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Thursday, 9 February 2012
Page: 523

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South Wales) (11:10): I too rise to support Senator Colbeck's bill, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Bioregional Plans) Bill 2011. In so doing, I ask myself why those opposite are so against this legislation. Why are they opposed to greater scrutiny of marine bioregional plans and the declaration of marine parks in Commonwealth waters?

Senator Colbeck's bill, which proposes an amendment to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, will make bioregional plans disallowable instru­ments. The reason we are here debating this today is in direct response to what has been another bungle by the Australian Labor Party, this time in relation to the marine bioregional planning process to date.

Why should this surprise us? This government has had a litany of bungles. We have seen the pink batts—they cannot put fluffy stuff in people's roofs without people dying as a consequence. We have seen the bungling of the Julia Gillard memorial halls. Health has been one unmitigated disaster after another, which I have—

Senator Polley: A bit like when Tony Abbott was minister.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: No, that is not true, Senator Polley, and you know it. The research from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows that that is not the case. You know it, and every time that you raise that you are lying to this chamber.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Marshall ): Order! You will withdraw that, Senator Fierravanti-Wells.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I will withdraw that. And every time—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Fierravanti-Wells!

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I withdraw my comment.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Yes. I also ask you to direct your comments through the chair.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. Every time those opposite raise that misrepresentation they know it is not true. I have repeatedly quoted chapter and verse in this chamber from the research from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Senator Polley interjecting

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: You know it is not true, so do not keep repeating the same old drivel and babble, Senator Polley.

Now we shall return to the matter before us, which is the bungling of the marine bioregional planning process to date. Senator Colbeck's legislation introduces an amend­ment that is a simple step to allow scrutiny by both houses of parliament, and to allow the opportunity to disallow a bioregional plan that does not adopt a balanced approach to marine conservation. The effect of this amendment would be to protect stakeholders and communities against the potential for a minister to make a distorted decision. We have seen plenty of those in the history of the Rudd and Gillard governments, and this would be another opportunity where there would be no scrutiny.

We are talking about a very large area for these proposed marine bioregional plans; it is huge. It is more than seven million kilome­tres. Under the present arrangement the sole authority with the ability to sign off on these plans is the Minister for Sustaina­bility, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Tony Burke, so long as he remains the minister. Of course, the reason for this angst and what has been clearly obvious from the many submissions that have been provided to the Senate committee inquiry in relation to this is precisely this lack of transparency and the consequences of this.

Now that we have this Greens-Australian Labor Party alliance, it is very clear who is pulling the strings in this process. It is very clear from the tenor of the Senate report that it is really the Greens pulling the strings here, and it was very clear from the report that was tabled that this is really about the Greens agenda. But I will come to the Greens agenda in a moment. One has only to look at the marine and coastal areas part of their policy released at the last federal election to see just how antifishing their manifesto is—and, of course, 'manifesto' is the appropriate word to use in relation to Greens policies because, as we heard from Senator Sinodinos and as we may hear again at other times, the Greens are the closest thing that we have in Australia to the remnants of the Communist Party. One has only to look at what they say in their manifesto about their antifishing stance. Their primary concern is purely in relation to conservation and protection. It is not about balancing the interests of conservation and the interests of the users such as the fishers. It is only one-sided, and it is there. It is reduction in fishing. It is reduction in habitat damage from commercial and recreational fishing and other marine activities. That is what the focus of the Greens agenda is here, and that is why the coalition is seeking this amendment, because this is what this is all about. This is all about another give to the Greens and another payback for the Greens-Australian Labor Party alliance.

I look now to the practical effect of this. At the last federal election, one of the most lasting images for me was the number of bumper stickers, particularly in New South Wales, that said, 'I fish and I vote.' This was an issue that created angst up and down the coast in New South Wales—and I speak most particularly about New South Wales even though that angst was shared right around Australia. It was a huge issue last year. Let me just take two areas in particular. I will focus on two seats, Cowper and Paterson. The member for the federal seat of Cowper, Mr Hartsuyker, tabled a petition of 10,000 signatures on 23 May last year. This petition from concerned residents was about their real and heartfelt concerns over the government's plan to prevent commercial and recreational fishing in waters off the New South Wales North Coast. In tabling the petition, Mr Hartsuyker drew the attention of the other place to the devastating impact that a reduction in fishing will have on tourism and local economies. I would just like to refer to a couple of points that he made. One is that, if anyone had any doubts whatsoever about how important fishing is to the tourism industry, 55 per cent of the people who signed this petition were from outside his electorate. This was despite the fact that the petition was distributed only within the Cowper electorate. It goes to show just how important fishing is to the local tourism industry. Of course, the last election was against the background, particularly in New South Wales, of the damage that recreational and commercial fishers have already sustain­ed as a consequence of the New South Wales Labor deal with the Greens, which saw large areas of state marine parks made into no-go fishing zones. So naturally, again, the fishing industry—the recreational and commercial fishers—are justifiably concerned about the impact that this legislation will have on them.

I now move to another area, the federal seat of Paterson. Constituents in Mr Baldwin's electorate—he is the member for Paterson—have made contact with his office in relation to this. Senator Ronaldson was talking about meetings in Corangamite. The member for Paterson also had meetings with hundreds of angry fishermen, both commer­cial and recreational, regarding Labor's lack of consultation on the marine park process. Their concerns were very clear. For example, there were two meetings, at Forster and Shoal Bay, which were hosted by Mr Baldwin and Senator Colbeck, which more than 400 people attended, the majority of whom were furious over Labor's lack of con­sultation. So this is really about consultation.

I have also become aware that this matter will naturally result in financial and economic loss, and it will not be surprising if this whole process leads to some legal issues being raised regarding not only the lack of consultation but the effect on rights and the commercial consequences of this. It would not surprise me to see legal matters being raised and pursued against the Common­wealth to this effect.

Let us have a look at some of the issues that were raised in the submissions to the Senate committee inquiry. One was from the Australian Fishing Trade Association:

AFTA asks that you also consider the social impacts, the health and wellbeing benefits of recreational fishing and the financial ramifications to the many small businesses that depend on the investment provided to their businesses by recreational fishers. Many regional and coastal towns are dependent on recreational fishers for their financial existence.

This is clearly not a matter that the Australian Labor Party or their Greens alliance partners are concerned about.

There are two other interesting points I would like to highlight from that submission. One was about the science surrounding bioregional planning. The submission made it very clear:

To date no briefing regarding the science being used with Bio Regional Planning has been transparently tabled to stake holders. Thus no comment from stake holders has been achieved.

This vacuum of information has not been helpful in any understanding of current process, future process or past process.

What does that tell you? As usual, this is a government that, quite frankly, does not know what it is doing. That is not surprising: it does not really know what it is doing on a whole range of areas; why would it know what it is doing in relation to bioregional planning? The submission goes on to say:

No Socio economic information regarding communities that may be affected by the Bio Regional Planning process has been made available to Stake holders.

Surprise, surprise!

I go to another submission, by the Australia Marine Engine Council, which made some very interesting comments, most explicitly about the adverse financial implications of this legislation and its surrounding measures. As I said earlier, the total bioregional zones cover an area of seven million square kilometres. The total bioregional zones are equivalent to 92 per cent of Australia's landmass and the zones under current consideration are 70 per cent of the size of Australia. These implications were raised by the Australia Marine Engine Council:

Australia has the third largest fishing zone in the world covering an area of about 9 million klm2.

The commercial fishing industry is the nation's fifth largest primary industry with a value of $1.6 billion each year.

Australia's catches are relatively small by world standards

The total catch in Australian waters is only a small fraction of the catch taken in other fishing nations.

The key financial implications that this and other submissions have raised as needing to be considered are the costs to commercial and recreational fishing. Fishing is the only activity banned in all marine parks. I repeat: fishing is the only activity banned in all marine parks. As the Marine Engine Council points out in its submission, boating is not banned; tourism is not banned; diving is not banned; snorkelling is not banned; human entry is not banned; walking on coral is not banned; anchoring on coral is not banned; commercial shipping is not banned; oil tankers are not banned or restricted in all marine parks.

As the submission points out:

Marine Park Authorities frequently use the term “fully protected” but marine parks do not fully protect marine life.

This ban on fishing is the only protection which the council argues is being afforded to marine reserves. What are the hidden costs to Australians? The submission goes on to talk about some of these hidden costs to Australians. It states:

Bans on commercial fishing have a direct and measurable financial effect. Traditionally Commercial Fishers are compensated by a buyout of fishing licences and permits. Commercial fishermen then sell their boats and other assets or more commonly buy a licence in a different area, and so commercial fishing is frequently displaced rather than removed.

What, then, is the effect on the Australian consumer? The submission clearly points out:

Australian consumers however are not compensated and do not so readily 'move on'. Despite our huge coastline relative to our population, in 2007‐2008 Australia became a net importer of fisheries products, both in terms of volume and in terms of value. Australia is now a net importer of seafood. We import more than we export.

What does that mean in practical terms to our consumers? It means that we are buying imported fish, sometimes, as this submission says, of debatable quality, and it talks about some of those varieties. What does all this come down to? It not only comes down to this government being averse to proper scrutiny by this parliament but also means that we will not and cannot have a balanced approach to marine conservation.

The coalition has a very good record in this area. In his speech, Senator Colbeck outlined the very good history that coalition governments have had in this area. The coalition started the process of establishing comprehensive marine bioregional plans, which include determination of marine protected areas around Australia's coastline. As part of that process, we engaged, and rightly so, in extensive and cooperative consultation before marine protected areas were declared. This consultation ensured that an appropriate balance was struck between protecting our marine biodiversity and minimising the social and economic impact on fishers, businesses and coastal commu­nities, some of which I have raised in my speech today. Overall, it was a process that would achieve better outcomes for everyone. The final result would have been a greater protected area with less impact on industry. The history of the coalition government, including its record of consultation, is traversed also in the dissenting report of the coalition senators. In contrast, the Gillard government does not have a track record of effective consultation. For example, in my own shadow portfolio of mental health we have recently seen the government having to backflip in yet another area. They arbitrarily cut visits to psychologists for people with severe mental illness. There was no consult­ation whatsoever, and then the minister had to do a backflip. Minister Roxon did some­thing similar with the social workers and the occupational therapists—going in there with no consultation and making the arbitrary decision, saying 'if this is what the Greens want, we will do it' and forgetting the impact on patients. In this case the impact on the recreational and commercial fishers is forgotten; but the coalition is committed to returning balance and fairness to marine conservation. (Time expired)