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Thursday, 5 March 2015
Page: 1251


Senator RUSTON (South AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (10:09): I too rise today to speak on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill 2014. It basically seeks to repeal a sunset provision and enable the minister to establish an independent panel to conduct an assessment of the potential environmental impacts of a declared commercial fishing activity and to prohibit declared commercial fishing activity while that assessment is being undertaken. It will come as no surprise to this place that I, like the rest of my colleagues, do not support this particular amendment bill.

Specifically, the bill aims to enable the minister:

… with the agreement of the Minister administering the Fisheries Management Act 1991 (Cth) ( Fisheries Minister ), to declare a commercial fishing activity to be a 'declared commercial fishing activity' on an interim basis ( interim declaration ) if both Ministers agree—

and this is the point—

that:

there is uncertainty about the environmental impacts of the commercial fishing activity;

it is appropriate to consult with fishing concession holders who consider themselves to be detrimentally affected by the making of a final declaration for the same fishing activity ( declaration affected person ); and

the declared commercial fishing activity should be prohibited while consultation occurs;

On the surface of it, that all probably sounds terribly sensible, but, when you start digging into the reality of what is going on here, it is nothing more than an appalling scaremongering campaign. It gives rise to the belief that there is a problem—and, I have to say, my colleagues on this side of the chamber and I do not believe that there is a problem.

Before I go into the reasons the coalition cannot support this amendment bill being put forward by Senator Ludwig, I would like to put on the record that we also do not support the amendments being proposed by the Greens. To give some context, I will put on the record some comments made by Senator Whish-Wilson in relation to his amendments. He said:

The Greens have put up an amendment to ban supertrawlers and vessels with freezing capacity over 2,000 tonnes. That is a globally recognised tonnage of fish that is being looked at by groups right around the world. We consider that we need separate legislation for any size over that. This is a very serious issue and it has not been flushed out in this bill. We would ask that Labor, through Senator Ludwig, who brought this forward, consider a proper amendment that will ban this type of fishing activity in this country once and for all. This is what millions of rec fishermen across this country want. This is what people who are worried that the ocean is broken and is dying want. … We have not had supertrawlers in this country before. We are doing very well, thank you very much. We do not need to see them back. This government needs to hold to its promise that it will not allow supertrawlers back into Australian ports.

There are a whole heap of things you could say about that piece of scaremongering. Firstly, the Australian government has made a commitment that it will not allow supertrawlers over 130 feet back into Australian waters. There is no acknowledgement of that in Senator Whish-Wilson's statement. Once again, there is scaremongering. There is scaremongering not only in support of Senator Ludwig's bill but also in support of the proposed amendments from the Greens. It is also a misrepresentation of what is really happening out there.

As I said, we do not support this bill. There are a whole heap of reasons why we do not. Most particularly, I think it is because of the abject hypocrisy—that Senator Ludwig should think that it is okay for him to bring this bill into the chamber. If you think about it, this bill has only been generated on the basis of the proposal to introduce this supertrawler into Australian waters—which was first proposed a couple of years ago by the very person who is introducing this bill. How that very same person can turn around and say he wants to make legislative change to make it more difficult to enable commercial fishing to occur in Australia—the very same person who stirred up the argument in the first place, having been part of the government that agreed to bring the supertrawler to Australia—is beyond me. If we had three hours, we could talk about the extraordinary level of sovereign risk involved in first agreeing to bring that trawler to Australia only to ban it once it was here. If those opposite had not wanted the supertrawler to be here, maybe they should have thought about that before bringing it here in the first place.

It is quite interesting to read some of the comments Senator Ludwig made back in August 2012 in response to a Greens disallowance motion. I will read this because it does illustrate the hypocrisy I was talking about. He said:

This disallowance motion is a message that the Greens political party do not support sustainable catch limits based on science. It is a message that says the Greens want fisheries managed by politics, not qualified fisheries managers. And it says that the Greens do not support the commercial operators who fish in some of the world's best managed fisheries.

I have to say, Senator Ludwig, that I agree entirely with what you said. Then he went on:

As minister for fisheries, I will not allow the emotive politics of the Greens political party to run fisheries management … in this country. We will ensure that the Australian Fisheries Management Authority is independent, that it makes independent decisions based on the science through its expert commissioners and on the facts that are presented to them. They will continue to make decisions based on sound judgement to ensure that fisheries are sustainable and meet all the ecological requirements—and, moreover, predicated on the precautionary principle so often espoused by the Greens.

When Senator Ludwig was the fisheries minister we actually think that that was exactly right, and we would certainly support those comments. So it seems really quite weird, when you consider it was only a couple of years ago that Senator Ludwig was in this place making those comments, that we now have a bill being introduced that, to a large extent, basically says everything that he said there is wrong. He obviously no longer believes that our fisheries are the world's best-managed fisheries, he obviously no longer believes that science is the basis for which we would make a decision in relation to fisheries management and he seems to be okay with the fact that we are having fisheries managed by politics instead of by science. I just cannot believe that in the space of just on two years we can have moved from a position of perfectly logical science based judgement to thinking it is okay to play politics with this issue.

Those amongst us who are a little more cynical would probably suggest that this is just Labor and Senator Ludwig looking for redemption for a very bad decision they made in deciding to bring the supertrawler here in 2012. Before it even managed to catch a fish out of the water, they decided to ban it and in the process probably exposed the Australian taxpayers to a massive amount of financial exposure, because why wouldn't the company sue the Australian government for a breach of contract? Once again, if you want to talk about the consequential impacts of making a decision and then changing a decision, you have only got to look at the impact of the live export ban that was the knee-jerk reaction of the very same minister at the time. That move saw the absolute decimation of the northern part of Australia and our cattle industry—all because somebody decided that, for the sake of quick city based politics, it was a good idea to ban the export of live cattle.

The question that is probably most important in all this is: why would Senator Ludwig bring this bill in when the supertrawler and supertrawlers of over 130 feet have already been banned? In recognition of the response by the Australian community, the supertrawlers have been banned. This government has taken on board the fact that the community did not want that great big supertrawler, so a decision was made that there was a size over which supertrawlers would not be allowed into the Australian fishery. That is great—that has been ticked off. Everybody knows it. It is written in stone. So why on earth do we now need to bring into this place a bill that just gives another layer of regulation, another layer of burden on our commercial fishing industry, when Senator Ludwig, by his very own admission, says that we have the best-managed fisheries in the world?

Senator Ludwig basically wants the taxpayers to fork out and pay for a review of the review. We already accept that we have this wonderfully managed fishery, there are a number of checks and balances in place to make sure that our fishery remains a well managed fishery. I will not bore the chamber by going through the absolutely massive amount of research that has been undertaken in this space to ensure not only that the fishery is well managed but that we can prove that it is well managed. To actually create a panel to review every declared activity can be nothing more than a waste of taxpayers' money.

Despite the comments of Senator Ludwig in 2012, it really is nothing more than a deliberate attempt to politicise fisheries management. As I said, we support what Senator Ludwig said in 2012—that is, that the fisheries management needs to be science based. Everything that has been put in place by this government has gone towards ensuring that we do have a science based management approach to fisheries.

It is not just me, or the government, making these comments about Australia having a very well-managed fishery. We are considered worldwide to be one of the best fisheries managers in the world. We have a number of protections in place through myriad acts, including the assessments under the EPBC Act that is so often quoted in this place. Another thing that needs to be said in all this is that the Australian Fisheries Management Authority is a well-established institution. We have confidence in AFMA. They were set up as an independent authority to manage Australian fisheries and we believe they are doing a very good job—and the rest of the world also thinks that they are doing a very good job. It appears that it is only Senator Ludwig and the Greens who believe that they are not doing a good job—yet, when Senator Ludwig was the minister responsible for oversight of this body, he seemed to think they were doing a pretty good job at that time. It appears that it is only now that he is in opposition that he has decided that AFMA is not doing that good a job. We have to question the motivation behind this bill being brought into this place.

Summing up what this bill does: it just introduces another layer of red tape. We all know about what red tape—unnecessary compliance, unnecessary regulatory burden—does; it does little more than threaten jobs. If companies are overburdened with red tape and green tape, they are not concentrating on doing what they should be doing—getting out there and being productive. Any additional requirement that has no definable benefit and no definable positive outcome is really nothing more than a brake on the creation of jobs in Australia. I find it bizarre that Senator Ludwig would think it a good idea to do something that just creates an obstacle to the ability of the fishing industry to be productive, to develop and to create jobs for Australian fishermen—to generate that wonderful clean and green seafood for us to eat. We are just once again putting a handbrake on that.

As I said, the coalition does not shirk the fact that good science must be the theme that underpins fishery management. We do not shirk from that at all. We are continually investing in research programs. At the moment, a major research program is being undertaken to estimate the current size of the major small pelagic fish stocks in Australia. The results of this research program are, I understand, imminent and will assist the setting of total allowable catch limits for the Small Pelagic Fishery from 1 May this year. But, until the new survey results are in, the government has said that we need to be responsible about this. We have set very conservative catch limits to ensure that, if there is any change in the data about the size of this fishery, the Small Pelagic Fishery—if the fish stocks are not as robust as they are believed to be—then we will have been catching fish at a rate under what we thought was a sustainable level. There is no question at all that we believe that a responsible approach to this is absolutely essential, but we are saying that that responsible approach does not need another level of regulatory burden.

Another issue that I raised earlier was that of sovereign risk. If we continue to scaremonger—which is basically what has been going on with this bill—all we do is say to the rest of the world that we are not really serious about this and that, if you make a decision to do something in Australia, you should not be surprised if the government changes its mind, because that is what it is wont to do. We need to send a message of certainty to the rest of the world, because there is nothing surer than that certainty in any marketplace ends up having a very good outcome, that positive attitudes deliver productivity and that productivity delivers jobs.

In summing up, Australia's fisheries are world-class, they are sustainably managed and decisions are made using only the best available science. It is the intention and commitment of this government that that will continue. The government is absolutely committed to a balanced and informed approach to fisheries management and we will continue to make decisions regarding access to all Australian fisheries based on sound science.

Australia's Commonwealth fisheries have very conservative catch limits and, to ensure the health of our fisheries into the future, this will continue. We believe the Commonwealth fisheries regulator, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, has the appropriate powers to enforce the conditions imposed on all boats fishing in our waters. We have confidence in AFMA and therefore we believe that they are the appropriate body with the appropriate skills, powers and tools to continue to undertake the responsible and science based management of our fisheries.

As a government we have done what we said we would do. By undertaking further research on the commercial species and having an independent expert panel examine potential environmental impacts of the operation of large midwater freezer trawlers in the Small Pelagic Fishery, we have done exactly what we said we were going to do. We have done it responsibly, we have done it based on science and we have done it transparently. For all these reasons, and probably many more that my colleagues have told this place, the government believes that this bill is totally unnecessary. It just adds an additional level of burdensome regulation that is completely unnecessary. The additional requirement that has been put forward by the Greens with their amendment further exacerbates the situation.

So, as I said, the government is not supporting this amendment bill that has been put forward by Senator Ludwig. I would hope that this chamber will see the sense of the science, which is quite readily available to every single person, including Senator Ludwig—who, having been the fisheries minister for a period of time in the previous government, should know better than anybody in this place about Australia's wonderful fisheries management record and the fact that this fisheries management record continues. Nothing has occurred over the intervening period since Senator Ludwig was the minister for fisheries that should give him any reason to have any concern.

I would urge those opposite to read the words of Senator Ludwig from August 2012 and perhaps ask Senator Ludwig if he could please explain why his position in this area has changed. Having said that the management of fisheries should not be politicised, he has turned around now and brought this bill into this place which appears for no other reason than being entirely political.

For these reasons and many others, I have to say I cannot possibly support this bill. As I said, I believe it is completely unnecessary. It provides an additional level of burdensome regulation, which is something this government has promised to get rid of. Therefore, we will not be supporting it.