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Monday, 21 June 2010
Page: 3821


Senator MASON (7:53 PM) —I begin by saluting Senator Boswell for all he has done for both recreational and commercial fishermen for many years throughout our country. Madam Acting Deputy President, as you know, the opposition supports the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Recreational Fishing for Mako and Porbeagle Sharks) Bill 2010. It does so after having worked with fishermen throughout Australia to ensure that it is no longer a criminal offence under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act for recreational fishermen to catch mako and porbeagle sharks.

You might very sensibly ask why any government would wish to make criminal the taking of highly prized sportfish where, as the Minister for Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts, Mr Garrett conceded, ‘there is no evidence to suggest that mako or porbeagle populations in Australian waters are threatened’. Why would you make it a criminal offence for recreational fishermen to take sportfish that are not threatened in Australian waters? Why would you do that? The reason is pretty simple. The minister, whose passion for the environment I do respect, simply endorsed the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals. His uncritical endorsement of that convention’s priorities, primarily worked out in the Northern Hemisphere, paid no regard to the very different conditions in Australia. Why did this happen? Why were recreational fishermen made criminals for catching popular sportfish which are not threatened? I will tell you why: because the minister did not listen, did not consult and, fundamentally, did not understand. ‘Okay,’ you might say, ‘we all make mistakes.’ But mistakes made without consultation are careless, if not callous. Remember that this mistake to criminalise recreational fishermen for taking sportfish which are not threatened was made without consultation. That is the fundamental point here and it is a fundamental point that I suspect fishermen throughout Australia will not forget.

As my friend Senator Boswell mentioned, what we have here is the same pattern of behaviour again from the Rudd government as with the recent Coral Sea Conservation Zone declaration fiasco. Again, there was no proper consultation with stakeholders and local communities, including fishermen, local businesses and Indigenous people, and no thought given to the potential economic impact. Again, all of these problems could have dissipated and been resolved if there had been consultation, but there was not. In the case of the Coral Sea Conservation Zone declaration, the government did not even follow the established processes in arriving at their decision. Instead of simply declaring another conservation zone, the government should have followed the process of the Eastern Marine Bioregional Plan, which includes consultation with stakeholders on specific issues and activities, workshops and public meetings to provide updates on progress and to discuss and seek feedback on planning approaches. In addition to these workshops, targeted consultation should be undertaken on specific aspects of the planning process. That is the process under the Eastern Marine Bioregional Plan that the government should have followed. If they had done that, the problems outlined by Senator Boswell before would not have emerged. You would not have the community outcries in Northern Queensland that Senator Boswell has outlined if the government had consulted. Did they consult? No, they did not. Why didn’t they?

It is a good question. The reason the government did not consult had nothing to do with the fishermen, the Indigenous communities or the stakeholders in North Queensland because we now know that the impact on the Coral Sea Conservation Zone was virtually nil. The fish taken was minute. There was no impact on the environmental zone at all. That is all the evidence. So why did the government do it? You might scratch your head, Madam Acting Deputy President. They were not concerned about the voters in Far North Queensland. They were prepared to sacrifice the voters of Far North Queensland to secure Green preferences in Brisbane, in Melbourne and in Sydney. That is why the Coral Sea Conservation Zone was declared—to tie up Green preferences. No-one gave a damn about the voters in Leichhardt, Dawson or Herbert. That was not in contention. It was about sewing up Green preferences in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. What happened? The concerns of the fishermen and others were sacrificed in the unseemly scramble for Green preferences. It is, as my friend Senator Boswell said, a disgrace. All of their interests were ditched in the scramble for Green preferences. The interests of the charter industry, fishermen, marine enterprises and Indigenous Australians were all ditched in the mad scramble for Green preferences.

The current issue before the Senate this evening, exempting recreational fishermen from criminal sanctions, has had a happy outcome tonight, but only because the coalition has consistently applied pressure on the government—and this does not happen too often—and the government has seen common sense; hence, the exemption in the legislation before us that finally gives recreational fishermen a fair go. As my friend Senator Colbeck said, recreational fishermen are an important part of the Australian economy and indeed the Queensland economy, especially in the north. Whether it is the demand for boats, fishing tackle or accommodation, recreational fishers add billions to the Australian economy each year.

Recreational fishermen and their representatives are to be applauded for bringing the government to its senses. In particular, I would like to applaud my friend Senator Colbeck for his consistent advocacy, for his organisation and for his redemption of recreational fishermen from potential criminal sanctions in this parliament. He has done a wonderful job in pursuing this issue and I think the coalition and all recreational fishermen throughout Australia are very grateful. I commend the bill to the Senate.