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Thursday, 9 February 2012
Page: 513

Senator WILLIAMS (New South WalesNationals Whip in the Senate) (10:24): I rise to support the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Bioregional Plans) Bill 2011 and to express some real concerns about the current system. How could you leave seven million square kilometres in the hands of one minister, whether that minister be a man or a woman?

Senator Farrell: He's a very good minister.

Senator WILLIAMS: I will take that interjection. Let us look back at the decisions of the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Perhaps we will go to the live-cattle-export issue. We saw the Four Corners story and we supported the abolition of Australian exports of live cattle to those abattoirs which were clearly doing the wrong thing. Then the minister put a total ban on the export of live cattle. What a financial mess this has been for the graziers in the Top End of our nation. This is a clear example of one minister with too much power doing something very wrong. Once the cattle got over 350 kilograms live weight, they were not suitable to send to Indonesia. So, as the delays went on, what could the people do with their cattle?

I live at Inverell, a lovely town in northern New South Wales, where we are fortunate to have an abattoir. Those Top End graziers were forced to send cattle from the top of Western Australia thousands of kilometres by road to Inverell. That is a classic example of a minister making a very bad decision. What Minister Ludwig should have done was to get a copy of that film, hop straight on a plane to Jakarta, meet with the Indonesian agriculture minister and say: 'Look at this. We have a problem. We do not accept animals being treated like this.' I agree with that proposal totally, as someone who has done my own butchering on the farm for many years. Whether it be beef cattle, sheep or pigs, I am no stranger to a butcher's knife. I would never, ever condone animals being treated like that.

To come back to our argument about ministerial power: it is seven million square kilometres. Like it or not, the Greens carry a lot of weight in this Gillard-led Labor government. We know we have to preserve our fish stocks. We know we cannot just go out and net the fish stocks. It is all about sustainability for the future. We know that in 1998 the Howard government led in the right direction on this very important issue, the conservation and retention of fish stocks in our marine areas. But there were consulta­tions. The government worked with the industries and the people, whether they were local fishermen who just wanted to go and wet a line on the weekend or professional fishermen. To leave this in the hands of a minister and take it away from the parlia­ment is wrong, by all democratic beliefs. How could you trust a minister? I could give you other examples. I have talked about the cattle industry and what a shambles it was.

Senator Farrell: He's a very trustworthy minister.

Senator WILLIAMS: Trustworthy or not, the decision that Minister Ludwig made on the export of live cattle to Indonesia was a disgrace.

Senator McEwen: I think we're talking about bioregional plans.

Senator WILLIAMS: I am giving an example of ministerial powers and how the Labor government made a terrible decision. It was a financial disaster for industries throughout Northern Australia. You want us to sit back and say: 'Leave it to the environ­ment minister. That minister will make the determination of where the marine parks are, what will happen, what will be closed down, who will be compensated.' We know about compensation. My colleague Senator Boyce mentioned professional fishermen investing in a boat. If they are shut out of the industry, who compensates them for the purchase of the boat? Will that happen, or will the minister say: 'No. Enough is enough; we're wiping it out'?

Life is about fairness and, if the govern­ment take away your livelihood, they should compensate you. But in the current situation, when a minister takes away the livelihood of fishermen, are they compen­sated? These questions need to be answered. If it were left to the parliament to make this decision, these debates could be had and the questions could be put. Hopefully we would get some answers. But the current plan is totally unacceptable. Our bill is aimed at taking the power from the minister and giving it back to where it belongs, the parliament. I commend Senator Colbeck for his work on this issue and others who are passionate about this issue, such as my colleague Senator Boswell. Our bill repre­sents what Australian people would expect—that both houses of parliament make the decision on any new marine park declara­tions. That is the clear point here. The House of Representatives commences the legisla­tion process on most occasions but not always. When it comes to the Senate we have the opportunity to amend, to debate or even to vote down or reject legislation.

I could talk about many ministerial decisions being made in this current govern­ment. It comes back to simply a lack of trust. That is the problem we have with this government, and the Australian people have the same problem. They do not trust the government. They do not trust the govern­ment on its commitment to introducing carbon taxes, on its commitment to keeping food, grocery prices, fuel prices and the cost of living low and on all the promises we got from the former Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, prior to the 2007 election; hence, Senator Colbeck's bill is a most important piece of legislation to return the power to the parliament and not leave it in the hands of just one minister. Why should we trust this government to get anything right? Just think back to Fuelwatch and GroceryWatch. I mention live exports of cattle, home insulation or the Building the Education Revolution, the mounting national debt of the government, asylum seekers and our border protection, yet you expect us to trust an environment minister where the Greens would really use their power to influence that minister.

One of my pet hates is the locking up of land and simply leaving it. The National Parks Association have been pushing this year after year. We saw the shutting-up of the red gum forests down near Deniliquin in the middle of a state forest and in Victoria. It is amazing when you go down there, as I did some two years ago to look through that red gum forest where 900 hectares were burnt. That multiplied by 2½ is 2,400 acres. Red gum will not take fire at all. You see the Pilliga and the regeneration of ironbark and box trees and various other types of trees. What happened there was that that country was locked up. It comes back to management of the environment. That country used to be grazed to keep the fuel levels down. Now that it has been locked up, you cannot graze there.

The influence of the Greens is clear when it comes to the new Victorian state govern­ment, which will not allow grazing in the alpine regions to reduce the amount of fuel on the ground. I get back to the argument of ministerial decisions. Once you have more than five tonnes per hectare of fuel on the ground—grasses, twigs, six millimetres of dome or less, 30- or 40-kilometre wind, a 40-degree day—a fire is basically impossible to control. It comes back to environmental management. People just think of preserva­tion—lock it up and leave it—and then we destroy it through fire.

We get back to the argument here of ministerial decision. It was Minister Burke who overruled the decision of the Victorian government. I think that is wrong, because under the Constitution the management of land is clearly in the hands of the Crown or the states, but Minister Burke made that decision. He did not have a debate in this parliament. There was no decision about that at all. When fire destroys those areas again, hopefully we will not see the loss of life like we did in the Black Saturday bushfires a couple of years ago. It will happen again. Fires will occur again. We have had the wet seasons now and the grass is growing. We all know that it will dry out. It will get hot again, even though this summer has been so extremely cool. We have seen a minister's power to threaten the environment with Minister Burke in the alpine regions. They say you are not allowed to have hard-hooved animals in those areas. It is all right to have thousands of deer, thousands of brumbies, hundreds of thousands of wild goats and tens of thousands of wild pigs—they are all hard-hooved animals—but you cannot run cattle up there because they might eat the grass down; you have to just let it burn.

I make the point that this is a minister's decision and, to me, it is too powerful. There is too much responsibility in the hands of one person; likewise with the marine parks. Senator Colbeck's private member's bill should be supported because it gives the power back to the parliament, back to the elected people, to make a decision. The fear, of course, is the current make-up of the parliament in both houses of this country where you have the Independents and the Greens flexing their muscles—the tail wagging the dog of the Labor Party—whether it be on carbon taxes or other broken promises on deliveries that we are now seeing.

This is the worst time to have this power in the hands of one person. If you had a clear government, then you would not have to kowtow to minority groups who are pressur­ed by those out there who simply believe locking up everything is the way ahead. What are we going to do when we lock up all our marine parks? Are we just going to import our prawns from Thailand? We talk about food security for the future. We are the first to say there must be manage­ment and you cannot basically rape the oceans of fish and expect them to survive. That cannot happen.

In my lifetime I have seen reductions in fish in many areas. When I was a kid hanging a line over the jetty at Port Lincoln in about 1967 a huge amount of tommy rough would grab hold of your line. You probably would not see that today. For sure we have reduced fish numbers in areas around the world, but it is about balanced management. It is about the needs of mankind and looking after the environment and conserving the stocks we have. No doubt Senator Conroy would agree with me on this issue, as he does on most issues.

I support this proposal by Senator Colbeck because it returns the power to the parlia­ment, to those who are elected to these places to represent the people in their electorates and not to give this enormous power to a minister who will probably get a backroom bribe from a minority group to do as they want or there will be trouble. We have already seen that with the carbon tax. We have seen Mr Windsor's demands in his agreement with Prime Minister Gillard. One of his demands was, 'You will form a multiparty climate change committee or else.' That was Mr Windsor's drive. He probably drove it more than the Greens. That is the problem we have. I urge support for Senator Colbeck's proposal.