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Monday, 18 June 2007
Page: 16

Senator BOSWELL (Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (1:35 PM) —I agree with Senator McLucas when she says that the Great Barrier Reef is an icon which needs to be protected, has great tourism value, provides many jobs and underpins the tourist industry in North Queensland. I accept all those things and have no argument with it. My argument is that this barrier reef is a multi purpose park, and it always has been a multi purpose park. What has been happening, and what GBRMPA did, is completely dishonest and left a trail of misery and woe. I do not think I have ever seen Senator McLucas with her shoulder to the wheel trying to sort it out, but it has taken Warren Entsch, Teresa Gambaro, Senator Nigel Scullion and me about two years to come to some sort of arrangement that will help the fishermen, the fish processors, the outboard motor people and the bait and fishing tackle shops, who have all been impacted on. No-one needs to go down that track. It should never have happened, and I hope to goodness it will never happen again. It is all right to stand up here and advocate the preciousness of the reef—no-one disagrees with that—but you do not have to leave a trail of misery, disaster, bankruptcies and broken marriages to do that. You can do that quite within the bounds of sensible discussion and reasonableness, which we never saw from GBRMPA.

The Representative Areas Program was put forward by GBRMPA. In 2001 GBRMPA decided to fence off parts of the reef to preserve biodiversity—I have no argument with that—and protect samples of 70 different bioregions. This became the RAP, or the Representative Areas Program. Up to that stage seven per cent of the park was protected in green zones. GBRMPA wanted 25 per cent protected. They went around and told everyone that that was what they wanted. They came into my office and told me, ‘We want 25 per cent protected.’ I can remember saying to them—I can almost see it—‘If you are going to put the biodiversity zones in, put them in the areas where no fishing is taking place.’ They said, ‘Yes, we’ll consider that, Senator Boswell.’ In real terms they took 33 per cent of the marine park, which is a total of around 70 per cent of the reef itself. This program was a subterfuge and became a disaster. I will tell you why, Senator McLucas. You know, as well as I do, that GBRMPA put forward to the government that this was going to cost between $500,000 and $1.5 million, but if you really stretched it out it was going to cost $2 million. What has it cost?

Senator McLucas —It was $10 million at the beginning.

Senator BOSWELL —I will get to that. GRMPA said it would cost between $500,000 and $1.5 million. They said, ‘But let’s throw in another $500,000 because it might go to $2 million.’ Well, $200 million later the cost is still going northwards. I have extracted every last ounce I can get from the Treasurer and from the minister to keep paying. The cost estimates were either a lie, at the best, or incompetence at the very worst. They went to the government and said, ‘Let’s put this program forward; it is going to cost between $500,000 and $2 million,’ and the cost actually came to $200 million—or $187 million, depending on whose figures you are looking at—and it is still going northward. Senator McLucas, if you did that in private enterprise you would be sacked on the spot. If you had an overrun of $200 million, or if you said to the government or to the boss, ‘I think it is going to cost this,’ but it cost 100 times that, you would be sacked on the spot.

Senator McLucas —Are you in coalition or not?

Senator BOSWELL —I am in coalition. And thank goodness we are in coalition because if we were not in coalition the fishing industry would be so impacted it would still be being damaged. This has cost the government over $200 million. There are 400 claims which have been processed and about another 200 to go. Now we are getting to the sharp end, or the end where it is really going to cost money, the food or fish processing, because when you close down the industry or a certain part of the industry—or take 33 per cent of fishing off the reef—then you must compensate the boats that are squeezed into the remaining area. You can see that 100 per cent of the boats going into 60 per cent of the area just will not go, so you have to buy them out. The implications of that are that you have to buy out the net makers, the fishing industry and the fishing boats. We are still processing those claims. We are still dealing with the mess.

As I said, this just could not happen in private enterprise or someone would suffer the consequences. The process was that there was very limited consultation. Maps were produced but were not shown to the fishermen or even to members of parliament. Then, when they were produced, they were given out on videos which would not fit into the computers of the fishermen. We got access to them late. Then the commercial fishermen and the recreational fishermen were asked by GBRMPA to go out and mark the spots that they required. The fishermen said, ‘These are the areas that are of the utmost importance to us, so if you are going to have biodiversity areas do not put them there.’ What happened? These very areas were the areas that were zoned out in the final maps.

No-one would dispute the need for protection of the reef, but we do not have to go through this process. A spanner crab fisherman who provided preferred fishery details to GBRMPA found that his prime fishing ground within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, earlier determined as a model fishery by the state government, was now declared a green zone. He was asked to mark out what he required. He did that, and it automatically became a green zone.

A prime prawn-fishing ground was closed due to concern for migratory turtles, even after the sensible suggestion was made to close the area only during the three-month turtle season. Green zones were placed on lee sides of islands, in sheltered areas where fishermen could safely fish. The zones that they were allowed to fish in were on the windward sides of islands, where they could hardly ever go. An aquarium fishing business lost its primary fishing ground to green rezoning after providing details to GBRMPA. Areas productive for catching brood prawns, essential for the continued success of the North Queensland aquaculture industry, were excluded after mapping details were given to GBRMPA. No wonder no-one had any faith in this process. When GBRMPA asked them to mark on the maps what they required to continue their businesses, those very areas were zoned out.

GBRMPA has the distinction of being able to achieve something that few other people have been able to achieve—that is, alienate both commercial and recreational fishers. Recreational fishermen lost their fishing areas after providing details of them. During the election campaign, the government agreed that this process would be reviewed, and the result of that review is the bill before us: the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment Bill 2007. I believe that we need legislation where the minister is responsible for such actions and is aware of any reactions that they might cause. GBRMPA will no longer be able to unilaterally get away with this type of subterfuge.

Senator Scullion, Warren Entsch and I secured a package to compensate the fishermen. It is not easy to ask for these things. Initially, we received $10 million. It was then raised to $26 million. Then it was uncapped for restructure funding assistance. We are still sorting out this mess; it is still going on. There are families who are still being hurt. There are people who are still waiting for their payments. There are people who are still ringing me up constantly. I have received phone calls from people who have said: ‘The keys to my trawler are here. You can take over the thing. You’ve bankrupted me.’ That is why Senator Scullion, Warren Entsch and I went in there and fought for and got an uncapped package. The packages include competitive tender licence buyouts, restructuring grants for onshore and offshore businesses, and small payouts for retrenched deckhands and trawler skippers. We also secured payments for outdoor motor retailers, fishing retailers and a number of other people who were impacted by the GBRMPA process.

What did the state government do? While the federal government was doing this, the state government brought in what it called ‘complementary closures’, which were in the state controlled fishery. While the federal government was paying out $200 million to compensate for the actions of GBRMPA, the state government put in exactly nothing. It did not put in one cent to compensate for the closures of the inshore fishery. The state slipped the net on paying for these extensive complementary closures.

I think it was on Friday that the state government made a statement that it was going to put down a 10 per cent closure in Moreton Bay. I have been through this before: 10 per cent suddenly becomes 35 per cent. Before the state government does this, it should not fall into the same trap that GBRMPA did. It should make sure that it knows how many and what kinds of commercial fishing boat licences would need to be bought out, as well as at what cost and under what scheme. It needs to do a social impact study. It also needs to know how many and what kinds of onshore businesses would be affected by the closures. What would it cost to compensate bait and tackle shops, seafood outlets, boat and motor dealers? What would be the impact on a person who takes his kids fishing in a green zone and under what system would this occur? How would the state compensation be calculated for onshore and offshore business? How will recreational fishermen be catered for to ensure that their children, parents and grandparents are able to go fishing without the risk of breaking the law, as occurred under the closures in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park?

I call upon the state government to address those issues because hundreds of thousands of people enjoy Moreton Bay and enjoy taking their kids out fishing in it. It is their pastime and hobby. I know what happens with closures. I have seen it before and I never want to see it again: a 10 per cent closure suddenly becomes a 35 per cent closure, and then people will not go fishing because they are frightened of going into a green zone—this has already occurred in relation to the Great Barrier Reef—and being fined or charged with a criminal offence.

The impact of RAP has been to take a lot of fish out of the market. You almost have to be a millionaire now to get a feed of good fish because fewer fish are being caught. It is a product of supply and demand that, as fewer fish are caught, the more expensive fish is. We have ruined businesses and families. We have made criminals out of recreational fishermen. There are 320 people with criminal records as a result of dropping a line in a green zone. By the goodwill of the minister, this infringement system has been taken care of. There is no question of a criminal offence for someone who takes his kids or grandkids out fishing in a tinnie with an eight-horsepower motor and who, without a GPS, finds that he has lobbed into a green zone because he does not know how to navigate. There are 320 people with a criminal record from dropping their line in a green zone. This is not what I think you would want to support, Senator McLucas. We now have the infringement system in place, but there is still the matter of retrospectivity.

It was perhaps four or even six months ago that GBRMPA were taken to court by people who ascertained that GBRMPA could not charge someone using a GPS system. That decision has not been appealed by GBRMPA. But prior to this decision, a number of people, including both professional fishermen and commercial fishermen, were charged. While those charges remain, the court has ruled that no-one in future can be charged on GPS coordinates. Those charges should be reversed, and I am working with the Prime Minister to do that.

One of the other impacts that we have found is that people just do not go fishing anymore. They are frightened to go fishing. They are frightened that they are going to drift into or end up in a green zone. The fine is huge; it is very significant. People cannot relax. Fishing is supposed to be a relaxing hobby, not one where you are constantly worried about where you are. It takes certain skills and a lot of money to put GPSs in boats. GBRMPA said: ‘Well, it’s the football season, the cost of fuel’s gone up and everything is militating against people going fishing. That is why fishing has been reduced.’ But the real reason fishing has been reduced on the Great Barrier Reef is that people are frightened to take their children and their grandchildren out on their boats.

That has impacted on the bait suppliers, the fishing tackle suppliers and the commercial boat builders. Tourism operators have been forced to travel further and have been squeezed into smaller areas. A lot of people have sold up and got out. Onshore businesses, like boat, motor and tackle shops, have been severely impacted. Processing industries have all been impacted. I went to see one marina owner who just could not believe that this could happen—that GBRMPA had the authority to do this.

That is why we have brought down the legislation which we are debating now. It makes GBRMPA more responsible to the minister. No longer can GBRMPA just do its own thing. The minister was elected. The minister is part of the Westminster system, where we and the coalition appoint a minister to take responsibility. That is what we have now. It is time to bring GBRMPA to account. GBRMPA will now answer to the government. I did not get into this place to appoint an unelected body to deprive people of their livelihoods, take away their aspirations and even make criminals of them if they drift into a green zone when they take their children out fishing. We need to make GBRMPA more accountable, and that is why we have this legislation before us today. The legislation will lock down the RAP zoning plan for a minimum of seven years from the date it came into force. (Time expired)