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Thursday, 1 November 2012
Page: 8753


Senator RUSTON (South Australia) (11:39): I too rise to speak to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Making Marine Parks Accountable) Bill 2012. Firstly, I put on the record that, like all my coalition colleagues, I strongly support the role of government in ensuring the conservation of our nation's natural resources and the protection of the environment for the benefit and enjoyment of everybody in Australia. It seems a pity that the government either misunderstands this role or is deliberately misdirecting it to satisfy the extreme protectionist views of groups that care nothing about the massive benefits that flow to society from the sustainable harvest of these resources.

I support the establishment of marine parks, reserves, protected areas and even no-take zones where necessary, but they must be based on addressing identified threats and demonstrate that they are dealing in a cost-effective way with the processes that constitute these threats. We have a number of national and international agreements that outline how we should be handling this, including the EPBC Act itself, but we see none of that in the approach that has been taken by this government to marine parks. What we see is a government that is prepared to chuck out the window everything, including these intergovernmental agreements, and things that for the last 20 years have been established as protocols. If you have a look at the agreement between the Commonwealth and the states, it actually states that action must not be disproportionate to the significance of the environmental problem.

It appears as if there really is very little in the way of environmental problems associated with fishing that cannot be dealt with under the current traditional fisheries management techniques. Closing off large areas of fishing when there are no identifiable threats associated with that fishing does not make a great deal of sense. We need to get back to the basics of applying some of these precautionary approaches to how we deal with the issues instead of taking emotional, reactionary ones. It is a case of making policy on the run, and I think it is probably designed to appease extremists and to hoodwink the masses.

The additional no-take zones proposed in the current plans do not represent unique ecosystems threatened in any way by fishing. The environmental benefit of closing those areas is likely to be absolutely nothing. There may be more fish in these areas if we do it, and there might be bigger fish swimming around inside these marine areas, but that will be at the expense of seafood production and it will be a great loss to the recreational fishing industry as well.

Not a single species in Australian marine waters is threatened or has been made extinct as a result of fishing, and our fisheries are ranked among the best in the world in terms of sustainable management. The enforcement costs of establishing these zones, which run up to 200 kilometres off the coast of Australia, are absolutely massive—and for what benefit? It really does appear to be nothing more than satisfying the hardcore left-wing Greens who seem to be holding this government to making some decisions that certainly are not in the best interests of Australia and particularly our fisheries.

There is no doubt that there are some things that are possibly threatening our marine environment at the moment, things like: the southern seastar that we see in Tasmanian waters, zebra mussels in the Northern Territory, and even the Caulerpa weed in South Australia, to name a few. There are substantial impacts from things like pollution and environmental run-off, coastal developments in some regions, and so on. These are real threats and they need to be addressed. But the idea of addressing these threats by closing down huge areas to fishing seems a little preposterous, because we would be closing down and damaging a whole heap of our industries and addressing the problem not at all. We saw this in the recent 20-year report on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park which showed that the reef was declining due to the effects of run-off and changing conditions—despite it being the largest marine park and sanctuary zone in the world. These are not just views that I am putting forward. The coalition supports this position, the commercial fishing sector supports this position, and regional communities support this position.

In my home state of South Australia, the Liberal Party strongly supports the protection of our marine assets. In fact it was Liberal Party back in the 1990s that first floated the idea of marine parks. And going back to the 2002 state election, it was the Liberal Party who committed to establishing marine parks. What we do not support is the way in which these sanctuary zones are determined. We do not support the process to determine those sanctuary zones because the process is fundamentally flawed. It is fundamentally flawed because it has not followed the established protocol for arranging protection zones within a marine park. Marine park protection zones need to be based on identified, scientifically evaluated threats to marine biodiversity and the response must be proportionate to that threat. Where are the threats from fishing? We want the government to start addressing this issue of no-take sanctuary zones on a threats basis because if we do not we are going to see it costing us jobs. It is going to cost us regional communities, it is going to cost us exports, it is going to reduce our food production, it is going to hurt our recreational and commercial fishing sectors and it is going to cost taxpayers millions and millions of dollars in enforcement and management fees.

There has been increasing controversy over marine parks with fishing interests claiming that there has been a disproportionate priority being given to unjustified and unrealistic demands from so-called conservation groups like the Pew foundation and the Wilderness Society, which are largely about preservation and not about conservation. People such as South Australian fishing industry authority Michael Angelakis has stated that if government departments have their way seafood prices will go through the roof as those who fish will be excluded from zones that are rife with fish and are thriving.

Unfortunately, what has happened with marine parks is a further demonstration of how the economic and social fabric of our society is being threatened by minority groups and the lack of this government's ability to make a considered judgement in the best interests of all Australians. The recreational and commercial fishing industry, regional communities and marine experts are overwhelmingly saying that marine parks are important. They are saying these sanctuary no-take zones are incredibly damaging because they are not supported by scientific evidence. There is no doubt that the whole of the industry is respectful of the fact that we need to be responsible in terms of our management of our marine parks. But let us not be silly and throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Therefore we as a coalition support the fishing industry in their call for a threats based determination of any protection zone as per the COAG agreement approach that is cautionary and not emotional. There is absolutely no sense whatsoever in proceeding with no-take zones that have been determined with the same level of science and precision as pinning the tail on a donkey and are likely to destroy Aboriginal communities.

On 14 June this year Minister Burke said Australia will create the world's largest network of marine parks as the world 'turns a corner' on ocean protection. He made much of the five proposed zones in offshore waters surrounding every state and territory. But we did not hear him say terribly much about the hundreds of millions of dollars or so in compensation that commercial fishermen are entitled to claim for being locked out of the marine parks. The plan drew fire from the commercial fishing sector and the recreational fishers, who said it went too far, and, predictably, from the Greens, who said it did not go far enough.

The coalition is instinctively against anything which impinges on the rights of our fishers. We know from this government's record that they cannot be trusted to get consultation right, they cannot be trusted to get implementation right and often they cannot even be trusted to get the science right. So fishers in every affected area are saying they are going to lose the very waters from which they can supply good, local, fresh product to all Australians.

Dean Logan, from the Australian Marine Alliance, said the plan would hurt commercial fishers. He said:

It's basically saying to Australians you cannot be trusted to be good custodians of the environment …

Professional prawn fishing groups say the marine park reserves will have a severe impact on the prawn industry in northern Australia. Austral Fisheries general manager Andy Prendergast said the marine reserves, particularly in the Gulf of Carpentaria, will exclude them from their most important fishing grounds for tiger and banana prawns. He said the decision could effectively wipe out Australia's free-range prawn fishing industry.

"There is a tipping point," he said. "If we can't get access to these areas, that could effectively put us out of business …

Recreational fishers believe the government's plans are all about winning votes from the greens in the cities and say it is absurd to protect areas where fish are actually thriving.

Unlike Labor and the Greens, the coalition does not believe scientific and economic challenges over fishing and marine protection are incompatible. In support of this argument, let me quote Dr Ray Hilborn, a professor of aquatic and fishery sciences at the University of Washington, who says, 'Australian fisheries are well managed, sustainable and do not need further locking up to protect them from overfishing; the existing tools are working'. He goes on elsewhere to say that there is no threat to marine conservation and no marine species have gone extinct. He says, 'Closing Australian areas to fisheries will not increase food production from fisheries; it will reduce it'. He then goes on to say, 'Reducing access to Australian fish stocks results in Australia importing more fish, often sourced from areas that have less sustainably managed fisheries at a much higher environmental cost, effectively offshoring our domestic requirements.'

Well-managed fisheries are more environmentally sustainable than most other sources of protein. If we close the ocean and take less seafood the environmental cost of the alternative is much higher than the environmental cost of our responsible fishing methods. In Australia, the US and a number of other countries fishing stocks are actually rebuilding, not declining. Australian seafood consumers have been misled by the prophets of gloom and doom. Public perception has been distorted by overzealous and uninformed protest groups who would rather see their name in lights than deliver good policy outcomes from Australia. The result of antifishing rhetoric has falsely demonised fishing and led to ill directed calls for restrictions, particularly in areas that are closed to fishing and then call protected. Australians have been told by health professionals and authorities to eat more seafood, yet the country has a serious and growing shortage of locally produced product and no obvious policies for food security or increasing domestic supply of fish. It is difficult to understand why Australians believe they need to implement additional alternative restrictions on fishing such as more fishing closures in marine parks.

The PRESIDENT: Order! The time for the debate has expired. You will be in continuation when the matter comes on next, Senator Ruston.