ensure that the federal government could intervene to better protect our fisheries when there is uncertainty about the impact of a particular fishing activity. When this uncertainty is identified, the process allows the environment and fisheries departments to jointly undertake the scientific work and seek out the expert advice which the government believes is lacking. Most importantly, while that work is being undertaken the relevant fishing activity cannot take place within Australian waters for a period of up to two years. That is, you press pause while you do the science. You do not let the activity roll out and you do not issue any new approvals while you are doing the science. Yet unfortunately this is the exception rather than the rule.

Coal seam gas is a perfect example. Today the House has debated setting up an advisory committee on coal seam gas to do the science on coal seam gas as regards groundwater impacts. But approvals will not cease while that five-year research program is being done. This is despite the science that we do have around the impacts of coal seam gas saying that we lack understanding of long-term impacts on groundwater. For example, the National Water Commission says:

… potential impacts of Coal Seam Gas developments, particularly the cumulative effects of multiple projects, are not well understood.

The commission goes on to say:

… the Commission strongly argues for the careful, transparent and integrated consideration of water-related impacts in all approval processes.

Likewise CSIRO says:

Predicting long-term impacts of CSG production can be difficult due to potential cumulative and region-specific impacts of multiple developments.

CSIRO also says:

Prediction of specific impacts of CSG developments requires ongoing research because groundwater responses may take decades or even centuries to move through aquifers, especially when groundwater flow velocities are slow.

Yet, despite 68 per cent of Australians wanting a moratorium until we have a better understanding of the long-term impacts of coal seam gas, the government has continually failed to take a precautionary approach, which I have moved for in several motions in this place as well as in my amendments to that bill, which unfortunately got no support. It appears a precautionary approach is a political tool to be used when pushed, rather than a principle to guide good, sensible decision making in the face of huge threats to land and water.

Unfortunately, it is the same with the Great Barrier Reef. UNESCO expressed grave concern for the survival of the reef given the plans for six new and expanded coal and coal seam gas ports, and have said that unless we change direction—

Photo of Mark FurnerMark Furner (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Senator Waters, I have been listening carefully to your debate on this bill, and remind you that we are debating the bill related to the super trawler. Can I bring you back to that issue, please?

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President, that is precisely what I am doing. I am talking about the selective application of the precautionary principle, which has been applied for the super trawler but not in countless other instances.

As I was saying, UNESCO have said that unless we change direction on the reef it will put the reef on the World Heritage 'in danger' list by March. The government's response was to commit to a strategic assessment which they say promises to ensure development proceeds in a way that our reef can survive, but it has holes so big you can drive a coal ship through it. The strategic assessment will not be able to affect whether current developments, including those six ports, are approved. Project assessments and approvals will continue business as usual.

Time and time again the Greens have called for a moratorium on reef port development until a decent strategic assessment is done and we actually know what the reef and its delicate ecosystems can handle. The government claims it cannot put a moratorium on because it does not have the power. We disagree, but if the government is correct, why is it not moving to give itself powers like it has done with the Margiris? Why does the reef not deserve a precautionary approach, as has been taken with the Margiris? The uncertainties and the risks of irreversible harm are without question—

Photo of Michael RonaldsonMichael Ronaldson (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. I think the honourable senator is defying your ruling.

Photo of Mark FurnerMark Furner (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There is no point of order.

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The government continues to react in an ad hoc, populist way, drawing on the precautionary principle when it suits it. Frankly, the reef has been hung out to dry, as have all those rural communities facing coal seam gas.

I return now to fisheries. For all the talk of stepping up to assure the sustainability of our fisheries, we are on the brink of a federal handover of national environmental responsibilities to AFMA, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority. As part of its upcoming EPBC reforms, the government appears committed to amending our national environment laws so that, rather than having the final approval of strategic assessments of fisheries, the minister will simply accredit the systems of AFMA to allow them and not the environment minister to assess and approve fisheries. This will mean the government's and COAG's approach to offload the environment minister's approvals to the states is now going to be reflected with fisheries management in offloading that to AFMA.

This is a tragic development, and it will see major decisions that have the potential to trash our most value national environmental assets being made by state governments and fisheries agencies, not our national environment minister. This undermines three decades of work to build stronger environment protection in this country. Anyone asking about the implementation risks and the risks to our environment of this handover would know from looking at the atrocious record of the states and territories of late that this is a high-risk, totally non-precautionary approach taken by our government.

I return now to the bill before the Senate. Although our amendments would have made this bill stronger had they not been rejected, we will be supporting this bill. This bill demonstrates that when the political risks are low, and when it is forced to by circumstance, the government can step up and act in a sensible way and apply the precautionary principle.

The tragedy is that across Australia our ecosystems, threatened species and irreplaceable wilderness are facing a fight for their lives. Yet where is the government responsible for protecting the values that we have agreed are of national importance? They are not seeking to be informed by the best science, they are not prepared to press pause despite enormous threats involved in barrelling ahead blindly, and they are not prepared to give our scientists and experts the time to do the work that is needed to make sure our biggest decisions are well informed about what is really at risk, and Australia's environment and our communities are suffering as a result.

In short, on too many of the key issues the government is shirking its responsibilities. It is not stepping up and it is not showing the leadership that is needed—not on the reef, not on coal seam gas and not on the protection of threatened species and ecosystems. I call upon the government to apply the precautionary principle with consistency and to govern like the environment matters.

Proceedin gs suspended from 18:27 to 19 : 30

7:30 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise tonight to make a contribution to the debate on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Declared Commercial Fishing Activities) Bill 2012.

I think it is about time we looked at the big picture when it comes to sustaining our natural resources and our international responsibilities. The latter is something that has seemed to be missing from the current debate. The FV Margiris, now bizarrely called the FV Abel Tasman, dwarfs anything and everything in the Australian fishing fleet. At 142 metres long and with a cargo capacity of approximately 6,200 tonnes, it is a stark example of modern fisheries. This is far removed from the romantic 'John West' image of the family fishing boat setting out to sea at sunrise to catch the family's meal that we have so often seen on our televisions. This is not a cute fishing boat. The vessel is so large that it must catch somewhere over 16,000 tonnes of fish in the small pelagic fisheries just to cover its costs. This is almost half of the entire current total allowable catch for the small pelagic fisheries. I will return to the dramatic increase in the Eastern Zone jack mackerel quota—it increased from 4,000 tonnes in 2011-12 to 10,000 tonnes in 2012-13—as just one aspect of the so-called underlying science.

As a recreational fisher I know there has been considerable concern about the potential impact on local ecosystems, smaller fishing fleets and recreational fishing. A real issue, which has received little coverage, is the sheer capacity of the vessel and its global impact. The vessel symbolises all that is wrong with global fisheries and the failure of the global community to reduce the size of the global fishing fleet. For decades, the global fishing community has known that there are simply too many vessels catching too few fish. In the 1990s, the United Nations negotiated an International Plan of Action for the Management of Fishing Capacity to progressively reduce the size of the fishing fleets to more sustainable levels. This has been a dismal failure that has had no real impact.

In 2012, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations—FAO—reported that 'global marine catches are in decline, with increased percentages of global fish stocks identified as overexploited'. The FAO found that the state of the world's marine fisheries was worsening and that this was leading to an impending, certain crisis for global marine fisheries. Like climate change, this is not deniable—although I am sure there will be the usual flat-earthers who again try.

For much of the last 20 years, Australian delegations from both sides of politics have been strong proponents for global action to reduce the overcapacity of the global fishing fleet and the implementation of strong conservation measures. Australia actively worked inside the United Nations and with regional institutions to develop strong management frameworks and to pressure distant-water fishing nations to reduce their capacity. We have been telling the world to get their fishing 'house in order', to be sustainable and to look to the future. Then along comes the FV Margiris, now the Abel Tasman: just another example of the European Union's solution to overcapacity—swept under the rug in the guise of a foreign joint venture. Does Australia support subsidized commercial fishing? No. Do European nations support subsidized commercial fishing? Yes. Australian conservation initiatives on the global stage are now being tested. Fortunately, it now looks as though that standing might be maintained. Australia has commitments to the International Plan of Action for the Management of Fishing Capacity. Given current levels of overfishing around the world, conservation measures are required that reduce catches. Such measures will distribute a burden of conservation reductions on all international states. The reality is that these measures will impact directly and indirectly on different participants—reducing benefits for some, limiting opportunities for others and protecting or even increasing benefits for others.

Unfortunately, international fisheries agreements do not openly and fairly study the likely distribution of the conservation burden that would arise from each potential management option. These frameworks have become politicized as member countries favour scientific assessments for measures that best protect their own interests and refute scientific assessments for measures that compromise their interests. There certainly appears to have been elements within Australia that precisely reflect this. Until there is a fair and open international plan to reduce the size of the global fishing fleet, the world's fisheries will continue to decline and be trawled into oblivion by supertrawlers such as the Abel Tasman.

Why isn't this trawler still fishing off the west coast of Africa? The behaviour of vessels like this has led to West Africans not being able to catch their own fish. It is laudable that the coalition are happy to send protein back to a country in which fish supplies have been devastated by overfishing by supertrawlers. This is the woolly reasoning of the backward-looking coalition: short-term, political self-interest.

I would just like to mention the scientific justification for the enlarged quota. The Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force is quoted widely in the introduction to this report. However, if you actually look at the link to this evidence, Australia was not one of the sites surveyed or included in the analysis. The calculation to verify the increased quota cannot be replicated. Scientific findings that cannot be replicated suggest this is not real science. I do not believe all scientists endorse the increased quota. Maybe we should be looking more widely to people such as Quentin Hanich, who leads the Fisheries Governance Program at the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security at the University of Wollongong, and looking at honouring our international commitments and not looking for short-term gain to the detriment of the globe on which we live and are a part. But, as I said, it is typical of those opposite to deny any real scientific evidence. I commend this bill and I commend both ministers for endeavouring to maintain Australia's standing in accepting our international obligations and allowing Australia to keep its own house in order.

(Quorum formed)

7:40 pm

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

When we had a brief debate about this bill last week in taking note of answers after question time, I said that this was the worst piece of legislation from a drafting point of view that I had ever seen in 30 years as a legal practitioner and as a senator. I note that the government have made a number of amendments to the bill in its original form, evidently with a view to attempting to meet some of the criticisms that have been made of it and in particular to narrow the circumstances in which the ministerial discretion is exercisable. Nevertheless, although the definition has been narrowed somewhat, the vice remains that this is an extremely poorly drafted piece of legislation. It provides an extraordinary width of arbitrary ministerial power, the like of which I have never seen. Regardless of the policy merits of the issue which my colleagues have addressed, regardless of the history of confusion, hypocrisy and doublespeak that have come from the government which have got us to this point and regardless of the political circumstances which have seen the most pusillanimous backdown to the Greens which is the real reason that this legislation is before us tonight, I want to address the bill from the point of view of the breadth of the arbitrary ministerial power which it confers.

The purpose of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Declared Commercial Fishing Activities) Bill 2012 is to provide for certain commercial fishing activities to be declared to be unlawful so that engagement in them is prohibited on an interim and then potentially on a more permanent basis. We look to the definition of the activity which the legislation seeks to prohibit and we see that it is defined as a declared commercial fishing activity. Proposed clause 390SC states that a declared fishing activity is a fishing activity that is engaged in for a commercial purpose and to avoid doubt does not include an activity that constitutes recreational fishing, and states:

(2) A fishing activity means an activity that constitutes fishing.

That is very illuminating: a fishing activity is an activity that constitutes fishing and a commercial purpose is a purpose that is commercial. That tells us almost precisely nothing.

But what is particularly invidious about this bill are the criteria on the basis of which the power of the minister to make a declaration are exercisable. If one goes to section 390SD, which would be inserted into the act were this bill to be passed, we read that the minister must not make an interim declaration unless the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry agree that there is uncertainty about the environmental impacts of the commercial fishing activity. This is, I will concede, a slight improvement on the original form of the bill. In the original form of the bill, the condition for the exercise of the minister's jurisdiction was that there was uncertainty about the social, economic or environmental impacts of the fishing activity. The criteria 'social' and 'economic' have been removed from the bill in its current iteration, so the criterion is now that the minister for fisheries and the minister for the environment agree that there is uncertainty about the environmental impact of the commercial fishing activity. If the ministers agree that there is uncertainty about the environmental impact of the commercial fishing activity, they can prohibit it.

Let me make two points about that definition. First of all, the word 'uncertainty' is not a legal term. It is a term with no legal meaning. It is, so far as my research takes me, a term which appears as the basis for the exercise of a ministerial power in no other Commonwealth statute. So the word 'uncertainty' in this act has the layman's meaning—that is, somebody is uncertain about something, somebody does not understand something, somebody cannot get their mind around something. That is what uncertainty is for the purposes of this bill. Secondly, because the bill actually identifies who must be uncertain—that is, the minister for the environment and the minister for fishing—the test of uncertainty is a subjective test. In other words, it does not matter how clear as day it might be to the ordinary reasonable man or woman in the street; if two ministers are uncertain and they agree they are uncertain, the statutory basis for the jurisdiction to prohibit any commercial fishing activity as defined by the bill exists.

What an extraordinary proposition. We are lectured in this parliament day after day—in particular by the Greens, who propose to support this bill—about the importance of limiting the arbitrary power of the executive government. We are lectured, day after day, about the importance of legislative oversight of the executive. And yet here we have a bill which confers upon a minister the most draconian power—to actually prohibit any commercial fishing activity in Australia—and the only condition upon which the exercise of that power depends is that two ministers agree they are uncertain about something. Just think about it, Madam Acting Deputy President. In order to confer upon themselves this draconian, vast, arbitrary power, two ministers—two Labor Party politicians—have to decide they are uncertain about something. They have to decide they do not understand something. They have to decide, 'Well, we're ignorant about this.' They have to decide, 'Well, it's a bit too much for us'—and thereby they satisfy the statutory test.

As I said last week, this must bill must be the crescendo of the Rudd-Gillard government. The basis upon which ministers are vested with a vast statutory power is that they do not understand something. It is no secret to anyone in this country that the range of things that ministers in the Rudd and Gillard government have got wrong—from pink batts to school halls to the live export trade to any one of a multitude of individual mistakes and miscarriages of public policy—

Senator Edwards interjecting

GroceryWatch—thank you, Senator Edwards—Fuelwatch—the list goes on and on and on. The list of mistakes, of things that ministers of this government have failed to understand, is almost endless. It is one thing to say, 'Your ministers have made a mistake.' It is one thing to say that a government is too incompetent, that it is too uncomprehending, that the intellectual powers of its ministers are so poor that they cannot understand the public policy implications of their decisions.

That is bad enough. The bizarre aspect of this bill is that it says that the incomprehension, the ignorance, the stupidity, the uncertainty, of a minister is itself the basis of their capacity to exercise a ministerial power. This bill says: the more stupid the minister is, the more uncertain he or she is, the less ability they have to comprehend what their advisers are telling them, the more powerful they are. This is Labor Party nirvana. This is Labor Party heaven.

We know—if I may say so, with all due respect, Madam Acting Deputy President Crossin—that there are very few ministers in this government who are very intellectually gifted. There are many ministers in this Labor Party government who, to be blunt, are very stupid. But the effect of this bill is to say: the more stupid you are, the more powerful you are; the more stupid you are, the wider your ministerial power; and your inability to understand something is itself the very jurisdictional ground for the exercise of that power. This is, as I said a moment ago, Labor Party heaven.

The opposition of course opposes this bill. Most of my coalition colleagues—and I see my friend Senator Ian Macdonald in the chamber; he is a a former fisheries minister who, I dare say, understands this area better than anybody else in the Senate—will address the public policy merits of this issue. Most of them will address the devastation this will cause to the commercial fishing industry in country. But I as a mere lawyer want to contribute to this debate to make a different point. I want to draw attention to the towering absurdity of saying that the basis on which a minister's power sits is how stupid they are; absurd, but nevertheless, a fitting testament to this Labor government.

7:55 pm

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

It is always a pleasure to be in the chamber when my very learned colleague Senator Brandis looks at the law involved in issues before this chamber. I think the chamber and parliament indeed is well served that we have someone of Senator Brandis's legal expertise here. I know he will make an excellent Attorney-General, a competent Attorney-General, should we be successful in the next election.

I love Senator Brandis's description that the more stupid you are the more power you are given. In the instance of this particular exercise, I can only say to Senator Brandis that Mr Burke and Senator Ludwig will be the most powerful people that Australia has ever known, because they are certainly the most stupid, and this bill says it all.

I guess I should start by retracting a little of my condemnation of Mr Burke and Senator Ludwig. They only brought this in because of Kevin Rudd. It is Kevin Rudd's fault yet again that we have this type of on-the-run legislation. It has nothing to do with fisheries management, nothing to do with the law and certainly nothing to do with science. It is all about some people on the very Left of the Labor Party who were concerned, as are the Greens, with proper fishing techniques in Australia. These people in the Labor Party had threatened to and had prepared to bring in a private member's bill, which Mr Rudd—bless his soul—had indicated he was going to support. There was a bit of support in the Labor Party for this. It looked like the bases of a challenge for the leadership of the Australian Labor Party.

What does Ms Gillard do to stem the challenge? She immediately adopts this populist bill, notwithstanding that the hapless environment minister, Mr Burke, a couple of months beforehand in his then position as the fisheries minister, had actually encouraged ships of the type of the supertrawler, like the MV Abel Tasman, to come to Australian waters. So you have the hapless Mr Burke on record encouraging this ship, or ships like it, to come into Australian waters. Then he was left to pick up the political problem that Ms Gillard had that her leadership was in doubt. So it was poor old hapless Mr Ludwig who then had to do a complete backflip and be the one to announce that he was not going to let the ship in.

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

Gymnast Joe.

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

You call him 'Gymnast Joe'; some, like me, would call him 'Jellyback Joe'. This is the second time a hapless minister for agriculture has—against what I know is his better judgement—had to change his first decision, which, in the two instances I talk about, was a reasonable decision. He has had to change his decision within a matter of days to accommodate the Left wing of the Labor Party and the Greens political party that keeps Ms Gillard in power as Prime Minister.

As I say, I withdraw some of my criticism of Mr Burke, for the reasons I mentioned, and some of my criticism of Senator Ludwig for the same reasons. I know Senator Ludwig totally disagreed with the live cattle export ban. I also know that he totally disagreed with this decision on the MV Abel Tasman. But in both instances he was done over, so to speak, because of internal ructions within the Labor Party and the fact that Mr Kevin Rudd would use this whole populist issue as a grounds for a challenge to Ms Gillard for the prime ministership of Australia.

Madam Acting Deputy President, I draw your attention to an answer to a question asked—very poorly, I might say, given that he got all his facts wrong—by Senator Whish-Wilson in this chamber last Monday. When Senator Whish-Wilson first raised this issue, this time, in the chamber by asking Senator Ludwig about this incident, what did Senator Ludwig do? He went to extreme lengths to justify his decision, and the decision of Mr Burke when he was the fisheries minister, to welcome this big trawler into Australian waters. Senator Ludwig, in answering Senator Whish-Wilson, said:

Rather than go through the long history, I will just say that the rules were changed after that by Senator Macdonald—

when I was then fisheries minister—

with the direction to AFMA—and it was a very sound direction.

Senator Ludwig, you criticised Senator Whish-Wilson for being inaccurate and not having done his homework, but you actually fell into that trap a bit as well, because the facts show that there was no direction by me but in fact advice to me by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority—but, never mind. Senator Ludwig went on to say:

It moved the situation to a circumstance where we would concentrate on output controls versus what would commonly be described as input controls. Output controls meant that we would look at issues around the total allowable catch rather than at the type of gear or effort that went into fishing.

Senator Ludwig again went on to defend this big trawler coming into Australia by saying:

I note the recent report from eminent fishery scientists that states that factors in play in the fishery, taken together, 'give confidence that food-web impacts of the small pelagic fishery on predators and the small pelagic fishery species themselves, including through localised depletion, are unlikely'.

So there was Senator Ludwig on Monday defending Mr Burke's position of welcoming this trawler in and on Tuesday—not 24 hours later—he was banning this trawler that he had been protecting and applauding the day before.

Senator Whish-Wilson's second supplementary question was in fact accurate. Senator Which-Wilson asked:

Can the minister comment on remarks made to the media by members of the Labor caucus, including ex-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, over the weekend, concerning a private member's bill to ban supertrawlers from operating in Australian waters?

Senator Whish-Wilson, you got that bit right. Your intelligence on the ALP caucus was pretty good! You did know that this was the first step towards a challenge to Ms Gillard for the leadership of the Labor Party. That is the bit of your three questions that day that you got absolutely 100 per cent correct. I refer the Senate to Senator Ludwig's answer to the second supplementary, in which he said:

But can I say one of the important parts that is missed in this debate is that the Australian Fisheries Management Authority is an independent authority responsible for the sustainable management of Commonwealth fisheries.

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Sustainable management.

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

That is exactly it, Senator Williams—sustainable management of our fisheries. I will perhaps take the opportunity of this debate to turn back the clock some eight years—eight years almost to the day—when there was another supertrawler going to come into Australian waters. I just want to set the record straight. I refer any senator who might be interested to my press release of 14 September 2004. I suppose you can quote yourself if it is that long ago. In that press release I said:

Further to that approach, I—

Ian Macdonald—

have been advised by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) this evening that it has frozen boat nominations to fishing permits in the Commonwealth's small pelagic fishery.

Towards the end of that press release I said:

I am pleased that AFMA by its decision today has reconfirmed its commitment to precautionary principles in the sustainable management of the fish stock and the interests of Australian commercial and recreational fishermen and conservationists.

I only raise that to show that AFMA had some concerns back in 2004—concerns that caused them to extend this temporary ban until June 2005. In that time they got all the scientists and all the best experts together and they had a look at the small pelagic fishery. They then brought out a fisheries management plan for the small pelagic fishery.

That plan was in place from that day until last Monday. That was a plan that had science behind it and expertise behind it. It was not a plan that was run by the rabble in the Greens political party—seeing a populist issue with which they could put pressure on this government yet again.

Back in 2004-05, it was the Greens with their determination to shut down yet another Australian resource industry, the fishing industry, that raised this issue but it was dealt with by the scientists and the experts at the time. At the time the Greens were smarting because their attempts to shut down the Tasmanian forestry industry had been thwarted at the 2004 election by not only the science but by the workers, the CFMEU and ultimately the voters of Australia who returned the Howard government, I suggest, on the back of John Howard's principled stand on the Tasmanian forests. The Greens had lost the day, and Australia could have looked forward to a bright future in sustainable forestry.

Unfortunately, I regret to say—and this will tell you what it is all about with the Greens—they have continued their campaign against the forestry. They are in alliance with a weak Labor Party who no longer has any interest in the jobs of the timber industry in Australia. I am afraid that the victory for Tasmanian forests that all Australians thought was there has been whittled away by a weak government dependent upon Greens support in this chamber. At the time they had lost that battle so they were going to try and shut down the fishing industry. They failed there but, fast-forward eight years, and again we have this weak government dependent upon Greens support for their very existence. Ms Gillard depends on Greens support to stave off the challenge from Mr Rudd, and we have this sort of policy before us.

I will talk to those few commercial fishermen who expressed some concern at the incident of the supertrawler and gratification that this backflipping, jelly-backed government had flip-flopped yet again. I say to those fishermen: this is the small pelagic fishery today; tomorrow it could well be you. If you want some support for that, go and ask the fishermen up my way out of Cairns, out of Mooloolaba, who used to obtain a living from fishing in the Coral Sea. I suggest to the recreational fishermen who think—there are only a few of them—they have had a victory in stopping this supertrawler that they have a talk to the marlin boat fishermen out of Cairns and see what happens when you have a weak, jelly-backed government like we have now in charge of Australia's marine policy.

I say to any fishermen, recreational or commercial: this is the death knell for what you want to do. Here you have a government and, as Senator Brandis says—and I love this—with two ultrastupid ministers who are given the most power of any minister. They are ultrastupid, because if they do not know what they want to do or the Greens put a bit of pressure on them or Kevin comes with his challenge to Ms Gillard, these two ministers can shut down recreational fishing tomorrow. They can shut down every form of commercial fishing.

Madam Acting Deputy President, tell me what is commercial about the marlin boats—is that commercial fishing? The people that go out to catch marlin, the wealthy Americans who bring hundreds of thousands of dollars to Cairns and create jobs, pay the charter boat operator to take them out. Does that make the charter boat operator a commercial fishing activity? I do not know. I would take Senator Brandis's advice on that and I know what the advice will be. It is a recreational fishing activity. They catch the marlin, tag them—and it is the only science you get on marlin—throw them back; and yet this is the sort of activity that the Greens political party aided and abetted by a weak lily-livered, jelly-backed government that is running Australia at the present time wants to shut down.

I conclude—and I wish I had a lot more time on this—by again going to proper governance of Australia. You cannot have politicians running fishing policy. You cannot have politicians getting involved in technical matters that they know nothing about. What you do—and what the Labor Party used to do and what certainly our government did—is you say, 'Let's get some scientists. Let's get some people who are trained in this area, who understand it and who can do the research. Let's get the experts. Let's talk to the fishermen and get their views.' You then get this independent statutory authority, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, to make a determination on the best science available to them. That is the way you run fisheries in this country; you do not run it because you have a Greens political party that is determined to sell Australia out to foreign planation owners who rape and pillage forests overseas and to foreign fishing entities who grow fish in who knows what sort of conditions without any of the controls that Australian fishermen have. You do not want those sorts of thoughts from a populist party which is rapidly losing its political clout—you have only got to have a look at the Queensland elections and the New South Wales local government elections to see that the Greens have reached their zenith and are now on the way out and rapidly so. They will grab at any populist policy to try and retain some political relevance.

My only despair—and as an Australian I am emotional about this—is that we have a government that is so awful, so incompetent, so inept and so unable to make a decision and keep to it that they will roll over to the Greens every time.

May I conclude by again reminding senators that on Monday last week Senator Ludwig stood in this chamber, directly opposite me, and protected and applauded the MV Abel Tasmanfor what it was doing; on Tuesday he suddenly found that his decision the day before was not the politically correct one. So I despair for Australia under this government. (Time expired)

8:15 pm

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Declared Commercial Fishing Activities) Bill 2012. May I congratulate my colleague Senator Macdonald, who covered so many issues in his presentation to this chamber just then. The amazing thing, as Senator Macdonald said, is that last Monday all was sweet. Then, of course, emails came in from the GetUp! crew, the lefties crew and the Greens crew; and this government, instead of having any ticker and sticking up for the jobs and the provision of high-protein food for human beings in Africa, took the populist road again. This is live exports mark II. That is what this is.

In 2009, Minister Burke invited these large supertrawlers to our waters and is quoted as saying:

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

So I ask what has changed? What has changed since 2009 when Minister Burke made that quote? Now Minister Burke and Senator Ludwig are all at sea and could not get this legislation right without amendment after amendment. It is just farcical. When they got the legislation to the other place, they made five amendments. They had to call on their ex-colleague, Mr Craig Thomson, the member for Dobell. Now Minister Burke and Senator Ludwig have formed a stereo, monumental mess between them.

The coalition opposes this legislation because it is bad policy. It is flawed; it undermines rigorous science. The Greens are always on about the science: 'We've got to stick with the science'—until it comes to the science of AFMA, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, that has done the science on this whole fishing project. But of course the science is out the door now. This is more about populism and gaining more votes, so forget the science now.

This is heading the same way as that disgraceful total ban on live cattle trade exports. I had people in my office just a few weeks ago from the Top End, up there in the cattle industry on big properties where they work hard, and now they are in serious financial trouble. What pressure does that put on them? What pressure does that put on their families? What pressure do they face every month when their bills roll in and there is no money to pay those bills? Why did this government put a wholesale ban on live exports? We know, and you know, that the activities in those abattoirs shown on Four Corners were unacceptable to anyone in Australia and we supported the government in immediately stopping the supply of cattle to those abattoirs doing the wrong thing. We all know how Minister Ludwig caved in to the green groups on the live export trade, shutting down a massive operation overnight, putting family operations into a financial mess and causing great hardship. You wonder why, in the Northern Territory election, those people out in the station country deserted Labor. It is because of what you have done to them.

Those live cattle had to be exported at 350 kilos or less. When this government shut down the live exports what happened? Those cattle were held on the properties, overstocked. They should have been gone. Once you overstock any property—sheep, cattle, goats, whatever you are running—there is less feed for the rest of the stock on that property. So as time went on those cattle exceeded 350 kilos. Then they could not, when this government made some effort to restore the live cattle trade to Indonesia, go on the ship; the cattle were overweight. Those people lost their incomes. Those helicopter pilots who do the mustering, and the truckies that this government says it so proudly supports, were out of work.

I notice today, thanks to Mr Windsor, that they have slammed another 2.4 cents a litre diesel tax on our truckies. When a disallowance was put up today in the House of Representatives, where the vote was 65 all, Mr Windsor voted with the government not to allow the disallowance and to allow higher fuel tax on our truckies. Is it any wonder that Tony Sheldon, boss of the Transport Workers Union, says the carbon tax is a death tax? Here is more tax on our truckies' fuel and another almost seven cents due on 1 July 2014. Two cents today; then seven cents—that is nine cents by eight billion litres of fuel, or $720 million dollars of tax each year that the member for New England has voted to add for our truckies. As I said on radio and in the papers, when it comes to the next election there will not be a truckie in Australia that supports this government—not one. You think that raising their fuel tax is going to cool the planet and now, today, you add more to them. You have your figures wrong. You are going on 2008 registrations for the amount of trucks on the road, not 2012. Mr Windsor will certainly be reminded of that come the next election if he is game enough to run in New England.

Indonesia has never forgiven Australia. Senator Ludwig should have got on a plane and gone straight over to Indonesia, met his counterpart, showed him the DVD and told Indonesia, 'We have a problem; let's work together to solve that problem.' In fact it was not long after that that Senator Ludwig went over there with Mr Emerson, the trade minister, and in a desperate state of begging handed out $20 million to the Indonesian government to increase the production of beef in their country. What about the beef producers in Australia that have gone broke because of this government's decision? What did you give them? Next to nothing. Do Australians not mean anything to this government?

I talked about the job losses and the trucks standing in the yards—how they could not pay their lease payments when they could not cart a load of cattle. There are the helicopter pilots, the jackaroos on the stations during the mustering and the local bloke selling fuel to the truckies—how is his business? It has dwindled to very little. It goes right through the whole economy. Of course, this government, this Labor Party that was founded to represent workers, does not care about the 50 jobs lost on the Abel Tasman, where more Australian jobs are gone. Other countries must be looking at Australia and asking themselves why they would do business with Australia. Australia under this government cannot be trusted. They make an agreement and then, without notice, the Gillard-Greens government says, 'We don't like this arrangement any more, so off you go.'

Minister Burke is jumping at shadows. He consulted no-one before making this decision to ban the trawler from Australian waters for two years. The trawler's catch size is no larger than the quota already set for fishers domestically. It has been able to fish to that quota only because it bought the right to do so from Sea Fish Tasmania, buying others out from doing the same. They have bought the leases; they have bought the quota. Who is going to compensate the Abel Tasman and its owners? As surely as I speak here now, the owners will serve a writ on this government for their backflip for simply going back on their word and for the huge cost to the trawler.

The trawler is 142 metres long, but only one-third of it is actually a fishing boat—the rest is freezer and processing facilities. Sea Fish Tasmania, which contracted the Abel Tasman, has complied with every rule and regulation laid down by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority. In fact, AFMA says there are no size restrictions on vessels on a statutory management plan and, if it became Australian flagged, it would be treated the same as any other Australian fishing boat.

AFMA say that in those fishing waters, from Western Australia, through the Great Australian Bight, around Tasmania and up to New South Wales, there are approximately 300,000 tonnes of mackerel. They said you could take 18,000 tonnes—six per cent. And what was that mackerel going to be used for? As we all know, it is an oily fish that goes off quickly when you catch them. They need refrigerating very quickly. There is little or no demand in Australia for human consumption. That 18,000 tonnes of mackerel, which was approved by the science, approved by AFMA and approved by this government until last Tuesday, will no longer go to Africa for high-protein human consumption. It is just like the people in Indonesia who wanted to eat beef, but, no, you had to bring that industry to a stop and now you are doing the same with the fishing industry. What is wrong with feeding people around the world?

The local smaller boats cannot go out as far, of course, but they can catch 18,000 tonnes. The Greens ought to be well aware that the 80,000 tonnes can still be taken with no alteration to the fish stocks. It has been approved; it is just that it cannot be taken for human consumption now. It will go into fishmeal. I am very familiar with fishmeal. It is a high-protein additive that we have used in our piggery for many years for the younger weaner pigs where you need high-protein, high-energy food to grow them. That is where the fish will go, not to human consumption. There has been no alteration to the volume of fish that will be taken from the oceans. Instead, it cannot be used for human consumption. Why not? Because it is not popular and the emails started coming in.

The Greens saw this as some way to defend their reputation and say, 'Look at me! Shut down the forests, lock everything up, form all these national parks and don't allow grazing in them to lower the fuel levels. Just let the grass and the twigs build up to the stage of 150 tonnes of fuel on the ground per hectare,' and then the lightning will strike. If it is a hot windy day, you will have no hope in the world of controlling the fire. The hot fire gets up to the crowns of the trees and destroys the trees. The fire travels at such a pace that animals cannot get away from it. So what do we do? We lock up land for national parks where we kill animals and destroy forests and trees, and the Greens call it conservation. I call stupidity. Until you learn to manage the country, sadly, just like the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria, savage fires will continue. Fifty per cent of the country burnt there was national park land. There was 90 million tonnes of carbon dioxide produced. And here we are with this crazy carbon tax that is going to allow Australia's emissions to go from 578 million tonnes a year to 621 million tonnes a year—we are going to increase it by 43 million tonnes a year—but that does not matter. Ninety million tonnes of carbon dioxide was estimated to have been produced by the Black Saturday bushfires because of Greens policy: lock it up and leave it.

In the last few years we have had a lot of rain and some good seasons. The red gum forest at Deniliquin will be next, and red gum will not stand fire. It will not regenerate; fire destroys it. I have been through the 900 hectares that has been burnt near Deniliquin. When the fire went through, the local miller said, 'Can we cut it down for timber? Can we process it? If we don't do it quickly, within 12 months the timber will crack and it will be destroyed.' The National Parks Association said, 'Oh no, you can't cut that resource down and use that. You must leave it standing.' A couple of years later they said, 'Can we cut it down for firewood and let another forest grow?' and the National Parks Association said, 'No, you can't do that. You can't cut down the destroyed timber and use it for firewood.' So we have 900 hectares of just dead trees. Some of you Greens ought to go and have a look at the red gum forest and see what fire does to it. When Forestry managed it, there was grazing. For over 100 years that forest was managed well and sustainably, and the millers did the right thing. You watch it get destroyed. I hope I do not stand up in this place next February and say, 'I told you so.'

We have the same situation with this whole fishing fiasco now facing the Senate. Government staff confirm no scientific authorities or individuals have been consulted in formulating the legislation before the Senate. This legislation is about giving the ultimate power to the minister. When the legislation went before the House of Representatives it covered all fishing, including recreational fishers. Well, what a fiasco! You would lose a heap of votes there if the minister can say: 'You cannot hang that line over that jetty. I am the minister. I have the whole say about who fishes where.' The laughable thing is that those opposite had to run to their ex-colleague, Mr Craig Thomson, the member for Dobell, to move the amendment. That is how much of a laughing stock they have become.

Last week there was an interesting exchange on Sunrise when shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey asked Minister Burke whether Seafish Tasmania had complied with the law up until then. Minister Burke said:

Up until now, yeah. They have.

Seafish Tasmania has complied by the law. This has been going on for years. They have done everything right. Shadow Treasurer Mr Hockey then said:

And now you change the law when the boat arrives.

Minister Burke said:

That's right, because I believe the law fell short of what we need to do.

So, in two sentences, the government completely reversed its position. Talk about a sovereign risk! This company must have spent hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars to go through a contract to get permission, the approval of AFMA, to fish. And what happens now? Because of this backflipping government, because of emails, because of the Greens, because of Getup!, because of the lefties and because the boat happens to be bigger than any other boat—two-thirds of the boat is actually for processing, refrigeration and freezing—this boat now has to be shut down.

I will come to the point again about compensation. Seafish Tasmania could sue the government for lost income—and I have no doubt that they will. I have no doubt that they have every right to do exactly that. Because you cannot break your word with people in business. For years Seafish Tasmania have worked through the science with AFMA to develop a program to take 18,000 tonne of high protein feed to another continent. For what? To actually feed human beings. But, as I said last week in this place, it appears that human beings do not matter to many in this chamber. I gave you the example: I get all these emails to ban live exports or to ban the super trawler, but when we have women being stoned to death—a brutal inhumane act—in some country for supposedly committing adultery, I do not get any emails about that. Are people more concerned about fish than they are about the life of a human being? What is this world coming to? This is what we are getting at. And GetUp! and all their leftie associations fire off the emails. It is just amazing: I get 100 emails. And guess what? They are the same, word for word. There have the same exclamation mark, the same comma, the same a full stop. You would think they had been copied and pasted. Or is it just a big network sending them out to their happy gang of lefties, saying: 'Here. Send this off to the politicians.' I have said to my staff, 'When you get those emails, don't reply to them.' If people have not got the time to write their own email, I do not see why my staff have to put in their time to reply to some of these gang emails that are sent out by the hundreds and even thousands because of some leftist group who is actually forcing Australia to go back on our word, to go back on our commitment, to become a sovereign risk and to get the taxpayers to cough up the compensation.

It should be Minister Ludwig and Minister Burke who pay the compensation out of their own pockets if this all comes to grief in the court. They are the ones who have caused it all. They should get the money off their buddies over there who have supported them, the Greens, those Independents who supported them and their Labor colleagues. They should hand the hat around. They should pay for it. They made the mess. They should fix it. Why should the hardworking mums and dads of Australia pay for their mistakes. What Labor have done here is absolutely crazy.

This legislation makes a mockery of the whole Australian Fisheries Management Authority, which the government relies on for scientific advice. AFMA have done the hard work. They have done the hard yards. They have brought in the facts. Around six per cent of the mackerel would have been fished for human consumption, and now it will not. As I said, if the summons comes on, then I do not blame the people involved if it does. The people on that side, the Labor senators, and the Greens as well as the same lot in the other place, who have brought in this disgraceful legislation are destroying our name and making us go back on our word, should hand the hat around. As my father always used to say: your word is your word and it is worth more than any piece of paper you can ever sign. Those opposite are giving us a disgraceful reputation by going back on their word and pandering to the Greens and the do-gooders.

8:35 pm

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

I am afraid I am going to have disappoint Senator Williams tonight by being one of those so-called do-gooders that he refers to. I have genuinely enormous regard for Senator Williams and the contribution that he makes in this place, but I would have to disagree with him on this matter. And I do not think it is fair to categorise this debate as being that on the left of politics and that activist groups such as GetUp! are simply behind this. I think there are many other groups involved here. In my home town in South Australia there is one talkback radio host, Leon Byner on radio 5AA, who has been outspoken in his concern about the super trawler, and I do not think anyone could reasonably consider Mr Byner to be part of the left of politics. He has reflected his views and he has reflected the views of many of his listeners in relation to this matter. So I think we need to take that into account. But I think Senator Williams does make a number of points that deserve to be reflected on carefully and respectfully in relation to issues of compensation, which I will refer to shortly.

I can indicate that I will support the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Declared Fishing Activities) Bill 2012. I support this bill with some reservations in the sense that it is important that issues of compensation are appropriately dealt with.

I think Senator Williams alluded to the fact that there will potentially be a legal action by the proponents of the Margiris. I am not sure whether the government has sought advice in relation to any potential claims for compensation, as to whether this would invoke the constitutional safeguard in relation to compensation for the acquisition of property on just terms. So that is a matter that needs to be considered.

This bill, if passed, will enable the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, with the agreement of the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, to make an interim declaration that a fishing activity is a prohibited declared commercial fishing activity, while an expert panel assesses the potential environmental impacts of the activity. The minister will be able to make a final declaration for a period of no longer than 24 months that a fishing activity is a prohibited declared commercial fishing activity. Clearly, this does not affect recreational fishers.

It is interesting that this issue—a bit like the coal seam gas issue—has brought together quite disparate groups; groups that you would not normally see on the same platform—recreational fishers and the Australian Greens, for instance. Senator Whish-Wilson is in the chamber, and I do not know whether you could say that recreational fishers are the natural constituency of the Greens, but it appears that they have been brought together by a common concern in relation to this, much in the same way as the unlikely alliance on coal seam gas mining, when we saw Bob Brown, Bob Katter and Alan Jones on the same stage. That is when you know something is brewing and something big is happening, in that it is not politics as usual.

While I recognise and support the reasoning behind this bill, it is also important to reflect on what has led to this juncture and to the government making an eleventh-hour decision. The Dutch supertrawler the Margiris has been shrouded in controversy since it arrived in Australian waters and, in fact, well before that. I know that there are a number of African nations that have expressed concerns about the Margiris'sactivities. It is a big boat. It is capable of catching 250 tonnes of fish per day and of storing over 6,000 tonnes, or 545 busloads, of frozen fish.

The presence of this trawler, and the science that it had apparently relied on, were cause for great concern in the town of Port Lincoln in my home state of South Australia although, of course, there were some proponents for the Margiris there who spoke in favour of the Margiris. I am interested to hear the contribution of Senator Scullion, who has been involved in commercial fishing and who knows a thing or two about catching fish.

I think it is fair to reflect on the processes involved here. Those processes give me some real concern in terms of how the fishing quota was set. The Margiris's main proponents argued that the trawler's quota was sustainable, that it would be policed, and that the venture would create jobs. Detractors suggested that the supertrawler would damage local tourism industries and impede the rights of recreational fishers. They suggested that the environmental impacts had not been fully realised and that the data that was used to establish the Margiris's quota was not sound.

This was raised by Graham Pike, a member of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, in a letter to the editor in the AustralianFinancial Review just last week. I think it is worth reading into Hansard what Mr Pike said. It is not a long letter, but I think it is very important that it be put on the record. This is what Mr Pike wrote to the editor of the Financial Review:

I am a member of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) committee, which paved the way for the super trawler Margiris/ Abel Tasman.

I must express my deep personal concern about the inadequacy of the research used to double the jack mackerel eastern quota to commercially justify the super trawler (a decision suggested by the Margiris proponent, also a member of the same committee, which raised the conflict of interest situation currently under investigation by the commonwealth ombudsman).

The data on which the quota decision relied were 10 years old and the stocks of fish sampled had long since gone, to be replaced by stocks that remain unresearched. The scientist who conducted the research warns in his report that the data are largely imprecise and hence need to be treated with caution. There is also a complete absence of research into stocks of small pelagic fish, such as jack mackerel and redbait, in waters off Western Australia, South Australia and in the Great Australian Bight–exactly where the super trawler plans to fish.

The federal Environment Minister's proposed changes to the EPBC Act are sensible; they will allow time for comprehensive research into fish stocks and are essential to protect the small pelagic fishery from overfishing.

Studies show that small pelagic fish in other parts of the world have been fished to near extinction by the Margiris and her kind. These stocks had not been researched enough.

Bringing the Margiris to Australia without any apparent prior approval or formal undertakings from AMSA or AFMA was misguided, and at worst an arrogant assumption by Seafish Tasmania and the Margiris's Dutch operating company, Seafish Tasmania Pelagics.

That is what Graham Pike said as a member of AFMA, the committee which was part of the decision-making process.

I think it is fair to say that his concerns need to be heeded. His concerns appear to be considered, and they are matters that ought to have been the subject of forensic investigation; in my view, they have not been. This bill gives us some breathing space in relation to this. I share Graham Pike's concerns, which is one of the reasons I will be supporting this bill.

I believe we must take every step to ensure we are acting on the best available science and the most comprehensive data when making a decision that could irreversibly impact the environment and the communities that rely on it. You need not look past the difficulty the federal government is having in implementing the Murray-Darling Basin plan to realise that it pays to think about the long-term environmental and social repercussions before making a decision of this nature, not after the horse has bolted. We need to get the science right. We need to get the information right.

Members of the coalition have raised concerns about the government's decision to introduce this bill and those concerns have been well articulated. I know that the member for Cook, Scott Morrison, lambasted the government, accusing it of:

… making up policy on the run, oblivious to or regardless of the sovereign risk they have created for this nation.

I think that we need to consider the issue of sovereign risk. I find it a bit curious that the Treasurer has attacked the Leader of the Nationals in the Senate, Senator Barnaby Joyce, for raising the sovereign risk spectre over the Cubbie Station decision. I thought that attack was not reasonable because it was all about transparency and accountability in the context of a decision made by the Foreign Investment Review Board. Similarly, I think that sovereign risk as it relates to this decision needs to be considered in the context of broader community concerns and with respect to flaws in the decision-making process. Any valid arguments about sovereign risk in respect of this decision need to be considered in the context of any potential claim for compensation the proponents may have—and I am not suggesting they do—at law with respect to the decision that has been made.

But if the government is doing the right thing by the science, by the marine environment—given the concerns expressed by Graham Pike and others—then that needs to be considered. It may well be that this decision will be reversed after the appropriate science in relation to this has been investigated. I think we need to put any arguments about sovereign risk in context. Just as I thought the Treasurer was not fair in characterising Senator Barnaby Joyce's comments about Cubby Station as invoking issues of sovereign risk—I do not think they were valid arguments—I similarly have concerns about the coalition saying that this is a sovereign risk issue in this context.

Photo of Sue BoyceSue Boyce (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm not saying there is a sovereign risk in dealing with this government.

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

Senator Boyce, they are not the same thing—I agree with that. I think it is fair to say that whilst they are different issues it is worth considering more closely arguments in relation to sovereign risk. In these circumstances we also need to reflect on what the Commonwealth Ombudsman has said. I have a letter from the Commonwealth Ombudsman that is on the website of member for Denison, Andrew Wilkie. The letter is dated 14 September and it is about the complaint. Whilst the Commonwealth Ombudsman has not dealt with the complaint and has not concluded investigating the complaint there are some issues in relation to the South East Management Advisory Committee's compliance with section 64C of the Fisheries Administration Act 1991. The letter raises issues of potential conflicts of interest and whether that made the decision-making process defective in any way. The Ombudsman has not concluded his views in relation to this matter, but in the third to last paragraph of the letter to Mr Wilkie he states:

Please note the admission by AFMA regarding the defective procedure at the SEMAC meeting of 26 March 2012, and information from AFMA that the dissenting SPFRAG members' views were included, in due course, in the SEMAC meeting papers of 26 March 2012.

Other matters have come up in the course of our investigation. We are in the process of giving further consideration to these matters before we will be in a position to conclude our investigation.

This is an ongoing matter by the Commonwealth Ombudsman, so I think we need to take that into account as well and proceed with caution. The government has taken a cautious approach in relation to this.

I note the comments of leading scientific opponent Jessica Meeuwig, the director of the Centre for Marine Futures Oceans Institute at the University of Western Australia who argues that nobody can say what is a 'conservative' catch if they do not know how many fish are out there in the first place. She said:

That's pretty clever math when you don't know what the total biomass is. There are lots of caveats about modelling and out-of-date data.

I think that reflects some of the concerns of Graham Pike.

This is a difficult issue. It is an issue that has quite rightly raised controversy, given the way it has been dealt with. But despite the concerns that I have I believe that this is, on balance, the right decision to make. I support this bill. I support the federal government's decision to start taking the necessary steps to ensure that there is a robust scientific process in place that can assess the environmental impacts of such commercial fishing activities. I think we need to get this right, and it is important that we do not go down a path that is irreversible and may lead to damage that cannot be remedied in future years. It is also fair to say that the Margiris has been a controversial vessel in some of the areas where it has fished. That is why there has been some community suspicion about this vessel. Having said that, I am most guided by the comments of Mr Pike and the fact that there is an ongoing investigation by the Ombudsman in relation to this matter. I can indicate I will be supporting the bill, but I would like to hear from the government what they say about the assertions of what jobs may be affected by this and whether the government consider that they have a liability at law in respect of those jobs that may be affected.

8:50 pm

Photo of Sue BoyceSue Boyce (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am disappointed to hear that Senator Xenophon is not going to be supporting the coalition's opposition to this bill. I would hate to point out that breathing space is the last thing that has happened here. We have had Minister Burke at breakneck speed amending amendment after amendment. It might be the complete lack of breathing that has been the problem—perhaps he got lightheaded and came up with this very thinly veiled attempt to stop the Abel Tasman and only the Abel Tasman.

Australia's fisheries have been consistently ranked as amongst the healthiest and best managed in the world. In fact, we are ranked fourth in the world behind Norway, the USA and Canada, according to the UN Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. International experts have also ranked Australia's fisheries as amongst the best in the world, and they are amongst the best in the world because of the green credentials of our fishers and the efficient and professional way that the Australian Fisheries Management Authority has managed our waters. Unfortunately 'efficient' and 'professional' are not words that one could use in a million years to describe the behaviour of Minister Burke in relation to this matter.

Just imagine a department doing an excellent job and the boss—that is, Minister Burke—coming in and trashing the efforts simply because of populism. You have a minister saying, 'I'm not interested in rigorous scientific analysis; I'm only interested in trying to secure as many votes as possible, so I'm going to cave in to the backlash against the Abel Tasman.' How weak is that behaviour? As I said, perhaps he is lacking oxygen to the brain because of the speed at which he has back-flipped on this.

No wonder Australians are saying they are feeling a deepening sense of anxiety and unease. They cannot depend on the government to do the right thing, even if it is unpopular. What a great way for a minister who has responsibility for an entire department to engender loyalty and confidence in that department! Not only has he been disloyal to his department, which leads the world in fisheries management and sustainability, but he has also done the Australian people a great disservice and undermined even further the public's confidence in this government to try to do anything other than stay in government.

Minister Burke and this government are tearing down decades of sound decision making that has built up Australia's structures, processes and system of government which have given us all such a sense of security. This certainly develops into far wider issues and far wider concerns than those simply related to a supertrawler in Australia. It comes to every aspect of how this government goes about—I suppose I should say 'conducting business', although it is a travesty of a statement to talk about this government having even a clue what business is or how to conduct it. The motto of this Labor government is 'government at any cost'.

It is a bit hard to believe, or indeed stomach, but initially the voice of reason from the government on this was that of the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Joe Ludwig, who on 26 July backed AFMA when questioned about the Margiris on ABC radio. Minister Ludwig said:

To be clear about this, the Government does not make decisions about our fisheries. It is a sensible place to leave it to the science-based decision making of an independent regulator. Otherwise you get yourself into a place of where politicians would be making decisions, not based on science, not based on what the facts demonstrate but on political decisions.

I am sorry, Minister Ludwig, you have failed on that one.

Of course, that is not how Minister Burke goes about carrying out his portfolio duties. He has dragged the sycophants of the Labor government along with him and has caved in to public pressure. Not content with undermining Australia's structures, Minister Burke also wants to lock us out of a valuable food source in Australia—that is, our seafood. I am talking, of course, about Minister Burke's proposal to create the world's largest marine reserves, which will close off millions of square kilometres of the ocean to fishing. The Gillard government wants to increase the number of marine reserves around Australia's coast from 27 to 60, much of which would be in my home state of Queensland. If this extension of marine parks proposal goes ahead, 989,842 square kilometres of the Coral Sea will become a no-go zone. Almost 78 per cent of east coast Queensland waters will be in marine parks, and that is almost eight times the international benchmark of 10 per cent. In an attempt to give you some perspective on what 989,000 square kilometres looks like, it is more than half the size of the land mass of Queensland.

The saddest thing about this proposal is that it will harm our fisheries rather than protect them, because Australian fishers will be largely taken out of the equation. Overseas fishers from countries which do not require the same environmental credentials will get free rein where our fishermen cannot go. Other countries will be permitted to fish in their parts of the Coral Sea—Korea, China, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, the US and Japan are being gifted the world's biggest fishery, and the Australian government is locking Australia out of that same fishery.

Even though we have the third-biggest fishing zone in the world, we rank only 61st in fish production. That is, we are No. 3 for the number of fish we have but we are No. 61 for the volume of fish we catch. Once this proposal goes through it is quite likely that we will fall down that ranking to 100 or 120. In Australia we already import between 72 and 75 per cent of our seafood, and that percentage will increase if Minister Burke's proposal on the Coral Sea goes ahead. His proposal will diminish our oceans, wipe out many businesses relating to the fishing industry, affect tourism, impact on Australia's food supply and deny Australians the option of fresh, wild-caught Australian seafood as the cost becomes prohibitive.

Australian families are already struggling with the cost of living under this government, and this proposal will only increase the cost of local fish, if they are able to source them at all. The option for most Australians will become frozen, imported fish from waters that are not as clean as ours, caught by fishing industries that are not as environmentally friendly as ours, and those imported fish will simply replace anything else we have.

Queenslanders are starting to realise how this proposal will affect them. I am getting more and more calls from people who cannot fathom how this government could go about setting up a situation that decreases the ability of commercial and recreational fishers to use our own waters.

One Queenslander, Paul Kelly, ccd my office today with an email he sent to Minister Burke. Mr Kelly said: Minister, I am appalled that you could even consider closing the bulk of the Coral Sea to Australian commercial fishermen and still expect Australians to support you. You are forcing Australians who wish to eat seafood as part of a healthy diet to buy imported goods. These imports are fished or farmed in waters unknown for the health conditions as opposed to the clean and clear waters abounding on the Queensland coast. Our waters have for decades supplied countless quantities of basic fish stocks and they are a renewable source of food supply.

Your government has an appalling record on ecopolicies and has failed on every project or plan instigated since Kevin Rudd was elected in 2007.

You appear to be beholden to the wishes and whims of the Greens party without consideration of the impact caused on fellow, everyday Australians down the chain. Fishing fleets up and down the coast of Queensland will have their livelihoods ripped out by your plan to close down such a huge area of the Coral Sea. The domino effect will fall to suppliers to these fleets and suppliers to those suppliers, and so on.

Mr Kelly continued:

I do not believe you are honestly foolish enough to trust that overseas fishermen won't come and harvest our waters just because you decided, for obvious political reasoning, to close it off to Australian men and women. How do you plan to police these policies and what cost are you budgeting for this security?

I trust you will understand that the legacy you so much want to leave Australia for you time in office will, in time, cause more pain and angst than any possible short-term gain for your benefit.

Mr Kelly concluded:

I strongly urge you to reconsider this proposal.

I believe the current bill before the chamber and the proposal to extend the marine parks will have far more negative, unintended consequences than we can ever imagine. It is just beyond belief that Minister Burke came up with four different amendments to this bill over four days. Apparently it had not occurred to him that to declare it closed for all fishing activities for social reasons, as well as others, was an issue. Apparently that had not occurred to him. Certainly, this was concocted in such haste that the first comparison that one thinks of is Minister Ludwig's apocryphal, appalling attempts in terms of the live cattle trade. It is based on the fact that their understanding of how business operates, what might attract a business to Australia or how to give a business the options of going elsewhere is completely unknown—it is outside their ken. They have not worked in business. They do not understand business and it would appear they do not particularly care, although quite where they think they are going to get their money from when the mining industry decreases is of course a very large question.

It is not just the fishing industry or a particular company—Seafish Tasmania—that should be concerned about this legislation, it is every resource-based industry. What this bill does to commercial fishers could one day—any day that this government chooses, with the support of their friends in the Greens party—happen to any other business that is reliant on access to natural resources: 'Oops, we don't like the law because we think it might make us unpopular. All right, let's just come up with a new law.' And they did this seven years down the track from when negotiations for this started.

All of Australia's leading marine experts have said that the science in relation to the small pelagic fisheries stacks up for the supertrawler project to go ahead. But Minister Burke spoke to no-one, except perhaps some of his closer allies in the leadership group of the Labor Party I suppose, in developing this bill—not the FRDC, not the scientists, not AFMA, not the recreational fishers. He spoke to no-one, absolutely no-one. It just goes on. For seven years Seafish Tasmania was attempting to negotiate, and being encouraged by Minister Burke to come along. Time after time, as I quoted earlier, we have examples of both Minister Burke and Minister Ludwig, until the GetUp! campaign got them, supporting the development and the ongoing negotiations that had been carefully organised by Seafish Tasmania.

I suppose at least that Minister Burke's decision in this matter is consistent with his performance to date. There is no science at all behind Minister Burke's decision to lock up the Coral Sea, and many businesses in Queensland that are related to the fishing industry are now being questioned by their banks about the ongoing valuation of their businesses and the level of their loans. Uncertainty in any industry is going to cause serious problems in terms of the value of the businesses of these poor people, who are victims of this government. As the potential valuation of businesses falls, so does the banks' interest in whether they are going to call in loans. This applies not just to fishing businesses, it applies to dozens of other businesses that are also reliant on the fishing industry, whether they be commercial, recreational or tourist-based. There are hundreds of them.

So there is no science in Minister Burke's effort to lock up the Coral Sea and there is absolutely no science behind Minister Burke's bungle, bungle, backflip on the Magiris/Abel Tasman legislation.

The Dutch government is demanding answers from Australia on behalf of the joint venture partners, as they well might. There are not too many countries, and I do not think Holland would be one, where you simply change the law if you do not like the result you are getting in terms of whether you are going to win Greens vote at the next election. There is no science whatsoever behind Minister Burke's efforts on this one either. He is being consistent. The Dutch government is demanding answers. We not only have the Australian banks asking questions about Minister Burke's unacceptable and erratic behaviour in relation to the Coral Sea; we also now have governments and hundreds of international corporations very concerned about the level of sovereign risk in trying to deal with Australia and this unprofessional, erratic government.

Senator Xenophon might very well speak of breathing space, but this government is not going to have much more breathing space. It is beyond belief that these changes could have been brought in as they have been. Of course, Minister Burke now has himself stuck in the situation where he needs to get this legislation passed today or else—quite why that provides breathing space for anybody I do not know. I continue to be very, very bothered by the unprofessional, erratic behaviour of this government. It is not reasonable for this legislation to be brought in. It is not just the fishing industries that should be frightened by this; it is everybody trying to do business in Australia now and everybody who might want to do business here in the future. How on earth this can be persevered with I have no idea. Despite the lack of patriotism for this, I hope that Seafish Tasmania does seek compensation and is successful in getting that.

9:10 pm

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Declared Commercial Fishing Activities) Bill 2012. The amendments to the bill have been rushed through to this place. Over four days, Minister Tony Burke has issued four amendments. This is a knee-jerk reaction from the Labor government. This legislation is seriously flawed, undermines rigorous science and is another tool for the Greens and environmental groups to campaign against our fishing industry. Labor have spent three years trying to attract the supertrawler to Australian waters. When he was Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Tony Burke invited these types of vessels as part of his 2009 Small Pelagic Fishery Harvest Strategy, which said:

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

Now, 50 Australians are out of a job. Seafish Tasmania also intended on filling jobs in cold storage and freight, to let contracts for pallets and to provide places for students from the Australian Maritime College. The Labor government again appear chaotic and dysfunctional, all because the minister is uncertain. Yet he did not attempt to find answers to the problems for which he was uncertain. Instead he chose to just shut down the business.

I want to briefly mention some history, because when we consider these issues they need to be seen in context. Prime Minister Bruce invited the states and the CSIRO to attend a national fisheries conference in 1927, organised by the commission to discuss the development of Australian fisheries and the implication of the health report. Herbert Gepp chaired the meeting and the secretary was Stanley Fowler, and the aim was to provide a plan to foster development of a fishing industry in Australia. It found:

… investigations in Britain led … to the conclusion that the high cost of living in Australia was the principal impediment to the development of 'a great fishing industry.' Thus it would be necessary to adopt the most up to date fishing but with labour saving devices - such as the 'new super trawler'—

which back in 1927 did not look like the current one we are discussing today.

The main issue I have with the minister's decision or backdown or backflip is that he turned his back on the very good scientific evidence, which is the basis for the way our fisheries are managed in this country and underpins the way we construct all the regulations around these fisheries, and he threw it out the window. The Nationals understand and appreciate the importance of science. Earl Page, one of our early leaders, set up the CSIRO—a Country Party initiative. So we believe in the science on this one.

All fishers need to be concerned, even with the amendments made to exclude recreational fishers and charter vessels. If the minister's concern was based on the capacity of the supertrawler to fish in one place for a considerable amount of time then why not amend the legislation to address these issues, to deal with the fact that the boat would be in one place for a long period of time and to include some geographic mechanism, if you like, to regulate how long it could stay and in what places for its catch?

Now we have seen another backflip from an increasingly limber Labor government—again, further proof the government do not have a grip on their own legislative agenda. Rather, all it really wants to do is please the Greens with votes in mind. This policy is policy on the run if ever we saw it, and the decision can be added to a long list of government U-turns. In late August and earlier this month, Labor performed two carbon tax backflips in as many weeks. First, it removed a $15 a tonne floor price, and then it decided not to compensate big polluters under the contracts for closure scheme.

I must admit, though, it seems a number of issues for the Rudd and Gillard-Greens government can be traced to their decision to not consult with industry and to reject science. What about last year's abrupt decision to cancel live cattle exports? It did not help the animal welfare cause, and it placed unnecessary pressures on cattle producers, businesses and communities, particularly in the Top End, that are still being played out to this day. One month later, the decision was overturned. The government did not seek advice from industry when it shut the cattle export trade down and it has not sought advice in this matter either.

But there was a similarity in both these examples that I have mentioned—that is, a highly effective email campaign from urban Australia to Labor politicians, particularly in this instance to Minister Joe Ludwig. It is judgements like these that have and will continue to weaken confidence in overseas investment in Australia. When people cannot invest with certainty, they simply will not. The Dutch government are demanding answers from Australia, and I do not blame them. The coalition has issued a policy paper around ensuring that when foreign businesses seek to invest in our nation we encourage that investment and we make it a place that they can invest in with confidence.

We want Australians to be properly informed when it comes to how our fisheries are regulated so that they can see with confidence that we are world-class in the way we regulate our fishing industry. I agree with Seafish Tasmania's director, Gerry Geen. He told the Australian that the situation had become embarrassing. I have an email from fisherman Ross Haldane in Port Lincoln, South Australia, which says:

… this is the worst piece of fisheries management I have seen in 40 years.

The Haldanes have been fishing down South Australia way for going on three generations, so they know what they are talking about.

As I have said, Tony Burke spent three years trying to bring the supertrawler here, only to turn it around. When will this government's indecision end? Seafish Tasmania did all that it was required to do to ensure it met every condition placed on it to catch these fish that live near the surface of the water or in a water column, not at the bottom of the ocean. We hear concerns about the supertrawler, for want of a better word, taking fish from the middle of the ocean. That is because that is where the fish they are seeking, that they are allowed to catch under our regulations, actually are. They are nomadic, swimming continuously through open water.

The supertrawler intended on catching the small pelagic fish: two species of jack mackerel, blue mackerel and redbait—all high protein fish bound for the coast of Africa to feed their people and assist with their protein issues. Australia expects to increase support to Africa and the Middle East food programs from $465 million in 2012-13 to $625 million in 2015. Had the supertrawler been able to complete its catch and deliver its protein to that market, maybe that cost to the Australian government could have been spent elsewhere on the African continent. What about Africa's protein intake? What will happen to those people, who are depending on that food being delivered to them? Now it is just being turned into fertiliser or pig food, hardly what we want coming from our highly sustainable fisheries in Australia.

Commonwealth fisheries catch about 52,000 tonnes of product, generating $300 million. Australia's commercial fishing and aquaculture ventures inject more than $2 billion a year into the economy. As a result, 9,7000 people are employed directly and 6,200 people are employed indirectly in the industry. Meanwhile, the ABS suggests fisheries products are ranked as the sixth most valuable rural product to our nation. Like farming, fishing is historically a generational industry. It is something that families do. They have a licence and they pass the skill and the business through the generations, so it has to be, by definition, a sustainable industry. Fishers understand, like farmers, that there is no use trashing the very resource that generates your family's wealth, something that I think policy makers around both farming and fishing need to understand.

It is difficult to narrow down how many small businesses are involved in the fishing industry, but they mostly consist of small operators, averaging about 1.5 people per boat. Fishermen want to look after their own industry by ensuring they do not overfish it. Otherwise, their very jobs and the jobs of the next generation of their family are at risk. The total allowable catch for each species in each zone of the fishery is set annually by AFMA, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, in accordance with the Small Pelagic Fishery Harvest Strategy.

Mr Acting Deputy President, you would not believe where I have just been. I have just come into the chamber from a delightful event, Science Meets Parliament, and you will not believe who I was sitting next to: the scientist who actually helped develop the strategy. I could not believe it. I went around the room, as a good host of the table, asking what everyone did. There was the battery scientist, there was a young woman working on research on child cancer, and Beth, who worked on ensuring that there is evidence based science in how we regulate our Australian fisheries. I asked her from a scientific perspective, with no politicisation at all, what she thought. She said, from a scientific perspective, that our fisheries are world leading:

The science behind fisheries and the process of making decisions is world leading. This is a place where such a vessel can be sustainable. Models of the whole system have addressed bycatch. It is sustainable on those fronts too. It has been considered.

Straight from the scientist's mouth, not half an hour ago—actually, she wrote it out; Minister Evans was speaking at the time.

When we go to the science of how our fisheries are managed, we are talking about a catch of 7½ per cent of the available biomass. That is under the 20 per cent that Australia actually regulates it at, compared with elsewhere in the world. I have heard all evening other senators telling us how this boat has stripped other nations of their fish; that is because other nations do not regulate their fisheries like we do. It is as simple as that. It does not have a personality; it is a boat. It operates within the law on the seas in which it fishes. It is as simple as that. I thought that was interesting and worth sharing with the chamber.

This is a safe, sustainable, highly regulated fishery informed by science. I think that is important to note. AFMA must be informed of all catch landed. They verify this information, as strict penalties apply to people who are found to have caught more than their quota. I am not a fan of overregulation but maybe—just maybe—we have got it right? Not according to the government.

Furthermore, the harvest strategy is more precautionary than the Marine Stewardship Council's global best practice and compares favourably with the recommendations of the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force. Also, keep in mind that the Abel Tasman'scatch will be within the quota already set by Seafish Tasmania. They have already made the decision on what is a sustainable catch. That is all that this boat is allowed to catch. There are so many checks and balances in our system—they have somebody on the boat watching—to ensure the sustainability of our fishery. It is ridiculous that we have made this decision. The coalition has great confidence in these practices, but the government's decision highlights that it has lost faith with the industry—and, it seems, with the science.

There is extensive control of the fishery industry through licensing, ensuring that it is not overfished. Just briefly on licensing: the supertrawler purchased the licence from locals because the locals could not make a buck out of it—again, like farming. If they could make a buck, they would. The better investment for the people who held these licences was for them to be used by somebody else in a more efficient way—and I refer to my earlier quote from 1927 about needing a highly innovative and efficient fishing industry for it to actually be sustainable, because we are not going to catch everything and fish it out; this is not Newfoundland.

A commercial fishing licence is a valuable commodity. People invest in such licences, the same way they might invest in a family home or run a business. People mortgage their homes for an opportunity to purchase a commercial licence, because it is a licence to fish in a sustainable, regulated environment. They know that if they buy an Australian commercial fishing licence it will deliver fish and fortune to their family over decades, over generations; it is worth something.

Despite these amendments, sovereign risk concerns remain, especially for existing fishers who hold licences to fish in Australian waters, because the government has just rendered it useless with the stroke of a pen. That somebody can email somebody a lot and that will make your investment and your family's investment worthless is an absolutely ridiculous state of affairs for our communities.

Australia's commercial fishing industry will not have the confidence to invest in any quota or licence, because they can be overturned on a whim. What about a boat that someone puts a bigger motor on, making it potentially able to catch more than it could before? Will it be affected by this legislation? There is too much uncertainty when there should not be.

On 26 July this year, fisheries minister, Joe Ludwig said:

To be clear about this, the government does not make decisions about our fisheries.

Okay, good. So far, so good.

It is a sensible place to leave it to the science-based decision making of an independent regulator.

Fantastic so far. Sounds good.

Otherwise you get yourself into a place of where politicians would be making decisions, not based on science, not based on what the facts demonstrate but on political decisions.

Those three or four sentences lay it out. That is exactly how we should be managing our fisheries. Absolutely. The minister thought it in July. The scientist who designed it thought it tonight. Our industry thinks it. In fact the world looks to us on what is the best practice in how to manage fisheries sustainably. But what happened? Now it is a political decision, because Labor is in crisis in urban areas. They are concerned about losing votes to people who do not appreciate science and do not understand fishing and farming.

In this instance, reliable science has been thrown overboard by a misinformed government. The harvest strategy I spoke of earlier is based around science, and it is sound. It requires that research be undertaken into the stock biomass, and that is achieved through conducting egg surveys. There is additional continual monitoring of fishery dependent data to support this egg survey data. Commonwealth fishery observers are to be on the vessel to ensure these operations are monitored and carried out. It is expensive. It is highly regulated. But it works. It delivers a sustainable industry, which this government through this amendment is trashing. As for diminished stock numbers, the harvest strategy restricts the total catch of each species to a maximum of 20 per cent, which in this case was going to be a lot less. Independent observers checking have also found the amount of bycatch by this vessel to be less than one per cent of the total catch.

These amendments will rush through the House of Representatives in an effort to fix a legislative stuff-up as highlighted by the coalition. The science stacks up. The Greens are simply running a scare campaign about fish stocks. Minister Burke failed to consult anyone when developing this bill; hardly surprising when we consider his track record on consultation—talk to the Murray-Darling Basin communities. This is disappointing leadership from a government that has let the Australian public down at every turn, proving it cannot be trusted on its word. It cannot be trusted to follow the science. It cannot be trusted.

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!