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Thursday, 5 March 2015
Page: 1269


Senator BERNARDI (South Australia) (11:29): I rise to put some thoughts on the record with regard to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill 2014 introduced by Senator Ludwig. It will not surprise those in this chamber that I am opposed to the bill put forward by Senator Ludwig and also the amendment put forward by the Greens.

Before I address the specific substance of the bill, I do feel it is incumbent upon me as a South Australian senator, just like Senator Wright, to respond to some of the statements that Senator Wright has made. I must say from the outset that I am very, very disappointed that Senator Wright would choose this chamber to attack one of the most important industries to South Australia, and that is the southern bluefin tuna fishing industry. It is an industry that is extraordinarily valuable to our state. It generates some hundreds of millions of dollars worth of revenue. It is very important to the town of Port Lincoln, where I spend quite a bit of time. I consider many of the tuna fishers to be my friends and I consider them to be great contributors to South Australia. They invest in South Australia, they invest in jobs and they invest in developing best industry practice in the tuna fishing industry—

Senator Wright: They are friends of the government!

Senator BERNARDI: I might I say this: Senator Wright, of course, gets caught up in all of her rhetoric. She gets caught up in her antipathy towards any harvesting of the sea. I am one of those who loves harvesting from the sea, quite frankly. I enjoy nothing more than heading out of Port Lincoln in my little boat and catching things like sharks—you know, sharks, which are dangerous creatures and hurt people. But not only that: they consume thousands of kilograms of protein every year that Senator Wright wants to protect. They consume the sardines, they consume the baitfish, they consume a whole range of things. I like catching them, I like cooking them and I like eating them. What I do is: I cut them up, I breadcrumb and deep-fry them. It is beautiful. It is something for the whole family to really enjoy.

I am a consumer of protein just like the tuna consume protein. In Senator Wright's world, the tuna, if they were not captured by the tuna fishermen, would not eat anything at all. They would not chase those tasty sardines and those little pelagic fish. They would not eat the 12 kilos of other fish in order to put on one kilo of their own growth. No! They would swim through the ocean and not eat anything at all. It is not like we can force feed crew. It is just preposterous to presume that, somehow, by capturing some smaller fish, fattening them up and adding enormous value—and it is a world-pioneering experience—we are doing damage to the environment.

Let me tell you what does damage to the environment: a fishing industry that is not managed as well as the Australian fishing industry. We are at the very top, in South Australia in particular, of managing the fishing industry—particularly the southern bluefin tuna industry. If we go back to the issue of quotas, I remember when quotas were reduced for many nations when the Howard government was in—it was a fine government—because they had been doing the wrong thing. They had not been counting quotas. They had been virtually doubling the fishing over what they should have been. But Australia was protected in that reduction of quota, because we did the right thing. Quite frankly, I was very proud of the government. Minister Abetz was, I think, the fisheries minister at the time. He went in and fought on the international stage. He said: 'Why should we be penalised when we are doing the right thing by the global fish stocks and sticking within our quota?'

Of course, that did not take place under the previous government. Quotas were reduced despite Australia being, perhaps, the best managed fishery in the world. Based on my own experience and the experience and wisdom of those who go out and fish for tuna commercially, there are more tuna out in the Great Australian Bight than ever before. It is quite extraordinary how much is available out there. It is because it is very, very well managed. So I do not buy what Senator Wright is peddling.

It is worth noting that the Greens—that extreme environmental movement, if you will—has long had this antipathy towards any harvesting of southern bluefin tuna. I remember when Mr Peter Garrett, one of your former ministers, Mr Deputy President Marshall, was an environmental campaigner rather than a political campaigner. He was head, I think, of the Australian environment council or something like that. He was actually pushing for an entire time ban on any commercial fishing of southern bluefin tuna. It was preposterous. It was absurd. But this is just how the extreme green fringe want to actually stop people from harvesting the bounties of the sea. It is right for us to question. If we going to complain not based on science and not based on evidence but on some emotive unfairness to the fish and prohibit Australians, or anyone else for that matter, from sustainably catching important food for the world, where are we going to end up with this? If we allow government to encroach at these sorts of emotive levels, what is going to happen in the future? Are they going to continue to prosecute, prosecute and prosecute the case until it is the recreational fishermen that, ultimately, suffer?

Recreational fishermen are, in many respects, great environmentalists. They do the right thing. I support the fisheries officers that go out, check and make sure that we do the right thing, because we want to see fish stocks maintained. I do not want to see the rape and pillage of the sea, because that would be entirely inappropriate. We need to make sure that things are sustainable. That is why we cannot, in all conscience, listen to the types of rhetoric of the emotive arguments that are not put forward based on any real science apart from—

Senator Wright: Real science, like video-monitoring technology?

Senator BERNARDI: Thank you, Senator Wright. Through you, Mr Deputy President Marshall, I know Senator Wright hates South Australia. I recognise that Senator Wright really loathes South Australia. That is why we do not see her standing up for submarines in South Australia or for the southern bluefin tuna industry, or for anything else. The only thing we hear from Senator Wright is some sort of—

Senator Wright: Mr Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. It seems that Senator Bernardi insists on misleading the chamber by suggesting that I have been trying to—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Wright, this is not a point of order. Please resume your seat. Senator Bernardi, you have the call.

Senator BERNARDI: In legal parlance, it would not be a vexatious litigant; it would be a vexatious point of order giver. I think we should consider whether people only have a certain number of points of order to give in this chamber before they are ruled disorderly.

If we go back to the point, South Australia has some critical industries and, quite frankly, the defence industry is one critical industry. I am very pleased that senators on this side have fought internally with the government to ensure that South Australia gets a better than fair deal. I must say, the Prime Minister has been very supportive in that respect. But there are also other industries that are very important such as the southern bluefin tuna fishing industry, the prawn industry, the agricultural industry. They are all very important from South Australia. We can ill afford to let any of them go by the wayside.

But is it just coincidence—I am asking myself this question and I would ask the Australian people to consider it as well—that some of these very successful industries are the ones that are most targeted by the extreme and radical green movement? They do not really like agriculture. They claim that cows, for example, are destroying the climate or that sheep are destroying the environment. The bluefin tuna industry, of course, is suddenly some sort of terrible blight upon the world. But what they do not accept is that they are users of all the goods that are produced through this primary production. They do not seem to like mining or the defence industry. I just wonder what they do like. In actual fact, we know they like each other.

Senator Ryan: Windmills.

Senator BERNARDI: And they do like windmills, which I consider to be a blight on the environment myself.

Going back to the substance of this bill, it is built around rhetoric. It is built around an emotive argument. It is built around some sort of hysteria, which I do not think it is entirely appropriate, quite frankly. As I said at the start, I will not be supporting the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act Amendment Bill 2014 nor will I be supporting the amendment by the Greens.

Senator Ludwig, who is someone I do have some respect for in this chamber, has put forward this bill and has made in the past comments about what fishermen in this country want. As a fisher in this country—not a very successful one but one who is very keen on enjoying not only the nutritional benefits but the entertainment benefits of fishing—I join with so many other people that do not want to see plunder from the sea that is unjustifiable. We want to make sure that the bycatch is minimised. We want to make sure that there is a sustainable fishing catch going forward.

One of the alternatives that can supplement a wild fish catch is fish farming where they will take smaller fish such as in the southern bluefin tuna industry and fatten them up to add value using fish meal or sardines or pilchards—and that is indeed a huge industry all of its own. Also the alternative is to grow fish from little sprats and breed them. They do that in the abalone industry in South Australia as well. There is a very successful abalone-growing onshore industry where they export right across the world, particularly to China. You also see it with barramundi and in a whole range of other areas. But wild caught fish is generally the freshest. It is the cleanest and there is something that is wonderful about being able to eat a wild caught fish.

We also know that the more limitations we put on that, the more reliance will go to fish farming practices which do not meet the same standards as they do in places like South Australia, where fish husbandry or animal husbandry is not at what we would deem to be at an acceptable level. That could be where you are picking up some crustaceans or shell fish or even some other pelagic fish which have been grown in polluted waters or in an unsanitary environment and so are unacceptable. That is the risk if we go down the path of what the Greens and others are suggesting.

There is no real suggestion that we are increasing some sort of catch or bioharvest from larger ships or anything else that is coming in—they may consolidate the catch of a number of smaller ships. It may be done more efficiently. It may produce more jobs or fewer jobs. We do not know, but we are not saying we are going to catch 50,000 tonnes more fish. In actual fact, Australia's quota is quite straightforward and we try and act within those limits.

We also do not hear a lot of discussion in this building about the poachers that go into Australian territorial waters. We need appropriate measures to apprehend and intercept those poachers who clearly do the wrong thing all the time. But in the world of moral relativism that groups like the extreme environmentalists put forward, somehow we are persecuting these poachers because they have got no choice; they have to do what they have to do and we should not be prosecuting them. Whether it be the Patagonian toothfish, whether it be harvesting shark fins in Australian waters, which is pretty barbaric—they should at least capture the whole shark and cook it up and eat it because they are very tasty—or whether it be the harvesting some sort of shells, poachers are doing the wrong thing. Australian fishers overwhelmingly do the right thing whether it be commercial fishermen, recreational fisherman or those that act somewhere in the middle.

I will not be supporting this bill. I do recognise that management of fisheries is something that many in this chamber and across this parliament are interested in. But in order to manage things appropriately you have got to be fully informed about them. That means not just some sort of theoretical knowledge about it. It does not mean dismissing the expertise of those who have spent decades on the sea and who understand what it was really like in what I will call 'the bad old days' when there were no quota limits, size limits or bag limits. Some of the old videos from South Australia are extraordinary, where you see fish piled six or seven deep on the deck of a large boat—the sorts of things we would abhor today; that is what was done previously.

We have experts managing our fishing environment—not only AFMA but also experts who have spent their entire lives in the fishing industry and who have absolutely nothing to gain by destroying that industry. In fact they have everything to lose. Similarly, people like me and the many other recreational fishers have absolutely nothing to gain by seeing the fish stocks of the sea depleted to a point where we cannot sustain a reasonable catch for recreational fishermen or continue to sustain feeding the billions of people around the world who depend on seafood and those who choose it because it is healthy.

I think South Australia has a wonderful opportunity to present itself as the clean, green seafood capital of the world. We have pristine waters. The waters of the Southern Ocean are some of the most pristine in the world. We have very good fish management practices there. We have responsible corporate citizens who play an enormous role in their community. We also have other commercial fishermen who want to come in and maximise the return on their investment from fishing in South Australian waters. I do not see anything wrong with that. I think efficiencies are positive because people can save money and it can lower the cost of good for consumers. If the same quota can be caught in a shorter time frame there is a greater opportunity over the remainder of the year for the fish stocks to replenish. These are all positive things.

I think that bills like Senator Ludwig's and particularly the amendments put forward by the Greens—with the emotive and, I would say, uninformed arguments put forward by Senator Wright and others—do a disservice not only to my home state of South Australia, and I am extremely parochial about it, but also to the good management of fisheries right across our country. Successive governments have tried to do the right thing, in many respects. They have bungled it on some occasions. I am not going to play partisan politics and things of that nature, as Mr Burke did when he was fisheries minister. I am not sure that it is actually helpful in this debate. What is helpful in this debate is to be able to have a reasonable discussion about the benefits of fishing to Australia—the commercial benefits not only from an industry perspective and the money it generates but also the fact that that provides us with a huge insight into how fish stocks are actually being managed. We simply do not have the resources or the time to examine to the same level that private enterprise will about fish stocks and how they are being managed. I know from firsthand experience that when there are plenty of fish out there the fishermen are happy to tell you there are more fish than they have ever seen. And when the fish are a bit sparse on the ground they are happy to tell you that too. They know that they need to do the right thing not only by their industry but by the nation, by the state and by the community to make sure that the industry they are pursuing is sustainable.

I will stand with the fishermen of Port Lincoln and I will stand with the fishermen around the country who do the right thing. I will stand with the commercial fishermen and the recreational fishermen. I do believe that, ultimately, when we attack them we are attacking one of the great competitive advantages that my state of South Australia, but also Australia, has in that we have a viable, methodical, scientifically based industry in which the interests of nature, the interests of man and the interests of the privateers and government are all combined to produce a sustainable fishing industry. (Time expired)