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Thursday, 9 February 2012
Page: 510

Senator BOYCE (Queensland) (10:07): I think we need to be a little clearer on what the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Bioregional Plans) Bill 2011 is all about. It is not about opposing marine parks in any shape or form. It is about giving this parliament the right to oversight, to debate and to discuss where marine reserves are to happen, because, as Senator Waters has just pointed out, it is quite possible for interested groups or self-interested groups to skew the discussions and deliberations of the minister at any time during this debate. A pious motion from the Senate around dredging in Gladstone Harbour is not a useful thing. I was trying to think of how useless it was, but I cannot quite think of a polite comparison and so I shan't. It would not be useful in assisting either the environmental concerns in Gladstone Harbour or the fishing industry in Gladstone, which certainly have some serious problems. A motion from the Senate does nothing. It is the Queensland state government that needs to get its act together and do something there.

A minister for the environment who alone can make the decision about where marine parks go is not good for democracy or for Australia. We have already seen that there are conservation groups, fringe environ­mental groups—we could even include the fishing industry and other stakeholders—who, if they can get the ear of the minister or are in the right electorate at the right time, may skew the way the development of marine conservation proceeds in Australia. In fact, the Gillard and Rudd governments have in some ways simply continued the coalition's program, which was designed to protect and conserve our extraordinary marine resources in a balanced way. They have failed, of course, to continue the implementation correctly. Why should we be surprised by that? It happens in almost every area that the Rudd and Gillard governments touch. They have failed completely to continue appropriate consultation with the fishing industry or with the wider commu­nity. They have not adopted a balanced approach and they give preference to the views of NGOs and others at the expense of not just the fishing industry but also local tourism industries and other groups.

We can draw an adequate comparison between the fishing industry and fishermen and the agribusiness industry and farmers. These people are not there to destroy their livelihoods; they are great conservationists; they are great preservers; they want sustainable industries. They are not about destroying wherever they go. Consulting them and listening to the broad range of evidence that is available on marine regions are far more important than having the minister simply do what he likes when he likes. The idea of this bill we are putting forward today is not about destroying marine areas or destroying biodiversity; it is about having a sensible, balanced approach that reinstates parliamentary scrutiny to an area of just over seven million square kilometres of Commonwealth waters. What we seek to do here is to make the declaration of marine bioregional plans disallowable instruments, not a legislative instrument that is complete­ly shielded from parliamentary scrutiny with the stroke of a pen. The minister can have a massive impact on Australia's territorial waters and all the people who make a living from them or the resources in those areas.

Senator Waters liked telling us how the fish improved in no-take areas. Yes, the coalition supports that idea. We completely support the idea that with a balanced approa­ch you will have no-take areas, you will have recreational areas and you will have areas for the fishing industry within marine parks. We have no problem whatsoever with this approach to balancing conservation with the marine industry, but we cannot achieve that if the only person making the decision is the minister and he or she is doing that without any oversight by this parliament. All we are seeking to do is to take the absolute power away from the minister to give parliament the opportunity to have a say about what should be included in a marine bioregional plan and what should not. It gives parliament far greater sovereignty and it gives both Houses the chance to have a say on the individual merits of each marine bioregional plan. There is no problem in my view with that being done and I have no idea why anyone would want to oppose that being done. In fact, I would have thought that it would be something that would be supported in this House particularly by the Greens and the Independents, because, given the record of this government on consultation, there is every reason to think that we will get ad hoc decisions designed to assist whatever group the government is trying to cosy up to at the time. The coalition has a very proud track record and a great commitment in the area of marine protected areas. 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 2002. And again, in 2005-06, it was the Howard govern­ment that initiated the investigation and subsequent implementation of the south-east marine reserve network, the fifth of the five bioregions that are likely to be covered by these marine bioregional plans. We are not anti marine parks, but we think there is a right way and a wrong way to go about developing such reserves—and we already have evidence of the wrong way being done now.

Every interest group and every stakehold­er have claimed that there has not been adequate consultation. There have not been appropriate levels of consultation with local communities or with affected commercial industries or with the marine recreation industries. Even environmental groups have said to our shadow minister and to others that they feel left out by the federal govern­ment when it comes to genuine consultation. And, if your livelihood depends on whether the fishing industry is going to be there in three years or five years, if whether the bank will lend you the money to buy a new boat is reliant on what the minister's whim of the day is, you are in a very difficult position. There has been incredible anxiety and uncertainty created in the fishing industry by this government's approach to developing marine bioregional plans.

Coastal communities are certainly aware that if they do not get a say in this, if there is not a way to ensure that their views can be aired and discussed and debated in this place, then on the basis of the track record of this government it will only be the fringe green groups that will actually get heard, not the people who use and manage and conserve our fisheries on a daily basis.

Industry is really nervous, and that is not just the commercial fishing industry, althou­gh I would point out that it is Australia's sixth-largest primary producer. Recreational fishing might be something that some of us do—very unsuccessfully in my case—just once or twice a year, but for thousands of Australians it is actually a job, and off those jobs hang many other jobs. There are resources that you need to get together a fishing boat, and many businesses are involved, not only with the boat itself but with the gear, the technology, the electronics that are used on the boat. Those are all industries that need a commercial fishing industry to survive. So we have to talk about not only the recreational fishing industry as a multibillion-dollar industry but also the very large commercial fishing sector that, as I said, is the sixth-largest primary producing sector in Australia.

Not only is it the lack of consultation that makes people nervous; not only is it the track record of this government that makes people in the industry nervous; but it is the fact that the government cannot even meet its own time frames for declaring marine parks that makes people nervous. So once again we have an implementation issue, which I suppose should not surprise us with this government, but it does nothing at all to assist businesses trying to function and to plan for the future in this area.

In the lead-up to the 2010 election, Labor promised to release draft maps for the south-western bioregion by mid-December. Then the minister said they would probably do them by late January or early February. We still have not seen those draft maps. It is no different to any other promise that Labor make during an election. It may not, in its consequences for the entire economy, be as serious as: 'We won't put a price on carbon. We won't introduce a carbon tax.' But for the people whose livelihoods depend on it, the fact that this government cannot meet its election promises in this area is just as bad, and the consequences are just as dire, as that broken carbon tax promise.

Labor also promised to release a displaced effort policy in the lead-up to releasing the first draft maps, but that did not arrive in the time frame promised either. So we have a group who are intimately involved with our fishing stocks and our marine parks who are saying, 'What is going on here?' And, if it is only the minister, through a legislative instrument, who can decide where a marine bioregional plan is established, these groups have no avenue for airing their concerns in a democratic way. They are forced to protest; probably some of them will be forced out of business. It is all very well for this govern­ment to say, 'We'll just sort out what we are doing when we get around to it.' But it has to keep in mind that a fishing boat, for example, is an investment that you would keep for 20 years or more. You are not going to go and buy one when this minister could decide, based on the whim of whichever stakeholder group the Labor government next wants to please, to undertake work that could simply ruin your industry. I know that the fringe environmental groups like to claim that our fisheries are in disarray, but that is completely wrong. They are among the best managed and healthiest in terms of stock numbers of any country in the world. You have to take into consideration that amongst them is the same group that wants the whole Coral Sea locked up. Those groups peddle mistruths and misinformation in the name of so-called conservation. But it is the practiti­oners, the people whose lives and livelihoods depend on healthy fish stocks and a healthy marine environment, who are the real custodians and the people who should be listened to by this government—not just the commercial fishermen but the tourism industry, the hospitality industry and the many other ancillary industries I mentioned that hang off commercial and recreational fishing.

There are a huge number of people who, at the stroke of the minister's pen, can lose their livelihoods and be disenfranchised. Why would there be any opposition to this parliament being the place where these matters are decided? Parliamentarians can air the views of the many stakeholder groups, and the claims of various groups can be properly assessed by parliamentary committ­ees. That would mean a sensible, balanced decision could be made based on what is best for the environment and what is best for industry, rather than the minister simply deciding what suits him best.