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Wednesday, 12 September 2012
Page: 10418


Mr EWEN JONES (Herbert) (17:13): The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Declared Fishing Activities) Bill 2012 is a recklessly impulsive bill which allows the government to pull the rug out from under professional and recreational fishermen based on nothing. They do not need evidence; they do not need there to be a problem; they can just do it on a whim.

This bill is not about sustainable fisheries. This bill is not about world's best practice. This bill is not about science. This bill is not about independent advice. This bill is not about good policy. This bill is all about two ministers being rolled by groups who know nothing about the practice or who have no interest in the right outcome. These ministers are beholden only to people who do not care about other Australians.

This bill seeks to greatly expand the powers of the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities with regard to overturning fishing activities—not just with supertrawlers but with all fishing. Whether you are fishing for yellowbelly on Leslie Dam outside Warwick, chasing barra in the creeks outside Townsville or going out the front to get a coral trout, you will be at the mercy of this bill. Currently the provisions allow the minister to place restrictions on the operations of a fishing vessel. With these changes to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation, or EPBC, Act, the minister can effectively ban fishing for up to two years without needing a reason. By adding 'social uncertainty' as a legitimate reason to ban fishing, the minister has given himself unprecedented and unlimited power over every boat around the country as well as within the country, regardless of whether it is a fishing trawler in the middle of the ocean or just a recreational fishing boat in sight of Townsville. Even freshwater anglers are under threat from this bill.

Australia has already seen what the government will do to an industry when they frantically react to external pressures, no matter whether those pressures are informed or not. We are still seeing the financial and social cost of them shutting down the live cattle exports to Indonesia in an instant. It took only a segment of a television program to make them inflict that. We will not support any legislation that gives them even greater powers to do that to other industries. My city of Townsville is a port which deals in foreign exports, so we know firsthand what has happened to that industry.

There is not even a proper indication of what the term 'uncertainty' actually means. It provides scope for the minister to stop any fishing activity without any substantive case. Even the slightest complaint will become enough of a reason for the government to shut down fishing activity. It does not matter if there is no evidence or legitimate concern behind it. How many emails from the Greens and GetUp! are required before it becomes 'social uncertainty' and we start locking out our fishermen? Is there a quantitative number that this government can give us? Is it 500, is it 1,000 or is it 10,000? Just give us the number and we will figure it out.

In question time today, the minister for the environment stated that there were amendments coming to protect the rights of recreational fishers. Well, I think that bells the cat. That he never had any concern for recreational fishers in this country in the first place is the most telling part of the story. He talks a good game but he cannot play. He continues to paper over the cracks with tissue paper. Both he and Minister Ludwig should do the honourable thing and resign. They are clearly not capable of doing the job.

This bill is not about the supertrawler. I have heard the complaints and I understand the concerns that people in Townsville have brought to my attention on this issue. But the facts are that not one extra fish will be caught. The quota has been there for over 20 years. It is just that they could not make a go of it as an industry with the current structure. This trawler is similar to a cane harvester as opposed to cutting cane by hand, or a large header instead of a sickle and hand-stitched bags of grain. We travel by plane now, as opposed to by train, because it is more efficient. That is all this is about, efficiency, and that is what the minister was talking about in 2008, 2009, on 23 August this year and as recently as last Monday.

But the company behind the Abel Tasman has jumped through the hoops put in front of it, and this government knows it. The current minister for the environment used to be the minister for fisheries, and therefore he has known about this and been supportive of it since 2008. He is on the record as supporting this. He knows that not one extra fish will be caught. The catch quota is in place, a quota set by independent professionals to make sure it is sustainable—10 per cent of the fish stock. It has been in place for ages. But the minister knows that. The Abel Tasman operators have agreed to have government monitors on board 24 hours a day. They have underwater video cameras monitoring the nets. But the minister knows that. The trawler operators ticked all the boxes they were asked to tick, only to have the government turn around and change their mind anyway. What kind of business confidence in the Australian government does that inspire? This sends a message all over the world that we will change the rules for no reason at all, even after working together and actively supporting a venture for years. Would you sign up to do a deal in Australia which would take seven years to formalise and spend the money knowing that it could be cancelled the week before you were to start? It beggars belief that someone could do business in that way. Even so, even if you agreed that the supertrawler should be further restricted or even stopped, why should the entire fishing community be punished because of this one issue? It leaves a cloud over the whole industry.

The government like to talk a lot about science but seem to throw it out the window when it comes to protecting fishers' rights. Some of the best marine scientists in the world have been telling the government that this is sustainable, that the precautionary restrictions put in place will ensure that no harm is done, yet their reaction is to ignore the science and not just lock out the supertrawler but also give themselves the power to lock out every angler. After the way they have treated fishermen so far, I certainly would not trust them with that power. This is just following a pattern for the Labor-Greens government. It started with the Coral Sea, with the minister for the environment openly declaring that locking up the Coral Sea had nothing to do with the science. Well, this time they have the science and they are still ignoring it.

Delivering good policy may not always appeal to the people who send in cut-and-paste emails. But delivering good policy and being able to sell it is the reason that ministerial wages have been raised. I know the Leader of the House is fond of the movie The American President, so I will give some advice to these two ministers from that movie. The President says he would take a good policy to the hill and, to get it passed, 'I will go door to door if I have to.' Do you follow? You have had since 2008 to get this right, to get people on board, and you now need to earn your pay. Do your job. At present, these ministers are like the parents of a screaming child who wants a lolly. They know they should not give them the lolly, but they will do anything to get some peace and quiet, so they give the screaming child a treat. And they will continue to hand out treats because they cannot face up to the hard decisions and make the sale. I will paraphrase another source of inspiration for this government, Jerry Seinfeld, in the rental car episode of Seinfeld: 'You see, Labor know how to take a policy position; they just don't know how to hold a policy position.' Anyone can take a position and change it, but it takes an adult to hold the position when they know they are right.

I cannot help but start asking questions about leadership and about what this Labor government actually stands for with a bill like this. I do not want to go over, 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead,' and all the things that have gone through, but I say again that the government has backflipped on absolutely everything. The government does not stand for anything. In 2009, Minister Burke was calling for these types of large fishing trawlers. I quote from the Small pelagic fishery harvest strategy:

… there are considerable economies of scale in the fishery and the most efficient way to fish may include large scale factory freezer vessels.

Just three years ago, the minister thought these trawlers were a great thing and was actively inviting them here, working with the stakeholders. Then the government spent two years working on bringing this trawler out, negotiating the conditions for it to be sustainable.

In all that time there was not a worry or a concern about the impact it would have. There was nothing to worry about. They had the science. They wanted this for us. How many emails was it that made this a problem? Was it the Greens or GetUp! that made the minister suddenly become a crusader against his own work? It was probably the same number it took for Minister Ludwig to spontaneously shut down the live export industry. In August, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry was slamming the Greens for ignoring the science of commercial fisheries management. To quote:

… I will not allow the emotive politics of the Greens political party to run fisheries management policy in this country. We will ensure that the Australian Fisheries Management Authority is independent, that it makes independent decisions based on the science through its expert commissioners and on the facts that are presented to them.

That sounds like a reasonable statement. It is a pity he cannot back it up. That was only a month ago. It did not take long for him to embrace the so-called 'emotive politics' of his alliance partners.

It is clear that once again this is the Greens leading the way. With just one member elected to the House of Representatives, they are still the ones in charge and running the agenda. What other industries are going to be shut down, for no legitimate reason, in the name of 'social uncertainty'? This government needs to find itself a backbone and start standing up for what it believes in, instead of backflipping every time the Greens jump up and down about something.

In Townsville, this bill is not about the supertrawler; it is about the rights of fishers and the power of the government to take them away. Last month I held a forum in Townsville to discuss the changes to marine protections zones. We had recreational fishers there and we had operators of small fishing trawlers. They do the right thing. They stick to bag limits, if they can even get to them. They throw back anything that is too small. They do not want to see our waters overfished either and still they keep getting punished with more restrictions. The question they were all asking was, 'What's next? What will be next from this government? They cannot be trusted.'

Now we have seen what is next. This government is giving itself more power to lock them out from even more water and it does not even need a reason to justify doing it. Again, we are left wondering what is going to come next from this government for anglers, because every one of them is at risk from this bill. It does not matter where you are fishing. It does not matter if you are a supertrawler or you are just dropping a line for coral trout off Townsville, the government is giving itself the power to, on a hasty impulse, take that away from you. And we have seen too many times just how impulsively they can make changes that affect livelihoods.

We believe in North Queensland that fishing is a right. It is our lifestyle. It is part not just of our industries but of our lifestyle. To go out the front and have a fish, to get down to Crocodile Creek to get yourself a barra, is what life is all about. If the government wants to take that right away for no reason, we are not going to stand for it—nor are the people of North Queensland. I thank the House.