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Wednesday, 12 September 2012
Page: 10425

Mr OAKESHOTT (Lyne) (17:39): I start with some concessions in this debate. Firstly, I think it is easily accepted that this is a highly contentious and emotional debate in relation not only to this big boat but to fishing generally. Recreational and commercial fishing are disputed, contentious areas. There are those who want more fish in the water versus those who want to take more fish out of the water. So I start by making that concession. Also, as someone who got none from my last three fishing trips with my kids, I also concede that big looks bad and that 18,000 tonnes of fish sounds like an awful lot. For those like me who drop a line successfully—or unsuccessfully every now and again—

Mr Husic: Tell us about the one that got away!

Mr OAKESHOTT: Yes, the one that got away! For those people, the scale of what is being debated today can seem frightening. In making those concessions, I also make a point about where I start and end in this debate. As a former shadow fisheries minister in New South Wales, I was given some very wise advice by a director-general of fisheries. That advice was to take, wherever possible, the fish's position on most of these issues. It does sound silly at first but it is a safe policy where there is so much emotion and so much contention.

Everyone, including me and my family, want more fish—more fish for biodiversity outcomes and more fish for recreational and commercial fishing purposes. It is the common ground for all. If it is more fish that we want, it is from that perspective that I look at this legislation and the many issues wrapped up in it. I am in absolute awe of what we do not know about on our ocean floors and in our waters. If anyone needs any convincing of this, the book A Short History of Nearly Everything has a chapter on water—I think chapter 18. That is a sales pitch for the fascination for everything we do not know about on our ocean floor. It talks about everything that is still to be discovered. I certainly find that to be a compelling argument.

If we are about having more fish and more sustainable fisheries, this is a surprise piece of legislation before the parliament today. I make the point about surprise for a reason. I do believe in parliamentary processes and in appropriate time being given for legislation for all the right reasons of proper consideration. This has come as a rush job—spat out of the government party room yesterday, turned into legislation yesterday afternoon and now more than likely going to be voted on tonight. That is not the way we should do business, and for nothing other than parliamentary process reasons, there are grounds to lodge a protest vote against this legislation, regardless of how good its contents may be.

I come back to the issue of having more fish and sustainable fishing and to the content of the legislation. There is a bit of a link to the point I just made. It is pretty hard to keep up with who is amending what in this legislation. I understand that we already have a page of government amendments and that there are already Liberal-National Party amendments. I understand that my colleague from Kennedy may move an amendment, that my colleague behind me may be moving amendments and that the Greens may be moving amendments. But, again, if we are going to make a point about getting good policy through considered debate, this is not the way to do business.

For me, as I have said publicly over the last day, I am less convinced by arguments around whether it is an aircraft carrier we have got in our waters or a tinnie; it is about sustainable fisheries management and whether we have got the quota right. With the lack of time available, I have not been able to establish whether it is correct that the quota has increased tenfold, as academics from the University of Western Australia are suggesting, based on the boat coming in. And I have not been able to establish whether fisheries management has established a quota regardless of boat size or whether boat size has led to the establishment of a certain quota allocation. I would like some guidance from the minister, in wrapping up, on that direct point.

I would also like some guidance from the minister about his existing powers. We are establishing, for all the right reasons, a marine park network in Australia that Australia should be proud of. Going back to my previous point about fish, I wish these marine parks were called fish parks because that does bring everyone together. They are about getting more fish for all activities in our waters—both for biodiversity reasons and fishing reasons. That process has gone on since the Howard years. It has gone through the whole social, economic and environmental science process—the consultation process. Those existing powers are a demonstration of the existing powers that can and should be applied in decisions by ministers about whether this big boat is too big or not. I am yet to be convinced. I would like to hear from the minister, when he wraps up this debate, why the existing powers that apply to all the social, economic and environmental processes for the establishment of marine parks in Australia are unavailable in his relationship with AFMA and for decisions around whether a boat of this size is too big and whether or not to issue a quota to it.

I would also like some direction from the minister on whether there are bigger nets in the water right now in Australia and whether some of the mythology that this is the biggest net in Australian fishing history is actually correct. There is confusion and mixed opinions on that. I would like to hear from the minister himself a very clear answer to the question: will this be the biggest net dropped in Australian waters if approved? There is strong advice suggesting it is not and that there are already, under everyone's noses, bigger nets in the water that we do not seem to be that fussed about.

I would also like to hear from the minister about the consequences of the new discretionary powers that are being built in. Regardless of this boat and this circumstance, if we are going to pass sensible laws for future decision making, these are significant discretionary powers that are being built in with a very broad definition—social, economic and environmental. You could not get much broader discretionary powers being built into the process. So I would like to hear from the minister about the scope and the boundaries of his authority in future decision making and why he himself does not see this as an investment or sovereign risk for future investments by those who do want to participate in sustainable fishing practices in Australia.

I accept that there are pitchforks and spear guns out against this big floating boat and that there is a lot of emotion wrapped up in this debate. But if we are looking for sustainable fisheries then it is not pitchforks and spear guns, nor emotion, that will make those decisions. That is why I am an advocate of establishing a Commonwealth marine park network. As I said before, marine parks are essentially fish parks for those who want to do more fishing.

I would also like to take the opportunity to address some of the mythology that is floating around. Again, if I am wrong I would like to be corrected by the minister. These nets, as I understand it, do not touch the ocean floor—they are mid-sea trawling. But I am getting plenty of emails saying we are going to rape and pillage the ocean floor. I think that is completely incorrect. Minister, please correct me if I am wrong. This is a completely different set of circumstances from those on the coast of Africa, as the minister himself indicated on Q&A two weeks ago. There are very strict restrictions around quota management in Australia. There are fisheries officers on board the boats. There are bycatch restrictions in the conditions. There are cameras in the nets themselves. I understand that the company involved is even offering to do some sort of 'move-on strategy' so they are not fishing one location too hard. The difference between what is being promoted as the rape and pillage off the coast of Africa compared to here is apples and oranges. Again, please correct me if I am wrong, Minister.

I would also like to put on record the counterintuitive points about what, on first blush, would look to be problematic for many people. It is thought that a wider range of fishing from a bigger boat is worse. But scientific advice is that a wider range is better. So being allowed to go further offshore implies less bycatch. Most of the seabirds, all the various species that the minister has been referring to, are closer to the shore, so there is actually a greater bycatch problem with smaller vessels working close to shore. Again, please correct me if I am wrong, Minister.

It is counterintuitive, I know, but fishing for a wider range of fish, as I understand it based on marine science, means less damage to biodiversity and fish stocks. As well, the point that 'further out is worse and something to be feared' could lead to 'further out is better because there is less bycatch'.

I understand that the marine science suggests the latter, but I understand the concerns of most people and the perception that fishing further out from a bigger boat in a wider range means it is like a hoover working around the coast of Australia. I do not think that perception is correct, based on the science as far as we know.

I am more than likely not going to support this legislation. It is a bit of a moving feast, because it is happening so quickly and there are so many gaps in my knowledge about what exactly is being done and why it is being done. I do think there are existing powers that could be used to achieve a similar purpose without leaving a trail of unintended consequences resulting from having in legislation total discretion for future ministers. I would be surprised if they themselves would even want to have that discretion when decisions like this emerge in the future. But I am ultimately driven by the science question and the desire to have more fish. Those in the campaign that is trying to knock out quota management in a scientific and process-driven way should be careful about what they wish for, in that it may just do more damage to nature than we would all want. I refer to, and I ask the House to refer to, the public letter from seven of Australia's top fisheries scientists from the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, the CSIRO and the South Australian Research and Development Institute, trying to address many of the misconceptions in the media. That letter indicated on a number of fronts that the catch quota is actually very conservative and that there are a number of reasons why what is being delivered is actually sensible.

I do not like the big boat. It does not look good; it looks bad. But when we go to the safe port of the science and go to the safe port of looking for more fish, I am not sure whether this legislation actually delivers what the community sentiment wants.