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Thursday, 9 February 2012
Page: 516

Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (10:37): I rise to speak in support of Senator Colbeck's Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Bioregional Plans) Bill 2011. The bill reinstates parliamentary scrutiny of just over seven million square kilometres of Common­wealth waters. The bill seeks to make bioregional plans a disallowable instrument. The waters adjacent to Victoria, my home state, are included in the south-east marine region, which extends from waters offshore of southern New South Wales to eastern South Australia. It also includes waters adjacent to Senator Colbeck's home state of Tasmania and Macquarie Island.

The coalition has a strong track record of supporting marine conservation. The coali­tion supports a balanced approach. Through­out the history of the development of marine protected areas the coalition has been at the forefront of developing workable plans at a local and national level. It was a coalition government in 1998 that secured agreement with the state governments to commit to establishing a national representa­tive system of marine protected areas. It was a coalition government that made a further international commitment to establish such a representa­tive network by 2012 at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002. And it was a coalition government that in 2005 and 2006 initiated the investigation and subsequ­ent implementation of the south-east marine reserves network, the fifth of the five bioreg­ions I mentioned in my introduct­ory remarks.

I make these points to highlight that the coalition is far from being anti-marine park. We believe there is a right way and a wrong way to go about the development and maint­enance of such reserves. It is a balanced approach. We obviously need to consider industry. The south-east trawlers association, in my home state, has made numerous representations about the size of the marine park we have down in Victoria, which is the size of our entire state. Those in the industry in Victoria are the last people that want to see a reduction in fish stocks.

Similarly, a balanced approach needs to take into account recreational fishers—not only the impact of recreational fishing but our desire as a parliament and as leaders in our nation to promote healthy lifestyles and people getting out and about in the natural environment. A balanced approach also needs to take into consideration ecological systems and the environment itself, including fish stocks. Also, particularly from a regional perspective, we need to consider local economies, and a balanced approach to these sorts of discussions also needs to take into account the socioeconomic impacts on regional towns and communities.

I have seen the impact of overfishing through my travels in Canada in 2000. I spent a lot of time in Newfoundland, an area of Canada that is renowned for having destocked a complete species of fish. I saw the impact that has had on the local economy in terms of having to completely reconfigure how they live and work in that province and in that nation.

The coalition, and obviously the Nationals within the coalition, strongly support a balanced approach to marine parks and marine sustainability. The development of the south-east network reinforced to me that the successful implementation of a marine networks plan would not eventuate without genuine, detailed, open consultation with each and every stakeholder who felt they had a claim or a vested interest. That goes not only to the heart of the successful imple­mentation of these sorts of things but also to the notions of inclusion and involvement in the democratic processes of our nation.

The overwhelming measure of success for anything like this is that the consultation with stakeholders is actually enacted. There were 20 recommendations made on boundar­ies and zoning within the south-east network. The result is that, whilst the network is larger and more representative of the region than was the original proposal, it also has far less impact on the fishing industry. So it is really a win-win scenario for Victorians.

Unfortunately, current developments with regard to the remaining four marine biore­gional plans are not as positive. The core issue that other speakers have mentioned, and which I will go to in my comments, is that this bill goes to the fact that the minister has complete discretion and Labor ministers are not handling the great responsibilities before them in a manner that is giving stakeholders of any persuasion, at any end of the spectrum, confidence in the marine bioregional planning process or indeed any planning process currently before us.

The Rudd and Gillard Labor governments have not adopted a balanced approach to marine protected areas and they have not engaged in appropriate levels of consultation with local communities, with affected commercial industries or with marine recrea­tional interests. Environmental groups have said that they also have felt left out by the federal government when it comes to genuine consultation. This approach taken by Labor has created incredible anxiety and uncertainty in the fishing industry right around our nation. Coastal communities are wise to the fact that this Labor government's track record is that it will only hear from fringe green groups rather than the people who actually use, manage, live in and work in our fisheries on a daily basis. It is not just in this area, as I mentioned earlier. Just look at the track record of unilateral decisions by Labor ministers. My colleague Senator Williams spoke so knowingly about the decisions by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry around live cattle exports. The flip-flopping that went on there, with the TV program, the conversations with green groups, the conversations with other people and the ministerial decision-making process have led to a lot of uncertainty within that industry and within those communities. Similarly, there was the minister's approach to consultation on the Murray-Darling Basin, particularly in the first iteration. There is their ability to impact and their being beholden to, if you like, a certain end of the spectrum and how that is playing out in local communities in relation to uncertainty.

Again, on a particular issue concerning the granddaughter of a high country cattleman, there was a decision by Minister Burke to override the state government and ban grazing of cattle in the high country. Particularly when you look at the number of sambar deer and brumbies that are up there, and the number of cattle that are going in, it just does not make sense. So we are seeing ministers not making decisions on a scienti­fic basis or not taking all the information and all the impacts of their decisions into account. That is something that the coalition is concerned about, and I think it is something that all those who are interested in the good governance of our great nation need to be concerned about.

We now have to take the minister at face value when he says that he has all the information required, and there is no ability for the parliament to scrutinise the decision or for both ends of the spectrum to examine the minister's decisions and feed into that. I think it cuts both ways, and this is where I am really surprised at the Greens' perspective on this particular bill before us. What happens when we do not have a minister who is beholden to environmental interests, who is not captured by the Greens but rather by the other extreme? Surely we need a balanced approach, and that is what is this bill attempts to deliver: a mechanism to protect the environment from extremism.

The commercial fishing industry is Australia's sixth largest primary producer. In my home state about 721,000 Victorians enjoy recreational fishing. I am not one of them. I have never had much success with dropping in a line, despite living not far from beautiful Inverloch, but I know plenty of people who are mad keen fishermen. There are about 850 commercial fishery access licences in Victoria, and these operations land about $120 million worth of fresh seafood at Victorian ports each year. As Senator Williams said, we want to be able to manage these fisheries appropriately so that Australians can have access to high-quality food that is managed in a sustainable and appropriate way. Obviously this is what bioregional plans seek to do. What we do not want is unilateral decision making by ministers that are captured by those at either end of spectrums and philosophies.

When is the Gillard Labor government going to get it into its head that a nation that cannot feed itself is at the mercy of others whose interest in us may not be as benign as getting a good price for its exports and whose quality controls on their food production may be not be of a standard that Australians expect? I thank Senator Waters for the comments she made during her contribution about the Greens being very keen for and supportive of compensation measures for the industry regarding any adverse impacts—particularly as it is obviously a philosophy of the Greens to have some conversation about compensation measures for communities right throughout the Murray-Darling Basin for whom there will be a socioeconomic impact because of the 7,600 gigs they want to take out that system and the flow-on effects of that policy. I really look forward to sitting down with Senator Waters and discussing what sorts of compensation measures the Greens would be interested in supporting, given that the 7,600 gigs they want to take out of those commu­nities will absolutely devastate regional communities right throughout the basin and the economic basis on which they have been built. I will put a call in, I guess.

The coalition believes there is a need for conservation of our important marine biology, but future decisions on marine protected areas should consider peer-reviewed scientific evidence on threats to biodiversity before great swathes of ocean are locked up for all eternity. This bill is the opportunity for parliament to add a vital democratic check to the process, a process that has the potential to adversely affect the livelihood and future of millions of Austra­lians. So I support this bill. The declaration of bioregional plans in marine protected areas has significant environmental and socioeconomic consequences right through­out these communities that reside along our coast and indeed for our markets, our fishmongers and our small businesses in our capital cities and right throughout our nation. They should be given a chance to have their say in both houses of parliament on any decisions that will adversely affect them. It is therefore inappropriate for these declarations to be made without the opportunity for review. As a conservative, I abhor concen­trated power—hence, I am a senator—and I look forward to supporting this bill and I thank Senator Colbeck for bringing it before the Senate.