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Tuesday, 4 June 2013
Page: 5143


Mr BURKE (WatsonMinister for the Arts, Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water and Population and Communities) (19:46): It has been an interesting debate—at times, a test of patience, but an interesting debate that we have had on this. There has been some terrible and extraordinary misleading that has happened during this discussion. Let me deal with a couple of those issues first.

The first thing is that I have made clear for a long time in this parliament that the Commonwealth water areas where new protected areas were put in place in Western Australia were closer to shore. They were still in Commonwealth waters—certainly not at the beach line—but were closer to shore. The ones on the east coast and the rest of Australia were further from shore—some hundreds of kilometres, most of them. The ones in Queensland are a very long way from shore—a significant number of hundreds of kilometres before you get out into the areas where you cannot fish.

A number of speakers have sought to take issue with that, and they have referred to a number of areas that they found where there are protections. They have referred to areas in Tasmania—Freycinet was one that was quoted a couple of times in the speeches that we heard. True: closer to shore—but a restriction put in place by the Howard government. The area off Port Macquarie known as the Cod Grounds was put forward as an area. Yes—that one is close to shore. I was told that it was a very popular fishing spot for people near Port Macquarie, true. But it was put in place as a restriction in 2007 by the Howard government. We were then also told about the Solitary islands being one of the places—that they were closer to shore. Yes, and that restriction was put in place in 1993, and yet that is being argued by those opposite as though it is something brand-new that we are seeing for the first time now.

The truth of what has been done in the bioregional planning and the establishment of marine national parks is that we were determined, first of all, to get the science to identify the different bioregions—to identify the different sorts of environments and features that there were within the ocean. Then, whenever we could get that same area captured as environmentally protected—whenever we could get the same environmental outcome, but do it in a way that had less impact on recreational fishers and less impact on commercial fishing—we took that option. And I make no apology for taking that option. I do not know how anyone can say that there is a lack of scientific rigour if the process you follow is to say, 'We'll get the scientific data to identify the different features and to identify the bioregions, and then we will try to get the same environmental outcome while minimising the impact on people.' That is the right way to conduct your consultation; that is good public policy. It is something which people have pretended did not occur.

So we had extraordinary claims about the Perth Canyon, and a claim raised by the member for Dawson where he was saying, 'Here is evidence that there was no science.' I will tell you exactly what happened: the geographical feature and the nature of the bioregion was for the Perth Canyon. It is underwater, but larger than the Grand Canyon. If it were on land it would be known by all Australians—an extraordinary area. But there are three heads to the canyon, so the science identified the bioregional values of those three heads. But each of the three heads of the canyon had similar environmental values, so we said to the commercial fishing industry and we said to the recreational fishing industry: 'So long as one of these three heads goes into a high level of protection, or the areas around it, we get the environmental outcome. Do you have a preference as to which of the three?' I make no apology for making that offered to the commercials and to the recs. The commercial fishers came back and they said: 'Well, actually, there is one of those three heads that would have less impact on us. We would prefer that you chose that one.' The recs came back and the recreational fishing bodies said: 'We will not tell you which one. We will not provide you with that information'. So the one that went into highly protected was the one that the commercial industry had said was their preference to go into highly protected. And that is what happened. Then, afterwards, the recreational organisations came back and said: 'Oh, look, by the way, maybe we don't actually like the one you picked. Can we now have a talk about it?' The whole value of consultation is when people talk back. And it is a bit much to have the recreational sector from WA—or a minority of the recreational sector of WA—claiming that is evidence of lack of consultation, when it is the exact opposite. And do not pretend that it is evidence of lack of science, because the scientific values of the three heads of that canyon all matched up.

We had a similar situation with Geographe Bay. Geographe Bay in Western Australia is an area which is very popular for recreational fishers, and it is often the example that people point to where it is closer to shore. On the original maps that we had for the bioregions, much of the seagrass across that bay had similar environmental values. But when the recreational fishers came to us they showed us the locations of the boat ramps and they said, 'We don't want you to do anything but, if you are going to move these lines around that you have at the moment, can you do it in a way that they move away from where our boat ramp is, because at the moment you are going straight across in front of it.' So the lines were adjusted—not through a lack of scientific rigour, because the scientific values matched up no matter where you chose within that region; but through good consultation we made sure that we moved them to minimise the impact. That is the right way to conduct your processes.

As the member for Riverina probably knows better than most, I do not shy away from turning up to hostile public meetings. I know that the shadow minister for the environment wanted me to turn up to this one, in this photo, which he had advertised as having 1,000 people in attendance. Unless there is some strange game of people hiding behind cars the moment the camera turned up, that is not a rally of 1,000—and I table the photo. I would advise the shadow minister for the environment to spend some time with the member for Riverina: he knows how to run a demo. Also, don't pick a site that is 460 kilometres away from the nearest area that is locked up for recreational fishing. Not only is it 460 kilometres away; that is the nearest one, and that was put there by the Howard government.

The other argument that has been put consistently in the speeches we have heard from the opposition is that there is a lack of science. The shadow minister for agriculture, who has just returned to the room, right on cue—

Mr McCormack: He's a good man too!

Mr BURKE: Yes, I actually like him. He had a great sight gag when he said, 'I want to talk to you about the science.' For people listening on the radio—as I am sure he had good ratings while he was speaking—I can tell you that as he flicked through the pages he then had some blank pages in the middle so he could say, 'Oh, there was no science!' I then asked for the scientific studies, many of which were commenced under the Howard government, on which this work was based to be brought into the chamber so that people can see exactly what the opposition is claiming does not exist.

This is the scientific work that has been going on, some of which was commenced shortly after this process began. We are talking about a process which has been going for 20 years, a process that continued for the whole of the life of the Howard government. Many of these documents that I have brought into the chamber at the moment are documents which are simply large references for other documents which are not here but go further with the scientific rigour. After all of this, I am not sure what we have to do to avoid an accusation from the opposition that there is no science—and I am glad I am tall; otherwise I would now be out of the camera frame. This pile of documents represents the first cut of the scientific information on which these maps were based, where we identified the bioregions, where we looked at what was the environmental outcome to properly protect the oceans in Commonwealth waters around Australia. Yet those opposite still have the audacity to come in here and, I have to say, in the face of a mountain of documents like that, to lie and claim that no such documents exist.

Mr John Cobb: Mr Deputy Speaker, on a point of order: I ask for that to be withdrawn.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. DGH Adams ): Order! The honourable member would like the word 'lie' to be withdrawn.

Mr BURKE: I withdraw. But, as testament to the truth of what I have just said about the science existing, I have just been warned by member for Paterson that if I leave these here they are heavy enough that they might break the dispatch box.

Mr Baldwin: Table them.

Mr BURKE: They are all publicly available; some of them were previously tabled by the member for Wentworth. The member for Wentworth has his photo in one of those documents, proclaiming it as an example of good science.

The other argument that we had from those opposite was that there was no consultation. What they have conveniently done is only refer to round 5 of the five rounds of consultation, and they have said it went for 30 days and that industry wanted it to go the 90. Why were those opposite wanting it to go for 90? There is one reason, and one reason only, they wanted it to go for 90 days: so that the disallowance period would go right to the end of the year. That is the only reason, because those who had been engaged had been engaged for years in this process, with five rounds of consultation. Against that was a situation where the different arguments had been put, there were rounds of consultation I had attended personally, roadshows and full days where people would come in at community meetings and meet directly with my department and work through the different issues, and three-quarters of a million submissions. Yet even though my department specifically disaggregated those submissions so that it was clear which ones were campaign submissions, which ones were individually written, which ones came with detailed scientific back-up from peak bodies and things like that—even though that disaggregation was provided and fully documented—people opposite had the audacity in this debate to pretend that that never occurred and to say that the three-quarters of a million were all presented as though they were all the same. That is fundamentally untrue, but that has characterised the entire argument we have had from those opposite.

During this debate, I heard the member for Dawson expressing shame about the Howard government's actions on the Great Barrier Reef—and I will give him points for at least being honest on that. But the member for Dawson also said, 'The Coral Sea is closed to all forms of fishing.' That is just factually untrue.

Mr Christensen: Do you want to see the map? Have a look at the map.

Mr BURKE: That is just factually untrue. The whole concept of multiple-use zones is that various forms of fishing are allowed and some things are excluded. So that was fundamentally untrue—and he is holding up the map where you will see the different colours. I should ask him to table the iPad! If you go through the map there you have a situation where you have large multiple-use zones. Don't forget as well that as a result of the consultation, where the charter industry in particular wanted to make sure that where there is that line of reefs—starting north at Osprey, down through Shark Reef, down to Vema Reef—they got better access to that. What did we do? We made sure that, once you got south of the major dive sites, the contours of the boundaries went right into very closely matching the contours of the reef itself. Shark itself got recoloured from green to gold so that it came in as an area open to recreational fishing. But, according to those opposite and according to this debate, none of these changes happened. According to those opposite, every detail, every part of consultation that I have gone through, every part of the scientific research that has been happening for more than a decade—none of that ever occurred.

Mr Baldwin: Why is the industry offside?

Mr BURKE: None of that ever occurred, in the eyes of those opposite. Within 100 kilometres of Australia's coastline, 96 per cent of our Commonwealth waters remain completely open to recreational fishing. I repeat: within 100 kilometres of our coastline, 96 per cent. Yet those opposite go and hold rallies trying to scare local fishers, without letting them know that the nearest no-take zone is 460 kilometres away—and it was put there by a Liberal government. This debate from those opposite has had deception every way through it.

There has been deception in every part of how they have argued it. But no-one should be deceived by the two other facts though, that marine protected areas work. In the Great Barrier Reef, where you have the multiple-use zones where rec fishing is allowed but commercial has been taken out, coral trout numbers tripled from what they otherwise are, but where you get the areas that are completely highly protected it goes to six times. In the areas that are highly protected as well, the crown of thorn numbers go down because you have got the improvement in biodiversity, and those crown of thorns numbers go down to a quarter of what they otherwise are. Lots of people have wanted to talk about fisheries management science. Fisheries management science is important, but it does not protect habitat, and what this is about when you establish a national park in the ocean is that you do not only protect individual species; you protect the habitat itself, and that gives you a way in which the fish species bounce back like they otherwise would not.

But be in no doubt: in the vote that we are shortly going to have, all of that is at risk and exclusions that have been part of these plans go out the window as well. We have before us plans that prohibited drilling in the Coral Sea. That gets disallowed if the vote goes through. We have rules here that prohibited drilling off the Margaret River area. That disappears as a prohibition if this goes through. We have areas that are highly protected—all of that out the window if this goes through.

But I am glad one thing in this debate. Those opposite kept referring to the super trawler. They are right. They have absolute consistency when the choice is whether or not you protect the ocean. Their choice is not to—our choice is to protect the ocean.