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Wednesday, 2 March 2011
Page: 969

Senator COLBECK (3:43 PM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum relating to the bill.

Leave granted.

Senator COLBECK —I table the explanatory memorandum and I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

Today I introduce to the Senate the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Bioregional Plans) Bill 2011.

This bill will reinstate parliamentary scrutiny to an area of just over 7 million square kilometres of Commonwealth waters.

At present, these waters are undergoing assessment by the Gillard Labor Government through the Marine Bioregional Planning process with the ultimate aim of creating marine parks.

This process is being applied to waters from the state or territory boundary of approximately three nautical miles out to 200 nautical miles, the outer reaches of the Exclusive Economic Zone.

The waters around Australia have been sectioned into five Bioregional Zones, and the current Government is developing Bioregional Plans for four of those areas.

First cab off the rank with respect to the release of draft plans is the South-West Bioregion which takes in 1.3 million square kilometres of water from the eastern tip of Kangaroo Island in South Australia up to the waters off Shark Bay half way up the coast of Western Australia.

The North-West Bioregion encompasses the remaining Commonwealth waters off the Western Australian Coast, just over 1 million square kilometres, from Kalbarri to the border with Northern Territory.

The North Bioregion covers 715,000 square kilometres of coast across the Northern Territory including the Gulf of Carpentaria, Arafura Sea and the Timor Sea .

The East Bioregion covers 2.4 million square kilometres and also includes the airspace above and the seabed below. It does not include waters within the boundary of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Within these four Marine Bioregional Zones, the Gillard Government has designated 23 Areas for Further Assessment. It is highly likely these Areas of Further Assessment will later have designated within them areas of sanctuary zones, recreation only zones or special purpose zones.

There will be areas closed to all but a few activities, areas where commercial and recreational fishing will be excluded, and areas where particular types of gear and fishing practice will be restricted.

The Marine Bioregional Zones, and the subsequent declaration of Marine Protected Areas within these which will follow, are being brought forward under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

As such, the Minister for the Environment currently has sole authority to sign off on the boundaries of the sanctuary zones, and by association the activities which will be allowed to take place within them.

With the stroke of a pen, the Minister has all the power to have a massive impact on Australia’s territorial waters and all of the people who make a living within them.

The declaration of Marine Bioregional Plans is deemed by the Act not to be a legislative instrument, and thus they are shielded from parliamentary scrutiny. 

The bill I am introducing today seeks to make the bioregional plans disallowable instruments.

This bill seeks to remove that absolute power from the Minister. It gives Parliament the opportunity to have a say when occasions dictate it to be necessary.

This bill provides far greater parliamentary sovereignty and allows both houses the right to say whether any new marine park declaration should happen, on its individual merits.

This bill is not about whether the Government’s declaration on marine protected areas goes ahead but whether parliament has the right to have its say and to do the job we’re elected to do - to represent the millions of Australians who voted us here.

I make the point now, for the record, that the Coalition supports a balanced approach to marine conservation.

The history of Marine Protected Areas in Australia confirms the Coalition’s commitment and track record in this area.

It was the Howard Government in 1998 that secured agreement with the State Governments to commit to establishing a National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas.

It was the Howard Government that made a further international commitment to establish such a representative network by 2012 at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002.

And it was the Howard Government in 2005-2006 that initiated the investigation and subsequent implementation of the South-East Marine Reserves Network - the fifth of the five bioregions I mentioned in my introductory remarks.

I make these points to highlight that the Coalition is not anti-Marine Park but that we believe there is a right way and a wrong way to go about the development of such reserves.

As a Tasmanian and also as the Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry back in 2005-2006, I was at the coalface of the development of the South-East Marine Reserves Network. It was a valuable experience, both challenging and rewarding task.

The development of the South East network reinforced without doubt to me that the successful implementation of a marine networks plan would not eventuate without genuine, detailed, open consultation with each and every stakeholder who felt they had a claim or vested interests.

The overwhelming success measure is that following consultation with stakeholders on the draft proposals for the South-East network, the Government made around 20 changes to boundaries and zoning . The result is a network that is both larger and more representative of the region than was the original proposal and has far less impact on the fishing industry.

Without doubt, a win-win for all interests.

Unfortunately I leave off on that positive note to now draw attention to the current developments regarding the remaining four Marine Bioregional Plans.

It is not quite so warm and fuzzy.

In fact, our Labor Ministers are not handling the great responsibilities before them in a manner that is giving stakeholders of any persuasion confidence in the Marine Bioregional Planning process.

The Rudd and Gillard Labor Governments have not adopted a balanced approach to Marine Protected Areas.

The Rudd and Gillard Labor Governments have not engaged in appropriate levels of consultation with local communities, with affected commercial industries or with the marine recreation interests.

Environmental groups have also put to me that they have felt left out by the Federal Government when it comes to genuine consultation.

This approach by taken by Labor has created incredible anxiety and uncertainty in the fishing industry.

Coastal communities are wise to the fact that if they don’t get to have a say, this Labor Government’s track record is that it will hear only from the fringe green groups rather than the people who actual use and manage our fisheries on a daily basis.

Industry is nervous. And not just the commercial fishing industry, which just for the record is Australia’s sixth largest primary producer.

Recreational fishing might be just a weekend or holiday activity for some of us, but for thousands of Australians it is a job or a business. Many have built businesses large and small off the back of this weekend and holiday social activity - charter tours, boat sales, bait and tackle, engines, chandlery, electronics to name just a few.

Recreational fishing is a multi-billion dollar industry and it is a sector that could see significant negative impacts if Labor cannot get these Marine Bioregional Plans right.

Labor has also failed to meet its own timeframes for declaring Marine Parks.

In the lead up to the 2010 election Labor promised to release draft maps for the South-West Bioregion by mid December. Then the Minister promised to stakeholders they would see the draft maps by late January or early February.

We have seen since that this was no different to any other Labor election promise - like Prime Minister Gillard’s promise of not putting a price on carbon.

The draft maps for the South West are still not out.

Industry and communities are still in the dark and growing more anxious as each day passes. In Western Australia, fishing is worth $400 million to the economy each year, so the angst is understandable.

Labor also promised to release a Displaced Effort policy in the lead up to releasing the first draft maps but this too, like all Labor promises, has failed to materialise within the time frame promised.

The release of this policy is absolutely critical to the Marine Bioregional Planning process as it will literally make or break the livelihoods of thousands of Australians.

The Coalition remains concerned that Labor is not giving all interests a fair hearing.

Concerns are building based on stakeholder feedback that this Labor Government is fonder of listening to the mistruths of the fringe conservation groups than the users of the seas.

I am referring to those fringe environmental groups that like to claim our fisheries are in disarray when in fact they are amongst the best managed and healthiest in terms of stock numbers of any country in the world.

These are the same fringe groups who are currently lobbying to have the entire Coral Sea locked up, peddling mistruths and misinformation.

The Coalition believes there is a need for conservation of our important marine biology, but future decisions on Marine Protected Areas should consider peer reviewed scientific evidence on threats to biodiversity before great swathes of ocean are locked up for all eternity.

The Bill I introduce today is in part a reflection on the failures of the Labor Government to adequately do the job so far when it comes to Marine Bioregional Planning.

We are stepping up to ensure marine communities are not unfairly disadvantaged by the Labor Government’s failures to date and, indeed, any failures in the future.

Locking up marine areas without proper consultation or scientific assessment is not responsible and it is not practical and it should not be accepted by Australia’s marine communities.

This Bill is the opportunity for the Parliament to add a vital democratic check to this process - a process that has the potential to adversely affect the livelihood and future of millions of Australians.

Senator COLBECK —I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.