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Thursday, 1 November 2012
Page: 8740


Senator BOSWELL (Queensland) (10:40): I rise to speak on the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Making Marine Parks Accountable) Bill 2012. This bill returns the balance and fairness to marine conservation so that all Australians can have confidence that the best decisions are being made to protect both our marine biodiversity and the fishers and the communities that feed so many Australians. The current government certainly has displayed no genuine concern for fishers or their families or their communities in the way it has gone about developing its current marine reserve policy. It is a cynical policy that lacks proper science and lacks proper social and economic impact assessment.

It is likely in the next month that the federal government will proclaim the marine reserves, which would take the overall size of Commonwealth marine protected areas to 3.1 million square kilometres, by far the largest marine park network in the world. This will be a cause of celebration for international and local environmental activists who have spent millions of dollars campaigning to have huge areas closed to fishing in these marine reserves. However, it is no cause for celebration for the families in the recreational and commercial fishing sector, allied marine industries, tourism and coastal communities that will be decimated by these vast closures. Lacking sound science and a genuine understanding of the human and economic impacts of these latest marine parks, the government nonetheless is pushing ahead with the declaration. Once again science is trumped by politics and a government that depends on the Greens and panders to environmental activists.

This declaration is opposed by both commercial fishing and the recreational fishers. Earlier this year I attended a packed-out meeting at Redcliffe, overlooking Moreton Bay, where commercial and recreational fishers stood side by side and condemned the marine reserves this government wants to introduce. This government is demonstrating it has little understanding of the value of recreational fishing and the valuable social and economic role that recreational fishing plays right around the Australian coast. I certainly value recreational fishing's contribution to the health and wellbeing of Australian communities and the economic contribution it makes in regional areas. This government's marine reserve plan is a slap in the face for recreational fishers.

While the government has promised $100 million in assistance for impacted fishing businesses, though nothing for all the other fishing related businesses that will always also be impacted, fishers are unlikely to see that money for another year or year and a half. For many that will be far too late, for many fishing businesses fatally late. Earlier this year environment minister Tony Burke and agriculture minister Joe Ludwig said an assistance package would begin to flow to the fishing industry before the marine reserves are activated. There was certainly no sign of any allocation of funding for impacted fishers in the 26 October midyear federal budget update, nor was it expected. A senior environment department bureaucrat indicated to a Senate committee in mid-October that the gap between declaring the reserves and actually bringing in the management plan for six marine reserves circling the coast would be approximately 18 months. That means it is likely to be 18 months after the reserve proclamation before impacted fishers see any money. That is sometime in 2014. But, of course, their fishing operations will be devalued immediately. Who is going to invest in capital or loan funds, or sign long-term contracts knowing that the axe will inevitably fall?

What it means for fishers is an immediate loss of business value but no compensation until some time in the future. What it means for the government is kudos with the Greens and the environmental lobbyists immediately, with the dollar cost deferred until well after the next federal election, when the coalition will probably have to pick up the bill. What a cynical ploy that is. The Labor government can claim credit with its green mates and deferred compensation until, probably, at least 2014. On current polling, they will not even be in power then. An incoming coalition government would have limited room to manoeuvre, but we would certainly look at every option.

Labor is putting in these reserves because of politics, not true conservation. The reserves have been set up without proper science, and the real economic and social costs have not been properly analysed. On 15 October, in answer to a question from me, Mr Stephen Oxley, First Assistant Secretary of the Marine Division of the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, SEWPAC, told the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee that it was still the government's intention, through the Director of National Parks, to proclaim all the marine reserves before the end of 2012. Further, Mr Oxley estimated that the process, from the proclamations through to bringing the management plans into full effect, would take approximately 18 months. When I asked Mr Oxley directly, 'When do you believe the money will start to flow?' his answer was, 'That is a decision yet to be taken by government.'

Clearly, the details about what will be in the government's compensation arrangements, what they call the 'adjustment assistance package', are all still to be worked out somewhere down the track. What was also made very clear to the committee is that, beyond the fishing businesses themselves, the government does not plan to provide any help whatsoever for impacted upstream and downstream businesses. These are businesses like seafood processors and wholesalers, ship chandleries and repair facilities, and all the other suppliers of goods and services that are so heavily dependent on business from fishers. These impacts are certain to be felt hard at many ports round the Australian coast, including Karumba, Cairns and Mooloolaba in Queensland, but also at a lot of other places.

So here we go again with this government hurting the important primary industry of fishing. This government's ill-planned and poorly researched marine reserves will hurt the businesses of fishing families, fishing operations and fishing-dependent businesses right round the country as soon as the reserves are proclaimed, which we know is intended to be before the end of this year, and with no idea when they will pay for the pain and suffering they will cause, and that is typical of this government. Do what the Greens want.

Ministers Burke and Ludwig in their media release of June 14 talked about a total assistance package 'in the vicinity of $100 million'. But all the details are still to be worked out and argued about in the future. How generous can the fishing industry expect Treasurer Wayne Swan to be in trying to balance the budget? Short answer, 'Not very generous at all.' You are talking about $100 million, which anyone with any nous knows will not cover the damage that is going to be done by this government to the fishing and related businesses. One hundred million dollars—what is Mr Swan going to do when he sees a bill like that land on his table? This is the Treasurer who has already seen his much touted $1.1 billion surplus blown out of the water by the government's financial mismanagement and inability to balance the books.

Here is another uncosted government policy: they do not know what they will pay fishers, but we can be sure they will try to dodge and delay as long as possible. Has anyone calculated how much these huge new marine parks are going to cost to manage every year? Not so far as I have heard. How is the government going to police three million square kilometres of parks, to make sure the rules are being obeyed and foreign fishermen are not just coming in and catching what our Australian fishers will no longer be allowed to catch? The last time I heard anyone in the government talk about policing the Coral Sea, they wanted recreational scuba divers to do it as they were passing through on the way to their dive sites. Political parks, not true conservation areas, dodgy science, sketchy economic and social impact studies, no proper costings, no long-term management arrangements and, yet again, not enough details worked out before the policy is proclaimed. All this is from the same people who gave us the pink batts fiasco.

This government has placed more importance on the praise of environmental activists than on the future of Australian families in our coastal regions. This national marine reserve policy has been driven by a coalition of green groups and financed by the American based Pew foundation. The marine reserves will hurt fishing families. As an example, the federal government's own Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, ABARES, has estimated that the planned fishing bans in the Gulf of Carpentaria will cost every person in the port of Karumba more than $2,200; on the East Coast, Cairns will lose $3.6 million a year and Mooloolaba, $1.5 million. The promised one-off payments to fishermen, with nothing scheduled to go to related onshore businesses that will also suffer because of these closures, will not be anywhere near enough.

The government has misrepresented from the outset the true cost of this policy, saying it will cost $100 million to compensate what they estimate to be 186 fishing businesses. Compensation for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park alone blew out to $230 million and the true financial impact was not known for some years after the declaration of that marine park in mid-2004. After examining the government's regulatory impact statement for the Commonwealth marine reserve network, Associate Professor Daryl McPhee, from Bond University, made several criticisms, including the fact that the RIS limits discussion of impacts to lost production income from the commercial fishing industry and it has not adequately considered economic impacts to support businesses that rely on the catching sector or the impacts on seafood consumers. He said:

There is an urgent need to ensure that a structural adjustment package is comprehensive and of a sufficient magnitude to offset impacts.

Professor McPhee said in a recent report:

Failure to do this will compromise the management of fisheries, conservation, and the viability of 100s of regional businesses.

And one of Australia's most experienced fisheries management researchers, Emeritus Professor Robert Kearney from the University of Canberra, was so concerned about the flaws and bias in the RIS that he wrote direct to Minister Burke, warning that the RIS advocates:

… for more marine reserves ... based on serial and serious misinterpretation of the available evidence, including the literature cited in the RIS.

A report from Professor Kearney complains about bias, distortion and exaggeration in the RIS—but no-one should be surprised that experienced fisheries scientists are openly criticising this government's document.

The government is stumbling from one disaster to another over its fishing policies, and time and again it is listening to environmental lobby groups rather than considering the science and the futures of hardworking Australian fishing families. We saw the same situation with the government's backflip on the permission for the trawler Margiris to work in Australian waters. As with the Margiris, the government has allowed a highly organised and well-funded campaign by environmental NGOs to distort the facts over marine reserves. It is simple: Minister Burke will do anything to keep the environmental lobbyists onside. The government apparently sees no irony in the fact that some 31 per cent of the entire planet's marine parks will be in Australian waters at a time when we already import over 70 per cent of our seafood and demand for seafood is rising.

While the new network of 'no-go' areas ring the continent, Minister Burke and his environmental cheer squads see the Coral Sea region as the 'jewel in the crown'. The Coral Sea marine reserve will cover nearly one million square kilometres—an area more than half the size of Queensland. However, a Pew spokesman has admitted that, while his organisation had demanded the Australian government ban fishers from vast areas of the Coral Sea, Pew would not pursue a similar lockout in the Gulf of Mexico, because that would hurt the US economy and disadvantage local fishermen. It is ironic that Pew will drive in Australia something that it will not even propose at home.

The government admits the marine environment in this vast Coral Sea region is 'in near pristine condition' and then goes on to propose commercial fishing bans of one form or another throughout virtually the whole reserve. The government is locking away enormous potential future food resources for Australia and the world that could be harvested sustainably. One example is yellowfin tuna. Scientists tell us that yellowfin tuna are significantly under fished in Australian waters, particularly the Coral Sea, and are capable of supporting sustainable yields at least several times higher than current catch levels. The government is just creating a fattening paddock for foreign fishing fleets, who will catch these tuna when they swim out of Australian waters.

What this government is doing is closing down well-managed fishing businesses in Australia and forcing the country to import more seafood from countries with a far less impressive record. As a prominent international fisheries management scientist Professor Ray Hilborn from Washington State University said:

Fifty two percent by value and more by volume, of Australia's imports of seafood come from Thailand (26%), China (14%) and Vietnam (12%) …

More than 70 per cent of the seafood consumed in Australia is imported, as Professor Kearney has said—

… all countries that have much less impressive records for sustainable fisheries management than Australia. In a 2009 estimation of adherence to the United Nations Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries Australia ranked 4th out of the 53 countries surveyed. Thailand was ranked 42nd, China 22nd, and Vietnam 45th.

Therefore, by continuing to import the bulk of its seafood, Australia is effectively exporting responsibility for the sustainable management of the world's fish stocks to countries with a far inferior record for sustainability. All this is coming at a time when Australians are being told to eat more seafood for their health and the demand for seafood is rising. Australia already imports more than 70 per cent of its seafood. As Professor Kearney has said:

Human population and per capita consumption of seafood have both been continuously increasing suggesting that by 2020 Australia would require as estimated 610 000 tonnes of seafood imports … The most recent nutrition survey by the National Health and Medical Research Council … projects that on average Australians should eat 40% more seafood than they currently do ... To meet this projection without increasing its domestic fisheries production (a prospect for which there is no explicit policy and little likelihood under current management strategies which are focused on further restriction of fishing) Australia will need to import approximately 850 000 tonnes of seafood per year by 2020.

So, make no mistake, Australian seafood consumers, Australian fishing families and others in the seafood business will be badly hurt by the government's decision on marine parks. It is a government driven by a green agenda and by orchestrated public comment, where literally millions of dollars have been spent on a sophisticated advertising and propaganda campaign headed by Pew.

These fishing families represent the very best of the Australian character: physically courageous, battling the elements in unforgiving environments, and prepared to work hard in remote locations to harvest natural resources and create real wealth for the country. For many of them, these marine parks will mean an end to all that. When the reserves are declared, there will be the usual fanfare from the government and the usual line-up of environmental luminaries with pre-scripted endorsements. It is a familiar tactic from the usual green playbook. Missing from the official celebration will be hundreds of families in fishing related businesses right around the country for whom it will be a tragic day, when their investments, skills and life experience will be further devalued by a government desperate for green support, at any cost.