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Thursday, 16 August 2012
Page: 8992


Mr CHRISTENSEN (Dawson) (11:04): While the coalition does not oppose the Fisheries Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2012, I personally do have some concerns about it. Those concerns are partly about what the legislation contains and partly about what it does not contain. My concerns arise from this government's highly negative approach to fisheries management. It is about control and it is about contraction. It is about stifling people's livelihoods and squeezing freedoms to shape the Australian lifestyle to fit the government's own misguided perceptions—and the misguided perceptions of their fellow travellers, the Greens.

The government's approach is partly evident in this bill. I do not know that there is one piece of legislation that has come to this House under this government, in the life of this parliament, that promotes growth in the fisheries sector, either in wild catch or in aquaculture. Actually, I am not sure that this government has brought any legislation to this place that promotes growth in any industry. Instead, this bill provides another level of red tape, complete with its own financial and compliance burdens which this time include criminal sanctions. It is another law that is going to impinge on not only recreational but also commercial fishermen, those who are trying to make a living and are really struggling under the current amount of legislation and green tape that already oppresses the sector. I know that this concept of moving to e-monitoring is about better data collection, and in one sense that is a good thing. But I do worry about what AFMA will do with the data, where else this data might end up and what it might be used for in the long run.

To the Liberal-National coalition's great shame, we presided over the closure of many great commercial and recreational fishing spots in the Great Barrier Reef. If I had been in this place at that time, I would have crossed the floor when that decision was made because of the impact that it had on the economy and the lifestyle of North Queensland. That decision was made by government agencies after getting hold of data that the fishermen provided in good faith to those agencies. The fishers provided information on where the good fishing spots were, where their catch was coming from, and that information was promptly used to lock out those very same fishermen from those very spots.

The Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the member for Braddon, who introduced this legislation into the House, recognised the importance of the fishing industry in his second reading speech. He said:

Commercial fish catch contributes more than $2 billion per year to the Australian economy. Processors, marketers, retailers, consumers and many allied small businesses benefit directly or indirectly from the industry and increase its contribution to the economy.

And he is right. He is completely right: it is an important part of the economy, particularly regional economies. We have towns like Bowen, in my electorate of Dawson, and Cairns where fishing plays a big role in the local economy and the local community. But then, in the parliamentary secretary's speech, came the big green fist:

… Australians expect species that are valuable to the economy will not be over exploited. Accurate scientific data is essential to set catch limits on species to protect their status and maximise the economic returns to Australia. Furthermore, Australians expect that threatened, endangered and protected species, such as sea lions, dolphins and albatrosses, as well as the marine environment, will be protected from damage.

That is fine that Australians expect that. But this government should not be further adding to the problem that we already have in the community, and that is the problem of false perceptions. At this point, I want to quote the Chair of the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, the Hon. Harry Woods. This is taken from the transcript of his evidence to the inquiry into the role of science for fisheries and aquaculture which is currently being conducted by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Agriculture, Resources, Fisheries and Forestry. I will quote him at some length:

Fishing in Australia is vibrant in some areas and pretty depressed in other areas. We think as a board that in overall terms the fishing industry in all its forms is at a sustainable level. It is well managed—not that there cannot be improvements—and, more than that, we believe the people of Australia want to eat fish. They want to eat Australian fish. We consider there is a bit of a disconnect—and I think this is one of the big issues—between the consumer and where the stuff comes from. There was some evidence more recently that kids at school did not know where yoghurt came from—it was grown on trees—and it is a similar story with fish. You get people in Glebe in Sydney or the inner suburbs of other cities eating fish but saying they do not believe it is sustainable. We have had some surveys that say that there is a large percentage of people who do not believe the fishing industry is sustainable, which is not in accord with what we think.

He means the Fisheries RDC. He goes on:

They are the sort of issues we are confronting. We do have a new strategy this year promoting the research, not the product, so that people have a better understanding of some of the issues and are not as easily believing of some of the myths that might appear in the media. We are actively trying to counter some of those myths.

This is what the Chair of the Fisheries RDC, the government funded and government backed research and development body for the fishing industry in Australia, says. He represents scientists who are in the field in this industry. They say that every wild catch stock in Australia is sustainable, and the perception that it is not is as false as the perception that yogurt tubs grow on trees. But any disconnect with the general public is no excuse for the government to be completely out of touch with reality and to perpetuate the myth. The Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Resources, Fisheries and Forestry is playing on those same false perceptions in the community that are detrimental to our fishing industry. Not only does the Fisheries RDC think that the current level of fishing is sustainable but also they believe that fishing production can grow. Mr Woods said at the same inquiry:

We think there are opportunities to increase production in all the sectors of the fisheries.

All sectors. So why are we not growing this industry? Faced with this so-called two-speed economy, this government wants to tax the strength of the economy to death rather than foster growth in the slower lane, even when the opportunities are there. What stifles growth in the fishing industry is the government reacting to these false perceptions, in fact fostering these false perceptions in the community, that stocks are somehow under threat. Dr Patrick Hone, the Executive Director of the Fisheries RDC also spoke to the standing committee's current inquiry. He said:

… we have the situation now where the bottleneck is not necessarily around the science; it is around some of the policy decisions around how that science can actually be implemented.

To paraphrase him, he said it is not the science, it is the policy interpretation of that science. More science, more data—yes, that would be helpful to have, but it is not what is required to grow the sector. What is required is better understanding, better policy decisions and better and less punitive use of the data when it does come out from the industry.

One of this government's policies that will have a great impact on the livelihoods and lifestyles of both recreational and commercial fishermen in this country is the marine park closure plan. In particular I refer to the Coral Sea Marine Park plan. It is an absolutely insane proposal that will lock up vast tracts of water from our fishing industry when the government backed research body says no unsustainable practice is taking place.

Mr Snowdon: On a point of order, Mr Acting Deputy Speaker: I remind the member for Dawson to speak to the bill. He is not speaking to the bill.

Mr Hunt: He absolutely is!

Mr Snowdon: I ask him to address the legislation before us and not go on some frolic around the Coral Sea.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Mitchell ): I call the member for Dawson.

Mr CHRISTENSEN: This is an absolutely insane proposal which is to do with the legislation. We are talking about monitoring the fishing industry and the data we can get from the industry. Yet this proposal we have is not based on any data whatsoever. It is going to lock up vast tracts of water from our fishing industry when the data, the science, the people from the government backed research and development body, say there are no unsustainable practices taking place in this country. Locking up the Coral Sea, an area half the size of Queensland, is a perfect example of dumb policy that has ignored science, ignored data and reacted to misguided perceptions about the sustainability of our fisheries.

I was at the Australian Institute of Marine Science the other day talking to a few scientists, including Dr John Gunn who heads the research facility there. I said to him: 'John, tell me about this Coral Sea proposal and what the science behind it is from your point of view.' His view is that there is very little, that we do not have a great understanding of what is out there and therefore we do not know what needs to be conserved, and therefore any push to conserve it is based on no information whatsoever. That was the view of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, another government backed body. What has driven this policy is not science but the radical green American group called Pew. That is where this government is getting its policy advice from. The lockout is not proposed because the fishery in any area of this country is unsustainable. It does not come because species are endangered; there is not one single species that is endangered. It does not come because there is any damage to any reef or any impact on the marine environment at all. In fact, in promoting the closure the government itself says the area is in pristine condition. This closure comes only because the American green organisation Pew said they want the government to do it. They would not do the same thing in American waters, I notice. In Fishing World magazine there was an article on 29 June this year which said:

The US-based anti-fishing organisation Pew has admitted that it pressured the Australian Government to lock anglers out of vast areas of the Coral Sea but would not take the same action in American waters because it would harm the US economy and disadvantage local fishermen.

I tell you what, they came to the right government if they wanted to harm local fishermen here and disadvantage our economy. Confirming that what was good for Australia was not good for America, Pew's director of federal fisheries policy, Lee Crocket, went on to say that closing the Gulf of Mexico to fishing would not make sense because those waters were 'a major US economic driver'. So it really does not matter how much e-monitoring you have, the facts are on the table for the government to see in relation to fisheries management.

I quote another scientist here, marine biologist Walter Starck. I want to talk about the Coral Sea for a split second. He says that the fishery harvest rate we have here in Australia is actually one-30th of the global average. He points out that Australia has got the largest per capita fishing zone and the lowest fisheries harvest rate in the world. We have got the most restrictive and costly marine resource management in the world. No marine species in Australia is threatened with extinction by fishing, and that is backed up by the Fisheries RDC, and there are already some protections in place for a lot of Coral Sea islands and reefs. When you look at the Coral Sea itself, again quoting from Walter Starck in the report he has done, he says that the Coral Sea is one of the world's prime yellowfin tuna fishing grounds. We produce a few hundred tonnes from the Coral Sea where Japanese fishermen have previously produced around 30,000 tonnes annually for many years. The border of this Coral Sea is in conjunction with PNG's EEZ, the exclusive economic zone they have. Fish, as has been said before, are not like cattle where you can herd them into a certain area. They swim and they do not see lines on maps, so they swim right across the line that the government might want to put on a map and they swim into PNG waters. PNG license Asian fishing companies to fish those same migratory stocks in their waters. They currently catch about 750,000 tonnes of tuna while all of Australian tuna fisheries amount to about 15,000 tonnes. We import some $165 million worth of canned tuna into this country every year. We save our fish so that the fishermen in other countries can catch it and sell it back to us. It is crazy.

So it does not matter how much data you collect, it does not matter how much you have or how much science, because this government simply will not take it into account. Rather than listen to the science, rather than look at the data, they listen to extremist organisations from the other side of the world and their mates in the Greens.