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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 26117


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation) (12:01 PM) —Senator Hill, who is quite clearly an expert on these trade matters, has returned and will be taking over the committee stage again on behalf of the government. Senator Harris has raised the proposal of a committee of all the senators but, Senator, you already have that opportunity in our parliament. As I said before, Senate committees rule the Senate. There is no reticence at all among senators to set up another committee or refer to an existing committee any aspect of government administration that needs to be looked at. I am quite sure that in the future there will be opportunities created by the Senate and the House of Representatives to investigate any aspect of this piece of government work, as there have been for other pieces of government work.

Senator Harris, before I leave I want to comment on the fisheries matter you raised. As you appreciate, it is directly related to my portfolio. I have seen the conspiracy theory floating around the east coast of Queensland that the green zones were only brought in because then we would not have any fish to export to America and that means we could sign the free trade agreement. There are these sorts of quite profound and bizarre theories. I can assure you, Senator Harris, the Representative Areas Program on the Great Barrier Reef had nothing to do with the free trade agreement or any trading issues. In fact, it had nothing to do with fisheries management either. That is an issue that I try to stress.

Fisheries are well managed in Australia and will continue to be well managed. This decision on marine parks was purely and simply, and quite rightly, a decision on the marine ecosystem of an icon of Australia—indeed a world icon—and that is the Great Barrier Reef. There was a concern that the reef was faltering. I do not think anyone in the world would like to see that hasten. The government took what action the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, an independent statutory authority, believed on the best scientific advice was necessary to ensure that that icon will remain forever. It is one of the steps that the government endorse and it really does cement our credentials as the most environmental government ever to exist in Australia. I am still waiting for the Greens to congratulate us on the green zones, but I do not think they have even noticed. They are too busy looking at Iraq, attacking the Americans or doing things like that. It is a great step.

It was not a fisheries management decision. It never was and never was intended to be. From a fisheries point of view, as a government we have sensibly and responsibly recognised that there are some people who will be severely impacted upon financially as a result of the Representative Areas Program. The government have a view that if you do something for the greater public good, like saving this natural world icon, then it should be the greater public good, that is, the Australian taxpayer, who pays the cost and not individual fishermen, businesses or small country towns that you and I and others in this chamber represent. That is why we have come out with a particularly generous adjustment package to make sure that the cost of this environmental step forward is borne by all Australians and not by the individuals concerned. I have heard a lot of stories and, like Senator Harris, I have been quite distressed by some of the stories I have heard from fishermen. We cannot change the green zones; we do not want to change the green zones. But we do want to make sure that those who are financially or socially impacted upon are looked after. That is what the government will do.

Senator Harris, while Australia is not a well-endowed fishing country—we do not have the cold water upwellings that are needed for us to be a hugely productive fishing nation—we do have good niche markets and we manage our fisheries as well as, if not better than, most other fisheries in the world. In fact, you will be pleased to know that I cannot stay very long because I am going to address a Crawford Foundation meeting in Parliament House very shortly, which is looking at fish, aquaculture and food security. We are very determined to make sure that Australia does manage the fish stocks it has very well. Our fishermen are very innovative and they do look forward. They will find other resources that will ensure that we always have plenty of fish for Australians and for productive exports.