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Wednesday, 13 March 2013
Page: 1554


Senator COLBECK (Tasmania) (11:55): Before I start talking on the Fisheries Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2012, I find it disappointing that, after debating a piece of legislation that was supported across the chamber with some technical changes, we did not see the minister for agriculture dealing with the final stages of the last piece of legislation.

Senator Edwards: He does not care.

Senator COLBECK: I think that actually sums up to a T the discussion and issues that were put on the table by members of the coalition during the debate this morning on that agricultural bill. It is really a disappointment that the minister did not seen fit to be in the chamber to deal with that piece of legislation. It was not making major changes—I do understand that—but, given the very little that has been done to agriculture during the last two terms of the parliament, it would have been nice to see the minister available to look after the piece of legislation that he has responsibility for instead of having one of his colleagues do it.

Senator Farrell interjecting

Senator COLBECK: While recognising the good parliamentary secretary's understanding and commitment to agriculture and fishing—as we talked about the other night—it is disappointing that the minister was not here to be able to deal with his own piece of legislation.

In respect of the Fisheries Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2012, again, we are talking about a piece of legislation that makes some important changes to the Fisheries Administration Act, particularly around the management of e-monitoring. I am aware and the coalition is aware that trials of this technology have been underutilisation for a period of time and they do have the capacity to reduce costs to the industry by replacing observers while providing a high level of coverage across the fishery. As the coalition indicated under last piece of legislation, one of the concerns we have had is additional costs applied to agriculture, fisheries and forestry in the last two terms of government through things like the carbon tax and about ensuring that we provide some measures that can reduce costs in some way. In the circumstance where observer coverage is required—and there are a number of fisheries where, for good reasons, the Commonwealth does require full observer coverage—a mechanism that provides the capacity to reduce those costs where observers currently cost quite a bit more than $1,000 per day to the industry is welcomed. This piece of legislation is supported by the opposition. Just as we have concerns with the management of agriculture and forestry more broadly, we have concerns about the management of fisheries. The amendment to the Fisheries Act also deals with some definitions around the closures of part of a fishery and relates to directions on how those might now be defined. It also deals with levies and liabilities of corporations and other principles. The opposition welcomes these but we expressed concerns about the government's management of fisheries—and of agriculture more broadly—in the last piece of legislation.

I mentioned the significant increase in levies and fees in the trawl fishery in my contribution earlier today where the cost of a licence in the South East Trawl Fishery went from something like $7,000 to $14,000 and a whole heap of players moved out. The opposition at that time moved a disallowance motion to try to bring the attention of the government to the fact that there was a level of concern. After negotiations with the government, we withdrew that motion but then there was a complete change in the way that the levies were structured—I think probably in a better way but without consultation with the industry. That seems to be a benchmark of the current government: lack of consultation.

I talked earlier today about the impact of the carbon tax. Talking to participants in the fishery in South Australia recently, there are huge concerns about the impacts of the carbon tax on the cost of refrigerant. Of course that refrigerant is a vital part of them getting their product to market as a fresh and premium quality product. They are genuinely and understandably concerned about the impact of the carbon tax on refrigeration for their industry. It is a vital part of their industry. They are dealing with a product that will deteriorate very quickly if it is not managed properly, and the additional costs imposed on the industry through the carbon tax on the cost of refrigerants is considerable.

I turn to the subject of the management of fisheries more broadly touched on by some of my colleagues. We have seen in the last six months one of the most disgraceful examples of how not to manage a fishery, and that was done through the management of the freezer trawler, the Abel Tasman. The cost of refrigeration and recharging that vessel is very significant. That whole venture was about harvesting the fishery sustainably but then managing the harvested product by freezing it immediately so that it would be in premium condition for a food-grade product rather than a fishmeal product.

Rather than maintaining a situation where they managed the fishery based on the science, we now have fisheries management by GetUp! in Australia. We know that GetUp! is effectively a lobbying arm of the Greens—they are now campaigning in the ACT for their former director Simon Sheikh even though they promised that they were an independent organisation and would not be engaging in that. They are now engaged in lobbying directly for the Greens, and so the Greens' influence on the Labor Party and their management decisions around fisheries, forestry and agriculture are becoming more and more apparent.

Over a period of years, this government, having followed on with the development of our fisheries management system from the very good work started by my colleague Senator Ian Macdonald and then Senator Abetz by putting in place a world-class system of fisheries management, have completely capitulated to fisheries management by GetUp! Forget the science. Forget everything else: they just don't want the boat. That is what the argument has come down to, regardless of the fact that a harvest strategy has been put in place for the entire Australian fishery—and individual harvest strategies for a number of fisheries, including the small pelagics. They take into account all of the needs of the different elements of the food chain—large animals, large fish species, predator types—and then set a very, very conservative by global standards quota to access the fishery. Yet this government does not have what it takes to stick to that scientific process. It has to put in special legislation. It costs the business hundreds of thousands of dollars—$10,000 a day to have the vessel tied up doing nothing—and then they wonder why people start talking about things like sovereign risk.

I have spoken to people who have said, 'We are reconsidering our investment in the fishery here in Australia, particularly in Tasmania, because of that decision.' They are concerned that the government, having spent years developing a science based strategy for the management of a fishery, could then make a political decision to completely change the rules and say, 'We're now stepping back. We're reconsidering our decision-making process.'

I spoke to a fisheries manager from New Zealand last week. They are concerned about the impact of that decision-making process on their fishery in New Zealand. That is the scale of the debacle that this government has wrought on the fishing industry in Australia. We are globally recognised as having one of the best managed fisheries in the world—No. 2 for sustainability behind Germany; top three, four or five in nearly every other category—and yet there is concern amongst fisheries managers, not only in Australia but also in other countries, because of the win that this government gave to organisations such as Greenpeace—an organisation which is happy to break into the CSIRO and destroy property—that they are now utilising that as a tool against the industry in other jurisdictions. That is how poorly this government has managed Australia's fisheries

Then of course we go to the marine parks process, where the consultation has effectively been a show and tell and this minister has capitulated any support for the industry to the former minister, Tony Burke. There has been nobody in this government who has been prepared to stand up for the users of the resource in this marine parks process. In fact, it has been used as a political tool without access to the science, and we know that for a fact because that has been admitted. It has been admitted by Minister Burke when he has been talking to recreational user groups and commercial user groups, and by the department. I was in Brisbane on the day of the meeting. I asked if I could have access just to listen; I did not need to say anything and did not want to say anything. The fishing industry representatives asked for the science on which these marine parks were to be based. They were told there was none. Tony Burke will come out with a pile of books saying, 'Here is the science.'. There is none. It could be anything in that pile of books that Tony Burke hands up in display of what the science says. The reality is that Minister Burke has made a series of political decisions: lock up the Coral Sea, reduce the number of marine park areas out of New South Wales because that is where the worst politics are. He thinks he can get away with a bit more in the south-west, so he will make larger marine parks over there. One of the only places where there was any real modification through the final management plan process was out of Mr Katter's seat, where they traded votes against the Abel Tasman for some modifications to the management plans.

We will do everything to make sure that there is a decent process in place. We will do everything within our power to make sure that there is a decent process; that there is proper consultation and you do not have a lot of different sectors played off against each other; that there is somebody within government who is prepared to stick up for fishing sectors within Australia that are globally recognised as responsibly accessing the fishery. We will ensure that that occurs, not the show and tell consultation process where Minister Burke and his department went out and said, 'Here are the maps, this is what is going to happen.' When the zones were declared—and the consultation period followed the declaration of the zones—it was not about whether they might change, it was not about improving that process; it was about whether they happened or not. We all know that the answer from Minister Burke's perspective was that they were going to happen. But where was Minister Ludwig in all this?

It is a bit like the Abel Tasman situation, where you have one of the most eminent marine scientists on the planet come to Tasmania and say, 'You are a global laughing stock from that decision.' Professor Ray Hilborn is the scientist who led the global fish stocks process, so when Boris Worm came out and said the oceans would be devoid of fish by 2047, which the environmental groups all jumped on and started campaigning on, Ray Hilborn went to Boris Worm and said, 'I disagree with your hypothesis. Why don't we conduct a project to review it?' They agreed to do that and along with 23 or 24 marine scientists from across the spectrum they did a global project which actually put the true picture on the table. There is someone who is prepared to provide real leadership in fisheries and fisheries management. That is why he is one of the most respected fisheries scientists on the planet. When he comes to Australia and says, 'You are a global laughing stock because of your decision around the Abel Tasman because of politics over science,' I think we ought to be taking notice of it.

You have also got the minister who has committed the southern bluefin tuna industry to a new process of counting fish as they go into their nets, a stereo video. The industry do not have a problem with that, but the problem is that the technology is not mature and it is not automated. It actually diminishes their capacity to properly manage their fishery. Why would a minister agree to something that took an industry backwards? Why not do the work to get the technology up to speed and provide what the systems they are using now already do for stocking densities within the pens? Why not have that work done before you impose it on the industry? Yet that is what this minister has done.

Then there is the minister's non-appointment of the FRDC board. It is not the first time that has happened. Previously the Grains Research and Development Corporation, one of a larger research and development corporations, was left without a board. Twelve months later the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation is also left without a board. When will the minister do something that is of positive benefit to the industry? Why aren't there changes being brought forward by the minister to the PIERD Act, for example, where for a change the industry has got themselves together about what they want to do on marketing. The prawn industry, for example, has a brilliant proposal for marketing. You have the wild prawn fishery and the aquaculture sector of the prawn fishery come together wanting to market Australian prawns. That is not possible under the PIERD Act as it stands. Why isn't the minister doing something to help the industry help themselves? It is not a big deal. They have done the work and it is sitting there ready to go. Yet there is no support from the minister, as there has been no support from the minister in a whole range of other areas in his portfolio. He stepped back and allowed others to take the lead, to take over his portfolio. It is a huge disappointment that the minister is not providing the leadership that this industry desperately needs, particularly in the critical areas around fisheries management. I await with interest the review that is being conducted of Fisheries Management Australia. I think that is an important move although it does come out of the complete debacle of the freezer trawler episode. But it would be nice to see that progressed. I acknowledge the minister asking that the opposition be consulted as part of that process. I appreciate that. That was a positive from my perspective. We certainly do appreciate that but I would like to see the results of it. Let's help the industry move ahead with its own marketing through the PIERD Act. Let's do some of those positive things that we can do for the industry. Let's support that. Having said that, the opposition will be supporting the Fisheries Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2012.