Thursday, 16 August 2018
Regulations and Determinations
Marine Parks Network Management Plans; Disallowance
What I was saying before we ran out of time during the last debate was that our marine environment is one of the most unique and spectacular marine environments on the globe. I heard those opposite talk about the fact that Australia has these large marine protected areas. That's good. We also have one of the largest EEZs in the world. So of course we should be putting in place proper protection for these areas. It is hugely disappointing that the government in some areas has changed the level of protection for the areas that are contained within the regional plans. That means that these really important areas, some of which have marine species that are found nowhere else on the planet, are at more risk.
I think what I got up to when we were finishing was talking about the impact of a warming planet on our marine environment. We're still getting an understanding of what that impact is. I also heard those opposite talking about support from some marine conservation organisations for their approach, but I don't think there'd be anybody, certainly from the Greens, who didn't think long and hard about what to do about these plans. As someone who's been fighting since the mid-1980s for bioregional marine planning, it is not without a heavy heart and much thought that I personally came to the conclusion that we really need to keep fighting for better protection and that we need to take a stand. And that's from someone who's fought for years and years to get adequate marine protection. I've had lots of emails from people supporting our stance: that is, to support these disallowances. The bulk of the marine conservation organisations are also saying these plans aren't good enough. I've already articulated why we in Western Australia are deeply concerned, given that we have such a vast marine environment and we have so many special areas: the Bremer Canyon; the Perth Canyon; that whole south-west marine environment; the areas off the Gascoyne coast including Ningaloo and the Rowley Shoals. There are so many important areas. Those areas that I've mentioned are the ones where the level of marine protection has been adversely impacted by these plans.
We will continue to campaign on this issue to make sure that we have a set of marine parks and a set of bioregional marine plans that are the best in the world, that go back to being the best in the world, so Australia can honestly claim that we have the best system for marine protection on the planet. I encourage and ask those who are still making up their mind about these disallowances to support these disallowances so that we can get superlative marine protection in this country.
I know that we only have limited time for this debate, so I will keep my comments a lot shorter than they otherwise would have been. Obviously I support all of these disallowance motions, but, as a senator for Queensland, I wanted to speak specifically about the one with regard to the Coral Sea. I don't want to get too parochial about it, but, certainly amongst all of these, it's hard not to see this as at least equal in significance to other areas that are also dramatically reduced in protection as a direct result of the consequences of this government and the Abbott government preceding it.
The Coral Sea directly adjoins the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which I would hope everybody in this chamber would agree is not only an environmental wonder of the world and recognised as such but also an incredibly important economic job generator for Queensland, particularly regional and Northern Queensland. I back up Senator Siewert's acknowledgement that it is one of the positive achievements of the Howard government. There's not a lot I'd point to, but one was a significant expansion of protected areas within the marine park, and I commend that achievement.
It needs to be said that, despite all the doom and gloom predictions of what it would cause, particularly to recreational fishers' opportunities, it has been clearly proven, as was suggested, to significantly improve fish stocks and actually enhance the attractiveness of a whole lot of recreational fishing opportunities along the Queensland coast. In the short time I've been back in the Senate role for the Greens in Queensland, I've had that said to me by a number of recreational fishers in regional Queensland, and tourism people are saying that the local areas are developing reputations for being more attractive to recreational fishers because of the environmental improvement that is a direct result of increasing marine protection.
The Coral Sea, of course, does not have coastal areas. It directly adjoins the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which we all know is severely under threat not only but most severely from climate change. The Coral Sea and its incredible natural assets are now much more at risk because of the vandalism caused by the decision of the Abbott government to rip up the protected areas that were put in place by the previous Labor government. It must be said that it's not just about fishing and the impact of commercial fishing; it is also about the potential for oil and gas exploration in this area. It wasn't until this disallowance was moved that I remembered that, way back in 2002, when I was a Democrats senator in this place—I was actually party leader at the time—we managed to uncover the fact that a government agency was attempting, secretly, to carry out surveying to enable it to assess more clearly whether there were oil opportunities in parts of the Coral Sea.
The reduced marine park protection that's in place that needs to be disallowed is not solely about reefs, although, of course, that is crucial. It is also about protecting those marine environments more broadly from the dangers of being opened up in the future for oil exploration and extraction. Let's not forget that one of the key reasons that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park first came into being—as a result of very commendable community action driven by people locally in Queensland and supported by others around the country—were the threats of the Queensland government at the time to basically open up the reef for drilling. That sort of legacy and those historical factors that drive campaigns do not go away with the passage of time, and the people who tried and pushed and might have failed in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park keep looking for opportunities in other areas. The failure to strengthen marine park protection in the way that was done previously—that's now been undone—is another example of that vandalism.
To call Australia home is to inhabit an ancient continent set beneath a reef of some of the world's most magnificent marine biodiversity. It is to be the custodian of some of the most pristine and beautiful natural places on planet Earth. It is to have the honour and sacred duty of stewarding the protection of these places so that they may exist for the majesty of their own right and for the enjoyment of future generations for centuries to come.
For 20 long years legislators, community groups, stakeholders and scientists have debated, argued, discussed and attempted to come to a plan and a compromise that would protect these precious places. In five short years this government has sought to do nothing else except rip them apart, to tear them asunder at the behest of large corporate supporters, simply to make life easier for itself. I cannot think of a more profound dereliction of duty than the active destruction of these precious places. Yet this is what this government is attempting to allow to take place. Not content with their profound failure to act on global warming, not content with their continued failure to protect the great forests of the south-west and of the Tarkine, not content with allowing the freshwater of this nation to be poisoned by gas, they would also see us lay our oceans bare so that corporate profit margins can be increased.
My state of Western Australia, and its glorious jewel that is the Ningaloo Reef, will lose 75 per cent of its protection. It is an absolute disgrace. The Great Barrier Reef, the Coral Sea—all of these precious, vital ecosystems will be placed at risk and subject to irrevocable harm simply because this government wishes to make its life easier and to reap the benefits of acting as a corporate stooge. I do not know what I will say to my children when they ask me why we allowed this damage to be done, but I will at least be able to tell them that I and the party I am a member of, the movement that I serve, spoke up against it and did what we could to repair it. I thank the chamber for its time.
When you listen to that speech, you would think we've destroyed our oceans completely but that is not the case. One Nation will be supporting the government in opposing this disallowance notion. This came into play on 1 July. If we do not support this immediately, straight away from tomorrow, we are going to see all holds off. That means that people can come in and fish, because there's going to be no plan whatsoever.
My understanding is this has been 12 years in the making. It has been 12 years of discussions, talking to businesses, talking to the fishing sector, talking to many organisations and talking to scientists about what is the best way to go with this. Twelve years it has taken, and now it has been implemented. So if it goes out the door today, if everyone votes to get rid of this with the disallowance motion the Greens are putting up, it is going to go back to nothing—no protection, nothing. This is for a 10-year plan, but it can be looked at in five years time. Actually, at any time, a minister can change it and put it back through the review process.
Why throw the baby out with the bathwater? Why not let this stay as it is? There are protections in place now. If you are not happy with it then work on it in the next parliament. There are 120 days of consultation that have to go on. We know that we are facing an election. If you throw this out today, nothing is going to happen for at least a year or more. So we're going to allow these people to come in here and fish our waters and do more damage than we have with these protections we have put in place. We are talking about 2.2 million square kilometres of Australia's marine environment that will have no marine park protection. That is what is going to happen.
I am sick of the scaremongering that goes on in this place. Tell the people the truth. If you are not happy with the marine parks that are there now—there was nothing before it came into place on 1 July. What are you complaining about now? There was nothing in place. You actually have something in place now. Work with it. I support the fact that we now have protection out there. I support the fishermen and businesspeople who need it. We need the tourism here as well. The Greens want to lock up everything. They want to lock up our fishing, they want to look up our national parks, they want to lock up everything. They don't want to do anything in this country. They want to destroy businesses.
There is sustainability, and there is a guarantee that there are no foreign fishing vessels in these waters. There is a guarantee there are no super trawlers in these waters. This is the government's plan. Also, the fact is that the marine park covers 36 per cent of Australia's oceans and is the second largest in the world—and it is three times larger than the UN's benchmark of 10 per cent. How can you argue with that? I hear the Greens go on in this place all the time about the UN and our responsibilities. We have surpassed the UN's requirements. We have 36 per cent. How can you argue with that?
You raised the Pew foundation. I wanted to hear their advice and I rang them up. They said: 'Pauline, you have to support the government on this. It's not everything that we want, but it's better than nothing.' I have come from a small business background—a fish and chip shop. I relied on Australian fish and that is what I sold—not all the rubbish that we get in from overseas that we see so much of in our shops. We Australians have the right to eat that fish and not see it being exported to overseas. This will ensure our sustainability—that we have fish for Australians. It is not going to be overfished. The Fisheries Management Authority looks after that as well.
We are talking about the protection of our oceans, and I fully support the government on this. When I'm back in this place, whoever is in government here, if this is not good enough, if there are a lot of Australians out there who are not happy with this, I will work with them to increase the marine park zones or whatever needs to be done. But don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. If you throw this out today, you'll have nothing—no protection whatsoever.
Let's be absolutely clear what we are voting on here today. We are voting to allow a very comprehensive marine park network to remain in place or we are not. Those opposite would have you believe that this is a choice between the marine park management plans that are set in place and on the water at the moment and a set of plans proposed six years ago that never came into effect. That is not what we are voting on today. Today, we get to vote for our scientifically based, fully consulted, broadly supported plans that are currently in place and providing on-water protections, or no plans at all. If this disallowance is successful, 2.2 million square kilometres of Australia's marine environment will have no marine park protection tomorrow morning.
The choice is quite clear here for those in the chamber: provide certainty for everyone who enjoys our oceans or create more uncertainty; support the rights of five million recreational fishers, who are great stewards of our marine environment, or lock them out; support our sustainable fishers who catch the seafood that so many Australians want to eat for dinner tonight or run them out of business; support our tourism industry and the regional communities along our coastline that rely on our marine environment for their existence or shut them down; support Australia's international reputation as one of the best managed marine environments in the world or let it be discredited, purely for political pointscoring.
But don't be fooled by the misinformation being peddled by the zealots, who would have everyone locked out of our marine environment. It is largely false and certainly misleading at best. There have been claims that our waters will be invaded by supertrawlers. There are no supertrawlers. There can be no supertrawlers in our waters without the consent of this parliament. Remember: we banned them. Another claim is that foreign fishing boats are taking all our fish. There are no foreign fishing boats in our waters and absolutely no plan for any to be here. They claim that our fish stocks are declining, ignoring the fact that our fisheries management in Commonwealth waters is quota managed. These quotas are set within very conservative levels to ensure sustainability of all of our fish stocks, and our fish stock reports in fact show that our fish stocks are increasing.
So let's get the facts on the table. The plans that these disallowance motions are seeking to remove came into effect on 1 July 2018. And here are the facts. Our marine park network covers 36 per cent of Australia's oceans. That is the exclusive economic zone. It's the second largest in the world. It is over three times in excess of the Aceh target, the United Nations target of 10 per cent. It is based on independent science and followed extensive consultation with all legitimate stakeholders, and it strikes a balance by protecting both the marine environment and the social and economic interests of current and future generations of Australians. What you won't hear from those opposite is that it protects more environmental features than the plans that were proposed under Labor in 2012.
Yet, today, Labor and the Greens want to roll back these protections. Make no mistake: if these disallowance motions are successful today, it will represent the greatest roll-back of marine protections ever. Has there ever been a more bizarre situation? By moving these disallowance motions, it is the Labor Party and the Greens who want to remove protections from our marine environment. It is the Labor Party and the Greens who want to rip up the protections that are already in place. Today, the Labor Party and the Greens are asking this Senate to take away the rights of Australians to drop a line in the water and catch their dinner. They are asking you to decimate sustainable industries and destroy thousands of jobs in many regional communities. They are basically forcing Australians to eat foreign seafood instead of the safe, healthy, clean and sustainably fished local seafood. They want you to listen to foreign-funded NGOs and not the Australian people. They demonstrate their contempt and distrust of Australians by trying to keep them locked out of their own sovereign waters.
I thank the thousands of people who have been engaged in this process—the rec fishers; the people who catch the fish that goes into our fish and chip shops; the tourism operators; the guy in the bait store; and the many thousands of Australians who enjoy our oceans in so many ways. I particularly thank the Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation, with Brett Cleary and Glenn Hurry before him, and Allan Hansard, who worked tirelessly at the beginning; the Australian Fishing Tackle Industry, with Colin Tannahill; and the Game Fishing Association, with Doug Sanderson.
I thank all of our wonderful state recreational fishing bodies—Recfishwest, TARFish, VRFish, Sunfish Queensland, the Amateur Fishermen's Association of the Northern Territory and RecFish SA. I also want to thank our commercial fishers: the Seafood Industry Association, with Jane Lovell and Veronica Papacosta; the state seafood industry associations; the Northern Territory Seafood Council; the Queensland Seafood Industry Association; and the Western Australian Fishing Industry Council.
A very special thanks goes to Colin Buxton, Peter Cochrane and Bob Beeton, who undertook the independent review. You have had your reputations attacked by those who have no credibility themselves, but you remained solidly committed to the science. To Michelle Grady of the Pew foundation: Michelle, I know you sought to have more no-take zones, but your support to maintain these quite extensive protections is greatly appreciated. And to the crossbench: this week you have been bombarded by those who would have 'nothing be the enemy of the good'. I thank you all for your time that you have afforded me to brief you, and the opportunity to rebut the many outlandish claims that have been made.
And finally, to all Australians who enjoy our marine environment: your government believes that Australian waters belong to the Australian people, not the Labor Party and not the Greens or their foreign-funded cohorts, and we will continue to fight to stop those opposite discrediting our internationally recognised sustainable fisheries. And we will fight to stop them locking you out from your oceans, because our marine environment is a shared resource for the enjoyment of all Australians. I call on the Senate to reject these disallowance motions.
I believe that something is better than nothing. These new protections for five marine parks are a step in the right direction, even though they are not ideal. The potential consequences of going back to zero protections are considerable. There would unavoidably be zero protection for a significant period, possibly years, before new legislation is passed. It seems to me at this time that there is no guarantee or sufficiently strong reason to suggest that any future parliament would pass better quality plans. It is possible that a future parliament could pass worse plans, especially given the possible future composition of the Senate.
There are many opportunities to campaign and advocate for improved quality of the marine parks, even if the disallowances fail. Those opportunities seem to have strong potential to be successful over time through strong leadership. I've consulted widely, including with Andrew Forrest, a great advocate for the conservation of our marine environment. With an election not far away, it is time for the major parties to acknowledge that the current protections are not good enough and to pledge that they will improve the protections for the Coral Sea Marine Park. I am determined to use my time in the Senate to campaign for improvements in the quality of our marine parks.
The choice for the Senate is to have some protection or to have zero protection at this point in time. There are strong risks that these disallowances could lead to worse outcomes for our marine environment; therefore, it seems that there is more reason to vote against these disallowances and campaign for improvements to the current protections.
In closing the debate today, I am very proud to have moved these disallowance motions with Senator Whish-Wilson. Our nation is the guardian of the world's third-largest marine territory. We have the most diverse marine life on earth within our waters. And we, as elected representatives, should be exercising our responsibility to protect our vulnerable oceans and marine life. In decimating the original plans, which had been worked on for so long, that is something the government has failed to do as they have put their vastly weakened plans forward.
The Australian government's plans have introduced marine park plans that cut back marine sanctuaries, and we should be standing for strong sanctuary protection of our ocean's marine life now and in the future. You have ignored decades of science. You have also ignored the advice of the government's own independent review. You have also ignored the wishes of local communities and, indeed, the voices of the hundreds of thousands of Australians who were consulted during the Labor government's process for marine park planning.
When you released your draft plans last year, there was a massive call from scientists, nearly 1,500 of them, rejecting the plans that you'd put forward. Indeed, at that time, when you put your own plans forward, more than 80,000 Australians made a submission asking for more, not less, protection. And you know what? Those submissions calling for more protection included over 16,000 recreational fishers. Your flashing of protection for many of Australia's top marine icons includes one of Australia's oldest sanctuaries, as I highlighted before in the debate, including that of Lord Howe Island. For me, devastatingly, it includes Geographe Bay, in the south-west of WA, the Gulf of Carpentaria and the Kimberley. But, as we know—and it's been well put on record in this debate—worst hit is the Coral Sea, which is the cradle to the Great Barrier Reef. I understand the Greens will move to separate out the disallowance motion for the Coral Sea so we can put those questions separately, highlighting the significance of the attacks on the Coral Sea.
Let's be clear: It's not like we don't understand that we're between the devil and the deep blue sea on this question—bad plans or no plans. But let's be very clear: the plans that you've put forward do not do the job of protecting Australia's marine life or, indeed, benefitting local communities. Those plans must be improved and they should have been improved by the government, but, instead, we commit ourselves in the Labor Party to fixing this problem in government. What we need from government on both sides—and you've been completely negligent on this—is delivery of a science based network that reflects what our oceans, our communities and the Australian public want. I commit myself, along with the rest of the Labor Party, to restore high-level sanctuary zone protection within Australia's marine parks. We cannot afford to let these sanctuary cutbacks compromise our marine ecosystems and our marine life.
Mr Acting Deputy President, I just want to seek your guidance on whether we move a separate motion regarding the Coral Sea and then, following that, move a motion for the other. I can tell you which marine parks they are.