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Thursday, 9 February 2012
Page: 503


Senator EDWARDS (South Australia) (09:31): I continue from where I finished late last year on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Bioregional Plans) Bill 2011. The marine bioregional zones targeted in this bill and the subsequent declaration of the marine pro­tected areas within them which will follow are provided for under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. 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. This bill 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 for far greater parliamentary sovereignty and allows both houses the right to say whether any new marine park declaration should happen, on its individual merits. The current lack of review available to the final declaration of bioregional plans is a clear example of the vesting of power within narrow confines. It rests solely with the minister and therefore provides the opportunity for an abuse of power.

Parliamentary scrutiny is something that is sorely needed in this parliament after last year's gags on gags that we saw through the carbon tax debate and truncated debates generally. It was a year where legislation—like that which referred to the carbon tax and that which we are now seeing for the minerals resource rent tax—which people do not want and which the government do not have a mandate for was forced through parliament. Yet again it is the coalition who are trying to restore proper process and scrutiny to the parliament.

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 do the job we are elected to do, which is represent the millions of Australians who voted us here. It is a job which the coalition takes seriously. Unlike Labor, we will actually listen to the millions of Australians we represent. Overwhelm­ingly, support for parliamentary review of the marine bioregional planning process was evident in submissions to the Senate Environment and Communications Legisla­tion Committee inquiry. I would like to quote from the Abalone Industry Association of South Australia:

It is a real slap in the face to the good work done by our Government Fisheries Managers and Industry. We are very uncomfortable with the fact that the final decision of adopting the bioregional plans rests with the Minister for Environment only. We would prefer to have a far more rigorous and robust process through the parliament that doesn’t have the potential to be clouded by extreme green views.

The coalition is not an anti-marine-protected-areas party. We understand that we need them to protect and maintain biologically and culturally significant marine areas. The previous coalition government began the process of establishing marine protected areas around Australia's coastline. In 2006 the coalition announced the establishment of 11 marine protected areas along Australia's south-east coast. These 11 marine protected areas were created only after careful consideration and consultation with the recreational and commercial fishing sectors and other stakeholders.

Labor has continued the coalition's policy but it has failed to adopt a balanced approach to the marine protected areas. Labor has also failed to engage in appropriate consultation with the fishing industry and the wider community. The Labor government has continued to disregard and ignore the fishing industry, and its disastrous attempts to effectively engage with the fishing industry over marine parks have been embarrassing to say the least. Taking away further funding from the national peak body, Recfish, is proof that Labor would sooner tax and spend rather than govern in the interests of all Australians. All the fishermen in Queensland might like to bear that in mind when they go to the polls next month, on 24 March.

Many communities that rely on fishing are directly threatened by Labor's inability to consult on whether a region should be declared a marine protected area. Labor has failed to consult with both the commercial fishing industry and recreational fishers on major changes affecting them, a failure which threatens the jobs and livelihoods of many small businesses in coastal comm­unities. Doesn't this sound all too familiar—the Labor government yet again failing to consult stakeholders on the policies it is forcing on the Australian people? Just like the carbon tax, the mining tax and the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, which is in its second reincarnation, poor consultation is the hallmark of this government.

Why does the government not value the input of its key stakeholders? Having spent many hours on the road on the live cattle inquiry following the live cattle ban in June, I found many of those stakeholders wonder­ing why this government does not include them in the decision-making process affect­ing so many people's lives in Northern Australia. Why does it not discuss its proposed changes to this policy and legisla­tion with the people who will be directly affected—the fishermen, the recreational fishers and the commercial fishers of Australia? In these commercial and recrea­tional fishing sectors, those businesses and communities reliant on this whole-of-business approach to these regions up and down the coast of Australia have all raised serious and ongoing concerns about the consultation process implemented by Labor. Australians are raising their arms up, worried about the fact that they are not getting a say. Rather than seek genuine input on marine bioregional planning decisions, Labor has used the process for declaring marine protected areas to tell stakeholders what will happen. It has just used the process of declaring marine protected areas to tell them.

Unsurprisingly, recreational and commer­cial fishers, as well as the many related businesses and communities that rely on fishing, have raised substantial concerns about Labor's mishandling of marine protected areas. Appropriate and effective consultation is needed if marine protected areas are to balance environmental concerns with the need to promote jobs and to sustain communities that rely on commercial and recreational fishing. It is not a difficult task and it is not an unreasonable request: step outside of Canberra and talk with the recreational and commercial fishers and the myriad related businesses, small businesses and communities and ask them what they think. When they respond, however, you have to listen, something which this Gillard Labor government has failed to do time and time again. Labor does not listen. This is evidenced through its inability to listen to the Australian people on the carbon tax, to small miners on the mining tax and to Northern Australian cattle producers on the live cattle ban. Labor just does not understand the real world or the realities of running and maintaining a business.

The 2011-12 federal budget, delivered by the Labor-Greens alliance, resulted in no new initiatives for fisheries despite the industry being worth billions of dollars and providing a healthy and sustainable source of protein critical to meeting the future global food security challenges. This is yet another example of the Greens dictating policy to a desperate, ineffective Labor government looking to save itself. Labor does not even have enough courage to challenge the Greens and other radical environmental groups who want to lock up much of coastal Australia in marine parks. Many communities will face enormous economic and social losses unless there is proper and effective consultation on the potential marine protected areas. Only proper and effective consultation will ensure that the future of marine protected areas balances preservation of the environment with economic growth and strong coastal and, might I say, happy communities.

The coalition is committed to balance and fairness to marine conservation and this bill ensures that there will always be the scrutiny that Australians expect from proper and effective democracies. The work that Senator Boswell and Senator Colbeck are doing here in promoting this bill is testimony to their experience and the work they did in the previous Howard government to ensure that equity is maintained. The coalition supports proper community and industry consultation regarding any proposed marine protected areas. Imagine if the government had gone to the last election spruiking this consultation lock out. Imagine if the Bligh government in Queensland used locking up these areas as an election promise.

Labor has failed to tackle illegal foreign fishing in Australia's fishing zones, slashing funding for Southern Ocean patrols. Is it because it cannot carry out the patrols of the Southern Ocean to prevent fish poaching in Australian waters because all the maritime and aerial resources are being used to find boats penetrating our northern waters as a result of Labor's failed asylum seeker policy? Labor has also failed to meet its own time frames for declaring marine protected areas. Time frames have been altered due to Labor's inability to adequately consult within unrealistic schedules that were politically, rather than practically, motivated. Once again, the Green tail is wagging the Labor dog.

Labor has also failed to rule out large no-take zones within the marine protected areas currently being established across Australia. The fear of no-take zones has caused great uncertainty for businesses directly and indirectly reliant on access to fishing resources. As it did with the cattlemen of Northern Australia, this Labor government is undermining the essential ingredient in business security. Businesses must always have security. It is the very foundation in which they raise capital and it is the very foundation in which their banks expect them to be able to repay that capital which is borrowed. Labor has also caused great uncertainty amongst stakeholders who will be adversely impacted by potential loss of access to resources within declared marine parks. The bankers to fishing businesses, as I earlier referred to, would be reviewing this bill and would likely say, 'Hooray! Some checks and balances are to be parachuted into this ongoing debate.' Everybody in this business sector will look at this legislation and say, 'Will we have security in our business?'

The lock-up mentality of Labor and the Greens completely ignores the fact that Australia's recreational and commercial fishers are dedicated to sustainability. As a farmer myself, I say that you know that your future is predicated on your environmental sustainability. Locking up marine areas without proper consultation or scientific assessment and throwing away the keys is neither responsible nor practical. Labor's biggest contribution to fisheries so far has been to bungle the marine bioregional plans process, leaving fishing communities waiting months to see even one of the draft maps for the four marine reserve networks proposed. The parallels between this and the Murray-Darling Basin Plan process mean that the two are eerily similar. Labor fails yet again to properly consult and include the community in its plans for them. We need a full socioeconomic impact assessment that identifies the true loss of value to the community as a result of the loss of access to marine parks by the commercial and amateur fishers of Australia. Any assessment should be publicly released prior to the release of a declaration of any parks. Further, a compre­hensive fishing gear risk assessment should be conducted for each of the proposed marine parks before the parks are declared. This fishing gear risk assessment should not unfairly target selective fishing activities, such as trawling, from any new reserves, given that there are sustainable trawl fisheries operating successfully in marine parks in Australia.

Labor have failed to consult, have failed to include adequate community and industry concerns, have failed to consider commercial and recreational fishers and have failed again to uphold proper parliamentary scrutiny. Yet again Labor is opposing a bill that would deliver greater scrutiny to this parliament. The hypocrisy is rank. On the one hand you have the Prime Minister saying, 'Let's draw back the curtains and let the sun shine in; let our parliament be more open than it has ever been before,' and on the other hand you have Labor voting against letting the sun shine down on the parliament so that there is adequate scrutiny of marine park areas in Australia. So let the sun shine in; let the disinfectant be thorough. I ask that everybody get behind this bill and support it in the interests of all Australians.