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Thursday, 28 August 2008
Page: 4041

Senator JOYCE (1:43 PM) —I want to bring to the attention of the Senate some of the issues that are contained in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2008 that have, I believe, serious consequences, not only for those involved with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority or those adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef but also for those who live adjacent to the coastline—in fact, adjacent to any fishing area—and those who have an interest in the law itself.

I just go back to the start of where GBRMPA comes from. As everybody knows, in 2002 the Democrats held the balance of power in the Senate. As a result, they negotiated an agreement which would allow the government to go ahead with the GST in return for a one-third closure of the reef and the removal of sulphur from diesel. The decision to close a large portion of the Great Barrier Reef was not based upon scientific or economic analysis; it was based upon a needs analysis and was based purely upon a deal. At that time the Great Barrier Reef was being fished at a level that was under one per cent of the UN’s recommended sustainable level. The level of fishing has reduced further since. The decision came at a cost to taxpayers of about $220 million when it was initially anticipated that it would cost GBRMPA about $2 million to pay out certain fishing licences and compensation.

The Barrier Reef bill, as it stands, still refers to the enjoyment of the area for social and economic activities. As such, you would suspect that it would still have recreational and commercial fishing as part of it. The reef is a huge renewable resource and, as it is adjacent to the people of North Queensland, it is absolutely vital that it not be turned into some sort of total exclusion zone, leaving those people totally isolated from one of their most important means of recreation. You have to remember that in this area there are stingers, which preclude a lot of people from swimming in the area. We have the effect of crocodiles in the estuarine area. If you take away the joy of fishing, you start to take away a whole means of recreation for those people. It would be like banning surfboards at Bondi Beach, but we have started to head towards it in this bill.

There are a couple of things that I find completely onerous in this piece of legislation, and I would like to bring three of them to the attention of the Senate in detail. The first is item 9 of schedule 6, an amendment to section 3(1) of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975, which is the definition of ‘fishing’:

fishing means any of the following:

   searching for, or taking, fish—

not actually catching it, but searching for a fish—

(b)   attempting to search for, or take, fish;

(c)   engaging in any other activities that can reasonably be expected to result in the locating of … fish;

(d)   placing, searching for or recovering fish aggregating devices or associated electronic equipment such as radio beacons;

(e)   any operations at sea directly in support of, or in preparation for, any activity described in this definition;

(f)   aircraft use relating to any activity described in this definition except flights in emergencies …

Let us just think about it. Let us take out the word ‘fishing’ and, for the sake of argument, put in the word ‘kissing’: ‘“Kissing” means any of the following: searching for a partner; attempting to search for a partner; engaging in any other activities that could reasonably be expected to locate a partner.’ You see how ridiculous, all-encompassing and onerous this definition is. It is not a case of catching somebody doing something wrong; it is a value judgement as to whether you think they are doing something wrong. It is a value judgement as to whether you consider that they might be going to do something wrong. Yet the Greens are going to support this, and this is the sort of stuff that would leave our terrorism laws for dead. This is an absolute ripper, where I can go up to you and determine that you might have a thought in your head that involves fishing, and therefore you may end up with a criminal conviction for what you thought.

I do not care if you take fishing away from this whole scenario. In that structure, this amendment to section 3(1) is onerous on its own and should be knocked out, not because of fishing but because it is a contemptible paragraph in our legislation books that I think should be struck out. If you make an excuse to put that sort of thought-police material into a piece of legislation, you have created the imprimatur for it to go into other places. That is one of the concerns that have worried me deeply about this legislation, and I expressed the same to the joint party room the other day. I really wonder if even the Greens agree with this piece of legislation. If they and other members in this chamber agree with this amendment to section 3(1), they should be called to account, especially if, at a later stage, they find contentious other things that regard the security of the nation and that would possibly mimic that. You can all see the sort of mimicry that could be attached to that with regard to terrorism offences, and you can see how we leave ourselves wide open in an area which we should be ever vigilant against—that is, the area of thought police.

This idea of the thought police is further enhanced in item 12 of schedule 1, another amendment to section 3(1) of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975, with the so-called precautionary principle:

precautionary principle means the principle that lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing a measure to prevent degradation of the environment where there are threats of serious or irreversible … damage.

All of the end sounds flowery and wonderful, but the front end of that clause is the part that stings. It means that the principle is that lack of full scientific certainty—that is like saying ‘lack of full evidence’—or lack of the capacity to prove an issue is a reason to convict. The precautionary principle is not precautionary; it is dangerous. If you cannot prove something on environmental or socioeconomic grounds, you cannot just say, ‘Because I have an inherent fear, it is an issue.’ I think that is something that is of major concern, and that is a part of the drafting of this legislation which should, at the very least, be the subject of an inquiry and of wider discussion and ventilation so that the people of Queensland and the Australian people in general can have their say about this issue.

I was disappointed—given that we talk about the process of the Senate, respecting the Senate and all these things—that, when there was an inquiry suggested before, it was knocked out. It never got through. Why? Because the Greens did not vote for it. The Greens, the people who put themselves up as the arbiters and protectors of freedom, voted against an inquiry. It is amazing how the worm turns. The Greens voted against an inquiry that would, in essence, deal very seriously with the issue of the insertion of the thought police into our legislation. It is an interesting world we live in. The Greens voted against an inquiry that would talk about a section of the legislation amending the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 to create section 61AEA, ‘Directions limiting access to Marine Park’. This is the so-called ‘three strikes and you’re out’ clause.

Legislation similar to this would suggest that, if you were caught committing three driving offences, you would not be allowed to drive a car again ever. That is the sort of legislation that is currently being devised in this chamber, and it is going to go to the Australian people without an inquiry and without any further discussion. I want to read to you some information on the criminals we are catching with this sort of legislation:

Fact: D was a master of a vessel with one passenger. He was fishing but didn’t catch anything. A passenger, his grandson, was not fishing. He was aware of the zoning but couldn’t understand it. He did not own a zoning map. He thought he was in the right zone to fish. That man ended up with a $1,000 fine and a criminal conviction.

There must be something wrong with that. Surely that rings a bell somewhere. Surely the punishment should be something similar to a speeding ticket rather than a criminal conviction. That gentleman now could be precluded from obtaining a passport. That is the sort of legislation that the Greens do not want an inquiry into. We must be completely vigilant about this. We are going to make another attempt to get an inquiry into this issue. We are going to make another attempt to see whether the Greens have an issue with the thought police. We are going to make another attempt to see whether the Greens believe that a grandfather and his grandson should get a criminal conviction for accidentally fishing in an area. It was probably just adjacent to the coast where the grandfather lives. We are going to make another attempt to find out whether the Greens want an inquiry into the ‘three strikes and you’re out’ clause. We will make another attempt to find out whether the Greens believe in the precautionary principle—that is, the so-called ‘even if you can’t prove it, it doesn’t matter’ principle.

This is so important. If we let this legislation pass here it will become the legislation for Tasmania, it will become the legislation for Western Australia, it will become the legislation for other fishing grounds and it will become the premise for the creation of other like legislation for other areas. I do not know whether this should go to the Senate environment committee; I think it should go to the legal and constitutional committee. They should look at it in the area of, ‘Look at what we’ve devised today.’

We have to see this for what it is. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is a park, not a zoo. For tens of thousands of years there has been interaction between the people living adjacent to the reef and the resources of the reef. I will also inform the Senate that some of the people who have been convicted were convicted when they were teaching their sons to spear fish, so we are looking at something that involves members of the Indigenous community. We have changed the whole nature and concept of the way the Great Barrier Reef has worked for tens of thousands of years. We in the south have, by our own mechanisms, made a decision for another part of our nation that probably has not taken in—in any way, shape or form—the reality, the custom and the practice of how the reef has worked.

It is going to be an interesting vote, and I hope that those who are following the debate know that this is not just a debate about the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. This will be a vote about jurisprudence, about a new direction in law. When onerous clauses like this come into our legislation there is always a noble purpose. There is always a wonderful purpose as to why we should put greater caveats on the freedom of the individual. That is so much so now that we are putting caveats on how people think. It will be interesting to see whether those who in the past have risen in this chamber as ardent protectors of a greater breadth of freedom and have admonished laws, especially around things such as terrorism, will in the same breath—and this is not so much about whether they vote for a law that is about thought police—not allow a committee of inquiry to discuss it further.