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Thursday, 9 February 2012
Page: 506

Senator FISHER (South Australia) (09:48): It is with pleasure that I rise to support Senator Colbeck's bill, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Bioregional Plans) Bill 2011. In following my colleague Senator Edwards, I note that, as with many areas of our coast, there stands to be partic­ular impact on our home state of South Australia, and more particularly the waters off it and therefore the livelihoods of the communities in our home state of South Australia.

The coalition, as others have outlined, has a proud history of protecting our marine environment—in particular the marine areas which so many of our communities rely upon for their livelihood. The coalition continues to support a balanced approach to biomarine conservation. It was the former Howard government, as others have noted, that established 11 marine protected areas in what is known as the south-east zone. But we consider that on that occasion not only adequate but very good and extensive consultation was undertaken with recreation­al and community groups, environmental groups and commercial fishing organisations and that we struck a balance between protecting marine biodiversity and minimis­ing the impact on fishers, local communities and local economies. That stands in stark contrast to the complete lack of balance and lack of transparency being demonstrated by the Gillard government in their flawed attempts to establish bioregional plans, or what can commonly be called marine parks.

This bill is not about stopping the declaration of bioregional plans or stopping the creation of marine parks, but it is about giving the two houses of this parliament the final say over the process. It still allows for the minister of the day—in this case a Labor government minister—to propose, area by area, marine park by marine park. It still allows that minister to seek the advice of his department and to consult with stakeholders impacted by establishing a marine park. But it also makes a declaration of a bioregional plan a disallowable instrument, which means that, bioregional plan by bioregional plan, it is open to this parliament to seek to disallow the proposed plan if members of this place consider, having heard from our local communities, that a particular declaration has knobs on it.

I travelled to Kangaroo Island in my home state last year and met with local fishermen and local government members, and they raised concerns about both federal and state plans for bioregions and the consultation—or rather, as they saw it, lack of it—that had been undertaken. They talked about a lack of scientific basis, particularly for decisions being made around areas to be declared under state arrangements. The creation of a marine park necessarily relies, or should rely, on a whole lot of evidence. In this parti­cular case, the local communities on Kanga­roo Island were questioning, and properly so, the scientific basis upon which certain declarations were proposed to be made. Their livelihoods are under threat, as are the livelihoods of many affected by the proposed bioregional plans across the country.

A lack of consultation about marine sanctuaries can cause a groundswell or a backlash against those seen to be proposing them. For example, there was a community meeting in my home state of South Australia last year, in Burnside in Adelaide, which attracted about 1,000 people to the local town hall to protest about what they saw as the lack of consultation and their lack of say about the development of marine sanctuaries in South Australia. The build-up of pressure leading up to and following that meeting was so great that, last November, the newly installed South Australian Premier, Jay Weatherill, saw fit to announce a postpone­ment, an announcement for which I would not criticise him, of the release of draft plans, conceding that many groups felt they had not been consulted. So even a Labor Premier in my home state is able to recognise the lack of consultation on issues such as these—a lack that is addressed by this bill—and the way in which bioregional plans can strike at the heart of people's livelihoods. They need to be able to have their say about the impact these measures will have on them, and in many instances thus far they have not.

The first area to have a draft plan released was the south-west bioregion, extending from the eastern tip of Kangaroo Island in South Australia to Shark Bay on the Western Australian coast. That is 1.3 million square kilometres in total, and that sounds a lot, but the total area proposed to be put under the ambit of bioregional plans is, as Senator Colbeck has said, just over seven square kilometres—sorry, just over seven million square kilometres—of Commonwealth waters. I was about to say that is a truckload of water; I am glad I corrected my figures! That is a lot of water and we are talking about a lot of potential restrictions over that water for areas that are declared to be under a bioregional plan and a marine park. We are talking about areas that can have later designated within them areas of sanctuary zones, recreation-only zones or so-called special purpose zones. That means there can be areas that are closed to everything but a few activities. There can be areas where commercial and recreational fishing will be excluded and areas where particular types of equipment and fishing practices will be restricted. So this is a big deal and Labor is fluffing it—what a surprise!

A majority of the submissions to the Senate inquiry into this bill raised concerns about the lack of consultation with the government's progression of its planned marine protected areas. For example, in his submission, made on behalf of the South Australian Marine Parks Management Alliance, Mr Gary Morgan stated:

It is a reflection of the level of concern among the industry that, in my 30+ years experience in both Government and fishing industry roles (including as Director of Fisheries in South Australia, 1997‐2000), I have never known an issue to create such anxiety and uncertainty in the industry and this is the only time I can ever remember that ALL sectors of the industry have come together to address what they see as a major threat to their livelihoods.

People in our communities say this is a big deal. Mr Morgan's submission also noted:

In SA, there has been a focus on ‘percentages’ of sanctuary areas, rather than such a orderly, science‐based approach, there has been no rigorous threat identification or assessment (particularly from fishing activities) and the process is clearly not science‐based

The Abalone Industry Association of South Australia said in its submission:

Our industry is very concerned about the political lobbying being undertaken by Green Groups at the moment blurring the line of using sanctuary zones (no take) as a fisheries management tool and using examples to support their cause from countries where there is no fisheries management.

We consider the abalone industry in South Australia to be a very well managed industry. It contributes over $300 million to our local economy and sustains more than 300 jobs in the local community. The issues at stake around bioregional plans are a big deal and they strike at the heart of the livelihood of the communities who rely on the subject waters for their commercial and recreational activities. Those communities deserve to be consulted. The Labor govern­ment has failed to do so adequately and so this bill, appropriately—and unfortunately—seeks to pull the Gillard Labor government up. It does not pull the government up short but simply pulls them up and requires their proposed bioregional plans to be subject to a mechanism that allows parliament to say, 'Not on this occasion; not in this area,' but also allows parliament to say, 'Having considered this particular proposal, we think it is the right thing to do.' I hope that this place sees fit to support Senator Colbeck's bill.