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Thursday, 1 November 2012
Page: 8732


Senator EDWARDS (South Australia) (09:59): I rise today to contribute to the debate on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Making Marine Parks Accountable) Bill 2012. I support my coalition colleagues who have already made contributions, and the member for Dawson who has put this bill forward. The member for Dawson has spoken passionately about the representations which have been made to him in his electorate in Queensland, but I assure the member for Dawson that those representations have been echoed in my home state of South Australia. The concern about the way in which marine parks are proposed to be managed is a significant concern amongst industry, recreational fishers and the general public who are concerned about good government.

This bill looks to increase the transparency and accountability around declaring marine parks. It makes any proclamations of a Commonwealth reserve a disallowable instrument. My Senate colleague Senator Mason has spoken eloquently about the issue of disallowable instruments and their role in our lives as Australians, and how good government is conducted. The bill will allow the parliament to consider any proposed marine parks and the potential social and economic impacts that they might have. If this government engaged in genuine consultation with stakeholders and the community rather than taking an 'announce and defend' approach, then this bill might not have been necessary, but this government is determined to listen only to a vocal minority on this issue.

In my home state of South Australia—and, as we all know, politics is always local—we have seen a similar approach taken to the creation of marine parks by the Labor Weatherall government. The South Australian draft marine park boundaries have been widely condemned by the fishing industry. Recreational fishers have also come out in outrage and the regional communities which they support are shaking their heads in dismay. This is similar to the situation federally, where everyone has come out and condemned the marine parks—apart from a number of fringe, alarmist environmental lobbyists.

In early October the residents of Port Wakefield, in the electorate of Wakefield in South Australia, lined Highway 1, the major thoroughfare, with giant coffins, boats and handmade banners to highlight the devastating impact the state government's proposed no-take sanctuary zones are going to have on their community. They have formed a group called the Marine Park 14 Action Group to try to save their town, which might lose 50 per cent of its prime fishing waters.

The South Australian Labor government's marine parks were announced over 10 years ago, but it has only just released the draft management plans and the regional impact statements. While that government has had 10 years to mull it over, it now expects South Australians to comprehend the full impact of the proposed changes in just two months. Doesn't that have a familiar tone to it? Just like their federal counterparts, there is no accountability, no transparency and no genuine consultation with the community and industry.

In a state that has just had the Olympic Dam expansion shelved, is the highest-taxed state in the nation and has the worst credit rating, the government's marine parks plan will cost $63.9 million to implement and will cost the state economy $100 million per year in lost revenue. That is without even considering what it is going to cost the various state departments to monitor, police and oversee these marine parks.

What we need in South Australia and Australia is a breakdown and a removal of this red tape, yet we see an increase of it at both state and federal levels. At state and federal levels Labor is destroying communities through its interventionist and ill-thought-out marine parks. What is the cost of policing and enforcing this? As I just said, nobody has put any figure on it from either a state or a federal point of view—a bit like last week's MYEFO, where we announced policies but we did not announce funding for policies.

But I digress—back to the bill we are debating here today. It would help to overcome some of the issues our communities are facing. This bill requires the minister to commission an independent assessment of social and economic impacts of the proposed proclamations. I would have thought that was reasonable governance. It certainly would not be an unreasonable path to expect a federal government to take. Through this process, the issues which are now being aired angrily could have been aired through genuine consultation.

This bill requires the environment minister to commission an independent, social and economic impact assessment before any proclamations are made. I have just spoken about that. Any government looking for credibility and that has integrity would try to assess the impact on people in their constituency before running roughshod and introducing this legislation. The minister must also obtain independent scientific peer reviewed advice before making any proclamations and this advice should be publicly available. Let the sun shine in. Let us have people who are experts in this—world authorities—who can judge the scientific research and allay any fears the community might have. Proper scrutiny is all that this bill is after—proper scrutiny of such a vital and important industry to this country. The bill would also establish an independent scientific reference panel and stakeholder advisory groups for each region to ensure that each region's issues, which are quite local in nature, are addressed and that this one-size-fits-all piece of legislation would obviously treat with disrespect.

This bill, put up by the member for Dawson, will increase the checks on government decision making. We all know that good decision making has not been a hallmark of this government. The Gillard government's inability to properly manage Australia's fisheries saw the bungling of the Abel Tasman saga. The government invited the Abel Tasman—or, as it was known back then, the Margiris—to come to Australia in 2009 as part of Minister Burke's small pelagic fishery harvest strategy. The vessel arrived in Australia and, after three years of negotiations—all very hospitable, all very encouraging—legislation was introduced on the run to ban this trawler from fishing here. The trawler was brought here to turn a catch that would normally be fishmeal—because the boats that traditionally caught these fish do not have refrigeration so the fish finished up as stock feed—into protein for northern African countries as a food source for humans, thus addressing the food task that the world is faced with as we head into the prospect, in 2050, of nine billion people on this planet. This good initiative of efficient farming is like, as the member for Grey put it to me the other day, a wheat farmer buying a bigger header. It did the same job. There were no extra fish quotas, no extra fish taken per season, no extra grounds that were going to be covered by this operation. It simply was a bigger header, to use that analogy.

Yet once again, as we saw during the live cattle ban, Minister Ludwig got rolled by caucus. He got rolled by the Left of his party and the pressure that the Greens bring to bear when they have their joint party meetings, and was told that he was not going to get his way. And they sent Minister Ludwig down the path of the live cattle ban again. Even he believed it was unjustified; he said that it would open up the Commonwealth to significant legal and reputational risk. Apparently the documents that were obtained by the Australian newspaper showed that the minister did not want to cave in to pressure from Labor backbenchers and the public campaign to ban the Abel Tasman. The documents state he argued that its operations would be 'sustainable and efficient'. The documents allegedly show deep divisions within the government, with the minister not wanting to undermine the reputation of Australia's independent fisheries and their world-class management by changing the rules on the Abel Tasman at the last minute.

This has again raised the issue of sovereign risk in this country. We hear miners talking about it through the MRRT, we hear the cattlemen of Northern Australia talking about it; now we hear the fisheries of Australia talking about the fact that their bankers are saying, 'We now have a new risk in your business plan. It's called the federal government,' because they have shown themselves to be not trustworthy when it comes to people's licences and their right to fish, and they certainly have no regard for communities in regional Australia and their business plans and their right to earn income.

Let us remember that we are not discussing the sustainability of Australia's fisheries or fisheries management. As I say, the Australian fish zones are regarded as some of the most sustainable in the world, and our fisheries management are a professional group of highly respected scientists who are internationally acclaimed. All of them cannot believe what happened. If we apply flip-flop gymnastic backflips like the Margiris, the Abel Tasman and the Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association, which are the way this government manages agriculture, aquaculture and fisheries in this country, we are not being well served. Minister Ludwig is quoted in documents obtained by the Australiansaying:

To those people who say the FV Margiris (the Abel Tasman 's previous name) is responsible for overfishing, I say to them it won't in Australia. You can't overfish an Australian fishery.

He then went on to say:

Were I to amend the legislation, I would also be saying we don't value economic efficiency when we harvest our natural resources sustainably.

The article says that Minister Ludwig denied he was rolled by cabinet, arguing that the issue was environmental uncertainty, which was not within his portfolio remit. Clearly, from what we have just heard and what we know now, it sounds like a complete cop-out. I am sure he will be embarrassed when he has to face the next fishing convention over that whole fiasco.

However, this bill is a move by the coalition to further improve the sustainability of Australia's marine environment. It was the previous coalition government, as Senator Mason pointed out so eloquently, which commenced the process of establishing marine protected areas around Australia's coastline, in line with Australia's internationally declared commitments. The coalition is committed to sustainable fisheries in this country. The intention was to develop an integrated network of new marine reserves to provide balance between multiples uses and highly protected areas. For this purpose, the Commonwealth waters surrounding Australia were divided into five bioregional planning regions—the south-east, the south-west, the north-west, the north and the east. But in recent times the east region has been divided in two—the Coral Sea zone and the temperate east zone—so there are now six separate bioregional plans in various stages of development for Commonwealth waters.

The coalition guided development of the south-east marine bioregion plan, which was formalised in 2006. It includes a network of 14 marine reserves which were agreed after careful consideration and consultation with all stakeholders, including the recreational and commercial fishing sectors. But, instead of continuing with our sensible, measured and thought-out plan for marine parks, Labor has locked up the oceans and handed the keys over to the Greens. What we now face with this bill is a good solution to try and resolve this. We put our hand out to the government for it to support this bill, to provide it with a mechanism by which it can fix this problem. This bill should be considered by all those opposite as it makes Australian fishers far more sustainable a proposition when all of those people go to their bankers and say, 'This is our business plan for the next five years.'

I did particularly like Senator Mason using the acronym, NIMBY, not in my back yard, because if we continue to lock fishers out of our sustainable fisheries zones—our world-class fishing zones—then we will transfer the problem of where the world gets its protein from. We know that the South China Sea and the areas to our north are overfished. There is no question about that. What is going to happen if we lock up in Australia our sustainable food source? They are going to continue to fish those overfished zones. Pristine waters off the coast of Europe, particularly off the coast of Greece, have no fish in them.

Senator Feeney interjecting

Senator EDWARDS: I will take the interjection, Senator Feeney, because I know that, while you might be bored with this whole issue of fisheries, I can assure you that around the coastline of Australia there are fishing communities that do not understand what your government is doing. They are deeply concerned about the way in which there has been no consultation and this has been foisted upon them. I am sure that in your cabinet you are not impressed by the Greens dictating policy for you.

Senator Feeney: Madam Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. I ask that you require the speaker to address me through the chair rather than directly across the chamber.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Stephens ): Thank you. Senator Edwards, you have 52 seconds left for your contribution.

Senator EDWARDS: It is always good to have Senator Feeney's input into these things because, of course, he spends so much time listening to the concerns of people in agriculture and fishing that, obviously, he would be concerned as to what their representations are to me about the way in which this government seems to have no kind of insight into the issues of funding, and obtaining capital for, various commercial enterprises which this government has compromised. I urge all in the chamber to restore some credibility to this marine park debate and get behind this bill.