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Wednesday, 13 March 2013
Page: 1528

Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (10:02): I rise to speak in support of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2012. This bill makes some useful technical changes to a range of acts under the agriculture, fisheries and forestry portfolio, including the changes to wine labelling, which will implement changes that the industry has been calling for. As you know, the Greens are very committed to truth in labelling, whether it can be seen in wine standards or in the accurate labelling of ingredients such as genetically modified organisms and palm oil. I suspect that the next biggest issue relating to accuracy and truth in labelling to confront the agriculture industry will in fact be genetically modified crops. Recently we have begun to receive reports that Monsanto's genetically modified corn has begun to fail in the USA. There is growing consensus that GMOs are not the silver bullet that it was originally thought they would be and that in the meantime our farmers are beginning to command premium prices for non-GMO crops.

GMOs are and will continue to be a big issue for our farmers. At the very minimum, we need the robust engagement with industry and the willingness to listen to alternative voices from industry that are raising concerns about the impact of GMOs and the effect on their ability to command premium prices and to protect themselves from contamination. We believe it is essential that we introduce legislative protections for these farmers and for consumers the way we are introducing these protections for wine producers in Australia. Consumers have a right to know what they are consuming. Farmers also have the right to be able to label their products as GMO-free. You will recall that the Greens' and Senator Xenophon's private senators' bill on palm oil labelling successfully passed the Senate chamber last year only to become entangled in the House of Representatives in free trade issues and lobbying from the Malaysian government. So I have concerns that, despite the promising signs we see before us with this bill, there is no appetite to take on the other big issues that need to be taken on in labelling. My colleagues and I remain committed to truth in labelling. We welcome the work that has gone into resolving this issue and hope that the momentum will continue with other labelling issues, such as support for the country of origin labelling bill of my colleague and Leader of the Greens, Christine Milne, which is currently in the inquiry stage.

This bill also takes steps to correct a drafting error that was introduced two years ago when this government sought to introduce the legislative powers that would give substantive decision-making powers over the fisheries management at AFMA to fisheries users under a scheme of fisheries co-management. I want to take this time to reflect on the current state of fisheries management in Australia and the challenges that co-management faces. We need to look at what is good co-management. AFMA reports that a primary benefit of legislative powers to enable co-management comes from more cost-effectively administrating the fisheries. Admirable though it is to desire to ensure that there is efficiency in our public administration, we do not believe that efficiency alone is sufficient grounds for shifting responsibility in administration away from government. It is critical that the benefits we do achieve from co-management are not in fact short-term budgetary cycle gains at the expense of our ocean but actually lead to better management of our oceans.

As the Centre for Policy Development reported last year, our oceans are worth billions of dollars annually in tourism, recreation, carbon capture as well as commercial fisheries. Just yesterday in this place we had the release of Marine Nation 2025, which again clearly articulated the value of our oceans and particularly highlighted the potential value of what they call blue carbon. It is also important to note here the impact of climate change we are going to be seeing on our oceans. In fact, we have just seen that off the coast in my home state of Western Australia where we have had a marine heat wave, which has, as the name implies, increased the temperature of the water and has already resulted in impacts on commercial fisheries in terms of abalone deaths, impacts on the rock lobster industry and impacts on recreational fishers who for the first time are catching subtropical fish off the coast of Perth. While that may seem a bonus in the short term for those fishers, it has very serious ecological consequences. They also think that might be one of the reasons for sharks being closer to shore. That issue has had very substantial media coverage. It also has very important implications for fisheries management.

What did the minister for fisheries in Western Australia, Mr Moore, say? 'Hopefully, it is an aberration.' Well, it is not going to be an aberration. He was minister for fisheries at that time. Hoping it is just an aberration is not good enough. We actually need firm policy changes in order to look at how we manage our fisheries in a changing climate. The initial research on that incident has indicated that we need to be investing a lot more in research to look at what impacts this is going to have on our marine environment and then we need to be researching what adaptive management changes we need to be making. Above all else, leadership and community engagement are essential for these co-management changes. We need to confront a worrying trend where strong leadership and consultation are abandoned in favour of pitting the interests of industry against the other stakeholders, be they recreational users or environmentalists. How many times in this place have I listened to a beat-up, particularly from the other side of the chamber and the coalition, about the damage that changes to ensure sustainable, well-managed fisheries will have on that particular fishery, sometimes in the short term, and not taking the long-term consequences of business as usual into consideration? This does not constitute leadership, nor does it facilitate the kinds of meaningful engagement that fishers and fisheries managers need to have in order to pursue and ensure better management. It does not engender a good environment for co-management.

In 2006 the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation formed a working group to report on co-management in Australian fisheries. The working group report reflected the increasing recognition among fishers and fisheries managers alike of the need for a cultural change away from an untrusting, often conflicted 'them versus us' approach to one of partnership based on joint responsibility for decision-making and implementation in fisheries management. That is what they were saying needs to be done. The report talks about the transitional nature of the development from a centralised model to a delegated model. It is a staged process of development and not something that can be implemented immediately. It involves building relationships and trust so that a stage is reached where negotiated outcomes have been decided and functions and powers may be delegated to relevant stakeholders who then take on the responsibility of seeing that these functions are implemented within the terms of the formal agreement. The report describes a natural progression from a centralised model to a consultative model, which matures into a collaborative model and then, finally, results in a delegated model, where the people using the fishery are the ones operating the fishery and making the rules for it. I do believe this is a desirable outcome, particularly in having the users take a much more active role and greater responsibility for ensuring that their behaviours adapt to changing circumstances in that fishery. Business as usual should not be the opening assumption, particularly in these days of changing climate and overfishing in fisheries around the world.

However, before this greater control can happen, there needs to be cultural change, not just so that fishers see themselves as the managers of a fishery but also so that fisheries managers, whether they are fishers, policy makers, bureaucrats—and I mean that in a nice, loving way—scientists or whoever is involved, see the bigger picture. There needs to be a bioregional approach. Fisheries management has to stop being about individual targeted species, bycatch issues and how many tonnes you can take out before you start to undermine the capacity to restock—it has to start being about how actions within a fishery change that ecosystem and how that fishery is adjusting to ecosystem changes that are beyond our control such as, as I said, climate change and a warming ocean. Bioregional planning is not a new concept for this place, although by the reaction of some people in this place you would think it is. Both this government and the previous Liberal government—yes, under John Howard—have been working away for well over a decade and a half to comprehensively survey our marine environment and set up a world-class network of marine reserves based on the concept of bioregional planning. As you are aware, the process of bioregional planning is almost at the stage of being implemented around the country. Although the government did not go as far as some of us would have liked in terms of the areas that are protected by marine reserves, I am pleased to see that we now have a nearly national network of marine reserves that will help protect our marine life into the future. Marine reserves are the basis of good fisheries management—the basis of an ecosystemic approach.

But bioregional planning is not just about marine parks. It is an important tool for ensuring that we are making the best decisions for our ecosystem, based on more than just the value of fish stocks that are targeted in particular fisheries. We believe it is essential for good fisheries management. The bioregional approach to fisheries management has been painted as antithetical to the interests and goals of fishers. But an interest in fisheries management that is focused on ensuring a flourishing stock for future exploitation is a completely different mindset to that of a marine scientist, who can take a broader view about the intrinsic value of our marine system and see it not simply as a resource to be exploited but as an important piece of a bigger system that sustains a complex web of marine life. That is where we need to be changing our mindsets in order to be able to progressively go through the process of establishing co-management.

The 2010 amendment that introduced co-management powers also brought in changes to enable AFMA to rationalise the number of management advisory committees from 12 to six. This was promised to provide a more cost-effective and efficient consultative structure that would deliver better decisions and simpler administration and to enable the implementation of a dual advisory model. This will separate the provision of advice to AFMA: MACs will provide advice to AFMA on community interest issues, and advice on fishing operations will be provided by peak industry bodies.

The success of co-management should not be judged on the dollars that it saves our government and the extent to which it can pass on administrative overheads to the fisheries users, because this can encourage an increasing spiral of cost-cutting, rationalisation and emphasis on the margins, rather than inspiring collective effort, good long-term decision making and harmonisation between different models. The efforts to make a living today and to act as good stewards to the fishery, to maintain the health of the fishery and to see the fishery within the broader prospects of the bioregion, which is already under threat from multiple directions, need to be at the forefront of people's thinking.

I expect that finally giving the proper effect to this 2010 amendment, correcting the drafting error at a time when the bioregional planning process is moving from the research stage to the implementation stage, will mean that co-management is a very effective tool for shifting thinking about our fisheries away from just stocks and towards a more ecosystem based management plan. That is why we support co-management, but we believe that it needs to be done within the framework of understanding that there needs to be an ecosystem based approach.

The bill also repeals the States Grants (War Service Land Settlement Land) Act 1952. The War Service Land Settlement Scheme commenced in 1945 to assist returned soldiers into farming after World War II. Many areas in Western Australia, particularly on the south coast, were released under that scheme. Unfortunately, some of those areas of land should not have been released, despite the fact that the community was keen to help the returned soldiers. The truth is some marginal country was released and we are now paying for the consequences of that in excessive land degradation, loss of native species and loss of biodiversity. That is why we need to keep investing in natural resource management programs such as Caring for our Country and, in the past, the national Landcare program. I had the good fortune quite a significant time ago to work on the south coast in agriculture and on Landcare and salinity management, so I know firsthand the impact that clearing of some of the native vegetation had on that fragile land. We need to remember that decisions taken with a lack of information can have long-term consequences. I am extremely concerned that we are making decisions now that will have long-term consequences—or, should I say, not making decisions now that will have long-term consequences. On the front page of the West Australian last Thursday there was a story about farmers in my home state of Western Australia who are struggling with drought. The south-west of Western Australia is being hit the hardest by climate change. We have had dramatic drops in rainfall and high temperatures. We have had season after season when farmers are in drought or in rainfall deficiency. We are now faced with many farmers potentially having to walk off their land in the next season or considering not being able to put a crop in because they cannot get the finance. This is partly a consequence of the fact that we do not have adequate systems for agriculture in a changing climate because we have not invested in the research needed to enable our agriculture industry to adapt to a changing climate.

Ross Kingston, an economist who was working for the Department of Agriculture and Food in Western Australia, pointed out a number of years ago that our farmers in Western Australia are some of the most adaptive in the world. They have adapted to a changing climate, but they reached a point a number of years ago where they were unable to continue to adapt without a significant investment in research. That research is coming far too late, if at all. The Western Australian government invested only half of the money that they had allocated in their budget for research and climate change issues.

It is essential that we develop an agriculture system that can better adapt to the changing climate. I am deeply concerned about the future of agriculture, and Senator Colbeck was addressing the issue of the future of agriculture. Well, the future of agriculture is at risk through climate change in Western Australia—dire risk—because we have failed to take the necessary steps to invest in research and to understand what impact climate change will have on our agriculture. Various governments in Western Australia and in Australia buried their heads in the sand about the impact that climate change would have on agriculture. I do not want to see farmers walk off the land as a result of drought in Western Australia caused by climate change and our failure to adapt. We need to be taking action now before it is too late.