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Monday, 21 June 2010
Page: 3818


Senator BOSWELL (7:39 PM) —I am sure Sarah Henderson will be a worthy member of parliament, and I wish her all the best.

The government’s respect for the EPBC Act, which we are amending tonight, is nil. The government’s respect for the fishing industry and fishing communities is nil—notwithstanding the intent of this bill, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Recreational Fishing for Mako and Porbeagle Sharks) Bill 2010, which I acknowledge is a very small mercy. The proof of both points is in the minister’s outright abuse of the EPBC Act to curry political favour with the Greens at the expense of the wider community and especially at the expense of fishermen, their families and their communities.

In May 2009, the Minister for Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts declared the Coral Sea Conservation Zone. The zone is one million square kilometres of ocean abutting the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park right out to the 200-mile limit. The minister used section 390D of the act, which provides for interim protection of an area pending longer term protection. Its use implies a threat to the region so great and so imminent as to warrant use of the emergency protection provisions of the act. But, since all existing uses were allowed to continue, a threat that would justify proper ministerial use of the act was not something that was then happening in the Coral Sea. That leaves only a suddenly emerging threat as justification. None was cited, none was mentioned, because none exists. No massive fishing fleet was about to be unleashed into the Coral Sea. No oil exploration program was afoot, planned or even hinted at. So why would the minister do it, especially when you consider the wider context of the marine bioregional planning process that was in train?

The basis of the process was an assessment of biodiversity in Australia’s territorial waters. An assessment of the values of the Coral Sea was therefore already happening. So why would the minister do it? Why would he also abuse the EPBC Act? It was yet another stunt to get the Greens’ preferences. The minister wanted to curry political favour in exchange for green votes.

The Pew foundation—an organisation with American roots and American money—and the Australian Conservation Foundation had called for the establishment of what they named the Coral Sea Heritage Park, with a 100 per cent no-take zone. We should look at the Pew organisation. It is an American organisation and it is coming out here and putting its snout right into the affairs of Australia. I would have thought that Americans would have had enough environmental problems of their own to look after, but no. We have got Pew out here interfering with a lot of our marine parks. The park they wanted matched perfectly the boundaries of the minister’s Coral Sea Conservation Zone. Very few people knew about the impending declaration. Fishermen did not. Their communities did not. The wider public did not. But the Greens did. They were in the loop. The ACF met the minister’s officials on 19 March last year. Pew met with them on 14 April last year. No other interest group was given the same consideration. And they got the Coral Sea Conservation Zone, mirroring their Coral Sea Heritage Park. In March this year, they were given further encouragement. The minister declared areas for further assessment in the marine bioregional planning process right up and down the coast. The areas represent the government’s distillation of specific parts of our territorial waters that they want to examine more closely. They are the areas where future marine protected areas will be established. In the process, the minister declared the entire Coral Sea Conservation Zone an area for further assessment.

These two big concessions to the Greens were far from the only big concessions from Labor in the region. I have a map of what I call ‘Greensland’, not Queensland. It shows that the Coral Sea Conservation Zone is just the beginning of the way the Labor Party is courting the green movement and the green vote in Queensland. Starting from the east, on this map of Queensland—or Greensland—you have the Coral Sea Conservation Zone. That meets the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which in turn meets the Queensland coast. Then you virtually have the entirety of the Cape York landmass—east to west, north to south—under the wild rivers declaration, which, as the Wilderness Society has noted, will preserve the World Heritage values of the cape. Just as well the Aboriginals are very strong on this issue. The government is committed to putting forward Cape York for World Heritage listing. On the western side of the cape you are back in the water the Gulf of Carpentaria. There you hit the vast areas of the gulf, rich in prawns and mackerel. That is another area up for special examination and inclusion in the marine protected areas. Add the vast area of south-western Queensland that is now slated for wild rivers declarations, and the MPA becomes a map of Queensland.

Labor—state and federal—is providing a never-ending flow of concessions to the Greens. The legislation as a concession to a very small band of recreational fishers is meaningless in the wider context of this government’s approach to non-Green interests. The minister is setting up to dud all the fishermen and all the communities who are going to be impacted by the marine protected areas, which will now emerge sometime after the election. Those MPAs for the eastern and northern bioregions were to have been public in the middle of this year—around about now—but they have been delayed until next year. The minister was obviously hedging his bets about when the election would be so that he could keep his intentions secret, at least from the non-Greens. That is because the government is set to dud fishermen and their communities—based on a report from a consultancy called Maximus Solutions. I will table that report.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Moore)—Are you seeking leave to table that, Senator Boswell?


Senator BOSWELL —I will, Madam Acting Deputy President, but I will have to show it to the minister first. The government has had it since last August. It has not been publicly released and it has only recently been provided to a stakeholders advisory group which has very limited access to the government. The guts of the report is that it recommends against compensation or structural adjustment for the vast majority of fishermen and associated businesses that will be affected by the establishment of marine protected areas—right around the Australian coastline. The report suggests there may be a constitutional requirement, under the ‘just terms’ provisions, to provide compensation to native title holders and mining interests. But the only category of fishers likely to get any support—if the government accepts the consultants’ conclusions—are those who hold statutory fishing rights. That basically means compensation will be restricted to holders of quotas in Commonwealth fisheries. No other fishers or associated industries will get anything if the government accepts the advice.

If you compare that with the way that the former government supported fishers, associated businesses and communities in the wake of the extension of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, the meanness of the government is exposed. The bill for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park extension is in excess of $220 million. I know, because I worked very hard to get it. This mean-spirited and sneaky government looks set to provide very little, and to keep its meanness secret until after the election. And that is unconscionable. The government needs to come clean before the election. It needs to give the fishing industry—commercial and recreational—several key undertakings. It needs to tell fishers clearly that it will engage them in risk assessments to determine what the impact of fishing is in the areas the government is most interested in. It needs to guarantee fishers that once the risk assessments have been done it will then engage in consultation and negotiation about the form of compensation or structural adjustment that will be needed. Above all, it needs to be open and accountable before the election.

In Cairns recently I met a number of fishermen and people associated with the industry from the Queensland sector of the northern marine region, the gulf. The people I met highlighted that what the government is contemplating on this issue is going to have the same sort of flow-on impacts that its mining tax is having. Just as it is not only miners who are being hit by the government’s proposed profits tax, it is not only fishers who will be hit by no-take zones in marine protected areas. In Cairns I met a young mechanic. He employs 12 tradesmen and three apprentices. Eighty per cent of his work is in maintaining the fishing fleet. He does it locally; he flies to Karumba. Closures, no-take zones—even a reduction in effort—could cost his business jobs. I met another fisherman who distributes the mackerel that comes out of the gulf. He is supplying 150 outlets. You are very lucky in Cairns when you go to a fish and chip shop, because you are likely to get fresh Spanish mackerel with your chips. If the mackerel fishing in the gulf is curtailed or reduced significantly, there goes that fisherman, there goes the distributor and there goes the fish and chips. Then there is the fuel, the chandlers, the truck drivers. The multiplier effect is huge. In a city with a huge unemployment rate of 12 per cent—and I think that is conservative—Queensland and Cairns need that like a hole in the head.

There will be similar impacts in other areas that have been tagged for further assessment. In the eastern zone there is a 13,000 square kilometre area off Fraser Island in Queensland that is not only an important recreational fishery but also an important area for spanner crabs, trawling and line fishing. Going down the coast, there are large areas off the Clarence and Tweed rivers in New South Wales that will also impact on both recreational and commercial fishers. There are areas for further assessment in the northern region covering both Northern Territory and Western Australian fishing interests. The government has indicated that in marine protected areas there will be no-take zones.

A very minor set of amendments that provide an opportunity for continued recreational fishing of mako and porbeagle sharks is welcome, but it does not help the overall situation of the wider restrictions on both recreational and commercial fishing that would emerge after the rapidly approaching election if Labor were to win it. For many reasons, but particularly for the fate of fishers, their families and their communities, I sincerely hope that they do not. I support the very minor concession to recreational fishing in this bill, but I bell the cat on where this government really stands.