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Thursday, 9 February 2012
Page: 527


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (11:30): I rise to support the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Bioregional Plans) Bill 2011, which was introduced, Mr Deputy President, by our state colleague Senator the Hon. Richard Colbeck. I note that 75 percent of the Tasmanian Liberal Senate team is in the chamber to support Senator Colbeck's very well thought out legislation. There is no doubt that Senator Colbeck, in his role as the shadow spokesman on fisheries, has taken a very consultative approach to his portfolio. This approach is being hailed by both the professional and the amateur fishing sectors. The fishing sector tells me that this approach is in stark contrast to that which the ALP-Green alliance government is trying to inflict upon the people of Australia with its so-called marine bioregional plans. Senator Colbeck seeks to consult rather than to dictate to the fishing sector. That comes through loud and clear to me when I have discussions with the fishing sector. They tell me that he listens rather than hectors. This is another lesson that the Australian Labor Party and their Greens partners in the alliance might learn from Senator Colbeck.

The purpose of this legislation is to ensure that any marine protected areas or biore­gional plans which have genuine and significant economic, environmental and social impacts be instruments reviewable by this parliament. Labor has deliberately sought to ensure that any decision they make is beyond the reach of the parliament. They want it to be the case that, simply by the signature of the minister, these so-called plans and protected areas come into force without their being subject to review by the parliament. What arrogance this is—what hubris! Why are they doing this? They are doing it because the plan and the protected areas are to be dictated to them by the Australian Greens. We all know that this is just another example of the green tail wagging the Labor dog. You can have these marine protected areas if you apply common sense. The coalition accepts and acknowled­ges that it makes sense. Indeed, in his second reading speech introducing the bill, Senator Colebeck set out in very great detail the coalition's proud history of marine protect­ion. The vital ingredient that stood out in Senator Colbeck's recounting of the coali­tion's history in this area, in contrast to the propositions of the ALP on marine protection, was balance. The coalition had balance, which Labor of its own accord—let alone with the influence that the Australian Greens have on everything this government seeks to do—is simply unable to achieve.

There is a marine park in the south-east area of Australia around Tasmania. I recall it well because I was the federal Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation at the time of its establishment, and I remember the consultations I had with Senator Colbeck and other members of the Tasmanian Liberal Senate team as we developed that protected area. I was very pleased that at the end of the day we had the sign-off of the conservation movement, the recreational fishers and the professional fishers—we got the balance right. It took time and it took consultation; it also meant applying the science. I pay great tribute to TAFI, the Tasmanian Aquaculture and Fisheries Institute, which is so ably led by Professor Colin Buxton, for their wonderful work in getting the science in amongst the environmental mantra. When you get that balance right, you can in fact satisfy everybody. I recall some of the battles we had, which were necessary because other­wise the fishing industry and recreational fishing would have been hurt badly. Let us underestimate neither the importance of fishing, both professional and recreational, to the communities all around our coastlines nor indeed the importance of fishing as a social and recreational activity—the opportu­nities to bond with family and friends—to people who live in the cities and suburbs who are willing to travel great distances to enjoy the great Australian outdoors. It is a great Australian pastime, and it should not be hindered by artificial marine parks which serve no genuine environmental purpose and in fact cause great economic damage.

I still remember that certain people were suggesting that the zoned-off areas in the Tasmanian marine park be close to shore and that fishermen only be allowed to catch fish 200 kilometres, or whatever it was, offshore. The very sensible suggestion was made: why would you want the fishermen to have to burn fossil fuels to get 200 kilometres out; why do you not have the biomarine protected area at the 200-kilometre zone and allow the fishers to fish in the area that is closer to shore? It makes economic sense for exactly the same environmental outcome. They are the sorts of things we were able to achieve. Indeed, in one of the areas just off the east coast of Tasmania, there was to be a protected area in which recreational fishers had a longstanding tradition of conducting competitions. When I asked about the purpose of the marine protected area in this particular case, we were told it was for its benthic values. That was a term I learned at the time. I did not know what it meant, but it is the sea floor. I said, 'If we are concerned about the benthic values, the sea floor values, what is the matter with recreational fishing boats floating across the top trawling for fish if their hooks et cetera do not even touch the bottom of the sea floor?' We were able to make that compromise to allow recreational fishing to continue.

It is that sort of balance and consultation that Senator Colbeck brings to this place with his bill. It is worth while doing and doing properly. But the problem is that if you give in to the Green mantra you do not want to consult. That is why the government does not want consultation and does not want parliamentary review, because the extreme nature of the way the Australian Greens are dictating policy to this Labor government would be exposed.

Senator Siewert interjecting

Senator ABETZ: We finally have a Greens senator expressing some interest in this bill by coming into the chamber, which I welcome. It is very interesting that wild sea fisheries have to be sustainable and, of course, in being sustainable there is a limit to the catch. So what does one do? It would make sense, would it not, to start engaging in fish farming? Fish farming is an activity that we do in Tasmania exceptionally well. It is world renowned, a growth industry, a value-add industry, a job-creating industry and an export-earning-dollars industry. It is great for our economy. Fish is an essential ingredient for a human balanced diet and the scientific evidence is there, that if you can eat more fish the healthier you will be. But there is pressure on wild sea fisheries; so, if the human race wants to eat more fish, we have to start farming them.

But what do the Australian Greens do in my home state of Tasmania? They seek to oppose every new fish farm and the extension of every fish farm. This is the closed-for-business approach of the Australian Greens. Sure, on their salaries as senators or whatever else they might do, they might be able to afford a higher price for fish, but there are many people in the community that do want to consume fish. They know that there is a limit in the wild seas and that is why fish farming is so important—something we do so exception­ally well in Tasmania but something that the Australian Greens in Tasmania utterly oppose. The hapless government of Ms Giddings is paralysed to do anything about it and, as a result, the closed sign is up all over Tasmania, not only in the forestry area but also in the fisheries area and in the property development area. Those of us who live in Tasmania know the consequences of having a Greens-Labor alliance government stifling everything, and that has now been translated into Canberra as well, courtesy of the 2010 election and the dastardly deals that Ms Gillard did with the Australian Greens and some Independents.

Part of that deal was to ensure the suprem­acy of parliament. It was to ensure openness, accountability and transparency. If the Greens believe in all those values they wrote into their agreement—as did the Independ­ents in the other place—with Ms Gillard, I simply ask: where is the openness? Where is the transparency? Where is the accountabili­ty in relation to marine parks? Why do you want to put it beyond the reach of this parliament to investigate and vote upon?

If you are so confident that these marine parks are so good and wonderful, surely the logic and the scientific rigour of their assess­ments would convince every parliamentarian that they were a good thing—good for the community, good for the long-term wild sea fisheries et cetera. But, no, Labor and the Greens know that the task they have embarked upon is such that they do not want that sort of transparency or accountability, because they are scared of what it would reveal about their extreme agenda. Make no mistake: we are not just talking about lines on maps in relation to these marine parks; we are talking about the livelihoods of regional communities, we are talking about the livelihoods of small businesses and we are talking about the recreational activities of literally hundreds of thousands of Austra­lians all around the country. What we as a community can do and without doubt need to do is to live in harmony with nature, and we can do that. But one of the great problems that the Australian Greens have is they do not actually know where humankind fits in with nature. It is okay for seals to eat fish and for killer whales to eat seals, according to the Greens, but it seems that humankind is not allowed to catch fish for sustenance. That seems to be something that is very difficult for the Greens. They do not actually know where humankind fits into the scheme of things. That is their great dilemma. They nearly think that every human activity must of its nature be bad—and as a result they do not like fishing, they do not like forestry, they do not like plantations, and so the list goes on. In their comfort zones that is fine. But a lot of people actually do need the eco­nomic activity that is generated from fishing.

What we have shown is that we can have the economic activity combined with proper conservation for the maintenance of the species, and as a result we can enjoy the fruits of creation and enjoy that of which we are the stewards. We are not the preservers; we are the stewards. As we know, we cannot lock things up and expect them to be maintained exactly as they were at a given point in time, because things will change. In the forests there will be forest fires, or weeds or pigs or cats will get into them, so we need to manage them. It is the same with our seas, and if we manage them properly we can have them there for their rich biodiversity, and maintain it, and we can also have the richness that the seas provide to us in food, economic activity and recreational activity.

There is nothing wrong with that; these are all good, wholesome things. Indeed, fish are very good for you in our diet. We should be eating more of it—all the health special­ists tell us that. I thought the Greens were into alternative and preventative health, and can I say I am too. But one of the things you need for that is a bit of fish in your diet from time to time. Well, how do you do that if you want to close down the wild sea fisheries and you do not want to expand fish farms or to have fish farming? Where are we going to get our fish from? That is another one of the dilemmas the Greens have not answered.

I know there are some decent souls in this government but they are frustrated that they are locked into the alliance with the Austra­lian Greens. They should be taking stock of what this alliance means for them and their long-term supporters. The agenda of the Australian Greens, as reflected in the government's approach to this matter, is one that denies decent, hard workers from earn­ing a living and does not allow recreational activity, which is very important. That is why balance, the word I started off with, is so important. It is balance that Senator Colbeck is seeking to reintroduce into this debate with his well-thought-out bill, which is the result of the consultations he has undertaken. It is a bill based on common sense, not on the government Labor-Green alliance approach, which is built on hector­ing people and is the know-all, arrogant approach: 'We don't need the voice of the parliament and the input of the parliament in these matters. We will just make the decision and everybody else can go jump and live with the consequences of it.'

The bill that Senator Colbeck has worked on now for some time is an important bill that really does highlight and contrast the different approach that the coalition will take to government. That approach will be one of consulting and of getting the balance right, not of making policy at the behest of extreme environmental groups and at the behest of the Australian Greens. The sad thing is that I am sure the Labor voters and the coalition voters in this country are of a like mind on these issues. So we have to ask: how is it that, when 80 or 90 per cent of people are of a particular mind on an issue, the Greens seem to be able to dictate the policy? That is the matter of concern here, and that is something that we as the coalition are seeking to redress by this excellent bill.