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Wednesday, 12 September 2012
Page: 10432

Mr CRAIG THOMSON (Dobell) (18:09): Politics is an interesting clash of views and ideas. I sat through the member for Lyne's speech deliberately to hear and listen very carefully to what he said, because unlike many speakers on both sides he had genuine questions that he was seeking answers to and is still seeking answers to, as I understood his speech today. That is a very legitimate point to put.

I think sometimes when we come into this place, because of the way in which the modern media works, we try to dissect our arguments into black and white. There are just two positions that are put and we both argue strenuously that our side is right or their side is wrong. But 99 per cent of the time that is not right; 99 per cent of the time the issues are far more complex than that. There are points of view put by both sides, or all sides, that are worth considering and looking at. I do not think cheap political shots, when the issues are as complex as this, take the arguments any further.

I must say I thought the member for Mitchell was really stretching it when he was talking about the loss of 45 jobs when, this week, we have heard that conservative governments in Queensland and New South Wales are slashing thousands of jobs and that his own party is looking at getting rid of 20,000 public servants. I think trying to politicise it to that level really did not do his side any good service.

I share some of the concerns about this legislation and about the processes involved in this legislation. Before this legislation was spoken about, I had very little knowledge of fisheries. I am not a fisherman. I enjoy eating fish and seafood, but that is about as far as my expertise goes. That does not particularly equip me well for dealing in a very short period of time with these issues. So I had to seek as much advice from other people as I could in looking at the legislation and seeing where we go. Because things are never black and white, there are a variety of views and a variety of ways in which issues can be dealt with.

The minister, in my experience with this piece of legislation, has been most open to discussion, to talk, to questions and also to suggestions as to where the legislation can be improved. There were two particular areas where I had concerns with this legislation. The first was the very broad definition of fishing. The Central Coast is home to both commercial fishermen and most particularly to a wide variety of recreational fishermen. We have a lot of visitors who come for recreational fishing. I raised that issue with the minister and suggested that the definition needed to be changed so that it was quite clear that in this legislation we were talking about commercial fishing activities. In my discussion with the minister I suggested that I would be looking at making amendments to that end, and that is what I intend to do. He subsequently advised me that, on reflection, the amendment that I am proposing probably also needs to be further tightened to include recreational charter vessels, to ensure that they are not caught up in this legislation either.

I am very pleased that the minister was so accommodating when I raised these genuine issues of concern with him. I am pleased that that has happened, because one of the myths that the coalition are putting out about this particular issue, which again I do not think serves their purpose, is that all the concerns about this trawler are from GetUp! and the Greens.

Quite frankly, that is not where my concerns about this came from. They are not the people that I am worried about who have been contacting me. Rather it is the hundreds of thousands of recreational fishermen. They have been contacting me saying they have real concerns about this issue.

So the first issue I wanted to make sure of was that recreational fishermen were excluded in this, so that their role was clear. Like the member for Lyne, I would have liked to have had more time so that I could have met and talked to many of the fisherfolk in my area, who know far more about this issue than I do. But, in the limited time that I had, I did seek some guidance from Scott Levi, who is an ABC journalist on the Central Coast who has a nationwide fishing show called The Big Fish. This is not a show that greenies and those from GetUp! would normally listen to. It is a show that recreational fishermen listen to all the time. I spoke to him about the views of recreational fishermen generally, and particularly those in my area, because he is a local himself. He said there has not been a bigger issue than this—an issue that has caused more concern than this—in the entire time that his show has been running, and recreational fishermen are very, very concerned about it.

I will come to the issue of the science in a minute, but people's views matter. We cannot just dismiss them. We cannot just say, when there are a lot of people who have a particular view and we do not agree with it and we can mount a technical argument why we think they are wrong, that their views do not matter. That is not the way democracy works. That is not the way this parliament should work. And I do not think it is the way we as members should work. We should be listening to their voices. We should be taking on board their concerns. If we have to tell them they are wrong, that may be a legitimate thing, but it is not legitimate to totally dismiss this whole group of people and say they simply do not matter. They do matter. Their views are important. We need to listen to them. We need to see what their concerns are and see if they can be met. Mr Levi's words were: 'There is no other issue that we have covered that has had this level of response.' In my view, that cemented that this is an important issue that people beyond GetUp! and the Greens have concerns about.

Despite some of my concerns with the legislation, there are legitimate reasons why this legislation is here before the parliament. For people to say that they are not legitimate reasons is simply untrue.

The second area of concern I have is an area that many coalition members have raised. They have made some good points about their concerns with the legislation. This concern specifically goes to the section which says that the minister must not make a final declaration unless:

The Minister and the Fisheries Minister agree that there is uncertainty about the environmental, social or economic impacts of the fishing activity …

I share a concern about the very broad definitions that are there. In my view, the legislation needs to be pared back to be about environmental impacts only. Uncertainty in relation to social or economic impacts is far too broad. It lacks the definition and certainty that businesses need. We can all quite clearly understand what 'environmental' means and the environmental tests that the science may place there. My discussions with the minister in relation to this led me to conclude that he is listening to those sorts of submissions. I am hopeful that the government will look at amending the legislation in relation to these points.

Like the member for Lyne, I find there are many amendments in this bill that are sometimes hard to follow, but the minister has been very receptive to talk to anyone about these issues and let them know his views about them. He certainly had a very open mind about the issues that I have concerns with and that many in the coalition have raised concerns about. I think the legislation needs to be amended to be effective to go forward.

The great debate that we have seen here has been a contest about whether the science is in or whether the science is out and whether we can rely on what is there at the moment. Very few of us here are scientists, so we go and seek what scientists have said about the effects that this may have. The more I have read about it, the more uncertain I am as to the certainty of the science. It seems at least uncontested that the science is contested—and by other scientists. There has been work done by a variety of scientists that questions the way in which the quota system is working. There has been work done that says, 'We have not had this type of vessel here before and we are unsure of its effects and we need to look at them.' I paid particular attention to much of what the member for Mayo had to say. I of course ignored his usual political rant, but he read out a letter from one of his constituents who used to work for the fisheries department in South Australia, who, while opposing this legislation, spoke about the need perhaps for a trial. He was suggesting a live trial. Even that suggests that the proponents of the supertrawler are not clear that the science is firmly on their side yet, and that more work needs to be done.

At the end of the day, in terms of this issue, we only have one world, one ocean. We cannot make mistakes with it. If the science is in any way contested then surely we have to give the benefit of the doubt to the oceans. It may be that the science comes in, that these types of trawlers are commonplace and that we can have some confidence that they are operating in an environment that we know is not going to cause irreparable damage to the oceans, but quite clearly that is not the position we are in at the moment. Like many decisions we have to make in this parliament, we make them on balance: what is, on balance, best? At the end of the day, on this matter I think that we have to give the benefit to the oceans. For those reasons, subject to the comments that I made about the amendment and the issues in relation to both social and economic uncertainty in the act, I intend to support the bill.