Senate debates

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Regulations and Determinations

Marine Parks Network Management Plans; Disallowance

7:10 pm

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

Over 10 years ago, I campaigned for the Wilderness Society. I did some work for them on marine protected areas. I went to Senator Ruston's home town of Adelaide when the South Australian government was looking at putting in place their marine protected areas. I couldn't have imagined that I'd be standing in the Senate 10 years later looking at such a diabolical, woeful, sad set of plans for marine protection. When I think back to the community campaign well over 10 years ago to get proper marine protections put in place, what we have before us in the Liberal Party's regulations, which we want to disallow, is nothing short of a disgrace.

I want to break up my speech tonight into three separate parts. I want to talk a bit about the process around disallowance and why the government's trying to rush this disallowance motion. Then I'm going to talk about the policy that we have before us, an absolutely critical policy for those who believe in healthy oceans and marine protection. Then I'm going to talk a little bit about the politics at the end of it.

I will start with the process and this disallowance motion. For those who may be listening to the debate, when the government proclaimed their marine parks, they put in place, essentially, a set of management plans or regulations, and they sit on the Notice Paper in the Senate for a period of time. Senators have the right to disallow those regulations. We could disallow those regulations, potentially, all the way into September. Certainly there's no rush to be doing it this week, nor is there a rush to be doing it even in May or June. We actually have to take our time to get this right and to look very thoroughly at this. But I am reliably told—and I won't be naming any names here tonight—that we are rushing this tonight, and the government has forced the disallowance motion on its own regulations, which is highly unusual, because of 'uncertainty'. I can't find out exactly what the uncertainty relates to, and it is beyond my comprehension that the government would use this excuse of wanting to end uncertainty given that, when they came into government in 2013, what they did was to rip up a decade or more of community campaigns to put in place Australia's first marine parks, which were legislated in 2012. I was very proud to be a member of a party that worked with Labor to legislate those plans back in 2012. The government ripped them up when they got into power in 2013. They said in their campaign in the election that they would rip them up, and that's what they did.

Senator Ruston is right in one sense: that, since then, while the laws may still have been in place and the boundaries were still in place, unfortunately the management plans and regulations have meant those laws have no teeth. So we've had no protections in place unless directed by the Director of National Parks, who, of course, is under the direction of the government in terms of those assessments. So we've had this sad situation in Australia where decades of hard work by thousands of people in the marine community was essentially thrown in the bin.

So for the government to be saying we need certainty and we need to vote on this tonight is absolutely ridiculous. What about the certainty for the people who've been campaigning to protect our marine life for over a decade? The government didn't mind that when they kept extending the consultation process on this woefully inadequate set of plans that we've got here tonight. So I ask you, Senators: what could be the uncertainty? Why would the government be wanting to have a vote on this tonight in a highly irregular procedure? What would the certainty be that they're trying to achieve? The only thing that I can guess, having seen Senator Ruston take such an active approach to this, is that, in South Australia, in the not-too-distant future, we're going to see oil and gas exploration and we're going to see seismic exploration occurring, including around places such as Kangaroo Island.

NOPSEMA are due to report on this this Thursday, funnily enough, as a complete coincidence. They, and the oil and gas industry, are a party—a special interest—that would like certainty on this issue, if they're going to commit to seismic testing and long-term oil and gas exploration in the Great Australian Bight. That's why they're rushing this vote tonight. It's because the Liberal Party, as usual, is probably in the pocket of the oil and gas industry.

Let's deal with the policy. The science tells us we need to protect our oceans. We need areas where we can restrict activities, such as oil and gas exploration, fishing and even tourism. They are very sensitive areas. Marine protected areas are a critical part of our toolbox for protecting the oceans, but it is true that they're not the only form of protection. We still need to concentrate, more broadly, on climate change and the impacts of warming waters, ocean acidification and marine plastics. They are all things that I've also campaigned on for over a decade. But marine protected areas are critical when our oceans are under so much pressure, which they are. Our oceans are becoming broken, and we need to relieve that pressure in every way we can. These marine protected areas were designed to do that, and they're absolutely critical. They're insurance policies for future generations to allow the ocean breathing space to recover.

For Senator Ruston to come in here and say that the government's plans are based on science is absolute claptrap. The science showed a much bigger area needed to be protected. In fact, I raised these issues directly in estimates only a few weeks ago. It is very clear that the plan we have before us tonight is being driven by economics and the interests of a few—a few fishing companies and a few oil and gas companies. It's not something that would be totally unexpected from the Liberal Party. The policy outcome is simple. We need a set of plans for marine parks that have green zones and no-go zones, not more multiple-use zones, that pick the right areas and have coverage where it's most needed. But this plan has not been designed in the interests of our oceans. It's been designed in the interests of commercial fishers and the oil and gas industry.

What about the politics of the decision that we have to make here tonight to support the disallowance or not support the disallowance? I do want to recognise tonight that, because the Abbott government came in so ruthlessly and cynically and ripped up protections based on decades of campaigning by communities right around this country to get marine protected areas in place, there are currently no protections in place. I want to recognise that there are some in the environment movement, including many scientists and other stakeholders, who have indicated to me—I've been very careful to consult very widely in the last four days, since I found this disallowance was on—that they have made that very hard choice, one they should never have had to make, that they would rather see some weak protections in place than no protections until we can try and change the government.

Let me also say tonight that there are a very large number of passionate ocean champions, scientists and stakeholders right across the board, who don't want to see these plans put in place. It would be fair to say that this Senate vote on this disallowance is the first chance that we as a parliament have formally to reject this Liberal government's environmental vandalism. It's the first message that we can send after watching over the last four years the ripping up of marine protections and delayed of the process until it suited them. This is our first chance as a parliament to register our protest and to join a community campaign afresh to do what we set out to do, well over a decade ago, to get a proper, robust and real set of marine protections in place. That's why the Greens decided this morning in our party-room meeting to support the disallowance motion before us here tonight, and to join the community, and the Labor Party, and anyone else who wants to campaign for healthy oceans, and achieve that outcome. We are very proud to be part of it.

May I say to Senator Ruston that if she believes that getting this disallowance up tonight is somehow going to give certainty to the oil and gas industry or to the commercial fishing industry then she needs to think again, because this is not the end of the road by any means in relation to this disallowance. I think Senator Pratt mentioned in her speech that the Liberals tried to disallow the Labor-Greens marine parks up to six times. Well, we're not going away. We've got plenty of time.

So if you're an oil or gas company out there, and you're worried, and you want the certainty and to see these plans put in place—you're not going to get it. And I would say that, regardless of whether these weak, ineffective plans get up, a change of government at the next federal election—which I dearly hope happens—will rip these plans up anyway. Here, tonight, I commit my party to campaigning to do that, until we actually get what we set out to do, which is to have a proper set of protections in place.

So, whilst I acknowledge tonight that there are some in the environment movement who would rather see a piecemeal, incremental approach to this, it's our strong belief as a party that supporting these weak, woefully inadequate plans is sending the wrong message. It's setting too low a bar. And I'm extremely worried that, on the same set of plans that I worked on in South Australia over 10 years ago, the new Liberal government in South Australia are already stating that their marine protection areas are going to be up for review. If this becomes the benchmark for future MPAs around this country then it will completely redefine what 'marine protection' means. And we simply cannot allow that to happen. I'm convinced that there are a lot of good people around this country who still have a lot of fight in them, because we haven't got to where we need to be—that is, we haven't got a good, solid set of regulations and management plans in place to protect the areas that were gazetted back in 2012. There's plenty more to come on this, so I warn the Liberal Party, and the crossbench: if you think the fight's over tonight, it's not. It's coming back. And we have a very important period in estimates where we can get more information from the government around their decisions.

I might go back to process briefly. My understanding was that Senator Ruston was incorrect in what she said tonight—that the Labor Party moved their disallowance back on Tuesday a week ago. I certainly didn't know about that. I only found out about it on Thursday. And that was just over 24 hours after the department uploaded the full plan, of nearly 800 pages, the details of which, may I say, I and other senators have been asking for, consistently, for the last two years. And 800 pages is a lot of information to get through in a short period of time. So the politics of this is quite simple: we make a statement tonight, as a Senate, that what we actually want is real marine protection, and we will not accept anything less. We will not accept anything less for our oceans.

Our oceans are nearly broken. They are under unprecedented stress. David Attenborough recently caught international attention and raised a few eyebrows—and he is a man who's not normally political—when he came out and said that our oceans are facing their biggest challenge in history. It is not the time to be weakening protections now. It's a time to be strengthening protections. It's a time to get real and serious about future generations and their livelihood—not just about the livelihood of a few special interests that are in the Liberal Party's pockets, or vice versa. This is actually about looking after our oceans and setting the bar high enough to do that. And if we accept this tonight—if we accept these woefully inadequate, weak, ineffective plans for marine protection—then we are making a statement that we don't care about our oceans.

I'm sorry to those in the environment movement who would rather see a piecemeal approach. Let me just say to you, as a politician, that I don't think that's going to work. It certainly won't work for an effective campaign. We all need to come together, get on the same page, continue what we've done for years now, finish this off and get the job done. That starts with continually pushing back on this government by disallowing these plans.

Finally, I want to recognise my colleague Senator Siewert. She's been in the Senate a lot longer than I have. She was a marine campaigner for Save Our Marine Life, marine parks and marine protected areas a long time before she came into parliament. She knows a lot of stakeholders who have been involved in this for years. We are a party which is 100 per cent up for a fight on marine protection.