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Wednesday, 15 October 2003
Page: 21556


Mr NEVILLE (7:53 PM) —It is no secret that I deplore the prospective commercial fishing restrictions being put forward by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority in its draft closure plan. I have previously spoken on this topic but since then more weight has been added to my argument that the possible closure of up to 25 per cent of the current fishing grounds contained within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park zone will decimate Queensland's commercial fishing industry.

Queensland's commercial fishermen have already lived through a succession of fishery closures, such as the 2001 East Coast trawl plan, which was progressively implemented from 1999 onwards and which slashed the state's trawling fleet from 750 to 500. In addition, 35 per cent of the reef area that was untrawled or lightly trawled was closed to Queensland fishers at that time. In 2001 an effort unit system was introduced as part of the East Coast trawl fishery structural adjustment scheme. Trawler owners in my own area dropped from around 150 to 120 effort nights, and there was a huge decline in the number of trawlers operating in the Bundaberg region. One company operating out of Bundaberg, Fishmac, explained that they had gone from having 33 trawlers supplying them to seven. The decline in Gladstone was more dramatic, with one processing works having its supplying trawlers drop from 107 to 31.

Following my last speech I received a message from Paul Farmer, group general manager of Urangan Fisheries and Schulz Fisheries in Hervey Bay. In part he said:

... in the past we quite often have felt local parliamentarians have not really quite understood the broader socio-economic impacts that will occur from continuing to place ever more aggressive closures upon our industry—with no guarantee for the industry regarding future access rights to harvest what is a community resource. A resource—in our opinion—that should be sustainably harvested for the benefit of the community as a whole, and not just locked up indefinitely based on vague and unproven science.

I agree with his sentiments wholeheartedly, and they were further reinforced last Friday when Professor Tor Hundloe of the University of Queensland produced a damning study into the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority's Representative Areas Program, or RAP. Professor Hundloe's research shows that Queensland will lose $38 million if the RAP goes ahead as planned. I am no environmental vandal but neither am I going to stand back and watch regional centres in Central Queensland, such as Gladstone, Bundaberg and Yeppoon, haemorrhage for the sake of untested environmental ideology.

The Great Barrier Reef is both a natural wonder and a natural resource. These concepts are not mutually exclusive and neither are the ties between the reef and the families who rely on its environs for a living. Professor Hundloe is dead right when he says the environmental benefits of the proposed rezoning are fuzzy at best, while the costs are clear for all to see. In my electorate alone, local families and the regional economy face a direct cut of $6.6 million in total, with Gladstone looking to lose $2.5 million from its local economy and Bundaberg predicted to lose $4.1 million. Other centres to lose will be Mackay, losing $3.8 million; Townsville, losing $2.8 million; and Cairns, losing $3.4 million per year.

Financial figures are one thing, but the human cost of the RAP means up to 1,200 jobs in Gladstone and Bundaberg, of people both directly and indirectly employed by the industry, stand at risk. These men and women might work on a trawler, in a small processing outlet, for a seafood wholesaler or at a local iceworks. It could be my neighbour or it might be the young kid down the road who just scored his first part-time job in the local fish and chip shop.

The one hope on the horizon is an independent study commissioned by the federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage to be conducted by the Bureau of Rural Sciences. I urge those carrying out the study to fully explore the economic ramifications of such sweeping fisheries closures along the Barrier Reef and present a balanced view of the associated costs for our local communities. I will certainly be following this matter closely with the minister. I support the pristine Great Barrier Reef and I want to see it protected. But there is room for a properly regulated fishing industry and there is room, too, to carry out the promise made when the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was first put in place that there would be no damage to the fishing industry.

Question agreed to.