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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 26188


Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) (4:48 PM) —by leave—I would like to make a short statement in relation to a return to order. Yesterday, Senator McLucas successfully moved motion No. 58, which sought the tabling of certain documents by me no later than three o'clock this afternoon. The record will show that that motion passed some time around four o'clock yesterday afternoon. It sought documents relating to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority's process, known as the Representative Areas Program. It relates, if I read it correctly, specifically to the Repulse Bay area. You may recall, Mr Acting Deputy President Chapman, that there was a question in relation to the Representative Areas Program on the reef during question time today. For the government it is a very important process. As I said in question time, it has increased the area of protection within the marine park well in excess of 33 per cent of a quite massive area. I am not sure whether you have been there yourself but, if you have not, I recommend it to you and all honourable senators. It is, of course, an absolutely awesome and awe-inspiring part of the Australian environment—the reef, the park around it and the hinterland, much of which has been proclaimed as part of world heritage within the wet tropics.

This park was originally proclaimed under the leadership of former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser. It was regarded as one of the great environmental achievements of that Liberal Prime Minister, who was regarded as a great environmentalist. The great achievement in the Great Barrier Reef protection stakes, amongst many other good pieces of work done by Senator Robert Hill and Dr David Kemp after him in protecting the reef, is this plan.

The plan, which Senator McLucas is seeking to get some documents about, involved a very comprehensive consultation process. In excess of 30,000 submissions were made to the authority throughout the process, and I am sure many were made to the minister at the time. Senator McLucas, who has an interest in Queensland, would know that there was not only significant interest from people involved in the process but also widespread interest across Australia, because it is an Australia-wide and world-wide recognised piece of heritage. There is an enormous number of documents relating to this. The request from Senator McLucas sought a response effectively in less than 24 hours. She may be aware that there are also freedom of information requests about similar documents, which are also being dealt with by the authority and by my department. We will be diligently seeking to respond.

I make the point that this plan protects through a series of zonings that are easily understood if you consider that the no-take zones are green zones. They effectively exclude all activities, including recreational and commercial fishing, other than conservation and protection activities. Roughly 33 per cent of the park has been zoned green. There are other zonings but a significant one that Senator McLucas would be aware of is the yellow zone, which reserves significant parts of the park for recreational fishermen only. This is the nub of a number of the issues up and down the coast. I had the enormous pleasure of visiting these areas a couple of weeks ago. The green zones and the yellow zones have removed access to commercial fishing from significant areas of the park.

The government has produced a structural adjustment package which seeks to fairly and equitably address the needs of people in the park zone and the industries that serve the park. These include training, counselling and business support needs. An example is the fish and chip shops. They get their fish from fishermen within the zone. I am working very hard to ensure that that structural adjustment package meets the needs of not only the commercial fishermen but also the recreational fishermen. Senator McLucas has identified with the recreational fishermen, who in some cases had some slightly conflicting interests with the commercial fishermen in Repulse Bay. I assume that Senator McLucas would have liked to have seen that bay made a yellow zone, thereby excluding commercial fishermen.

As a result of my trip, I will very shortly announce details of changes to the structural adjustment package as well as a number of other reforms to the process going forward to make it more fair and equitable to commercial fishing interests, to recreational fishing interests and to the industries that serve both of those very important activities in the park. I have already extended the date for tenders. The package allows commercial fishing interests to tender for the value of their licences, their fishing boats and anything else to effectively take the licences out of the park. It is very important to do it fairly and to ensure that, when they prepare their tenders, the people involved have a very clear understanding of what the future holds for them. I have extended the closing date for tenders to the second week in October—I think it is 13 October, but I do not have the date handy. It is very important for the commercial fishing interests, and ultimately for the recreational fishing industry—bait and tackle shops and others who supply the recreational fishing industry—to have a very clear understanding of the plan and the structural adjustment package. They will make a significant difference to the lives of hundreds of people along the Queensland coast.

I am very disturbed by the Australian Labor Party's handling of this issue. We are seeking to create world-leading, historically large levels of environmental protection for a very fragile piece of the environment. In the lead-up to an election, there has been what I could only describe as very cheap political point scoring by a couple of Labor Party candidates and members on the Queensland coast. I was very disturbed to read a press release, on official Labor Party letterhead, by a Labor Party candidate that attacked the plan and attacked me for daring to say that the planning process should not be reopened. I will table this press release so that all in the world who have an interest in the park can read it. The candidate attacked me for saying that I was `intent on ensuring that the controversial closed zones stayed'. So I have been attacked for defending the plan. The press release says:

We have had our access to the reef slashed and we are not going to get it back under the Howard government.

This makes it quite clear to any reader in Gladstone that, under a Latham government, access would be returned to these areas. The candidate up in Gladstone—the official Mark Latham Labor candidate—is saying to the commercial and recreational fishing interests and the industries that serve them: `Tear up the plan. Let's reopen it. Let's have an inquiry. Let's stretch it out until after the election of a Latham Labor government.' They are being cheered on by Senator McLucas and the putative Latham Labor candidate in Hinkler. They are saying to these people, `Let's think carefully about what we do with this structural adjustment package.' It throws the whole package up into the air. If you were a commercial fisherman or someone who owned a recreational fishing provisions shop—


Senator McLucas —Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. Senator Campbell's words do not go to the return to order that I have asked for. I am asking for a discrete set of documents. If the minister has them, then let him provide them. If he does not have them, then let us know why. It is all very interesting to talk over what happened through the RAP process—I know it; I live there—but I do not think it is sensible to waste the Senate's time in this way. It is a question of relevance. Could the minister address the point that he originally started to make?


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Chapman)—It is not for the chair to judge what is or is not part of the documentation. I will listen carefully to the minister and attempt to ensure that he is being relevant. I understand that he is addressing the RAP, which is part of the documents you are seeking as a return to order, so in that sense it is relevant.


Senator IAN CAMPBELL —Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. I understand it is very awkward for Senator McLucas because she has been caught at the new Labor game of saying one thing to one constituency and another thing to the environment lobby. This is the nub of this motion: it is playing to a constituency around Repulse Bay, particularly recreational fishermen, by wanting to dog whistle to them and say, effectively, `We will, as a future Labor government, reopen this plan.' That is what the Latham Labor candidate in Hinkler is saying. Labor are attacking the plan. They are attacking me for saying that I am going to stand by that plan and protect the reef, but down here no doubt Kelvin Thomson will be telling the environment movement that the reef is safe. You could get away with this narrowcasting before the advent of electronic media.

In Hinkler, the Labor candidate is trying to appeal to the commercial fishermen and a few miles down the coast Senator McLucas is trying to appeal to SunFish and the recreational fishers. But down here in Canberra, they will sit around with the Wilderness Society, the ACF, the World Wide Fund for Nature and other people who care deeply about the reef and say, `It will be safe under Labor.' You cannot have it both ways. Senator McLucas is seeking to table documents which my department will now work on instead of working on protecting the reef. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and all the fantastic scientists and people up there will now turn to responding to Senator McLucas's cheap political stunt—instead of protecting the Great Barrier Reef, working with the local community, commercial fishermen and recreational fishermen, working in a consultative way as I want them to, to restore trust between the communities and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Because of Senator McLucas's cheap political point scoring, those people will have to hunt through thousands and thousands of papers. She comes into this place and seriously moves a motion which says that we should be required to do that in less than 24 hours. How can you possibly take her seriously? What a joke!

We take the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and its protection seriously. Malcolm Fraser started it, Mr Hawke and Mr Keating ignored it and, of course, Prime Minister Howard has massively increased the protection of the reef. And do you know what we do? We do not sit in a little room with the commercial fishermen, wink, nod and dog whistle to them, make them false promises and say one thing to them and tell rec fishers another thing, and then tell the environment lobby even another thing. We look them in the eye and tell them all the same thing. I looked the recreational fishermen in the eye, and the commercial fishermen, the people who own the bait and tackle shops and the fish and chip shops and I said, `This plan is the law of the land and I would be holding out false hope to you if I said we are going to reopen it.' That is what I said to every single one of those people up and down that coast. So this Latham Labor candidate in Gladstone is misleading the people she seeks to represent by saying that I did anything other than that. I challenge Senator McLucas or this Latham Labor candidate who wants to reopen the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park to find any one of the hundreds of people I have met who will contradict what I have said here today because they will not find one.

I told them, `Anyone who holds out hope to reopen the plan and overturn the law is really giving you false hope.' We can give them lots of hope by sensible, sound, constructive discussion, addressing the structural adjustment package, addressing the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and its association with the communities, improving the consultation mechanisms and making sure that the mistakes that were made in the past, where the trust was broken down between the authority and various parts of the community, are not repeated. That can be done and that is what I am going to do, but it is not helped by Labor candidates and Labor senators stirring people up for cheap political point scoring, saying that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park can be traded off in a political game. It should not be traded off. It is a disgrace for Labor to pretend to the environment movement and to the members of our community who care deeply about the Australian environment, particularly about their barrier reef, that people such as this candidate up in Gladstone will trade that away for cheap political reasons and think they can get away with it. We all know in this place that there is absolutely no way that Labor should do that.

I call on Senator McLucas and I call on the Leader of the Opposition, Mark Latham, and their environment spokesman—whether he be Kelvin Thomson or Peter Garrett; it is hard to work out who it is—to make a clear public statement to the people of Queensland, Australia and the world saying, `Labor will not reopen this plan.' That is what you need to say, and you need either to sack your candidate in Hinkler for misleading the people she seeks to represent in this place—you should sack her the way the Liberal Party had the guts to sack candidates who play these sorts of games—or you should call her in, dress her down and tell her what your policy is. You cannot have one environment policy in North Queensland and another one in Canberra and be taken seriously. The commercial fishermen will not believe you and the recreational fishermen will not believe you because they are smarter than that.

What is really at stake here and why it is so important that Labor makes the policy clear is that it is not a little Young Labor game or a trade union game, with a little bit of political gamesmanship. These are the lives of commercial fishing people and it is the future of recreational fishing and fishing industries and fish and chip shops—all of them good Australians. Over the next few weeks they need to be addressing how they are going to approach this, for their sake and for the sake of their children and families, the people who rely on them to put food on the table and shoes on their feet so that they can go to school. The efficacy of the structural adjustment package and the future of the plan are really important to all those people. If people are playing cheap politic games with it, holding open the prospect, as this candidate is doing—saying that the plan is going to be changed or reopened and attacking the government for the plan, a government that has had the guts and commitment to protect the reef and to help those people affected by it—then the structural adjustment package will be put in limbo.

If you want to have a structural adjustment package that delivers to people the fair and equitable support they need and deserve as a result of reaching these conservation outcomes, it is absolutely incumbent upon Labor to say that the plan will not change. Otherwise it will be very hard for my department, with the support of the Queensland structural adjustment commissioners, to carry out a structural adjustment package that has efficacy and that people can have faith in. It is well and truly time that Labor stopped playing games with this issue and stopped threatening the protection of the Great Barrier Reef.

I call on Kelvin Thomson, Peter Garrett, Mark Latham and Senator McLucas to say to this candidate in Hinkler that she is breaching policy, or to tell the people affected in the park and the people of Queensland what Labor's true policy is on this, because there is now total confusion as a result of the game playing of Senator McLucas and the candidate for Hinkler. The people of Queensland and the people affected by the park deserve a lot better. Labor are playing with these people's lives and they do not care about it. You cannot get away with saying one thing to one group of people in Queensland and another thing to another group of people down here. Just as you cannot have the shadow Attorney-General saying one thing about gay marriage to a bunch of Christians who care about marriage and another thing to gay and lesbian people who have a different view. You cannot get away with it forever. You have to make a decision and wear the consequences.

The production of these documents will significantly divert the resources of my troops in the Department of the Environment and Heritage, who work to protect the environment and to protect the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and the work and resources of the great people of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, who are paid to do that also. When she moved a motion less than 24 hours ago requiring these documents to be tabled Senator McLucas knew that there was no way we could comply. So this is a stunt; Senator McLucas wanted to force a debate about this today and she is going to have one. I would be happy to debate her anywhere on this stuff because what she is doing is a disgrace. She is playing with people's lives; she is playing cheap little political games and diverting resources. We will go through this process and search for the documents and we will comply. But can we comply today? There is no way in the world and she knows that. We will respond to this return to order in due course.