Tuesday, 27 March 2018
Regulations and Determinations
Marine Parks Network Management Plans; Disallowance
That the following instruments, made under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, be disallowed:
Temperate East Marine Parks Network Management Plan 2018 [F2018L00321]
North-west Marine Parks Network Management Plan 2018 [F2018L00322]
North Marine Parks Network Management Plan 2018 [F2018L00324]
South-west Marine Parks Network Management Plan 2018 [F2018L00326]
Coral Sea Marine Park Network Management Plan 2018 [F2018L00327].
We are here today to stand in opposition of the government's environmental vandalism. The government forced this chamber to make a decision on this disallowance before I moved it, which has constrained the opportunity for consideration and debate of these issues. I forewarn those who are still deliberating on this issue: I call on them not to vote with the government at this time because we should not be allowing Australia's network of marine parks to be gutted. What the government is doing is: the more pristine the protected area the more savage the changes are. In the government's alternative marine park plans is the Coral Sea, which has been the jewel in the crown of our territorial waters, our Commonwealth marine parks, and it is going from being protected to being a haven for long-lining and trawling.
I call on the crossbench not to listen to the mistruths that are told by those opposite—claims like, 'Labor did not adequately consult on the marine parks.' This is utterly false. We took six rounds of consultation. We received almost three-quarters of a million submissions. We had 250 stakeholder meetings that were attended by more than 2,000 people. That is more than six times the submissions that the Turnbull government received on its own proposals. Even the government's hand-picked review panel found Labor's consultation processes were extensive. Indeed, the government's review panel said in its findings:
There was a considerable amount of 'consultation fatigue' expressed by many stakeholders in the face-to-face meetings. A common initial comment was 'We've already been through this; can't we just get on with it?'
There was buy-in and support for Labor's marine parks, and the government has gone ahead and sought to trash them.
These claims about inadequate consultation were made by one Mr Davey. I find this particularly galling and surprising given he personally attended a consultation meeting with Tony Burke, the environment minister, on 6 May 2012. He was there with a range of other fisheries stakeholders and several departmental officials. It doesn't matter how this government tries to spin it; it is undertaking the largest ever removal of any area from conservation in our nation's history. We stand here to support the original marine park plans as endorsed, as consulted and as secured by the Labor Party.
Senate estimates revealed that consultation means nothing to this government. The Director of National Parks received 82,000 submissions on marine management plans from. These plans that we have before us, which we're seeking to disallow, are even worse for the environment than the recommendations of the review of marine parks commissioned by the Abbott government, before this government. We have 97 per cent of submissions calling for Labor's original plans, which were put in place in 2013, to be restored. Among those who identified as recreational fishers, for example, 95 per cent of those submissions asked for the plans to be restored. Why? Because Labor's marine parks are substantively better for recreational fishers than the government's alternative plans. They're significantly better and they allow recreational fishing in areas that will enable regeneration of those fish. But, instead, the government wants to open those areas to commercial fishing and absolutely trash the marine protection that would support the enjoyment of recreational fishers in our country.
Let's go through what we stand to lose here. We stand to lose significant parts of the Coral Sea protection. Minister Frydenberg's proposal sees that absolutely smashed and decimated. It is extraordinary. In my home state of Western Australia the Diamantina fracture zone is also absolutely decimated in its marine protection areas. If it was appropriate to show you the maps in this place, I would do so. Unfortunately, we are bringing on this disallowance motion at a time when we've not had adequate opportunity to talk to everybody in this place about why these marine plans are so terrible and so bad. We are seeing over 50 per cent of the marine national park zoning being stripped away by the government.
As I said about recreational fishing, what the government is doing—and I call on recreational fishers right around the country not to fall for the government's misinformation about this—is erasing Australia's largest recreational fishing zone in deference to large-scale industrial fishing, including midwater trawling and tuna longlining. Our network had 18½ per cent of the Coral Sea reserve set aside for recreational fishing. What has the coalition done? It has removed that entirely and replaced it with areas where all commercial fishing is allowed except for bottom trawling. Yes, it's true to say that recreational fishers can still go there. But so can commercial fishers.
Shark Reef and Vema Reef have had high-level protections completely removed. Unique reefs like Marion Reef and Kenn Reef have been stripped back to only partial protection. In our temperate east waters, one of Australia's longest standing marine national park zones, Middleton Reef, in the far north of the Lord Howe marine park area, has been cut. This marine park, I'll have you know, was not declared as part of the recent Labor government's marine park protection; it was declared in 1987 by the Hawke government. It's incredibly important to the marine network in that area, as the marine zones there are rare and valuable.
As I said, off the coast of south-west WA is the Diamantina fracture zone. This has reduced one of Australia's largest marine national parks to one with the lowest possible zoning. This is where everything is allowed, except bottom trawling. You know, how could you bottom trawl, frankly, in an area that's between five and seven kilometres deep? There is no fishing or mining out there currently, so why do you want to lift it? You want to open it up to commercial fishing. At Geographe Bay, you removed one of two marine national parks. In the north-west of Western Australia, large marine national parks that help sustain the marine life of the Kimberley, and indeed our very important Ningaloo Marine Park, have been stripped of much of their protection. And in the north, in the Gulf of Carpentaria, we have seen our protections cut off the Wessel Islands, Karumba and in the Torres Strait, leaving those important areas open to both bottom trawling and mining.
It's all very well for you to say 'Oh, rubbish!' but that is what your marine park rezoning allows. You are stripping back the marine protection that Labor put in place, and you can see it on a map. Labor went through a very comprehensive process where we layered places to have complete marine protection and where other zonal use would be allowed. You have completely stripped back the protections and allowed mining, commercial fishing and other uses into areas where they should simply not be allowed.
In our marine reserves network Labor supported dedicated areas for recreational fishing, including 18 per cent of the Coral Sea, the largest area in the world zoned in this way. The blue and yellow zones of the Coral Sea maps, which I can't show you because it's not appropriate to show you in the chamber, have been removed by Minister Frydenberg. Minister Frydenberg has opened Labor's rec fishing zone area up to longlining, to midwater trawling. These are the same fishing methods used by super trawlers. Additionally, in the Coral Sea, where you can't rec fish, you'd have to travel 200 kilometres, and that's a long way to go in a tinnie. So Labor's network does not impact on mums and dads and their children who want to go fishing.
The government are running a scare campaign to try to distract people from the fact that they're letting commercial fishers fish in more of our waters. I implore the chamber this evening to support this disallowance motion. The government is claiming that its network allows rec fishing in 97 per cent of waters from within 100 kilometres from shore. That may well be true, but I can tell you that Labor's network allowed rec fishing in 96 per cent of waters within 100 kilometres of shore. The difference is this: you are trying to make yourselves champions of recreational fishing, but the simple fact is recreational fishers will be competing with commercial fisheries. Labor's marine parks are substantively better for Australia's rec fishing community, and that's why they received such strong support. We see such absolute environmental destruction in your marine parks. We see that you have put forward the largest-ever wind-back of areas under conservation. No government in history anywhere in the world has ever removed from conservation protection an area as large as you are removing right now.
I want to say to you: the government put out misinformation about the finality of Labor's marine parks, but they were absolutely final. Tony Abbott himself spoke on and voted on, I think, six disallowance motions in the House of Representatives. I can remember those opposite seeking to move disallowance motions on our marine reserves many times, so any claim that we haven't done the work or that we have somehow squibbed at the last minute, which is another completely false set of accusations that has come from the other side, is completely wrong. Instead, what you have sought to do is through absolute misinformation—I want to be able to call it lies but I'd have to withdraw that immediately. But I am just so utterly gobsmacked at your complete vandalism of our nation's marine parks.
We had the most comprehensive set of consultations that this nation has ever seen when it comes to deciding on our marine parks zones. How do I know this? I know this because I was part of them and met with stakeholder after stakeholder. I took issues from the environment movement, from recreational fishers, from commercial fisheries, from APPEA and from others. I took those issues to the minister and I was part of the deliberations to balance out what went where and what was important to keep in and keep out. There were more than 200 meetings. That was way above and beyond what the government has done in putting forward its alternative proposals.
You have completely caved in to—I'm not even sure what—your own right-wing, internal, anti-environment agenda. I cannot see anywhere the logic for what you are seeking to do. There have been no big industry calls for this; there have been no recreational fishing calls for this. I can only put it down to some kind of innate anti-environment agenda coming from the other side, because what you are doing is completely irrational. It has been a completely inadequate process, it has had completely inadequate consultation, and it completely strips back the environmental protection that our nation's oceans deserve.
Now, you should recognise that, globally, our oceans are in absolute crisis. What our oceans need to see globally is more, not less, of this kind of protection. Right around the world, we see fishery after fishery being stripped back, putting our globe's food security at risk and putting our world's biodiversity at risk. So I make this plea to this place: please, let Australia continue to be a leading example on marine and environmental protection. Our nation should have a proud record in marine protection, and what the government is doing in its alternative marine park plans, which should be protected by supporting this disallowance motion, is incredibly important to our nation.
Senators opposite might roll their eyes at this, they might talk about how they intend to maintain Australia's environmental record, but the facts speak for themselves. Over 50 per cent of the marine national park zoning is being stripped away by the government. That's like halving our national parks on land. But, after question time this week, maybe we're getting a taste of that, where the government refused to rule out logging in national parks.
You didn't rule it out. You were asked a direct question and you refused to rule out logging in national parks.
Senator Ruston interjecting—
You tell me that that's not true. Well, if you truly stand by these kinds of environmental credentials, you should be ruling out stripping back marine protection by 50 per cent. In your alternative plans, 50 cent of our nation's marine national park zoning is being stripped away. We have Australia's largest recreational fishing zone erased in deference to large-scale industrial fishing. This is simply not good enough.
If today you get away with defeating this disallowance motion, I can tell you that Labor will not stop fighting for marine protection in this country. We will fight with campaigners and networkers right across this country—rec fishers and commercial fisheries; you name it, we will be there—because our oceans in this country will be in crisis if you are allowed to get away with this environmental vandalism.
Having listened to the contribution opposite, you could be excused for thinking that we are actually removing something. The truth—and what the Australian public need to know—is that we are, in fact, not removing anything at all, because there is absolutely nothing in place. There are no protections in place.
Senator Whish-Wilson interjecting—
I take the interjection from Senator Whish-Wilson, and I acknowledge his pragmatic approach to this, because he actually said in Friday's paper that, whilst he thought that the marine protections that were being put forward by the government with this suite of marine management plans were woefully inadequate, they are better than nothing—because we have got nothing at the moment. So I acknowledge that, Senator Whish-Wilson. To say that we're removing the largest amount of marine parks ever in the history of the universe is once again not true. You can't remove nothing. There is nothing in place. We have no protections in place, and it would be fair for those opposite to actually be honest about that. To also come in here and say that there has not been adequate opportunity for consultation with the crossbench is really quite ridiculous. Notice was given last Tuesday for this motion to be moved on the next sitting day. That was a week ago. So, one week ago, the Labor Party indicated that they were intending to move the motion the following day. It was then postponed, postponed, postponed and postponed. So I would suggest that the reason that you have said that you didn't have adequate time to come in here and debate this with the people who are going to make the decision today is that you probably just thought you had the numbers and now maybe you don't. We certainly hope you don't.
The campaign that's been waged in this place has been about misinformation and scaremongering. We're not rolling anything back; there's nothing to roll back. There are no supertrawlers coming, and the opposition know full well that there are no supertrawlers coming. There are no new boats and no foreign fishing boats coming in—and they know that.
Senator Pratt interjecting—
You know that this has absolutely nothing to do with fisheries management practices in relation to foreign fishing boats. This is about a set of protections for management plans for the marine reserves that have been already been gazetted. It has nothing to do with the boats that possibly can fish in Australian waters. You know that there are no proposals for foreign fishing boats or large factory fishing boats to come into Australian waters. So I don't know why you continue to scaremonger about this.
One of the most damaging things about this debate, and the scaremongering and the lies that are being spread out there in the wider community, is that it damages our international reputation. Quite rightly, we're very proud in Australia of our international reputation for fisheries management. To have the international media and the international social media—that anybody can get their hands on—believe that somehow we are damaging something when we are not, that we are rolling back protections that don't even exist and that we are damaging market access for our wonderful clean, green seafood that we are able to catch in Australian waters, damages our environmental credentials for absolutely no reason.
So what is the debate all about? This debate about marine parks is pretty simple. It's about a shared resource; our oceans are a shared resource. They do not belong to any one group, although you'd be excused for thinking otherwise. And it's also about a balanced approach: considering the needs and accommodating the needs of all of the users of our marine environment. It's about striking a balance between environmental concerns, social concerns, cultural concerns and economic concerns. And it's also about the right of Australians to eat seafood. It's about the opportunity for people who live in Alice Springs, who can't actually go fishing, to be able to eat Australian seafood. It's also about encouraging Australians to get out and go fishing. It's actually about delivering good results for Australians.
When it comes to marine parks, Labor talk big about what they're going to do, but it's coalition governments that deliver. Let me remind the chamber that, in 1998, it was actually John Howard who committed to the establishment of a national representative system of marine protected areas in the context of oceans policy. This led to the South-east Commonwealth Marine Reserves Network in 2000. Today, it is fitting that it is we in this chamber who are seeking to introduce a suite of management plans for marine reserves in Australia. It is part of our heritage that we deliver on things. We don't rush off into ideological positions that completely and utterly destroy the opportunity of all Australians to enjoy our wonderful marine environment in a sustainable and sensible way.
The other thing is that, if we are successful in bringing in these management plans, 36 per cent of our marine waters will be under marine park protections of one sort or another. This is more than three times—in fact, 3½ times—the international benchmark of 10 per cent, which was set and is known as the Aceh target. Once again, we start off with the position of those opposite, where ideology beats the science; where politics beats the evidence; where inner-city concerns beat regional communities; and where unaccountable foreign-funded ENGOs are taken notice of before we listen to the Australian people. All I can say is that we, as a government, have made a very clear decision and a clear determination that we are going to base what we do on science and on the interests of the Australian public—the people who actually own our marine environment, our oceans and the fish that swim in it. We are not going to be held to ransom by the wants of some ENGO from the Northern Hemisphere.
What we want to know is: why is Labor's plan all about fawning to these Northern Hemisphere ENGOs and the inner-city greenies, who, I'm sure, don't even know where the Coral Sea is, let alone have ever been there? We do know that the whole campaign has been run on fake news. The email campaigns that we've seen from these ENGOs, like the Australian Marine Conservation Society and Save Our Marine Life, have been unbelievable. To call them rank and tawdry xenophobic dog-whistling would be about the most accurate way of describing them.
Let me set the record straight. No solely managed fisheries in the Australian Commonwealth are subject to overfishing, nor have they been for the last five years. The total allowable catches for all Commonwealth fish stocks are set at very conservative, ecologically sustainable levels. Any vessel operating in Australian waters must follow Commonwealth fishery rules and regulations. There are absolutely no exceptions to that whatsoever. No fishing vessel is allowed to fish in declared non-take protected marine areas or green zones, and there are no approvals in place for any foreign fishing vessels to operate in Commonwealth waters. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the campaign run by ENGOs is the damage, as I said, that it's done to our international reputation. But I've got a message: I think the people of Australia will wake up tomorrow morning and realise that it is fake news and that we are putting in place protections for our marine environment that will make sure that we have a sustainable environment. We protect our marine environment, but we don't lock people out of doing things in that marine environment, unless there's a scientific reason to do so.
The coalition government's approach is to strike a balance between protecting the marine environment and the economic interests of our current and future generations. It's based on evidence and independent science; it's based on exhaustive consultation with all legitimate stakeholders. Our world-class management of Commonwealth fisheries has been complimented: we are recognised internationally as the best fisheries managers in the world. I hope you won't disagree with that. It also seeks to minimise the economic impact on our professional fishers, because we believe Australians have the right to eat Australian seafood. It retains access for recreational fishers to 97 per cent of the waters within 100 kilometres of the coastline, which is where most people fish. And it will cost taxpayers significantly less than the colouring-in competition that was undertaken by those opposite when they had the pens in their hands.
Our message to the Australian community is quite simple. We want all Australians to be able to enjoy their oceans. We support the right of every Australian to drop a line over the side of their boat, no matter how far out to sea they go. We support our sustainable fishing and aquaculture industries and the thousands and thousands of jobs they provide—
Senator Pratt interjecting—
And most of them are in regional areas, Senator Pratt—something that you probably wouldn't know about. We want all Australians to be able to enjoy safe, sustainably harvested, fresh, healthy Australian seafood. We have actually listened to the Australian people first and foremost, and not to foreign-funded ENGOs who have no skin in the Australian game. We support and trust the Australian public to continue to look after their marine environment rather than looking, with no scientifically proven reason, to stop them from enjoying that environment.
What really annoys Labor is that the coalition plans actually protect more environmental features than the plans that they put forward. We are intending to protect 509 conservation features, including reefs, seamounts and canyons. Three hundred and forty-four sites have received the highest levels of protection, compared with their 331. We have green zones that are more than 20 times the size of Kakadu, or half the size of New South Wales. We have protected sea floor habitats totalling almost the entire size of Victoria. We have also protected iconic sites of ecological significance such as Ningaloo, Osprey Reef, Geographe Bay, Bremer Bay canyon and Kangaroo Island, to name but a few.
But we have also enabled our recreational fishers—those five million Aussies who like to go fishing—to enjoy what in some cases might be a once-in-a-lifetime fishing opportunity in the Coral Sea. We've protected their ability to do that. We've given them a chance to fish at some of the most iconic reefs, such as Kenn Reef, Bougainville Reef, Marion Reef and Wreck Reef—reefs that have had no damage whatsoever done to them by fishing in the past. We're saying that the limited type of fishing that occurs is going to cause no damage and we think that Australians should be allowed to continue their responsible fishing behaviour.
We also want to protect our professional fishers such as Walker Seafoods, who are based out of Mooloolaba. We want them to be able to continue to fish their Marine Stewardship Council certified tuna, because they've spent the money to get themselves certified by an internationally recognised organisation and they've got access to markets around the world because they are sustainable. We want them to continue to be able to fish. We want our northern prawn fishers to continue to supply us with beautiful banana prawns, and we want Australians to continue to enjoy their oceans and not be locked out of them.
It's not just me who wants this. Importantly, the relentless campaign by Labor has actually galvanised the recreational fishing industry and the professional fishing industry as one behind the plans that are being proposed. Our recreational and professional fishers strongly support the coalition government's management plans for marine parks. They include the Australian Fishing Trade Association, the Game Fishing Association of Australia, the Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation, Seafood Industry Australia, the Northern Territory Seafood Council, the Queensland Seafood Industry Association and the Northern Prawn Fishery Industry association, just to name a few. I thank our commercial and professional fishers for the support and the valuable advice that they have given the coalition government over the last three years as we've developed these plans and come along this journey.
Australian waters belong to Australian people—not to the Labor Party, not to the Greens, not to foreign-funded ENGOs, but to all Australians. Our oceans are a shared resource, another concept that seems to be lost on those opposite. Our oceans are for the enjoyment and the benefit of all Australians. With the coalition's marine parks and our world-class fisheries management, the Coral Sea will continue to be the 'Serengeti of the seas' and will still be able to be enjoyed by Australians. The coalition management plans deliver a balanced and scientific evidence based approach to oceans protection. They enable tourism and well-managed fishing activities. They support local communities, they support local jobs and they support local economies.
I also put on the record my thanks to the independent panel of Colin Buxton, Bob Beeton and Peter Cochrane, who worked tirelessly to develop the background that supported the decision, and the consultation that was undertaken by the Director of National Parks. I acknowledge the extraordinarily high level of work undertaken by her and her consultation process with her team.
So I stand here today to say that I am very proud of this set of very balanced plans that we are hoping to put in place to protect our marine environment into the future. I reject the comments that were made by those opposite that we are winding anything back. We are not. We are putting the plans in place to protect, for the first time, our marine environment. So I stand here to oppose your disallowance motion, because I believe that the plans that we have before us strike the right balance for all Australians.
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.
I rise to speak on Senator Pratt's disallowance motion. Australia is a global leader when it comes to ensuring the ongoing health of our marine ecosystems. Our marine protected areas cover one-third of the world's existing marine conservation parks, which amounts to some 3.3 million square kilometres. Thirty-six per cent of Australian waters are included in marine parks—leaps and bounds ahead of the World Conservation Congress resolution calling for 30 per cent by 2020.
As a senator for Queensland I can tell you that Queenslanders know the importance of managing our resources for future generations. However, this management cannot be done through large sweeping decrees issued in isolation without consultation. These management plans represent a clear move towards outcome based management and decision-making, where each decision made balances enabling the use of the marine areas with the need to protect natural, cultural and heritage values, which I acknowledge the minister for ensuring. However, in the past we have also seen decisions made that do not balance use with protection. We have seen ideological zeal and environmental activism trump a commonsense approach.
If these plans were to be disallowed, it would mean many more years of uncertainty for not only the Queensland commercial fishing sector but also recreational fishers and the many businesses within our state's tourism industry. We would see no additional marine protected areas for several years—most likely much longer—unlike the additional 200,000 square kilometres of sea floor protected under this plan. A future government would be required to go through the entire process again, adding to uncertainty within the many industries that rely on our marine areas. There would be a need for more public consultation and more submissions—that is if future governments don't just enact sweeping restrictions, as has happened in the past.
This disallowance is the complete disregard of three years worth of consultation and independent scientific review, 130,000 written submissions and numerous public forums. It is the complete rejection of almost 650,000 Queensland recreational fishers, the complete disregard of 1,500 Queensland commercial fishing boats—boats which contribute 10 per cent of the nation's seafood production in both quantity and value—and, finally, the complete failure of many industries who rely on our marine areas for their wellbeing. As such, I'll be voting against this disallowance motion.
Commonwealth marine reserves play an integral role in protecting the diversity of our oceans and also in balancing the need to enjoy the benefits of them. Marine parks that are based on science will ensure that this balance is achieved. In November 2012 the new Commonwealth marine park reserve networks were first proclaimed under the EPBC Act for the north-west, the north-east and the south-west marine regions as well as the Coral Sea. A total of 44 new marine reserves were declared, covering a total of 2.34 million kilometres.
Following consultation, management plans for those reserves, including those in the south-east region, were tabled in parliament in March 2013. The management plan for the South-east Commonwealth Marine Reserves Network came into force on 1 July 2013, while the management plans for the other regions, plus the Coral Sea, were due to come into effect on 1 July 2014. However, a change of government took place in September 2013. Following this, in December 2013, the Governor-General revoked and reproclaimed the Commonwealth marine reserves in the south-west, north-west, north and temperate east networks and the Coral Sea, pending a marine reserves review.
The effect of this revocation and reproclamation is outlined in the Federal Register of Legislation. For example, in the detail section for the Coral Sea Commonwealth marine reserve management plan 2014-24 you can find the following statement: 'This management plan ceased to have any legal effect on 14 December 2013, when the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (Commonwealth Marine Reserves) Proclamation 2013 took effect and revoked the reserves this plan related to and declared new reserves for these areas.' In other words, the ALP management plans are tied to a proclamation that has now been revoked. So, although the plans may be described on the Federal Register of Legislation as 'in force', they have no legal effect. I'll say it again: they have no legal effect. Labor have argued that their management plans were legislated and that the government's management plan reflects a cut of more than half of the protected marine areas in the Coral Sea. Yes, they may have legislated them, but they weren't due to come into effect until 1 July 2013. I will repeat what I said earlier: Labor's management plan ceased to have any legal effect on 14 December 2013.
In order to cut something, you need to have something in the first place. I know the Greens understand the dilemma we face. Based on comments from Senator Whish-Wilson that were published in The Guardian, they can see through the arguments being put forward by the Labor Party. I think Senator Whish-Wilson summed it up quite succinctly when he said that, if the government management plans were disallowed:
… then we move from some protections to no protections, and the protections of our oceans have to rely on Labor winning government and the conservative major and minor parties not having the numbers to disallow whatever plans Labor put in place.
I also note the comments that have been made by Senator Whish-Wilson tonight in the chamber. I understand Senator Whish-Wilson has announced that the Greens will be supporting the disallowance, and I respect that he had a tough decision to make about the balance between some of the competing interests in his constituency.
I'd like to put on the record that NXT wrote to the government stating that the preferred position of the Nick Xenophon Team was to support the management plans that were a result of the independent review colloquially known as the Buxton maps. Whilst the government's management plan does not represent the preferred option for NXT, we believe that disallowing the instrument will result in the least preferred option of no protection or certainty. Disallowing the instrument will continue this uncertainty for a number of months, possibly until the next election, as there is a minimum 120-day consultation process. This uncertainty and lack of protection has been in effect since December 2013, and it is the view of NXT that this cannot continue.
Before concluding my remarks, I will say that the coalition management plans do offer more protection for South Australia than the Buxton maps. I thank the minister for listening to Ms Sharkie, the member for Mayo, and NXT in our advocacy for this particular change. In summary, perfect is the enemy of the good. In this case, not supporting the good leaves our waters unprotected and also leaves uncertainty. As such, we will not be supporting the disallowance motion.