Wednesday, 19 March 2014
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill 2014; Second Reading
That this bill be now read a second time.
I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum relating to the bill.
I table the explanatory memorandum and I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
The speech read as follows—
Today I am introducing the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill 2014.
I am introducing this Private Senator's Bill because this Government has done nothing to protect our oceans, give certainty to business or respect our recreational and commercial fisheries.
This Bill will restore tough powers to the Environment Minister to act where new types of fishing operations seek to work in Australia and where uncertainty exists about their conduct.
It provides for a scientific process to occur for up to two years, providing for an expert panel to consider the impacts of the new venture if it is declared. This will provide the community, recreational fishers and business alike with the certainty for these declared activities to operate in Australian waters.
This legislation focuses on addressing uncertainty related to so-called 'super trawler' fishing vessels.
In short, this legislation will allow the government of the day to stop new super trawlers before they come to Australia – just as Labor did in office.
When Labor introduced sensible powers in September 2012 to act against new commercial fishing vessels the amendments were opposed by the Liberal and National Parties.
Yet only days ago the Prime Minister had the gall to say that "It was banned with the support of members on this side of the House". (House of Representatives, 4 March 2014)
In government Labor supported strong powers to protect the environment, respect the rights of recreational fishers and provide certainty to business.
The amendments give the government of the day the power to declare a particular type of fishing activity, where it has not been used in Australia previously and some uncertainty exists around it, to ensure proper and thorough expert scientific work is conducted.
As the Government refuses to act to protect our fisheries, stand up for recreational fishers or provide industry any certainty then it is for Labor to act.
Removing the sunset provision
This Bill will remove a 12 month sunset provision bringing the new Chapter 5B of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act back into effect. By removing Division 4 of Part 15B, the Environment Minister's powers to respond to new commercial fishing operations will be restored, as it currently is subject to the sunset clause that is in effect at present.
The sunset clause, Division 4, was included in the amendments introduced by the Government in September 2012.
As then-Minister Burke said in his second reading speech to the Parliament, the twelve month sunset clause was in place because,
"By that time the root-and-branch review of the fisheries management processes should be in place, but we will have this legislation to be able to fill that gap in the interim" (Tony Burke, House of Representatives, 11 September 2012).
The root-and-branch review of the legislation was completed and a Government response was tabled in March last year. The sunset provision has operated from September 2013.
This means that there is no power under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act for the Government to act to declare fishing activities, including fishing by super trawlers.
As the Government has failed to create new powers or take any action to implement the fisheries management review I am compelled to introduce this Bill and take action to protect Australia's oceans and fishers.
The Bill restores the powers still on the statute books:
These measures are required to address the risk of new and future super trawlers or other new methods of commercial activity that have not previously been used in Australia.
It is a precautionary approach. It will better allow community and environmental groups, together with business, to work with a scientific expert panel to assess the true impacts of new and large scale fishing operations.
The ability for a Minister to declare a particular fishing activity has been used in relation to a single vessel. Then-Minister Burke used this power to declare the fishing activities proposed by the FV Margiris, then named the FV Abel Tasman.
Subsequent declarations were made following sudden changes made by the company, which attempted to modify the vessel in response to the declaration made.
This legislation does not impact the on-going process in relation to the FV Margiris. Any expert panel convened under the legislation prior to the sunset clause coming into effect continues unchanged. Any report from such a panel will be a matter for government to respond to and manage in line with this Act and other related acts.
It would be prudent for the Government to take other actions to improve the management of new and proposed fishing activities.
The Department of the Environment and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority should establish protocols to better communicate between agencies.
As either becomes aware that a company is considering using a new and previously unused type of fishing vessel that might fall within the purview of this amendment then they should determine a process for alerting Ministers who may wish to take advice on activating these powers.
This, combined with the legislative powers, will allow for even greater certainty in Australia's fisheries management systems.
Finally, the Government response to the root-and-branch review should be implemented.
Australia has some of the best managed fisheries in the world. There is, however, a gap in the system in considering the powers of the Environment and Fisheries Ministers to consider new commercial fishing vessels before they arrive and begin to fish.
Given the Government has failed to act, it is sensible for these powers to be restored.
Labor is standing up for the oceans, recreational fishers and local businesses.
I commend the Bill to the Senate.
I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.