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Monday, 21 June 2010
Page: 3814

Senator RONALDSON (6:21 PM) —I would like to congratulate Senator Colbeck, the shadow parliamentary secretary for agriculture, fisheries and forestry, who has done a fantastic job in relation to this issue. I know that, in his speech on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Recreational Fishing for Mako and Porbeagle Sharks) Bill 2010, Richard mentioned a number of people that he also thanked for their involvement and I would like to associate myself with those remarks.

I understand from Senator Colbeck that the issue here is that this listing was category 2 under the IUCN, which actually allows for continued fishing under a management plan, but that the Australian legislation does not cater for this in that it does not have any differential in categories. Is that correct, Senator Colbeck?

Senator Colbeck —That’s correct, Senator.

Senator RONALDSON —And indeed that recommendation 17 of the Hawke review would resolve this issue. So in fact this legislation is only putting a temporary fix in place.

Senator Colbeck very kindly talked about Corangamite and the hard work of Sarah Henderson, the Liberal Party candidate for Corangamite. I will talk more about her hard work and what little work was done by the current member for Corangamite.

Senator O’Brien —You’re wasting time.

Senator RONALDSON —I am disappointed that Senator O’Brien made that interjection. I was going to keep my comments short but, with this sort of interjection when we are trying to get through things quickly, for Senator O’Brien to be doing this I think is bitterly, bitterly disappointing. I hope that he admonishes himself because he is after all a whip. That was a very disappointing interjection.

I will talk about the public meeting that Senator Colbeck talked about in Torquay on 19 January this year. There were, on my estimate, about 600 people at this public meeting. As Senator Colbeck said, it started in a very small hall and finished with a fantastic, old-fashioned public meeting with a ute, the loudspeaker on the back and 600 people expressing their anger at what had occurred—an old-fashioned town hall meeting which was very exciting for those who were there.

Where was Mr Cheeseman? Was Mr Cheeseman, the current member for Corangamite, there? Was he there to stand up and say: ‘I’m going to do something for the fishers in Corangamite. Am I going to fight; am I taking the government on.’ No, of course he was not. Typical behaviour—there, slinking around at the back of the meeting, was one of his staff members. Slinking at the back of the meeting while the member did not have the intestinal fortitude to front up to those 600 fishers and make it work. That staff member, who is known to me but will remain nameless, then rang the local newspaper, the Geelong Advertiser, and said, ‘There are 100 people there, all there for political reasons’—100 hundred people when 600 were there.

Senator Colbeck and others, including Sarah Henderson, the Liberal Party candidate for Corangamite, put together petitions. There were some 8½ thousand signatures on petitions from all over the country and Sarah Henderson did a marvellous job in getting those signatures. I have read some remarkable things in my 16-some years in the Senate and the other place, but nothing compares with the speech from the member for Corangamite in the other place on Monday, 15 March. In this speech there was some remarkable gilding of the lily in relation to the work that he had done in engaging with the local community. He did not engage with anyone. The only time he engaged was when Sarah Henderson, the Liberal Party candidate for Corangamite, started meeting with the fishers and the charter boat operators and talking about this. He then became remotely interested.

It was fascinating. I have never at a public meeting or working with community groups bowled up to someone and said, ‘How do you vote?’ As an elected representative you are not there to ascertain how someone votes; you are there to ascertain whether you can assist in matters of concern to them. In this remarkable speech—and I do suggest that honourable senators get hold of a copy of it because it is quite remarkable—we have Mr Cheeseman talking about his work with Steve Burton, who is the commodore of the Torquay Angling club, and Shane Korth, the secretary of the club. I met both of those gentlemen. I can assure you that I did not ask them how they voted. I said, ‘What can we do to address the issues that you have?’ I did not say ‘How do you vote?’ During this speech Mr Cheeseman was waxing lyrical about the amount of consultation that he had had. Just listen to this:

Today I would particularly like to thank and acknowledge Steve and Shane for their efforts.

Steve and Shane worked, I can tell you, but Mr Cheeseman did absolutely nothing.

Senator Arbib interjecting—

Senator RONALDSON —Minister, even you will cringe when you hear this. Hot off the back of Penrith, even you will cringe when you hear this. The speech goes on:

They have made it clear to me that they are diehard Labor voters, as is the recreational and charter boat fishing community.

Oh yeah, they might have been; I can assure you, they are not now. The speech goes on:

It was important that government took these decisions as quickly as we could to ensure—

listen to this—

that Labor voters in those fishing communities could get back to recreational fishing.

What turns this man on? What a remarkable contribution! What about the people who actually do not vote Labor—what about their rights? Where is the absent member for Corangamite when it comes to people who do not vote Labor or people who are not sure how they are going to vote? What is he going to do for them? Nothing at all. He is only there for those people who apparently commit themselves to the cause. Is it any wonder that this man has probably two to five months left in this parliament? He is a blow-in to Corangamite. He is actually from my home town. He has no association with Corangamite. He is a man who in 2½ years has constantly proved that he has no association with Corangamite at all.

Again there is all the flapping around, but guess who delivered on the Winchelsea to Colac section of the Princes Highway on Friday? It was Tony Abbott and Sarah Henderson, the Liberal Party candidate for Corangamite. Sarah Henderson, the Liberal Party candidate for Corangamite, has put on the map the Princes Highway from Waurn Ponds to Colac and that will be duplicated after the current section is completed. There is $20 million of real money there to make sure that the planning and the acquisition is dealt with. I have a bit more to say on this after 6.30 because this story is yet to unfold and it is still to be told.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 pm to 7.30 pm

Senator RONALDSON —I am not too sure whether I mentioned before the dinner break that Sarah Henderson is the Liberal Party candidate for Corangamite. If I did not, it was most remiss of me. She most certainly is. I am not too sure whether I mentioned that the current member for Corangamite, Mr Cheeseman, only makes decisions for Labor voters. If I did not mention those things it was most remiss of me and I am sure that Sarah Henderson would not be happy if I did not mention her name. I was a bit distracted by the intervention of Senator O’Brien before the break. I did get off script a little bit in relation to this matter, but I had to thank Senator Colbeck for his fantastic work on behalf of the recreational and commercial fishers.

This bill is the perfect microcosm of this government’s ineptitude and inconsistency. This is a piece of legislation for which there should never have been any need. We are now debating an unnecessary fix to an unnecessary problem created by an unnecessary regulation imposed by an unnecessary minister of a useless government. It is the product of a government that runs on theory over reality, a government that values the hypothetical over the practical, a government so detached from the everyday concerns of everyday people that it just keeps mucking things up. Again, when you look at someone like Sarah Henderson, the Liberal Party candidate for Corangamite, versus Mr Darren Cheeseman, the incumbent, again you see that very much in play.

Let’s look at how this whole sorry business began. Late last year, the unnecessary Minister for Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts announced an unnecessary ban on the fishing of mako and porbeagle sharks. Why did the minister take such action? It seems these sharks were placed on a list of endangered species by the United Nations. There was very good reason to protect the mako and the porbeagle in the Northern Hemisphere. According to my friend and colleague Senator Colbeck, in the Mediterranean and the North Atlantic these species of shark are indeed under threat. But in Australia these mako and porbeagle sharks are not in short supply. As a matter of fact, in Australian waters they are found in abundance.

There was no consultation with the recreational fishing industry, which generates over $100 million and hundreds of jobs in coastal Victorian communities; there was no consultation with the charter operators whose livelihoods depend on shark fishing; and there was no consultation with the anglers for whom fishing is an important part of life. The shark ban was behaviour in the classic Rudd government mould—arbitrary action taken at the behest of radical interest groups by a minister showing little understanding of and even less concern about how this decision will impact on local communities.

Even worse was the initial response to the first signs of disquiet and discontent from Australia’s recreational fishing community—a dismissive response reeking of all the arrogance that we have come to expect from this out-of-touch government. My contacts in the fishing community inform me that the fisheries minister refused to answer shark related inquiries one would think were within his portfolio responsibilities. He is the fishing minister. One would have thought the mako and the porbeagle were probably—at a pinch, I would suspect—within his portfolio. But no, instead of that the office of Mr Burke fobbed off callers to Mr Garrett. That reminds me: I do not know whether honourable senators are aware of it, but Mr Burke actually wrote to Sarah Henderson, the Liberal Party candidate for Corangamite, and said to her: ‘Ms Sarah Henderson, the member for Corangamite.’ This fellow might not know much about fish but, I tell you what, he has channelled the election result. He has picked this four months out. ‘Dear Ms Henderson’—this was to Sarah Henderson, the member for Corangamite.

I know it was deeply embarrassing for Mr Burke but not as embarrassing as this performance was. His office fobbed off callers to Mr Garrett where, not surprisingly, the response was only slightly less obnoxious. Mr Garrett’s office said the minister was ‘too busy’ to take calls from people whose livelihoods were at stake because of his decision. The minister’s staff demanded that all inquiries be submitted in writing, but Victoria’s recreational fishing industry was not put off that easily by the minister’s circle-the-wagons tactics. With the aid of the actual Liberal Party candidate for Corangamite, Sarah Henderson, we organised a public forum to ensure the voices of those concerned by the mako shark ban would be too loud to be ignored.

For those honourable senators who were otherwise detained before dinner, we talked about the fact that there was a massive public meeting of 600 people. Just like in the old days, as I said, a ute pulled up with a loudspeaker on the back and there were 600 very excited people, not one of whom—Sarah Henderson will know—was asked what their voting preferences were. Of course we know that that is the modus operandi of Mr Cheeseman and he only supports those who vote Labor. Those voices were heard thankfully as far away as Canberra and the rising backlash over the mako shark ban finally registered with the mindless ministers and the faceless bureaucrats in this capital city of ours.

Was it a new-found desire to protect the recreational fishing industry from being ravaged by this ban, was it highbrow concern for the public interest, or was it lowbrow concern for partisan political interests? I strongly suspect the latter. I strongly suspect this reversal of course on the mako shark ban was undertaken to try to minimise the political damage it was causing to one of Labor’s most marginal electorates. That brings me again to Mr Cheeseman, the member for Corangamite, who has aided and abetted the unnecessary environment minister in his unnecessary folly.

Honourable senators may not be aware that Mr Cheeseman has a long track record of complete and utter subservience to the Labor Party apparatus at the expense of people of the electorate he is supposed to represent. When push comes to shove, Mr Cheeseman has always placed selfishness above selflessness, placing his own personal political interests above the public interests of Corangamite, and the misguided mako shark ban is no exception. When the unnecessary minister for environment protection issued his unnecessary ban on shark fishing, the member for Corangamite was silent. This is of course Canberra’s representative in Corangamite as opposed to Corangamite’s representative in Canberra and as always, as we have come to expect time after time, he said nothing. He was silent at the rising tide of discontent that arose from angling clubs, from the charter boat operators and from the recreational fishing industry. It was only later, when the voices of protest became loud enough to penetrate even Mr Cheeseman’s insular bubble, when they became too loud for even the politically tone-deaf member for Corangamite to ignore, that he decided to react. Again: too little, too late. At that stage he tried to hedge his bets.

I know that there are a number of my colleagues who want to speak, so I will just finish on this note. If ever there were an issue that showed how completely incompetent the current member for Corangamite is, it is this mako shark ban. Rather than getting out and doing something about that, he sat on his haunches until it became too much for him, and at that stage he did something about it.

Senator Conroy —Seriously! If you want to talk about incompetence: two days you sat in front of him and you forgot to ask the real question!

Senator RONALDSON —Hark! I hear an intervention from the minister for freebies who has just come in to make some comments.

Senator Conroy interjecting—

Senator RONALDSON —The minister for freebies can interrupt as much as he likes. If he wants to go out and protect the member for Corangamite, I am afraid that is a reflection on the minister and not on anyone on this side of the House. What we need to see in Corangamite is the election of Ms Sarah Henderson, who has the wherewithal, the background and the interest in the electorate to properly represent the people of Corangamite.