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Monday, 15 March 2010
Page: 2383

Mr TUCKEY (12:33 PM) —The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Recreational Fishing for Mako and Porbeagle Sharks) Bill 2010 is important legislation, notwithstanding its brevity. It is legislation that highlights the problems that arise when governments—I use the plural—go out and make international commitments that it is not in the interests of Australia to keep. The EPBC Act, which we are amending, was an invention of a fellow called Robert Hill, a senator here, who brought it to the Liberal party room. As far as I am concerned, it was the greatest fraud practised on the Liberal party room in the many years that I have been a member thereof. It is the sort of silly legislation that abrogates the responsibility of our governments and plays into the hands of people who never take any notice of it anyway. It is one thing to get a lot of people to sign up to a particular agreement; it is another thing to get half the world to comply with it. No doubt, as the explanatory memorandum advises us, these decisions were taken probably in Geneva in December 2008—longfin mako, shortfin mako and porbeagle sharks were listed on appendix II of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, primarily due to concerns about populations of these species in the Northern Hemisphere. Both appendix I and appendix II of the CMS specify that they be listed as migratory. Accordingly, these species were listed as migratory species under the EPBC Act on 29 January 2010, and of course this legislation is to overturn that listing.

The reality of the matter is that in the Northern Hemisphere there are some of the greatest fishing pirates in the world. Having virtually destroyed their own fish resources, many of them want to come down and attack Southern Hemisphere resources which, in the case of Australia, are very limited. We have a very fragile fishing environment. In the Great Australian Bight, for example, you do not find millions of seagoing bird species. Why not? Because there are no fish there, of substance, for them to eat. We do not have the Gulf Stream or some of the great assets of places like South America. On the other hand, I well remember a visit to Columbia in years gone by as the representative, as I am to this day, of the rock lobster industry in Western Australia, which has a typical catch of about 10,000 tonne a year, to look at the sort of lobster, or crayfish, as I have always known them, that were being caught and marketed by the fishing boats of that region. Those crayfish would be known locally as kakas—babies—and, by the admission of one of our guides, these people had virtually destroyed an industry by overfishing. That does not mean that there is necessarily such a shortage of the sharks that we are talking about—shortfin and longfin mako and porbeagle sharks and others—that it is necessary to deny the opportunity for recreational fishing.

The best conservationists in Australia are our professional fishermen. I have had many an experience of them actually fighting the authorities for a reduction in fishing effort—in the crayfishing industry, for instance. Western Australian crayfishermen went to the state minister and asked for a 25 per cent cut in the number of crayfish pots they were allowed to put in the water. Those pots were tradeable and valued at about $30,000 each at the time, but 80 or 90 per cent of that industry in Western Australia knew, to use my words, that we had got too smart at catching fish. The argument was put to me that you needed to put three or four pots in the water in a single location simply to make sure of one drop on the appropriate spot; and, of course, with three or four floats in the water you had a reasonable chance of finding them when you went back the following day. Today, underwater technology takes you to that appropriate spot, that bump in the ocean where crayfish aggregate, and you have got a GPS to lead you back the next day with the automatic pilot and you can drive within a metre of one float. So the extent of their ability to spread their catching equipment was excessive, and the commercial fishermen said, ‘There must be a reduction.’ There were, as there usually are, a few who said otherwise. As I recollect, one of them actually stood for the National Party against me. The National Party minister in WA actually watered down the request of the fishermen. I give that as an example.

I have been to the Abrolhos Islands with a professional fisherman and have been taken out handline fishing with other people. He just takes you somewhere and the next thing you know the fish are virtually jumping into the boat, they are so easy to catch. But when you have caught five or six, he says, ‘All lines in; we’ll move to another spot.’ In other words, ‘We’re not going to kill every fish in that vicinity.’ That is the attitude of the professional. I have got to say that the attitude of the recreational fisherman varies, with all the high technology that is now also available to them. Although we do see examples, promoted by Rex Hunt, who had that TV show where everything went back in the water. I am not sure they all survived, but that does not matter. The fact of life is that you can have recreational fishing without seriously damaging the fish stock, if it is treated purely as a sport, and of course there is nothing wrong with someone going out to ‘get a feed of fish’. The tragedy is when they go out for a week to some of the fishing spots in more remote areas known to me and fill up whacking great big eskies of fillets and take them back to distribute amongst their friends or whatever they do with it. That is destroying the environment, and all of these things have got to be taken into account.

I had a term as fisheries minister and I was gravely concerned about the future of southern bluefin tuna. Historically they were in huge numbers south of Australia until the Japanese longliners came down, in a period when it was laissez faire, and reduced the numbers of that particular fish stock dramatically. Eventually, to the credit of the fisheries people here—not the environmentalists but the fisheries managers in Australia, supported very strongly by Western Australian fisheries management, which has typically been of a very high standard—limited entry fishery is now a byword in the commercial fishing industry in Western Australia. You let two boats in and, if they are doing all right, you let in another two, in new greenfield areas, and you control the catch to make sure that it is sustainable.

The cause of conservation can be overrun by environmental aspects, and people do not even know what that means. One might wonder why we are now correcting something that was decided in December 2008, when presumably we knew what was going on in Geneva or wherever the decision was made, and we should have been there arguing against it in the interests of Australia. As has been said, it was a Northern Hemisphere problem; and when it comes to fish stocks everything is a Northern Hemisphere problem. If you go and have a look at some of the vessels they use, they are ocean liners, and they just rip everything out of the sea. That should stop. This is how much political pressure they can bring up there: when the price of fuel got too expensive and it looked like it was going to act as a conservation measure, the European governments gave them free fuel; they gave them money to go and rape the ocean further. As a kid, we all knew about English fillet, or yellowfish, as we kids called it. You can still buy it under the label of ‘South African cod,’ because they have still got a few to catch, but the people of the Northern Hemisphere destroyed that industry by overfishing it. At one stage the Icelanders—and this is a long time ago—sent their gunboats out to protect their area of resource. Of course, the long-term outcome of that was 200-kilometre fishing limits that exist today, which give sovereign states some chance of protecting their resources. The tragedy is, when you draw some of those islands around our South Pacific neighbours, you create large areas of water—and that should be good—and it is sold off to American purse seiners.

A purse seine net is murder. The original means of catching southern bluefin tuna, as we used to see on the movies, was with poles—they bit on a hook and you pulled them into the boat. In those circumstances, some got away. But when you go with a purse seine net to a schooling variety and put it right around them and zip the bottom up, nothing gets away. These are all issues, but it does not alter the fact that the parties who can best manage that are the sovereign nations. When we know that certain South Pacific islands are selling these rights and the cash is frequently not even going into their own government coffers, we should be dealing with that severely in terms of the aid we give to them, and other issues, because that is a tragedy and it is not needed.

Coming back to southern bluefin tuna and the downside of my argument: we were hanging on by our fingernails maintaining an agreement with the Japanese. Of course the word ‘research’ kept coming up: ‘Could we just do a little bit of research and see if we can catch a few more fish? It won’t affect the fish stocks.’ But then, all of a sudden, one year the big tuna came right in close to Tasmania, within Tasmanian waters. Tasmania has recreational approval for charter boats to catch two tuna for every passenger on board, and they were going out and doing that. These were really big fish. Do you know where they put most of the fish? On the tip! When I went down there to talk about it, I had a jumped up state fisheries bloke saying, ‘Don’t you dare lecture us, we are the state of Tasmania!’ Think about that. It almost got violent. The fact of life is that, in these circumstances, this is a matter that requires some discussion across the board.

In the remaining time available to me, I want to make a couple of points. I plead guilty on the EPBC Act because I was misled in our party room as to its purpose. It was explained to us by the minister at the time as a devolvement of environmental matters to the states. Of course, it is the opposite of that. It does not reach only into the sea; it binds us into international decisions where we should not be so doing. We have every reason in the world to control our fisheries resources. We should consult the recreational and commercial fishing industry for their advice because it is frequently very good. They are conservationists because they understand the simple fact that, if they overfish the resource next year, they go broke. That is always a good test.

I would make the same argument for our forests. Since state governments found a reason, under ‘the environment’, to save the forests, we have been burning them down and killing them at a rate that never occurred while the private sector was in there harvesting forests and turning them into sawn lumber, which happens to be the major form of sequestration of carbon. A sawn plank in a house, a flooring plank, is likely to be there in a hundred years time, but leave that same timber in the forest and it will be burnt within a 10- or 20-year cycle, as is the evidence now being given to the royal commission in Victoria. We had to ‘murder’ 170 people to even get that inquiry! I say ‘we’ because the other day in this place we had a valedictory. It is a year since all those people were vaporised. Most of their bodies were never found. That is how hot the fires were. In those 12 months, this parliament has done nothing to oblige state governments to manage their forests as a safe environment. You would never tolerate for a second the sorts of dangers that people were put into by state government forestry policy in the name of the environment. Marysville was not a new suburb. It had been there for 100 years. It was a forestry town. It had never burnt down, and they had some pretty big fires in the past.

But we go into this environmental argument. I have to laugh because a little bit of that evidence has now hit the media. The government decided it could make energy efficiencies and reduce emissions by gifting a couple of million Australian households some insulation in their ceiling. I will not go into the pros and cons of that—it has had enough airing. Who did the government ask to run the project? The environment department, a department focused on one thing only: saying no. You can come up with any sort of project and their culture is: ‘How can we stop it?’ You say to them, ‘Go and administer three billion bucks!’ It was a pretty poor choice. Of course, the other day the newly appointed director had to tell his 700 employees that he does not know anything about running a project of this nature and does not really want the job. At least the man was honest.

But it is a culture we can do without. I object to signing treaties that put the decisions of this parliament under the supervision of a foreign power. I do not object to this parliament making laws from time to time that add to environmental protection. I just wish they would realise that, when trees burn down and the heat of the forest fire is so intense that all seed in the ground are burnt as well, it is hardly environmental protection.

The reality is that it was done because one political party had a belief about that, and other political parties were prepared to subjugate common sense to chase their preferences—a pretty lousy reason to kill 170 people; and there is no doubt about it. The Victorian parliament thought they were on a real winner. They locked up the forest, sacked all the forest workers and saved money. Look at what they have spent this year? After all that I had a minister from that state say to me as minister when I urged for preventative measures in their forests, ‘If we’ve got to touch one tree, we won’t do it.’ They had 80 bulldozers working in that forest trying to put the fire out. God only knows how many trees they touched with those bulldozers, and what was necessary and what was not.

It is the same with fishing. Of course there should be opportunities for recreational fishers, and this legislation fixes it. The question is: why are we in here having to do this to protect our recreational fishers from a decision made in Geneva; and why have we got legislation surviving that does those sorts of things? It is a heartbreak and a tragedy to me. Fishing is an area that requires a closer conservation effort simply because you cannot count them like kangaroos or other animals found on the land. (Time expired)