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Thursday, 1 November 2012
Page: 8744


Senator McLUCAS (QueenslandParliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers and Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister) (10:59): I rise to comment on the proposed bill from the coalition around the Commonwealth marine reserves. Can I say that the language that we have heard from many opposite during the debate on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Making Marine Parks Accountable) Bill 2012 has been quite emotive. There have been quite outlandish claims made. We have heard that communities are going to be decimated. We have heard that the axe will fall, that there will be fatal implications of this bill. I do urge people to be careful with their language. We are talking about people and their lives. We are talking about the protection of a natural asset. We should be careful about the language we use in this place as it does impact on the way people understand or, in fact, misunderstand what is being proposed.

On this side of the chamber we recognise, and I think those on the other side do too—I have heard many comment in this way—that Australian fisheries are among the best managed in the world. However, and this is terribly important, the creation of marine reserves is not about managing fisheries; it is about helping our oceans to remain healthy and resilient to pressures such as climate change.

The claim that the government is locking commercial and recreational fishers out of Australia's oceans is plainly false. There is no evidence that the new reserves will affect the supply of seafood to Australians in any significant way. The government's decision is the outcome of a transparent process in which the science, the socioeconomic analysis and the stakeholder and public consultations all played key roles in achieving a balanced outcome.

Analysis undertaken by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, ABARES, estimates that around one per cent of the national annual value of wild-catch fisheries production in Australia will be displaced by the proposed reserves. The total wild-catch production in Australia is 171,512 tonnes—from the Australian fisheries statistics 2010 published by ABARES in August 2011. When combined with aquaculture product, total annual seafood production is 241,123 tonnes. ABARES estimate that the reserves network will displace a maximum of 1,530 tonnes. That amounts to 0.6 per cent of total seafood production, or 0.9 per cent of the wild-catch production. To provide context: the displacement of catch arising from the new marine reserves—that is, up to 1,530 tonnes—is similar or smaller than the seasonal variations in catch experienced by Australia's wild-catch sector over the last two years.

The new marine reserves network announced by the government on 14 June this year is the result of a lengthy process of science-based planning and consultation with stakeholder organisations. Commercial and recreational fishing organisations have been involved throughout the process and the final network proposal incorporates many of their suggestions, and in the area that I am most interested in, the Coral Sea, there have been significant amendments to the original proposal following those consultations. The marine reserves network proposal achieves a strong conservation outcome with 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. Commercial and recreational fishing will continue in the Coral Sea. The government's final Coral Sea proposal has a lower socioeconomic impact than the draft option that was released for 90 days of public consultation in November 2011. The final Coral Sea proposal is estimated to displace approximately $4.1 million, or around 2.3 per cent of Coral Sea annual fisheries income.

The marine reserves network proposal will have a very minor impact, if any impact at all, on recreational fishers. All areas of the proposed marine reserves network, except areas zoned as highly protected in marine national parks, will remain open to recreational fishers. As I said, 96 per cent of the ocean around Australia 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 marine national park zone from Brisbane. It is 330 kilometres to the nearest marine national park zone from Townsville. It is 380 kilometres from Mackay to a marine national park and 210 kilometres from Cairns. Anyone who knows much about what recreational fishers do and how far they travel off the coast, will know there will be no impact on their regular activity. None of the new Commonwealth 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.

At a local meeting in my home city of Cairns—let's say I do not know who organised it—there was an allegation made by one of the people in the audience that she would not be able to fish from Machans Beach because of the Commonwealth marine reserves proposal for the Coral Sea. No-one disabused her. No-one said, 'I'm sorry, Madam, that's just not true because the area that we are talking about is 210 kilometres from Machans Beach.' No-one is allowing the truth to come forward in this debate. In fact, I will say that there are some on the other side who are intentionally muddying the waters, who are intentionally using language like 'the axe will fall', that 'communities will be decimated'. I am sorry, but we have to be very careful with our language in this debate. The new marine park reserves will add 2.3 million square kilometres to the Commonwealth marine reserves network, taking the overall size of the network to 3.1 million square kilometres, including the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Let us go now to the issues around consultation. Statutory public consultations, each of 90 days duration, were held on the draft marine reserves network proposal between May 2011 and February 2012. There were 245 meetings held around the country throughout that process; 19 of them were held in Queensland to talk about the Coral Sea, and the Gulf of Carpentaria zoning had its own consultation meeting. Regional consultations began with multisector information sessions held in the major centres, followed by a number of public information sessions held in regional centres. The public information sessions were open to everyone, were advertised locally and provided opportunities for members of the public to view consultation materials and to talk to department staff.

In addition to the public information sessions, targeted stakeholder meetings were also held throughout the public consultation period. Around 567,000 submissions were received on the draft marine reserves network proposals and other 480,000 submissions were received on the draft Coral Sea marine reserve proposal. Of the 907 non-campaign submissions received on the draft Coral Sea proposal, 77 per cent supported higher levels of protection than that proposed in the draft proposal. The marine reserves announced by the government on 14 June are different from the draft proposals released for consultation between May 2011 and February 2012. Boundaries and zonings have been adjusted and new areas added in response to issues raised during the consultation process. A key input into the government's decisions on the final marine reserves network was a series of socioeconomic impact statements conducted by ABARES. These studies looked at the potential impacts on commercial fishing and the flow-on impacts for regional towns and economies.

The Australian government is committed to ensuring that measures are put in place to support those fishers and fishing dependent communities that are significantly affected by the new reserves. The minister released the government's fisheries adjustment policy in May 2011, and the government has announced that a fisheries adjustment package, designed in consultation with the commercial fishing industry, will be in place and delivering assistance prior to the marine reserves coming into effect. The minister is required to consider a report prepared by the Director of National Parks on the comments received on the final Commonwealth marine reserves network proposal in deciding whether to proclaim the reserves.

After the marine reserves network has been proclaimed, there will be two further opportunities for stakeholders and the public to provide input to the development of statutory reserve management plans. During a 30-day consultation period, feedback will be invited on a proposal to prepare a management plan for each regional marine reserves network, a draft management plan will be prepared, taking into account the comments received in the first round of consultation, and feedback on the draft plan will be sought during a further 30-day consultation period.

When the coalition were last in government, they achieved several key milestones, including the rezoning of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and the creation, in 2006, of the world's first representative network of marine reserves in temperate oceans, the South-east Commonwealth Marine Reserve Network, comprising 13 large-scale offshore marine reserves around Tasmania and Victoria. Both of these achievements have received extraordinary and well-deserved praise from around the world. When we were in opposition during that time, we supported those decisions, despite reasonable criticism from sectors that consultation with some key stakeholders had been rushed and that decisions had been taken to protect the environment—necessarily, in our view—on less than complete scientific and economic evidence.

Senator Colbeck has been 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. Additionally, the proposed changes to the EPBC Act as set out in 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 into any future proposed marine reserves. However, the coalition say this will have no financial implications for the Commonwealth and they define 'affected regions' as the same as an area proposed for proclamation—that is, each individual reserve.

The government supports protection of precious areas like the Great Barrier Reef and commends those opposite for taking the action that they did when they were in government. 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 of no-take zones to more than 30 per cent no-take zones. There was limited consultation on the design of the adjustment program for the GBR. 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 Reserves Network is the extent of the network off-limits to commercial fishing. It is 80 per cent.

Eighty per cent of the coalition's marine reserves locking out commercial fishers underlies, I have to say, the hypocrisy of the opposition in labelling our government's quite reasonable and balanced proposals as a lockout and anti-fishing. When they were in government, 80 per cent of the South-east Marine Reserve was a no-take zone for any fishing. Yet when we put balanced proposals in front of the opposition, they call it a lockout. None of the proposed Commonwealth reserves in any region restrict boating in state coastal waters or the type of fishing undertaken by the vast majority of recreational fishing. Claims of large-scale recreational fishing lockouts are totally unfounded, as are exaggerated estimates of the impact on fishing and boating related industries.

The government's current marine park proposals have been more than a decade in development. The development of the marine bioregional plans and the identification of the Commonwealth marine reserves 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, 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 over two decades. It is based on protecting examples of all of the major marine ecosystem types around Australia. The 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 science and 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. CSIRO, Geoscience Australia and a number of universities and museums 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 reserves 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 those regions. Those profiles were prepared using the 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 the environment minister was to publish the marine bioregional profile for the South-west Marine Region. That document, which bears his photograph, 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. But, as we have seen with many debates in this place, when the science does not support a person's certain point of view it is the science that is vilified.

Senator Boswell talked a lot about how this was a slap in the face for the recreational fishing industry. No-one, not one speaker from the other side, took the opportunity in this debate to talk about the slap in the face that Sunfish has received from Mr Newman. Sunfish has lost its funding. Sunfish was defunded to the tune of $200,000. Mr Newman saved $200,000 by removing the funding for the recreational fishing representative organisation in our state. Sunfish members, though—recreational fishers—pay a fee of $18 every year with their boat registration on the understanding that that money will be used to support their representative organisation, Sunfish. Now, that $18 is still being charged but their peak body has been defunded. If we are going to talk about a slap in the face, let us be fair about it, Senator Boswell, and talk about your colleagues in the state government who have defunded the recreational fishing representative organisation, Sunfish.

I do not support the bill before the chamber. It is bad policy and it will undermine the good science that has supported and informed Australia's Commonwealth marine reserves program.