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Wednesday, 25 June 2008
Page: 5962

Mr NEVILLE (7:23 PM) —I regret that I will not have the opportunity tonight to complete my speech as I have to be in Brisbane tomorrow because of a sickness in the family. So I will just go to the hot spots of my presentation.

I think the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2008 is good legislation as a framework—as far as it goes. It is essentially the Howard government’s legislation, but I do not want to make it partisan, and I am sure the Labor Party, had our roles been reversed, would have supported it. Nevertheless, there are aspects of this that need to be looked at. The real test of this legislation will come in the near future when we consider the rezoning of the reef. That will be the test of the integrity of this system and the equity it delivers.

I have a lot of fishermen in my area. Fishermen are very decent, ordinary people. They are not like other farmers, who can grow their wheat and chaff and husband their cattle and sheep. The fisherman has to engage with the sea. He cannot just go out into the paddock in the morning. All sorts of things have to come his way, be they restrictions or weather conditions or the like. He has to deal with built-in difficulties. The one thing that we have not done over recent years is look after fishermen. They have been put to one side as if they were irrelevant. By any measure, they have not been compensated properly. You might say that this is as much the fault of the former government as it is of this government, but, no matter who is to blame, some of the cases are still outstanding and equity needs to be applied.

With the east coast trawl plan, which was a device brought in by both the Commonwealth and Queensland governments, the number of trawlers was reduced from 750 to 500. A short time after that it went as low as 460. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the various wings of government said, ‘The reef is now sustainable.’ And we all celebrated that. But within two years we were told, ‘We have got to have a bit more of the reef.’ One figure that was bandied around early in the piece was about another four per cent but, when it got down to tintacks, GBRMPA was asking for another 20 per cent. So they went out and devised various zoning systems. The three major systems were light blue, dark green and gold. The gold, or yellow, was the recreational fishing areas. In the end, it was not 20 per cent; it was 34 per cent.

Neither side of the parliament said: ‘Wait a minute. That is okay but make sure you leave sufficient fishing grounds.’ And they did not. Even worse, in the southern part of the reef, off Gladstone, Bundaberg and Hervey Bay, the closures were about 73 or 74 per cent. Some say 60 per cent, but fishermen I talk to say around about 73 per cent. That gutted the fishing industry in my area from about 80 trawlers to 10 or fewer. Similarly, in Hervey Bay, it went from 50 or 60 down to a small number—I have not been able to get the actual number that survived.

Some dreadful things happened. The spanner crab fishery, which a year or two before was celebrated as the icon fishery of Australia, was put five kilometres inside a green zone. In other words, they just closed it down. One of the best prawning grounds—the area between Red Rock and Wreck Rock, north of Bundaberg—closed down.

Some people express the sanguine view: ‘That’s good because it will protect the reef.’ And let me emphasise to honourable members that I am as much for the protection of the reef as anyone. But you can both protect the reef and still have equity in these things. They are not mutually exclusive. We have allowed the zealots in the ‘green industry’ to let that become the case. The circumstance that many fishermen find themselves in is very sad. I will mention one, Sid McKeown, who is a fish processor in my area. He once had 30 to 33 trawlers servicing his fish works, but after the east coast trawl plan came into effect it went down to seven or eight trawlers. Then after the RAP, which was the zoning of the Great Barrier Reef, it went down to about three or four trawlers. My staff spoke to him today and he said that he has not had a trawler for three months now. That is appalling.

The zealots always say, ‘Paul, you are probably right but we are saving the reef, so it is all okay.’ But are we, or are we just shifting the effort somewhere else? I went into either Coles or Woolworths recently to buy a block of mixed fish to make some spaghetti marinara. I took my customer number docket and, while waiting, I looked along the shelves. There were nine big trays of fish and eight of those nine carried a ‘foreign product’ tag. In other words, we have stopped a bit of fishing on the reef but we have shifted it somewhere else. If you go to the Tokyo markets you will see the extent of that.

In the short time available to me tonight, I am calling for equity for fishermen as we move to the next phase of regulating the reef.

Debate interrupted.