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Thursday, 1 November 2012
Page: 8725


Senator THORP (Tasmania) (09:31): The opposition's assertion that the proposed marine reserves are not based on science is completely false. The science underpinning the proposed reserves commenced more than 15 years ago under the initiative of the Keating government and was then fully embraced by the Howard government. It started with the marine bioregionalisation of Australia, a monumental exercise in integrating multidisciplinary data into a picture of how biodiversity is structured across Australia's oceans. The CSIRO, Geoscience Australia, a number of universities and museums all collaborated on that work.

Commercial and recreational fishing organisations have been involved throughout the process and the final network proposal incorporates many of their suggestions. Ninety-day statutory public consultations were held on the draft marine reserves network proposals between May 2011 and February 2012. Some 245 meetings were held around the country throughout the consultation process. Regional consultations began with multisector information sessions in major centres followed by a number of public information sessions in regional centres. The public information sessions were open to everyone. We advertised locally and provided opportunities for members of the public to view consultation materials and talk to department staff. In addition to the public information sessions, targeted stakeholder meetings were also held throughout the public consultation period.

The outcome we have with the marine reserves network proposal is a win for conservation and ensures low impacts on commercial or recreational users of the marine environment. Approximately 96 per cent of the ocean within 100 kilometres of shore will remain open to recreational fishing. The government has worked closely with recreational fishing organisations and has largely avoided putting highly protected marine national park IUCN II zones in areas important to recreational fishers. For example, it is 445 kilometres to the nearest new marine national park zone from Brisbane and 330 kilometres to the nearest new marine national park zone from Townsville. None of the new Commonwealth's proposed reserves in any region restrict boating in state coastal waters or the types of fishing undertaken by the vast majority of recreational fishers, which primarily occurs from beaches and jetties or in bays and estuaries.

Bioregional planning is important as our marine environment is under long-term pressure from climate change and increased industry activity. Unlike the opposition leader who has stated on the public record that climate change is absolute crap, Labor understand the pressures facing our marine environment and we are committed to establishing long-term solutions. The best long-term solutions are those developed under ecosystem based management approaches. The government believe that these approaches have the greatest ability to protect the health of our oceans and the precious marine life which they contain. We also need to ensure sustainability for our valued fishing and tourism industries.

Producing better outcomes for our marine environment is not a matter of stripping away decision-making powers from the minister for the environment; it is about ensuring the best policy development processes and mechanisms are in place to allow informed decision making to occur. The opposition are merely seeking an opportunity to do what they do so often in the spirit of negativity and whip up baseless fear for their own political purposes. The opposition's bill, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Making Marine Parks Accountable) Bill 2012, does not increase transparency in the decision-making process. Having a legislative ability to disallow bioregional plans will create greater uncertainty for communities as well as commercial and recreational fishers.

But we know the coalition do not really care about the environment. They are even proposing to outsource federal environment management to the states, essentially stripping away and shutting down the federal environment department to devolve powers to their mates in the states. This is a radical abdication of responsibility on the opposition's behalf and will set this country back all the way to the early days of Federation.

We are one nation. We need a nationally consistent approach to marine management protection. The coalition really have regressed a long way when it comes to their regard for the environment, because when the coalition were last in government they actually achieved some significant outcomes on marine reserves. Of particular relevance to my home state was the previous government's decision in 2006 to create the world's first representative network of marine reserves in temperate oceans—the South-east Commonwealth Marine Reserves Network, comprising 13 large-scale offshore marine reserves around Tasmania and Victoria. This achievement received extraordinary and well-deserved praise from around the world. My party, the Labor Party, ultimately supported that decision, despite reasonable criticisms at the time from some sectors that consultation with some key stakeholders had been rushed and that decisions had been taken to protect the environment, necessary in our view, on less than complete scientific and economic evidence. Now we have Senator Colbeck quoted as saying that the coalition will wind back no-fishing areas and scrap the entire marine parks plan if the coalition win power in the Senate and the lower house. I am not sure if the opposition are aware that the proposed changes to the EPBC Act as set out in this bill will have significant financial implications for the Commonwealth because this bill will require the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities to create up to 88 regional committees for a period of two months to provide input to any future proposed marine reserves. These committees' costs will ultimately be borne by the Commonwealth.

I want to talk about recreational fishing and this government's commitment to and record in supporting our fishers, especially in contrast to the opposition. Those opposite were no friends of recreational fishers when it came to stopping the supertrawler. Indeed, every time the opposition have a chance to vote against activities that may have some benefit for recreational fishers they seem to vote against it. Very few of the marine reserves proposed by the Commonwealth have an impact on the recreational sector. Commonwealth marine reserves start over five kilometres from the shore. This means that jetties, beaches, inlets, lagoons and rock shelves—most people's favourite spots—are outside the network. More than 95 per cent of Commonwealth waters within 100 kilometres of land will remain open to recreational fishing and boating.

As a group, recreational fishers are amongst the least impacted by the new Commonwealth reserves announced by the government. In a lot of areas the marine reserves reduce commercial fishing effort, which is better for recreational fishers as there are usually more fish to catch. Opposition to these marine parks is just like the supertrawler debate. The opposition voted against the interests of recreational fishing to allow the supertrawler to steam into Australian waters without the proper checks being done. The opposition has been working hard to create a fear campaign around this issue, telling mums and dads that they will not be able to fish, while at the same time voting to let the supertrawler do its worst. Those opposite have been strangely silent on recent announcements that the Queensland government has cut funding to the state based recreational fishing body Sunfish. They claim to support recreational fishers but do not speak out unless it is to peddle misinformation and fear.

Those on this side support recreational fishers. The government has provided support for a national recreational fishing body, the Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation, a national representative body who are supported by the Australian Fishing Trade Association, Recfish Australia, the Game Fishing Association Australia, Sunfish Queensland, the Amateur Fishermen's Association of the Northern Territory, Recfishwest, Recreational Fishing Alliance of NSW, the Underwater Skindivers and Fishermen's Association, the Australian National Sportfishing Association, the Professional Fishing Instructors and Guides Association, the Victorian Recreational Fishing Peak Body, and the Australian Underwater Federation. I think the Senate may find some recent comments by Allan Hansard, the Director of the Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation, in a media release dated 2 October 2012 quite interesting and relevant to this debate, because I think it goes right to the heart of the treatment recreational fishers can expect from those opposite, should they win government. On the Queensland LNP government's treatment of recreational fishers in that state, Mr Hansard said:

The decision by Mr Newman to basically kill off Sunfish is very disturbing. Before he was elected, Mr Newman promised he would lead a 'fishing friendly' government. Unilaterally cutting all funding to Queensland's peak rec fishing body isn't what we regard as a particularly friendly act. In actual fact, it is a slap in the face to Queensland's 700,000 fishers, many of whom voted for Mr Newman.

We understand the need to rationalise government spending but the fact is that there is a lot of work that needs to be done to maximise the socio-economic benefits of recreational fishing in Queensland. Wiping out funding for the peak body representing Queensland fishers is not the way to get that important work done.

It is understood that Sunfish's annual Government funding was about $200,000. While that allowed Sunfish to operate effectively, it is in essence a fairly insignificant amount of money. We understand most of that funding was actually paid for by fishers, who contributed an $18 fee as part of boat registration. Mr Newman will still be taking that $18 but now fishers won't be seeing any benefits from it. We don't think that is fair or appropriate.

Mr Hansard went on to say:

We would hope that Opposition fisheries spokesman Senator Richard Colbeck would accept our offer to ensure that nothing like this happens following a win by his party next year. We need Senator Colbeck and Opposition leader Tony Abbott to give Australia's 5 million fishers cast iron assurances that funding required to grow the recreational fishing sector will be guaranteed.

I think they are some very pertinent comments from Allan Hansard. Somehow I doubt such an assurance from the opposition will be forthcoming. However, even if the opposition does give such a guarantee, I would not put very much stock in it. We all know that Mr Abbott is prepared to say anything to win government but that ultimately he will savagely cut funding to the services Australians rely on. There is no doubt in my mind that support for our recreational fishers would be right on the top of the pile of things to cut should they win office.

Let us turn to the hypocrisy of the coalition around proposed zoning of marine reserves. The government supports protection of precious areas like the Great Barrier Reef and commends those opposite for taking action. The rezoning of the Great Barrier Reef in 2004 provides an example of the opposition's work, where the area was rezoned from 4.5 per cent 'no-take' to more than 30 per cent 'no-take'. There was limited consultation on the design of the adjustment program for the Great Barrier Reef. It was conducted by an expert panel and the panel's report was never released. A key feature of the coalition's south-east marine reserve network is the extent of the network off-limits to commercial fishing—80 per cent. That figure, 80 per cent of the coalition's marine reserves locking out commercial fishers, underlies the hypocrisy of the opposition in labelling this government's quite reasonable and balanced proposals as a 'lockout' and 'anti-fishing'.

None of the Commonwealth's proposed reserves in any region restrict boating in state coastal waters or the type of fishing undertaken by the vast majority of recreational fishers, which primarily occurs from beaches and jetties or in bays and estuaries. Claims of large-scale recreational fishing lockouts are unfounded, as are exaggerated estimates of the impact on fishing and boating related industries. In the Commonwealth regions in question, 96 per cent of the ocean within 100 kilometres offshore remains open to recreational fishing. All of these decisions have been based on science that has driven the development of a representative network of marine reserves. The government's current marine park proposals have been more than a decade in development. The development of marine bioregional plans and the identification of the Commonwealth marine reserve network proposal have been underpinned by a strong scientific information base, detailed analysis of potential socioeconomic impacts and rigorous and ongoing stakeholder consultation. The science underpinning the proposed reserves commenced more than 15 years ago under the initiative of the Keating government, and then was fully embraced by the Howard government.

The rationale for creating a comprehensive, adequate and representative system of protected areas in our oceans has endured and strengthened for over two decades. It is based on protecting examples of all the major marine ecosystem types around Australia. This principle was enshrined in the Howard government's oceans policy and successive Howard government ministers, from Robert Hill to Malcolm Turnbull, championed and implemented that policy. To their credit, those ministers did not blink in the face of opposition to good policy. It started with the marine bioregionalisation of Australia, a monumental exercise in integrating multidisciplinary data into a picture of how biodiversity is structured across Australia's oceans. The CSIRO, Geoscience Australia and a number of universities and museums, as I have said, have all collaborated on that work.

Forty-one provincial bioregions have been identified in Commonwealth waters and, in order for the Commonwealth marine reserves network proposal to be representative of Australia's marine ecosystems, the government has sought to include a part of each provincial bioregion in the reserve network proposal. The first three years of the marine bioregional planning program were dedicated to the consolidation of scientific information and, in some instances, collection of new data. This resulted in the publication of a bioregional profile for each of the regions. Bioregional profiles for each marine region were prepared using scientific information about the region's biophysical and socioeconomic characteristics and conservation values.

One of the last accomplishments of the member for Wentworth when he was environment minister was to publish the marine bioregional profile for the South-west Marine Region. That document, which bears his picture, contains the goals and principles which have guided the development of the current marine reserves proposal. Clearly, the science was good enough for the coalition when it was in government.

We recognise that some people in the community, as shown with recent debates around the nation to address climate change, will never accept any amount of scientific evidence that does not support their own prejudices and beliefs. We also know that criticism of government consultative processes will always accompany any outcome that does not suit everyone. That does not mean that coalition ministers necessarily got the process right. There were many criticisms from respected scientists during the development of the South-east Marine Reserve network, that they had squibbed some hard conservation decisions, and the socioeconomic analysis was not only right but also it was left to the fishing industry to conduct only after firm proposals were on the table for a brief period of consultation.

As for the furphy that the science behind the reserves is somehow inadequate, we should perhaps rely on the words of respected marine scientists rather than claims by the opposition. In a recent article titled Marine Reserves not about closing fisheries, but about preserving ocean health, published on 27 August this year, Dr Nic Bax, who is Stream Leader, Understanding Ocean Ecosystems at the CSIRO and Dr Ian Cresswell, Director, Wealth from Oceans Flagship at the CSIRO, wrote:

The extensive scientific information upon which it is based reflects Australia's mega-diverse marine environment. The science behind the CMR network, and marine bioregional planning in general, has been consistently and independently provided to Australian governments for at least 10 years. Claims that the CMR network is not based on science are either incorrect or misdirected.

Clearly, this government is getting on with the job of protecting our marine environment and sustainably managing our fisheries, with evidence based science and stakeholder contributions informing a nationally consistent approach. Those opposite simply want us to abandon our Commonwealth obligations in the pursuit of narrow-minded politicking. I urge the Senate to reject this bill.