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Thursday, 1 November 2012
Page: 8735


Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (10:20): What a sterling contribution from my colleague Senator Edwards. I too rise to speak on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Making Marine Parks Accountable) Bill 2012. I love the title. I think we could use the word 'accountable' a little more in this place. There currently are six separate bioregional plans in various stages of development for Commonwealth waters. To the layman, a marine park is designed to protect and maintain biologically and culturally significant marine areas in Commonwealth waters. Indeed, it was the previous coalition government which commenced the process to establish marine protected areas, so we have got some skin in the game in terms of managing appropriately our fisheries. The intention is to develop an integrated network of new marine reserves to provide a balance between multiple uses and highly protected areas. The coalition guided development of the south-east marine bioregion plan was formalised in 2006. That is down my way in Victoria. It is made up of 14 marine reserves and the end result was agreed to following careful consideration and consultation, because the coalition understands the importance of engaging with local stakeholders to ensure that they are on board, particularly when you are looking at the types of changes that setting up these marine parks entails for local communities and the users. The south-east Commonwealth marine reserves network is the first temperate deep-sea network of marine reserves in the world, covering over 200,000 square kilometres wrapping around the far south coast of New South Wales, right around Tasmania and Victoria and all the way to Kangaroo Island, off South Australia. The Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Tony Burke, wants to establish new marine reserves, taking the overall size of Commonwealth marine reserves to 3.1 million square kilometres—the largest representative network of marine protected areas in the world. And wasn't he skiting about that! But I can tell you that they are not rapt on the ground near the water.

Australian fisheries are globally benchmarked and recognised as among the best-managed anywhere in the world. Do not listen to me; listen to the scientists who worldwide proclaim how good we actually are at this stuff. We can sustainably manage things. We have heard the beat-up, the scare campaign, being run by the Labor government and the Greens that we are somehow fishing in a Newfoundland-ish style, around the cod issue a while ago, but that is simply not occurring out there when we look at how we have constructed and managed fisheries.

It is not only about being environmentally sustainable; we also need to recognise that our fisheries are economically productive. Commonwealth fisheries generate over $300 million and produce 52,000 tonnes of catch. We could not maintain those sorts of figures if our fishers did not maintain and care for their work environment. Again, I draw the analogy to those who work on the land. We, as human beings, understand our relationship with the environment and the need to manage and work with it sustainably, whether that is how we practice our farming or how we practice our fishing. It has to be a renewable resource. That is something that we understand because we actually live there and work there. Also, the fishing industry would not employ around 16,000 people—9,700 directly and 6,200 indirectly.

Minister Burke intends creating the world's largest marine reserves network but, unlike the coalition when we were last in government, he has failed to properly consider and consult with the stakeholders. The explanatory memorandum for the bill states:

The Government’s current process of declaring Marine Protected Areas is not the result of rigorous scientific analysis that has been made publicly available or extensive industry and community consultation.

Those are two things which would be hallmarks for good policy intention: consultation and scientific evidence. I am sure Senator Waters would agree with me that we want scientific evidence that is independent and robust. It must have integrity. We do not want it to be besmirched by conflicts of interest or selectively chosen to inform policy decisions that are already made. The community needs to have confidence in the way we make decisions in this place on issues that directly affect their lives and their businesses. So having rigorous scientific analysis is important.

I welcome Senator Boswell—a huge champion of the fishing industry right around this nation—sitting next to me. Indeed, Senator Boswell needs to be extremely proud of a Young Nationals party room member, George Christensen, who brought this bill before us.

In this instance it is the minister for the environment who needs to be made accountable—and I refer to the title of the bill—in the decisions he makes. For the remainder of my speech I will outline that it is not just the minister for the environment who needs to be accountable to community and provide them with confidence that the decisions that he is making are based on rigorous science and that he has consulted appropriately with communities affected. Maybe it is a template for the Gillard government as a whole regarding their approach to governance.

The bill before us today requires Mr Burke to commission an independent social and economic impact assessment before any proclamations can be made. He needs to obtain independent, scientific, peer reviewed advice before making any proclamations and for this evidence to be publicly available so it can be scrutinised. He needs to establish scientific reference panels and stakeholder advisory groups for each region to ensure rigorous decision-making. We need to talk about the issue of socioeconomic impacts. In the coalition we understand the importance of policy that delivers a triple bottom line that recognises and sustains the environment but also ensures that people living with the environment can make a reasonable living and can be part of vibrant communities. So socioeconomic impact assessments need to be done, and they need to be done before we make the decision. We should not just let the people hear about it as an after-effect.

In terms of the fisheries adjustment package, the discussion paper says:

A socio‐economic assessment will be prepared in consultation with fishing industry and local community stakeholders and experts, to guide decision‐making and to ensure the implications of MPA proposals are known to the Government before any decision for adjustment assistance is made.

So the implications are, if everything is going to plan and already known to government, but we have not seen this yet for the regions. ABARES is apparently doing the work, but it seems that their work is only focused on compensation. These communities and business holders would like to continue working in their business. Some are generational businesses. They want to be part of a profitable and sustainable industry, not have their tax dollars spent on government dreaming up another handout to get people out of work and into something less profitable, less interesting to them and less around their skill base. We have numerous examples throughout our economy of this government being focused on handouts—to foresters, fishers and farmers—rather than getting on with giving them a hand to remain profitable and sustainable going forward. I completely digress.

I might say to the fishers that they just need to maybe get in line with this government. The communities right throughout the Murray-Darling Basin have been waiting since 2010 to obtain a similar assessment. We are really quite sick of this government making decisions that directly impact our communities and our profitability. Similarly, growers in my area of Ballarat, in Victoria, are interested in the socioeconomic impact of the decision by government to import potatoes from New Zealand which may be severely infected with the zebra chip virus, a disease that has devastated areas of the potato crop in New Zealand and, if it gets loose in our communities, will have similar impacts in Australia. The government needs to take the socioeconomic impacts of its decisions seriously.

Like the marine industry, I am sure almost all stakeholder groups that have interacted with the government through planned legislation would like better stakeholder consultation. Perhaps this could occur through stakeholder advisory groups, as long as they actually have stakeholders and not just government officials reporting back on behalf of or talking to each other on what they think people in the community think or industry thinks. It is those people on the front line, the locals, who need to have greater input into government decision making.

When Minister Burke released the maps of the new park, he said it was too late to change boundaries or zone classifications—too late, even though it was reported that there was still a 60-day consultation period remaining. But Minister Burke has form in terms of being flexible and nimble around his decision making and responsive to community need. We only need to look at his decision on the super trawler Margiris to see just exactly how nimble and flexible Minister Burke can be when he needs to be. Unfortunately, though, when he quickly changed his mind around the Margiris, it was not as a result of direct feedback from stakeholders within industry—locals affected by the Margiris; it was actually by an email campaign coming out of our capital cities based on an ideological assumption. So Minister Burke needs to be consistent. If he is going to listen to the supplications of concerned citizens, then let's make sure he is listening to the supplications of local industry, not just people in urban centres concerned about their holiday resorts and the NIMOs, as Senator Mason referred to.

Clearly, the Gillard government has no consideration for those directly affected. There are a considerable number of stakeholders in the marine parks matter who feel their concerns have not been heard. Kathryn Williams, who described herself as an 'irate Australian citizen', said:

The Government seems to rush into these types of proposals and not take into account what the layman says. You say you listen to us at these Marine Park meetings but I think you are only there to show your presence and that you have already made the decision to go ahead.

It sounds very similar to the commentary heard at the Murray-Darling Basin community consultation meetings—and I note Senator Birmingham is in the chamber. Those of us who attended those meetings heard very similar types of comments around this government and this minister's approach to consultation. Mr Cameron Talbot said:

I'm concerned that lobby groups like PEW WWF and AMCS—

the World Wildlife Fund and the Australian Marine Conservation Society—

seem to get access to Ministers and control of what happens. The Department does not consult us or simply ignores what we have to say. I feel that democracy has been lost and further more—

and here is the telling part—

my faith in the Labour party has gone with it. I along with all labour supporters that I know who also fish, are so disenfranchised with this government that at the next election we will do what I never thought we would do and vote LNP.

I am hoping down south that they will vote for the Victorian Nationals and the Victorian Liberal Party. This is what is at stake here. This is what happens when the Greens party gets control of your agenda, Australian Labor Party. Your crucial heartland supporters are turning away because you are not listening to them. You are not listening to the industry and you are not listening to your core constituents, and they are turning away as a result of your Greens-hijacked agenda.

I will return to the bill, if I may. One of the amendments to the bill, at the end of section 343, states:

The Minister must obtain, and the Director must report on, scientific advice, stakeholders' views and an independent social and economic impact assessment before Proclamations over areas of sea … are made.

We are just trying to fix up bad process. These are things that sound so sensible if you want good policy outcomes, so I look forward to bipartisan support for this legislation so that we as a community and a nation can start implementing policy that is sustainable and sensible but is also backed up with consultation with the appropriate stakeholders and the appropriate scientific review.

Minister Burke's grand plan to develop the world's largest representative network of marine protected areas is also going to cost money. It is clear people are going to be put out by Mr Burke's vision, and the discussion around socioeconomic impacts is apparently only focused on compensation. We do not want a handout; we just want to get on with doing what we do well, which is managing the most sustainable fisheries on the planet. The Gillard government will apparently have to design and implement a fisheries adjustment assistance package. The Prime Minister has indicated that this package could cost $100 million; however, all estimates suggest that figure will be much higher. The decision around assistance will be made only after an assessment of all the impacts is undertaken, including positive impacts such as increased tourism opportunities, apparently. But how can you take into account the value of something like tourism of an industry that is yet to be established? I mean, it is rubbery figures. We are going to take into account an industry that somehow we are going to set up as a result of all of these people that own boats and are fishers suddenly deciding that they are all going to get into tourism. As we have seen in other sectors of the economy, they are individuals and have views about what they want to do with their lives, what businesses they want to be involved in. They might not want to be tourism operators. So basing the figures around flawed assumptions is always going to get you in trouble.

Through this marine park plan, regional Australia will face an enormous social and economic losses. Regional Australia suffers again under the Gillard government—what a surprise. It seems that every single sitting week we are standing here bemoaning one aspect or another of this government's agenda for this nation that slugs regional Australia over and over again. I sound like a broken record, Madam Acting Deputy President, but I am simply putting on record the frustration that is out there outside of urban Australia with this government. Don't come out to our communities, sit down, have a cup of tea, hear our pain, pat us on the head and come back here and do what you like anyway. We are over it. Negotiate with us, connect with us, understand us and develop policies that will benefit our communities, that will allow us to do what we do best, which is get on and do it. It is very frustrating. Minister Burke and the Gillard government cannot be trusted to take care of regional Australia.

But there is another key player to these issues of how regional Australia is over and over again being impacted by the Gillard government's policy. That is the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. I have talked a lot about Minister Burke this morning but we have not mentioned Senator Ludwig and I think we should. I am sure that you, Senator Boswell, are going to make mention of it but before you rise I will briefly say that Minister Ludwig is playing again second fiddle to Minister Burke and that is disappointing from a man who is meant to be our champion and the champion of the fishing industry.

I have got several comments that I would like to put on the record around the importance of peer-reviewed science. Professor of Aquatic and Fisheries Sciences at the University of Washington Dr Hilborn said:

It's difficult to understand why Australians believe they need to implement additional alternative restrictions on fishing … Australians should embrace the success of their fisheries management and consume Australian seafood with extreme confidence.

I commend the coalition's bill to the Senate.