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Wednesday, 12 September 2012
Page: 10334

Mr NEVILLE (HinklerThe Nationals Deputy Whip) (11:37): I too would like to talk on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Declared Fishing Activities) Bill 2012. I support the amendment moved by shadow minister Hunt. But let me first say that I am totally and utterly bewildered at the rank hypocrisy of the government on this issue. I have never seen the like. I really thought the live cattle export thing was one of the greatest disasters we had encountered, and in economic terms it probably is, but, on a scale of integrity, this must be close to rock bottom.

Since 2009, the government has been aware of this company. In fact, it has almost encouraged it to come to this country, to bring the Margiris here. You have statements by Mr Burke. You have statements by Minister Ludwig. You have statements by AFMA, our peak fishing authority. Not only that, but the personnel of AFMA would have been appointed by those two ministers. For heaven's sake, it has your fingerprints all over it. So the Margiris comes to Australia. It complies with all our rules and regulations. Fifty employees are nominally employed. And then we drop the axe on it. And now we have spent the debate today, starting with the member for Corangamite and going down to the last speaker, talking about and demonising the Margiris.

If you want to know where I stand, I am not a great fan of large factory vessels. I make no apology for that. But that is not the debate we are having today. The debate we are having today is about whether this company came to Australia appropriately, almost at the invitation of the government, complied with its requirements, was given a quota of 18,000 tonnes—which, by the way, I think is excessively high—and then was told to stop. And how was it told to stop?

This legislation that the government is proposing and that we intend to amend gives the minister almost unfettered powers, powers that can be used in a draconian way or in a capricious way. The definitional powers in it are just so wide that you could drive a bus through them. First, the minister has the authority to declare a fishing activity a 'declared fishing activity', so he can pick anything out, anywhere in Australia. It is not just the Margiris; this is just the start of a new regime in fish management. And then, on the very flimsiest of grounds, he can bring his powers into play on environmental, social or economic impacts. The effect of that could be devastating. Contrary to what members of the government have been saying today, we are opposing this bill not so much because of the Margiris situation, bad as that is, but because this introduces a new level into fish management—and into primary industry management, for that matter—the like of which we have never seen.

I want people to get a bit of an understanding of what a vessel like the Margiris is capable of. In Queensland we have, through a whole series of state, state-federal, federal and now federal offshore activities, a whole regime of control of the fishing industry which is, quite frankly, draconian and which has drummed countless good people out of the industry. On top of that, we have people who the member for Leichhardt spoke about this morning who are hanging on by the skin of their teeth because of what this government has done already. The longline tuna fisherman that the member for Leichhardt referred to has seen his quota go from 1,200 to 600 tonnes and, because of where he has been allowed to fish, effectively down to 300 tonnes. Let us just note that: 300 tonnes. One hourly sweep by the Margiris could catch that man's entire yearly output—one hourly sweep of the Margiris. Frightening stuff, isn't it?

I am not here to demonise the Margiris but to show you the strict nature of what fishermen have been placed under in this country without any concern for them. Some of these families of Australian fishermen, as has been pointed out today, have been there for three or four generations serving this country with quality product and being subjected to the most extraordinary rules and regulations. We had a thing called the east coast trawl plan, which reduced the number of trawlers on the Queensland coast from 750 to 500—in fact, it reduced it even more, to 460. We were told that the reef was now sustainable, 'But we need a little bit more of the area of the marine park for scientific and other purposes,' and that was to be an absolute maximum of 20 per cent. When the maps came out, was it 20 per cent? No, it was 34 per cent.

Where I live—where the Gladstone, Bundaberg, Hervey Bay and Tin Can Bay fishermen live, who use the southern part of the Barrier Reef—effectively fishermen were losing 70 per cent of their fishing area. These guys have been through hell. Some of them went and bought new trawlers, so that they could go where? To the largely unregulated Coral Sea. But, once again, Labor was ready for them. We have heard from the member for Leichhardt today how the longline tuna fishermen have been slowly squeezed out of the business. Various green groups come to me and say that the longliners really wanted to get out of the business. In the end they did want to. Why? Because the number of hooks they could use was restricted, where they could fish was restricted and how many tonnes they could catch was restricted, to the point where it was not an industry anymore. Of course they would take compensation—the poor devils had nothing left.

Then we had the effects of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park annual research plans program, which hopefully sometime in the future will be reviewed. Some people took compensation from the program, or sold their smaller vessels and got into larger vessels to go into the Coral Sea. But what did we find there? We then had about 30 trawlers owned by about 20 entities—not a lot of people at all. I know one fisherman who has a capacity of 30,000 to 50,000 tonnes in a year; I suppose there might be the capacity, with all those vessels, to take about 300,000 tonnes. But the member for Leichhardt told us today that in Papua New Guinea waters alone one million tonnes is taken; in New Caledonia waters the figure is 1.4 million tonnes. What sort of idiots are we? We are not saving the planet. We are fattening up the fish in our part of the Coral Sea for the people who can come into the international waters on the northern side and fish it out.

If any honourable members really want to see what goes on in the world, go and have a look at the Tokyo fish market. Go and see those huge igloos—like Second World War air force igloos—with the rows and rows of tuna and the auctioneer going along on a little stool and knocking down every single fish. There are rows of them, every day—tens of thousands of tonnes. Then look at what we do. Down the whole east coast of Queensland, not just in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, we have various types of prawns, including eastern king prawns, tiger prawns and endeavour prawns. The total output of that whole strip of coastline is about 4,400 tonnes. If you add 600 tonnes of scallop meat, it is about 5,000 tonnes. The Margiris can hold in its coldroom 6,200 tonnes. The Margiris can hold in its coldroom more than the entire prawn and scallop production of Queensland in a year. I am saying that not to demonise the Margiris but to demonstrate the extent of the controls we have imposed unfairly and unnecessarily on Australian fishermen. They are ridiculously draconian, ridiculously constrictive, to the point where in our own supermarkets we are buying 72 per cent foreign fish. Here we are, the great clean, green marine environment in the South Pacific, and we cannot catch enough fresh fish for ourselves. What a ludicrous situation.

I come back to my original theme. This is draconian, capricious legislation that will not just stop with the Margiris; it will be a double-edged sword that will cut a swathe into many other areas where this government want to pander to the Pew foundation or some element of the green industry or the Greens party. It will put our fishermen in situations that might be embarrassing for the government. We have seen their grand gestures like closing down live cattle exports, like putting pink batts in roofs, and now they are closing down the Margiris for two years—but not on any grounds of science. For God's sake, they had three years to examine the science, yet now we have in the House today this rushed piece of legislation. This legislation should be tossed out but, in the event that we cannot toss it out, we will at least do our very best to amend it.