Tuesday, 18 September 2012
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Declared Commercial Fishing Activities) Bill 2012; Second Reading
I rise today to speak on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Declared Commercial Fishing Activities) Bill 2012 and I will talk largely about trust. What this government has done in bringing this bill to this chamber is: it has largely questioned trust. I must compliment my colleagues' contributions. Last night, I sat in the chamber and listened to my coalition colleagues who spoke about the various issues that mar this bill, and that is why we are here. What the government is proposing is a fisheries management largely dependent on who can get the biggest scare campaign running. Labor must tell us why it spent three years helping to plan, support and encourage this boat to come to Australia only to welsh on its assurances.
Why didn't this government make it clear from the onset that the boat was not welcome? There has been an internet campaign of several thousand people—I call it political terrorism by text and click. You go onto a couple of websites and click to spam your local member of parliament and all your senators with a generic grievance about something that you are misinformed about. I take you to my own experience. My 84-year-old mother rang me and said, 'I'm quite concerned about the fishing vessel that is proposed to come.' I said, 'What are your concerns, Mum?' She said, 'I'm concerned it's going to vacuum all of the fish out of the ocean,' or words to that effect. I said: 'Have you considered that government scientists have been involved in the process of this trawler coming here for a number of years—in the first instance, seven years, and more importantly for the last three years?' AFMA is an organisation which has been trusted by this government and previous governments. AFMA's expertise has not been brought into question at any other time as it is being now. What we have now is parliamentary interference in what is seemingly a sustainable operation.
I will also speak about the amendment proposed by my colleague Senator Colbeck, but I would like to sympathise with the operators of this vessel because of what they must be going through. I revert back to my mother. She said, 'All these fish are going to disappear.' I said: 'No, these are pelagic fish. They are migratory fish that exist in Commonwealth waters, largely outside recreational fishing waters. They really do not interfere at all. Australia is seen as the second-most sustainable fisheries area in the world, and our fisheries are well managed.' She said, 'What about the issue of depletion?' 'No depletions; these fish are not targets for recreational fishers, for a start. Recreational fishers do not fish for these fish and these fish, until now with the trawler, were not known for their protein supply to the food chain. That is the defining difference.'
I told my mother that this boat would turn around the practice of fishing for these fish—remember, these are existing quotas—and the use of these fish from fishmeal fed to pigs to protein to be supplied at food grade to the millions of hungry people in north Africa. That was my first point. The other point is that she did not know that these were existing quotas. She thought these were extra quotas that this boat had been given, quotas in excess of what had already been allocated. They were not. The quotas of 12, 13 or 14 other boats which have been fishing for these fish uncommercially in these waters have been transferred to the new trawler. Those boats did not have the freezers on board or the space to store the fish, so they could not provide these fish at food grade and the fish went into stockfeed. This new vessel can turn these fish into food grade efficiently in these waters. I made this point to my mother and she said, 'That makes sense.' Also the quotas were brought together by Australian businesses and this boat was hired to do the job. This boat has regulatory approval by virtue of the fact that it had unprecedented security over unwanted catch—seals, dolphins and all of those things that none of us would like to see caught in any fishing venture. All the practices, the observations and the independent observers were in place to ensure that this operation was going to happen in probably one of the most efficient ways. But no! What happened? We had what we now call—I am sure he is not a bad bloke but, clearly, he gets rolled in caucus and cabinet every time—our gymnast minister, Joe Ludwig, who after the live cattle ban has obviously now faced deja vu, groundhog day, or whatever you would like to call it and is back defending this decision which he obviously did not want to make.
As an example of what happened with that live cattle ban, welfare was distributed to those people in need in the Northern Territory. They did not need welfare—they just wanted their businesses kept intact. The Department of Human Services were asked to deliver welfare to the people of Northern Australia after the live cattle ban, and in one case they delivered $68,000 worth of welfare. The cost of delivering that aid—the charge that the Department of Human Services made to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry—was $1.22 million to deliver aid of $68,000. When I questioned him on this at the time, the minister said, 'Would you rather we didn't deliver the aid?' Yes, I would rather you did not deliver aid because it cost $1.22 million to deliver $68,000 to people who really did not want it.
We want to talk about trust. We want to talk about the reasons people invest in Australia and in Australian assets. If you want to take the foreign investment debate further—the locals, domestic investors, bankers—what do bankers think about fishing now? If you have a fishing licence is it as bankable as it was two weeks ago? Ask a Northern Territory cattleman what happened to the price of his cattle station when they banned live cattle exports and Indonesia reduced its quota. Ask the bankers what their LVR—their loan to value ratios—are now. How many people in the Northern Territory have breached their loan covenants and are under financial pressure? What about the fishing industry? Overlay that onto the insecurity the fishers now have when they go to their bankers and say: 'I would like to do this. I would like to have another boat. I would like to buy an extra fishing quota.' What is the value of a fishing quota? Ask Minister Burke, because he does not think there is any value.
Whatever you would like to think about the Margiris, or the Abel Tasman, as it is now called, it is a flip-flop business environment in which the people of Australia work, and there is nothing worse than insecurity in a business environment. It undermines your banking, all your financial prospects and all of your business planning. The first thing you learn at business school is that you have to have a plan. But you cannot plan for instability or jelly-backed politics driven by a left-wing campaign, a Greens campaign, with conservation councils hiding under everything that is good. We are effectively starving people of the northern African nations through not supplying what is sustainable.
Finally, I turn to the amendments proposed by Senator Colbeck. I ask that this chamber support them. Minister Burke, as the reason for his decision to reverse the policy that he introduced as Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in 2009, stated:
… there are considerable economies of scale in the fishery and the most efficient way to fish may include large scale factory freezer vessels.
That is point No. 1. You people in the gallery should note this is the same minister that overturned this fishing rights bill. Why did he reverse that decision? Where is the science to support the reversal of that decision? We do not get it.
Secondly, he effectively invited the Margiris into Australia by promoting large-scale factory freezer vessels. The minister promoted it and now he has overturned it. See what actions he will take to compensate the 50 Australian workers who are losing their jobs as a consequence of this legislation. These are people that the director of this business, Mr Geen, has said were largely unemployed people who were given jobs. Fifty people were given jobs and now face an uncertain future.
I ask everybody in Australia to consider what this government is doing about business security and the ability to do business in this country securely without fringe groups coming in and rocking the boat. I have had several thousand emails, like everybody else, from all of these groups. This is single-click terrorism on websites; they can just spam all the parliamentarians with generic 'don't do this' mail. Inform yourselves of the facts and get the policy behind it before you click, before you believe everything that you read in the newspaper. All of you out there listening to this know there have been newspaper reports you have seen where you have thought: 'That's not true. I know about that; it's not true.' Do not believe everything you read. Be informed. Get involved in the debate. Have a sensible discussion. Email me if you want; I have no problem defending good, sound business policy. I am told by scientists in this country that this is a sustainable resource and it will feed people in need.
I rise to speak on the of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Declared Commercial Fishing Activities) Bill 2012. I am very concerned about the sovereign risk implications for Australia of the conditions put on this matter by the government. This vessel is registered in the Netherlands and I understand that the Dutch government has demanded an explanation from the Australian government of the basis for Australia's action in putting these unreasonable terms and conditions on the operation of the vessel, after it had been understood, no more than two weeks ago, that there were no problems at all and that this vessel could proceed in carrying out its fishing So there has been a radical change in the government's position. This ALP government has a pattern of undermining Australia's sovereign risk. Just look at the record of events over the last couple of years. Firstly, there was the ban on live cattle exports, done without notice to the industry or to the Indonesian government. It was a huge blow to Australia's reputation for reliable business dealings, affecting our sovereign risk and our status as a safe country in which to invest. Similarly, the minerals resource rent tax has adversely affected Australia's business reputation around the world and has increased the perception in the business community of Australia's sovereign risk—in other words, there is a view that Australia is not really a safe place in which to invest anymore.
The Senate is considering this case in which a company which owns a fishing boat had been negotiating with the Australian government for some years to get approval for their project. Approval was given for them to proceed and on that basis an investment was made to build the boat and equip it to operate in Australian waters. On the eve of starting their proposed plan of fishing—on the eve of their investment beginning to pay and earn an income—the minister decided that the venture would not be approved and the ship was told that it had to comply with a different set of conditions. The rules were changed and a series of conditions were put in place which undermined the business case for this venture.
Not unexpectedly, the Dutch government, under whose flag this ship is registered, was angry. They believe that the company has been treated in a high-handed way and have demanded answers and explanations from the Australian government on behalf of the ship's owners. Is that a surprise? Not to me. Does it remind us of the angry reaction when the government suddenly cancelled the live cattle trade to Indonesia? Yes, it certainly does. It is a similar scenario. In fact, this episode is almost an exact repeat of the high-handed manner in which the Indonesians were treated when the live cattle trade was banned without any notice whatsoever. The Australian live cattle trade was vitally important to their food chain in Indonesia as a source of protein and the Australian government, under Minister Ludwig, cut it off overnight. The same sort of action has been taken in terms of the operation of this fishing boat.
This bill and the government's decisions follow the same pattern as the disastrous chaos that the government created when it banned live cattle exports to Indonesia, which resulted in an industry being brought to its knees. Many pastoralists, across the north of Western Australia, in the Pilbara and the Kimberley, and the Northern Territory, suffered enormous financial hardship as a consequence of the actions of the minister at that time, Minister Ludwig—who consulted with nobody, did not ring the Indonesian ambassador and did not ring the Indonesian government in Jakarta; he simply cut off the trade as though the Indonesians did not matter and there was no need to consult with them.
In a repeat of the live cattle export debacle, during the briefing on Monday, 10 September, it became apparent that Tony Burke had not consulted with anyone with specialist knowledge of the fishery over his concerns regarding the operation of this vessel. There was no consultation with the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation or the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, not even with specialist individual scientists; he just had discussions with his department. It seems that someone in the department thought it would be a clever idea to impose a lot of additional terms and conditions that the boat had to meet before it could go ahead with its planned fishing operation, which had been discussed for several years. Most importantly, the Dutch embassy was apparently not consulted. They were left in the dark and there were no calls to The Hague in the Netherlands to tell them what the Australian government was doing to this well-equipped boat which had been given conditional approval to operate off our coast. This is exactly what happened when the government shut down the live export trade without advice. As was the case then, the government's action was a knee-jerk reaction that had undesirable consequences.
This decision, like the decision to terminate the live cattle export, has undermined Australia's reputation as a reliable country with which to do business. The previously good reputation of Australia as a responsible, reasonable country with which to do business is very important for us to preserve. Unfortunately, this government, through a series of decisions, has seriously undermined Australia's sovereign risk. And you can add to that the unbelievable decision regarding the minerals resource rent tax. Because of this tax many countries are now looking for cheaper, more reliable countries in which to operate. Everyone understands that the existing MRRT applied to iron ore is not going to raise the revenue which the government is seeking from this tax. This must mean, if one thinks it through, that the tax will be extended to other minerals, such as gold and nickel. The mining industry have already come to that conclusion and they are voting with their feet. A couple of weeks ago, a conference on mining investment in Africa called Africa Down Under was held in Perth. I am told that most of the new mining companies in West Africa have their offices in West Perth. That says much about the investment climate in Australia which exists post the introduction of the MRRT, and it is very much a judgement made on the level of sovereign risk which now exists in Australia. The mining companies would prefer to go elsewhere.
Should we be surprised by that? Well, of course, the answer is no, because investors in mining now see Australia as a country of high sovereign risk because the present Australian government has changed the conditions which were the basis of safe investment in this country. The present ALP government does not understand the international nature of the mining industry, which means that investment can be shifted from country to country very easily. Australia is suffering accordingly because there is a now a pattern of capricious variation of conditions which means that Australia is now regarded as having high sovereign risk. Why has this occurred? In all three cases—of this fishing boat, the live cattle trade with Indonesia and the MRRT—one can see the influence of the Greens. The government is, after all, a Greens-ALP alliance, and it is quite clear that the Green tail is wagging the dog of the ALP government.
This legislation is just another tool for the Greens and environmental groups to campaign to restrict our fishing industry. Tony Burke's concerns were based on the capacity of the vessel to fish in one place for a considerable time. The solution to that problem could have been to amend the fisheries act to allow for a move-on provision or spatial arrangement management, which would have prevented localised impacts on fish stocks. The coalition would have supported those moves, but they did not occur. Tony Burke is saying, in effect, 'If you don't know—
Minister Burke, if that is the correct title, is saying, 'If you don't know everything, do nothing.' Minister Burke was not trying, in my opinion, to find a way to make this venture work. He had been looking, I think, for some time—desperately looking, in fact—for some way to lock up more water to prevent fishing to please the Greens. In so doing, Minister Burke has trashed the reputation of the AFMA Commission, and it should be remembered that he appointed every member of that commission. He has also trashed the reputation of our world-leading scientific community and institutions who had done the science on fishing and who did feel that this boat could have been approved for the purposes for which approval was sought.
This government has demonstrated that, if you do everything asked of you by the Greens and then some extra, it will not be enough. They will cause you a great deal of pain and ensure that your business and employees have difficulty in carrying on their activities. How, one must ask, can a business operate in an environment such as that which now seems to prevail in Australia, where this government is very much acting at the behest of their partners in government, the Greens party? The government now operates on the basis that if a minister is uncertain then nothing should happen. Worse still, this minister did not take steps to find the answers to the things he was uncertain about. He just took the Greens' advice and shut the business down. So yet again, driven by the Greens, this government has taken a rushed decision which has undermined the sovereign risk status of Australia and put Australia's reputation as a destination for safe investment under a cloud of doubt.
I rise to make some comments on the legislation before us, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Declared Commercial Fishing Activities) Bill 2012. It comes as no surprise that people across this country might think, 'Just when you thought the Labor government couldn't give us another appalling, on-the-run piece of legislation, here is another one.' It is another bungled policy. Just when the Australian people might have thought, 'Maybe there is a chance that there might not be any more; maybe there is a chance we have seen the last of the bungled policy from the Australian Labor Party, the Labor government,' here we have yet another one.
This set of circumstances, this cobbled-together policy from this government, is government by social media. That is no way to run a country. People in this nation expect the government to be responsible. They expect them to behave like grown-ups and not kindergarteners. They expect them to actually think things through properly, to think things through appropriately and to determine an appropriate outcome when it comes to policy. But what have we seen from the government here? It is just another policy on the run. Their ability to stuff things up knows no bounds. Even if you do not agree with some of the policies of the Labor Party—and, I must say, I disagree with a very significant percentage of them—you expect that there is a process in place to actually implement policy.
I look at Labor governments of years gone by, and I must say that I did not agree with a lot of their policies either. But they were actually able to run the country. We might not have liked the things that they were trying to implement and we might not have agreed with the policies they had in place, but at least they had an orderly process for the running of government. Previous Labor governments have had an orderly process of running government.
This current government has absolutely no ability to develop a policy properly, to see it through and to implement that in government. This is not just a scare tactic. This is not just me standing here saying that. The facts are there—because it has happened so consistently from this government. I am actually looking forward to the day when I can stand here and say, 'What a well thought out, fabulous piece of policy from the Labor government. Admittedly, I do not necessarily agree with it, but they have thought things through and they have put things appropriately in place.' But I suspect that I am going to be waiting for a very, very, very long time—although I do hope that the current government is not here for much longer. The government simply has no ability—none whatsoever—to put things in place appropriately.
But it is not surprising when you look at the nature of the government. This cobbled-together, Labor-Greens-Independent government—or whatever it is—is no way to run a country. We see the Greens, and good luck to them, constantly getting the government to do their bidding—although I have noticed a bit of a change of late, colleagues. There seems to be a bit of a shift away from the close, cosy relationship—
I am coming to that, Senator Boswell. I was just pointing out that there has been a little bit of change. Certainly we have seen state Labor in New South Wales indicating that they would prefer the Greens not to be so high up on the ticket during election campaigns—but that is probably a nice of way of putting it. But you are right, Senator Boswell—I will take that interjection. The Greens have absolutely got their way on this—not completely, but they certainly have got their way.
How is it that we have got to such a situation in this nation? I ask colleagues to cast their minds to the fact that we have 226 members and senators and the Greens have 10. With 10 members and senators out of 226 they are telling the Labor government what to do! That is not democracy. That is not democracy in any way, shape or form.
I do have to take the interjection from Senator Whish-Wilson, who said 'leadership'. I think it is probably unruly to laugh uproariously in the chamber at an interjection, but it is so completely ludicrous we have to get it on the record. As I said to the Greens, good luck to them that the Labor Party are letting them push them around. But it is no way to run a country. What happens when we have a government like this, when we have this sort of cobbled-together Labor government, is that we get bungled policy decisions on the run, we get inept policy development and we get the shambolic situation that we are seeing in front of us today with this piece of legislation regarding the FV Margiris.
I would say that there are many, many Australian people at the moment ruing casting their vote at the last election that gave us this shambolic government. This country deserves better. This country deserves much better. This country deserves a government that is actually going to consult with industry when it is developing policy. This country deserves a government that is actually going to care about rural and regional Australia. The people of this country absolutely deserve that. As a Nationals senator, I will, 150 per cent each and every day, make sure that, in government, rural and regional Australia is a priority. I know my good colleague sitting down at the other end of the chamber, Senator Scullion, and Senator Williams will be doing exactly the same thing. And I know that the same goes for my fabulous colleague here behind me, Senator Boswell—who, I note, early next year is coming up to his 30 years in parliament. And 30 fabulous years they have been in his service to this nation.
We have a government that simply does not care. It could not care less about rural and regional Australia. It is not talking to rural and regional Australia. It is not consulting. As we understand it, the minister barely consulted in the development of all of this—particularly the backflip, the change of view. The overreach in this legislation is extraordinary. Even if you agreed that the FV Margirisshould not be able to go ahead at this point in time, you could never agree to this legislation. The overreach is so extensive you simply could not do it. What is really interesting is the nature and the size of the backflip. The size of the backflip is bigger than the boat. The backflip is spectacular—with the same degree of difficulty as a 3.0 pike with a twist. It is extraordinary.
I was there at the beginning of all of this. I was actually on the panel of Q&Athe night that Minister Burke was on that panel talking about the FV Margiris. I will share a little of that with the chamber, though I am sure many of you are already aware of it. The minister was very calm and very concerted in his commentary about having just approved the FV Margiristo go ahead—that it was all being ticked off and it was all going ahead. Tony Jones, in his excellent way, commented that the minister could not have the whole press conference right there that evening, that the press conference on the approval of the boat was going to have to wait for the next day. The minister, Tony Burke, said:
Okay. The advice that I received is this: first of all, under national environmental law I don't have the legal power to block it altogether, What I do have is the legal power to impose a number of restrictions on it based on the impact that it can have not on the fish that it is targeting but on the by-catch: the seals, the dolphins, the other fish that are protected and listed and I have a responsibility for. So what I've signed off on today—
'today' being 3 September—
is effectively the big vessel will have to fish with the rules so the impact it has on the environment is no more than if it was fishing like a small vessel.
Isn't that interesting, colleagues? This is one of the concerns for people out there in the community, and I appreciate that concern. Indeed, I had that concern myself—that we do not want localised impact and that we want to make sure that a boat of this nature is going to operate effectively. So I took quite some comfort from the words the minister used that night. It seemed that the proper conditions were going to be in place and that it was going to work appropriately. The minister went on to talk about all the other conditions he had put in place to make it appropriate for this vessel to be utilised by Seafish to use their quota to fish in Australian waters. But it did not last long, did it? What was it, 11September? It took all of eight days for the spectacular backflip to happen.
How on earth can the Australian people have any trust in this government, when they say one thing one day and then, eight days later, three months later, two weeks later—as we have seen with other pieces of legislation—they simply change their mind and do the opposite thing? How can they possibly trust them? As a parent, if I were to say something to my children one day—'No, Will; no, Henry, you cannot do that'—and then turn around five days later and say—'Yes, you can do that', or the reverse—how would they ever know what was yes and what was no? How would they ever know that whatever came out of my mouth was not going to change the next week? It is the same principle. People have a right to expect this government to make decisions on proper facts and science and to stick to their decisions and not overturn them simply as a reaction to a social media campaign. That is no way for any government in this nation to make decisions.
The government has absolutely got form on this, and there is no clearer example than the government's stupid—that is the best word I can come up with, because it is the most appropriate word—decision to ban the live export of cattle out of the north. That was so stupid. Again, it was a knee-jerk reaction by the government to social media, to emails, to Twitter—rather than consulting and then thinking things through properly. That decision has done so much damage to the north of this nation. I was on the Senate committee that looked into that whole issue, and when we talked to the people that this affected it was very clear that the government had not. If they had, there is no way in the world they would have made that decision just to put the snap ban on, and there is no way in the world they would have left those people to hang out to dry. Probably nobody understands this better than Senator Scullion. Again we saw it: this knee-jerk, backflipping reaction.
The inability of this government to manage the nation is just extraordinary. The list of mismanagement goes on and on—as I know you that you know so well, Mr Acting Deputy President Edwards—and I think it is worthwhile pointing it out for the Senate. We have had Labor's failed border protection policies that have blown out the budget by about $5 billion. We had the home insulation program, the pink batts. What an absolute disaster that was. There was the computers in schools blow-out; the Green Loans and Green Start bungles, with the $175 million Green Loans Program mismanaged; the solar homes program, which was an $850 million blow-out; the talk fests, Fuelwatch and GroceryWatch. The mismanagement is never-ending, and I do not know how those on the other side can sit there and not be embarrassed by how bad a government they are. Senator Conroy's NBN is worthy in principle, to try to get faster broadband out to regional and remote communities, and nobody feels that more than those of us in the National Party and nobody has done more to focus on it than those of us in the coalition. But the mess we have now got with the NBN is extraordinary. And the mismanagement! When we see the government selling the pool tables that were here in Parliament House for $5,000 and then spending $102,000 trying to determine whether or not they got value for money, it is not surprising that people probably are not surprised to see this absolute bungle. They probably are not surprised that this whole issue of this fishing vessel is such a bungle, because Labor has such form on it.
There are obviously concerns around the localised impact and any bycatch. This has become a national debate, obviously, through the social media, but I would just ask that people avail themselves of the facts before they make a decision. There is no doubt that this is a big boat; it is 140 metres long—so obviously people's initial reaction would be, 'It's huge. We cannot possibly allow it.' But I would say: look at the facts. The fact is that the net itself is not as big as some that are already being used. And I would ask people to think about the issue of making sure that it is appropriately fished. Senator Colbeck has put forward a very good amendment on spatial management to make sure that there is not a detrimental localised impact. If the minister had any judgement—
Senator Williams interjecting—
I did think about that, Senator Williams—he would have picked up the suggestion from Senator Colbeck, which I understand has been discussed for some time now, that the fisheries act introduce amendments to take into account expanding the powers for the spatial management provisions. It makes absolute sense to do that. If the issues are around the bycatch, of course nobody wants any kind of marine life other than those fish that are being targeted to be caught. My understanding is that the practices that are in place to oversee that are very good. And the issue of localised impact certainly does seem to be able to be managed by this issue of the spatial management. I think that everyone needs to just have a very calm look at this. Again I would ask people to look at all the facts on both sides before they make a determination on whether or not they support this. This has gone through seven years of consultation. As I understand it, the FV Margiris and Seafish have done all the right things. AFMA have ticked off on it; the science underpins it. I would just ask people to look at all those things before they make a determination about whether or not they support it. Do not just listen to the hype. Do not just listen to what people think they know; listen to what people actually do know. It is very interesting on another issue that the initial bill certainly gave the minister powers when it came to environmental, social and economic impacts. In the other place there has been an amendment to remove those. However, I understand that the Greens are moving an amendment to reinstate those social and economic impacts. While I certainly understand the Greens' position and their right to have their view, I would simply ask the Greens to take exactly the same position on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. Why is it that the social and economic impacts are so important for the Greens when it comes to fishing, when it comes to this FV Margiristhis particular ship or boat—that they must be enshrined in legislation, yet, when it comes to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, when it comes to managing water through our system and all of the impacts that permanently removing water out of any of the rural and regional communities will have, the Greens do not have the exact same focus? When it comes to water, the Greens do not have the same focus on the social and economic impacts on regional people living in those communities as they do for a boat and its impact on fish. Now, if there has ever been a case of hypocrisy this is it.
So I would expect from now on that, if the Greens are going to be consistent in their view on social and economic impacts when it comes to primary industries, they will demand that this Labor government assesses equally the economic, social and environmental impacts from the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, because to date, colleagues, as you well know, the government has not addressed them with balance. Again, it has not consulted properly when it comes to how that plan will be implemented. But the breathtaking hypocrisy of the Greens on this one is just outstanding; it is extraordinary. I will retract 'outstanding' and I will put 'extraordinary', because it is anything but outstanding.
We have a government that simply cannot properly deliver policy for this nation. We have a government that simply cannot have a proper process in terms of running the economy, in terms of running the nation and in terms of having the right and appropriate policies in place for the people of this nation. Australian people are getting heartily sick of the shambolic nature of this government. It is becoming clearer day by day that this Labor government has absolutely no ability in any way, shape or form to run this country properly.
I rise as others have this morning to make a contribution to the debate on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Declared Commercial Fishing Activities) Bill 2012. I have to say that it has been a very positive debate for me. Personally, I think it has been great to see so many people delving into the intestines of fisheries management. I think as a consequence of this debate everybody will be far more informed about the process of establishing sustainability. This will get us across the whole range of new acronyms that exist in almost every area of our endeavours.
But rather than going over what are quite clearly the failings of this government in their consideration of the science, their consideration of people's investments and their consideration of due process—everybody has already very, very successfully done that in this place—I would like to remind us of exactly what the investment is that we have made in science. I would also like to remind us that, despite all the darts that have been thrown at our scientists and our scientific institutions, most people around the world would say our scientists are second to very few. They are respected around the world.
Perhaps it would be useful to have a look at the science behind the research of the small pelagic fish stock. It is not as if we started this research yesterday or when the trawler arrived over the horizon. We actually started this research 76 years ago. That is right, 76 years ago we started having a close look at the small pelagic fishery. But, late in the day, the government have had a 'knee-jerk Tuesday'. On Monday it was one thing—they were absolutely behind it—but on Tuesday it was: 'Oh, that's all over. We're terribly sorry. We're just going to have do a 180-degree turnaround.' Of course that has thrown into doubt and also certainly put a spotlight on the level of confidence that the government have in our scientific institutions and the good work that they produce.
I think this decision will really throw a spanner in the works of our research organisations. There will be plenty of meetings to look at where they go from here. It is without precedent that a government would throw up so much doubt about their own institution—an institution that we have taken for granted, along with the science it provides us, the efficacy under which that science and advice is provided and the history and the acknowledged quality of that advice internationally.
The science on the fisheries started back in 1936. CSIRO did aerial surveys of small pelagic to get a handle on the relative spatial impact of these fish and how many of them there were. In 1938 there was a big investigation into the pelagics off Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales. This occurred up until the fifties, when there were pursing trials in New South Wales and Tasmania. Research has been undertaken all the way up until to today. It was probably in 2002 when the small pelagic advisory council was formed and we rolled out management policies. There was a big cessation in the fishery, principally because of economics. There were very low prices for these fish. If you have a fluctuation like that in the market, clearly the fishery will cease. Because of this, we had an opportunity to roll out a management plan to formulate a process to ensure that everybody knew what was going on. As a consequence of the small pelagic advisory council being formed in 2002—that is a decade ago—we have had organisations like the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, Tasmanian Aquaculture and Fisheries Institute, SARDI, the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies—and the list goes on and on.
One should feel pretty confident: it is not as if it is one organisation. Let's face it: we have one individual making a decision or an assessment and the risk is higher than if two or three do it. It is the same with organisations. A large number of organisations—highly credible organisations—have assisted in making the decisions in terms of the total allowable catch and the issues associated with that.
We changed the way we did business some time ago. Instead of just deciding in Australia that we needed to work out how many sardines we could catch so that there would always be enough sardines in the future, we also decided that it was important to ascertain if any other species would be impacted by a decline in sardines: penguins, whales and all the other exotic and sexy megafauna that sneak around the oceans. We need to make sure that they have enough sardines. We have put in place a very sophisticated biomarine plan. I have to say: around the world, Australia is seen as visionary in this area—that we are not looking directly at one species; we are looking across the board at a whole range of species. We have set those standards and a management plan has been determined.
We have the Commonwealth Small Pelagic Fishery. There are a number of papers and they have been quoted variously over this period of time. I quote a line in terms of the quality of the science:
The latest and most comprehensive study and guidance comes from the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force … supported by the Lenfest Ocean Program, a US conservation foundation, and brought together 13 eminent marine scientists including world experts in marine science … specialists in penguins, seabirds, marine mammals and marine conservation) and fisheries science.
That is not the task force that compiled this particular management plan but they oversaw it. They said there are three points:
- the fishing mortality is no more than half of the level that is usually considered to maximise the sustainable yield for an individual species;
- the average abundance of the forage fish is more than double the level usually considered to maximise the sustainable yield for an individual species, and
‐ fishing should be spread out so as to avoid localised depletions, especially in relation to any local ecological ‘hotspots’—
seabird rookeries and the like. Those are the three principles. I have had the management plan and I can tell you that the plan adheres to these principles absolutely perfectly.
Two issues have been brought up about questioning the science and there have been a number of individuals around the place who seem to be able to, at a whim, dive in and question the science. I think the two issues are agreed to. One is localised depletion and the other is the way we go about assessing the biomass. In terms of the localised depletion, this is a fishery that stretches from New South Wales to Western Australia. Currently, it is fished by trawlers with exactly the same size gear on the back—in fact, some of the trawlers use slightly larger gear than the gear that was to be used by the Abel Tasmanand they only work out of Triabunna. They go out of a port and they can only go 100 nautical miles out to sea and that is the area that they fish. They cannot fish anywhere else; they do not go anywhere else.
There are wet fish boats. That means that the vessel only keeps the fish wet. The fish is not frozen. The fish is kept on ice for a particular market and there is quite a low level of impact on the stock. It is not unmeasurable, but there are very low levels of take. If you put a vessel out that is not tied to a port, it can go right across the fishery and it uses the same nets that are on the back of the trawlers that can leave tonight and catch exactly the same fish out of Triabunna. Anyone who has some issues about local depletion just needs to think about what that provides from a common sense point of view. That means there will be no tying effort into one area of Tasmania. The effort will be spread out and exactly the same number of fish, in terms of the quota, will be caught—not more sustainability, but there is no question of affecting the biomass.
The other process that is important to note is how we go about finding out how many fish there are in a fishery. Generally, for sardines, anchovies and jack mackerel—some may not be familiar with those but we are all familiar with sardines, I suppose—you can imagine a big net of sardines coming up, you put a bucket into them, scoop them out and put them aside. You take 20 or 30 representative sardines, remove the juveniles and then cut each fish open. You look at how many eggs they have. You do what is called a daily egg production method. You cut them open and you know that that amount of spawn in a spawning time in a fishery is going to be, in a spatial dynamics model, equal to a certain amount of fish over a certain period of time. But, of course, to actually monitor the daily egg production method, you need someone at sea with a net, catching the fish. There is no question that the group of people I referred to earlier in international science say that the very best mechanism of knowing how many fish you can catch is by the daily production method.
I will be asking the government at some stage—so that is almost on notice—exactly what they are going to do about this new science. Does it mean that they are going to pay a boat to go out, not just out from Triabunna, to look at the spatial dynamics of the stock, all the way from Western Australia to New South Wales? The only way you are going to do that is by having a boat in the fishery that goes more than 100 kilometres out from the coast. It is now said: 'There is a question about this daily productivity method and there was some difficulty around that.' There is no doubt there was, because the last daily egg production method that was taken was in 2002. For those who are opposed to it, I can understand that is the case, but, again, you just cannot leave out the fine print. The scientists who were looking at this were saying, 'It is 2002'—and nobody could afford to actually publish it. Well, how long ago was 2002? It was a while ago, but this only related to much smaller areas of the fishery. They did their sampling over a very small area and said it would be negatively biased. In other words, it is at the most conservative end, to say, 'We've looked here, so that is the multiplier on the fish stocks, but we did not look anywhere else.' As to our knowledge of the fish stocks, the scientists that sat around the room said, 'It might have been 2002 but we are taking into consideration the rest of the science we have from other species, and we have a very high level of confidence that we would be able to take more than that particular indicator because we sample in a very small area.' This is not a notion. This is how we do business in terms of stock assessment, whether it is for kangaroos, flathead, wallabies or elephants. These are spatial dynamic models under which you have to take all these things into consideration.
Quite clearly, I think there are people around the world now who are quite frightened by this and who have said: 'This is the best fisheries management we've got. I put my hand on my heart.' So many people in this place have said, 'We've got the best fisheries management here,' but, suddenly, overnight it changed. It was amazing: go to bed on Monday night—I do not often agree with those opposite but they were belting on, saying: 'Look, we just need to leave it to the science. Don't get emotionally involved. Don't get driven by politics.' If you get driven by politics, particularly in the history of fisheries, those who are interested in doing a bit of research might go back to the orange roughy days. People are saying, 'Orange roughy: we blew that, didn't we?' Orange roughy was the classic case of not listening to the science and listening to the politics and the emotion at the time. Again, we have to be very careful about how we treat the science.
Basically, the notion of size has been constantly remarked upon over a period of time, and it seems to be the vessel size. Of course, when the fishery sat down seven years ago they said: 'Look, one of the problems with the fishery is—'. It is okay because we have got a fishmeal factory, and those were the days when fishmeal was a really good commodity, and it is an important commodity now. That is how we stuff protein into animals like pigs. Pigs love fishmeal. We put it into their feed every day and we grow bacon. There is nothing wrong with that. It is fantastic. But what we are doing is taking a very high protein quality product and we are feeding it to pigs. All Australians would probably say, 'I'm not really sure if that is, at the end of the day, a sustainable or moral thing to do to a beautiful product like fish.' But if you have a wet boat and you can only go 100 miles away, that is the quality of the product. It is not fit for human consumption because it is wet, and by the time it comes back it is not suitable for those things. What you really need is a freezer on your boat. Because of the economics, for the high-protein low-value fish—low value because not a lot of Australians come down and demand redfish and jack mackerel—what we actually need to change this is a freezer boat. Just park a big freezer boat out there, and then the trawlers can unload to the freezer boat and the freezer boat can produce fish that is now fit for human consumption. Innovative Australians. Isn't that great? Instead of feeding it to pigs, we will feed it to people. I know what we will do: we will feed it into the Horn of Africa, where people are starving for protein. Double trouble; it is value adding. We actually have people who can now eat the fish that we are catching. The fishermen get a better deal and a better price and, surprise, surprise: they only use a fraction of the fuel. Those people on the other side, particularly in the Greens corner, are only interested in a carbon footprint. Of course the carbon footprint is smaller, because it is more efficient.
Someone said: 'You can have a boat out there, but how are we going to unload it in the high seas? That seems a bit dodgy.' They are probably right. I have spent a fair bit of time in dodgy circumstances at sea myself and it is not something to be highly recommended. So the innovative Australians looked around and found, with the support of government, a freezer trawler so that they could catch and freeze the fish instead of having to unload at sea, using gear no bigger than any one of the trawlers uses there now.
There is, I think, a moral question. If we go back we see there is complete hypocrisy, because it is unpopular. It is unpopular because people do not know. As soon as the talkback radio starts—I really think that the Australian public had stopped listening by the time the debate started here, which was the great problem for all of us. The great challenge on the other side—and, again, I feel particularly sorry for my good mate Senator Ludwig, but only sorry in a sense. I have a great deal of respect for my friend. I know him well and he does believe in science. I know that he is not as lithe as he was, but there are probably only so many of these nimble backflips in you, mate. It is a pretty sorry occasion.
It is interesting that we have now had some people just jump out of the wilderness in the last few days, claiming to be particular experts in this field. I know there is a mathematician from Western Australia who we see at about this point in time and who is a regular offender. He is a mathematician. You know mathematicians: they know 100 ways to make love but just do not know any women. He has come out now and said: 'No. I'm a person who knows better than the Australian Fisheries Management Authority. I know better than CSIRO. I know better than SARDI. I know better than the Antarctic Institute and I've only been here three days.' Why? He said, 'Because the model you picked was not the most conservative model. It wasn't the most conservative model, so here's a spectrum.' The least conservative because we know a lot about the fishery; the most conservative because we know absolutely nothing about the fishery. So the NAARI model, the one they selected to run this, and all the science in world said to go and run this down the middle. We said, 'Why is it there?' It is because we have other indicators in the fishery, other management plans in the fishery, other indicators about biota, marine mammals and all sorts of other things that are indicators. So we in the scientific community—'we' being those on our side because we support good science—said: 'Okay, this is something that we have to support. This is something that we need. We just can't listen to people who jump into the issue at the last minute and say that this is the case and I know more than them.'
People in the media say, 'We've got to give them an even balance.' No worries. We have one bloke here, a mathematician, and the entire scientific community down the other side and they have said, 'Well, there's an even balance.' I do not think that is the case. Sadly, we are in a circumstance here where, as my old mate 'Whisho' from the Greens on the other side said, 'This is a matter of leadership.' Fair enough. The leadership is not about the Greens; it is about the government. There are tough decisions to make in parliamentary life, Minister, and I know you have had a few tough ones, but you cannot go back on decisions and say: 'We really didn't mean that.' We really think science is important. We really think that fisheries management is important. We really think that a statutory fishing right for fishermen in Tasmania and right across the Commonwealth fisheries in Australia is important.' They have banked that against their house. The banks take that, because nobody can interfere with it, because there is a process that keeps politicians right out of it, as they should. I am not sure what sort of Olympic backflip you are going to have to do on the other side to send the message to the Australian people more generally and those people in this country and others who wish to invest in our country that somehow we still appreciate good science and we appreciate those institutions. Those on this side, Minister, want to make it absolutely clear: we support good science and the institutions that provide it.
I have learned a lot about the supertrawler and the Tasmanian small pelagic fishery sitting here listening to Senator Scullion, who was a master mariner and fishermen and has, I think, served as the world fishing president for a number of years. He certainly knows what he is talking about. I wish that he could have had more input into what has been happening, because that explanation was terrific.
Sometimes in this place truth becomes stranger than fiction. This is no more the case than what has happened with the supertrawler. The irony of this is that both Minister Burke and the fisheries minister, Joe Ludwig, have been out there defending the position of the supertrawler against the Greens. Mr Burke was even involved in the policy—he was then fisheries minister—when he introduced the Small Pelagic Fishery Harvest Strategy. He actually invited large trawlers to fish in Australian waters. He said that there were considerable economies of scale to be had in the fishery and the most efficient way to fish may include large-scale factory freezer vessels.
That strategy was accepted in 2009 and since 2009 Seafish Tasmania has been working with the Australian Fisheries Management Authority to form a management plan to fish in Australia waters. The negotiations have been going on for seven years. Seafish Tasmania has agreed with every process and complied with every condition put on it by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority. Seafish Tasmania was given a quota of 18,000 tonnes, which was approved in May. Sixty per cent of that quota is owned by Seafish Tasmania and 40 per cent was to be leased from the individual fishermen that had quota to spare. I do not know what happens to them. They don't get anything. The quota that Seafish Tasmania have is not going to be worth anything. It is just one of those unbelievable situations.
On Monday, 10 September I asked Senator Ludwig a question on the supertrawler and he was absolutely fulsome in his praise of Seafish Tasmania. He said that output controls such as total allowable catch, particularly in individual transferable quotas, are to be the preferred approach to fisheries management and that small pelagic fish species depletion, including localised depletion, was unlikely. He supported the AFMA as an independent authority for sustainable management and said that its decisions were made on the best available science. That was on Monday and he was being supported by the minister for the environment. But on Tuesday the whole scene had changed. The Australian Fisheries Management Authority had stated that there were considerable economies of scale in fisheries and the most efficient way to fish may include large-scale freezer vessels. The AFMA board was 100 per cent appointed by Tony Burke when he was fishing minister. They recently confirmed that there was no evidence that boats such as the Abel Tasman posed any great risk to the target species of the ecosystem. AFMA approved Seafish Tasmania's 18,000-tonne fishing catch quota following the research conducted by independent scientists, CSIRO. All that research and science was peer reviewed. There were about seven people involved in it. Then, all of a sudden, overnight—and it was overnight—both ministers came out and completely changed their views.
It is obvious what has happened. Through pictures and advertisements of the huge supertrawler, with dolphins and other by-catch caught in the net, a very effective campaign was run that turned the Labor Party around and turned the minister around. An 18,000-tonne quota is an 18,000-tonne quota. It doesn't matter whether you catch it in a 12-foot rowing boat or 142-metre factory ship, the quota does not get extended no matter how big the boat is. As Senator Scullion said, even the nets on the supertrawler are smaller than some of the nets used on smaller boats.
I cannot for the life of me see where the damage is. Smaller boats go out from Tasmania and catch a product that could only be turned into an inferior product of fish meal. Once this supertrawler came out it had the ability to move on. It had the ability not to stay in one place and therefore would not cause depletion of local stocks. It could travel around; it could move on. It had very sophisticated dolphin exclusion gear. It had underwater cameras. It had everything that was sophisticated that would prevent by-catch. It was by far superior to going out and fishing in small boats; it was by far superior in protecting by-catch; it was by far superior in producing a better product and processing that product into a superior fishmeal that could be sent out into the African nations which are protein starved. It had everything going for it.
This is the thing that I find difficult to understand with the Greens. Surely we have a responsibility to serve some of our less fortunate countries, and we were doing this. We were producing a protein product that had a market in protein starved countries. Based on every reason, on every circumstance, this should have been a goer. But, no. Firstly, we had the science right. Then we had the ministers right. Senator Ludwig was very happy in what he said in defeating the Greens' motion and in reply to a question from me. And then all of a sudden that is turned around by the pressure applied by the green groups of Greenpeace—
And the rec fishers too, which brings me to the Friday of the bill going through. The bill went up, and all of a sudden there were complaints from the rec fishers. They wanted to be excluded, and so an amendment was moved to exclude them, which the coalition supported. And then the commercial fishermen said: 'Well, this bill as it stands could have an effect on our quota, on our licences. You can just about override anything and make our licences and our quotas totally devalued.' So there had to be another amendment go in there. In the end, the bill was amended to the extent that it only covers any new operation and it only covers one boat—that is, the Abel Tasman.
I find it very difficult to understand why Mr Burke and Senator Ludwig actually encouraged people to go out, find a partner and then come back and discuss it with the AFMA. The AFMA welcomed them and told them there would be no size restriction on their vessel and that the boat, if it became an Australian boat, if it was Australian flagged, would be treated as an Australian fishing boat. That is encouragement in the best possible way.
But then they found out that they were persona non grata. Mr Gerry Green, the owner of Seafish Tasmania, told Senator Ludwig that they had reached an agreement with the Dutch trawler: the boat would hold a capacity of 4,500 tonnes and the crew would be mainly recruited from Tasmania. The boat would be based in Devonport. Fifty local jobs would be provided to the new boat. Jobs are gold in Tasmania. Tasmania has been at the cutting edge of losing jobs. Not only would there be jobs on the boat, there would also be more activity in the port, which would require a lot of container movements, so there would be more jobs provided there.
All this has changed virtually overnight, despite the authority saying there are considerable economies of scale in fisheries and the most efficient way to fish includes large freezer vessels. The other point that has been raised is about the Abel Tasman. Senator Scullion, who knows fishing backwards, made this point: if a boat of 142 metres can go out more than 100 kilometres offshore and stay out overnight, stay out for weeks at a time, freeze the product and bring it back, then it is going to be more efficient to have one boat than a number of smaller boats harvesting the quota. Seafish Tasmania said it will adopt a 'move on' policy: it would not stay long in one place and it would spread catches throughout the fishery.
The Dutch have done everything in their power to play the game. They are not a neighbour like Indonesia, but they are still an important trading partner to us. We have insulted them. This is on top of the live cattle debate with our No. 1 neighbour. The Indonesians are still furious that we cut off their protein supply in midstream. That was done to our most important neighbour. If you do that to your friends, what are you going to do to your enemies? But Tony Burke has done this before. I can recall the Wilderness Society's relentless pressure to stop the project on Cape York from proceeding.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thanks, Senator.
Mr Burke, the minister, has form on this. He dumped the conditional approval on the South of Embley bauxite mine. He dumped a very important project on the back of a one-page flimsy, inaccurate formal complaint by the Wilderness Society, thus setting a dangerous precedent for future resource projects in Australia. Without any regard for the economic consequences, he succumbed to the Wilderness Society's relentless pressure to stop the project on Cape York from proceeding. Six months later this multi-million dollar project continues to be stalled after the company was forced to complete an expanded environmental impact assessment including shipping movements. The Wilderness Society initially raised grave concerns for the local bare-rumped sheathtail bat and then moved on to a new species of freshwater crab. They could not do any good with that but they wrote to the minister and said there was going to be a greater number of boat movements through the Great Barrier Reef. In fact, there was not any great movement of boats through the Barrier Reef. The additional movements were boats loaded with bauxite going up to China and not going near the reef. But still the minister held sway and so that is another project that has closed down.
I am a bit like Senator Scullion. Sometimes I feel almost sorry for Senator Joe Ludwig. I think his heart is in the right place. He tries to defend the government's policies but he is always undermined by the environment department. All the time he plays second fiddle to the environment department. The question we have got to ask is: what damage does this do to Australia's trading partners? After this decision and the decision on the live-cattle industry, I believe people are going to think very seriously about ever going into partnership with Australia again. One thing Australia has always been is a country that can honour its commitments, a country that can say, 'We'll honour a handshake. We don't need a contract. If we have promised to do that, we'll do it.' But, unfortunately, all the greens have to do is turn up with a well-funded campaign including the Australian Marine Conservation Society and the World Wildlife Fund, who have formed an alliance, and come out with misleading advertising which Tony Burke bends his knee to. The genuine science backdrop of providing new fisheries that would allow a product that would feed hungry protein-deprived Africa has just disappeared.
A number of other green groups joined the coalition of the greens and ran full-page ads saying that seals and dolphins would be caught in the trawler nets. The Abel Tasman folk have spent seven years trying to develop by-catch excluders and they have used underwater cameras and have taken every precaution possible to protect wildlife. If this were the case, why couldn't this be worked out within seven years? These negotiations have been underway for seven years but we had to wait until the boat was out here and the jobs had been allocated—and you could imagine the disappointment of people, having received a job, to be then told they were not wanted. In the end the minister did not listen to the AFMA and did not listen to the scientists but did listen to Greenpeace and the green groups that are dedicated to destroying jobs and to destroying industry. This is not the first time this has happened; this has happened before. We in Australia are getting such a reputation that people would not invest Confederate money in this country under this government.
On 13 September Tony Burke sends out a signal: 'I'm not happy with the opposition to the supertrawler by the green groups.' He had strengthened with his statement on 22 August and suggested there were issues with dolphins, sea lions and seabirds and he wanted to make sure that the fishing method used did not create problems for these species. Why did it have to happen in the last week? Why couldn't it have happened within seven years? But, no, just bend the knee every time the greens demand something and acquiesce to their needs! On 11 September the Commonwealth fisheries industry, in supporting the Australian Fisheries Management Authority and in trying to offset some of the misleading advertisements taken out by the environmental groups, tried to fight back and took out a half-page ad—