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Thursday, 24 November 2011
Page: 9461

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (09:54): I congratulate Senator Farrell for his speech—well, on reading the Hon. Tony Burke's speech, quite clearly! Senator Farrell is a nice guy, but that was the most uncomfortable 12 minutes he has ever spent in his life, trying to deal with a bill that he clearly has no idea about. Your language and terminology gave you away, I am afraid, Senator Farrell. But good luck, congratu­lations—you got through it! I hope you never have to be put in that position again. Senator Farrell, contrary to what was in the written speech that you just completely read, in breach of standing orders, can I ask you to tell whoever wrote the speech—Mr Burke, I suspect—that actually we are talking about bioregional planning because of the coalition.

Let me give you a little bit of history, because it is obviously sadly lacking in the Australian Labor Party. The Howard government, under environment minister Robert Hill—whom, incidentally, I had the good fortune to have a beer with just last night—introduced the world's first oceans policy. We were the first nation in the world to actually implement a policy in relation to the vast oceans that surround Australia and for which Australia has responsibility. And as part of that oceans policy the bioregional planning was introduced.

In the early days under the coalition government that planning was introduced for the very best interests of marine conser­vation, for ensuring that our seas and oceans were well managed and well looked after. But it was done in a cooperative way. At the time I was the Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation and so I speak from first-hand experience. The first bioregional plan was the south-east Australian bioregional plan. It came up from the environment department, but my department and I, and the constituents I represented as fisheries minister, were uncertain about it. Similarly, those people who use the oceans—the transport people, miners, fishermen, recreational people—all had a view. The original proposal that came up was a bit one-sided. Then there followed, as I recall, up to two years of negotiation. At the end of the day, in relation to the south-east bioregional plan, I think 90 per cent of the people were 90 per cent happy. Not everyone got what they wanted but, in the end, by results through consultations, through discussions and through cooperation, we were able to get the south-east bioregional plan that clearly was the first of its kind. It has been successful. It has achieved all of its goals and outcomes. And it has done that without in any way impacting overly badly on any of the multiple users of the particular area.

When the Howard government left office we had started on the north-east bioregional plan and we had started on bioregional plans across Australia—but, again, moving cautiously, starting the long process of consultation. Regrettably, the Howard government was defeated. Then we had in government a bunch of people who are myopic when it comes to the environment, urged on by the Greens—in this instance the Green involved, I believe, does have a genuine interest in the area, but the Greens and their leadership always want to go that extra step. The department then lost interest. The department suffered from a lack of political leadership and the more rigid elements within the department took over—and we found that these bioregional plans were then being rammed through without any consultation. Time and time again, at estimates, I asked about the plan in the Gulf of Carpentaria—'Oh yes, there's lots of consultation going on' was the response. I spent a bit of time up in the Gulf of Carpentaria, and every time I went there I would say, 'But I've been told at estimates there's consultation going on', and they would say, 'Yes, they had some junior officer fly in from Cairns who landed, went and talked to a local Greens group, got on the plane and went home'—and that was the consultation. The fishermen and particularly the Indigenous people had absolutely no involvement, no respect shown to them, in relation to the bioregional plan for the Gulf of Carpentaria, and that continues today. I was up there just a few weeks ago, and the mayor of Carpentaria shire and the councillors, who happen to be Indigenous, from Mornington Island were telling me that these things were happening off Mornington Island and they did not even know that this regional planning process was going on.

Contrary to what Senator Farrell's speechwriter also said, this bill is about enhancing the protection of the marine park and the bioregional planning process of our oceans. It provides that bioregional plans will become disallowable instruments, which are subject to the Legislative Instruments Act. That is essential because this parliament needs to take control rather than those who would effectively shut everything down. It is very important that parliament takes over, that it takes control, of this bioregional planning process. It cannot be left to the Greens political party or some of the more radical green groups or some foreign so-called marine environmental group like the Pew foundation.

The Pew environmental group is an American organisation founded, I might say, thanks to the oil wells and oil money of people in good old downtown Louisiana or somewhere in the south of America years ago who obviously wanted to salve their conscience by putting in lots of money to set up this environmental group. But they do not bother about looking after all the environmental ills in the Gulf of Mexico, where perhaps they might have some relevance; instead, they try to tell Australians, who have some of the best managed fisheries and the best managed oceans anywhere in the world, what to do. We do not want those sorts of people to be in charge of this process. What we want is for this parliament to have its say. That is a fairly unusual proposition in this chamber at the present time.

We are a democracy. We think that parliament should rule, but we have had the farce in the last couple of weeks of 10 to12 bills being passed through this parliament with not a word being said on them—not a word of support, not a word of objection, not a word of accountability. Thanks to the Greens political party and the Australian Labor Party, a dozen bills have passed through this parliament with not a word being spoken on them. We have had perhaps the most complex piece of legislation in the 18 carbon tax bills rammed through this parliament without any proper scrutiny and, again, with many in that package of 18 bills not even being looked at or even being spoken upon, yet we have voted on them—and they have been some of the most complex and far-reaching pieces of legislation we have seen.

As I said, the concept of having parliament rule is a concept that is sadly unknown in this chamber these days. I am so disappointed with the Greens political party. Once upon a time they used to say: 'Isn't it marvellous that parliament can have its say; it should scrutinise everything; it should keep the government accountable.' Nowa­days the Greens political party are part of the process of shutting parliament down. I wonder sometimes why any of us bother coming in here. What are we getting paid for? Because in this chamber we are not able to actually debate government legislation.

What this bill does, at least in relation to the bioregional planning process, is bring some parliamentary oversight into the process. Who could argue with that? That is why I congratulate Senator Colbeck and Senator Boswell for the work they have done on this legislation. One of the things that concern us and which I know was a factor in the introduction of this bill is the proposal by the American Pew environmental group to shut down Australia's Coral Sea. It is a bit like the forestry debates of old. They come here and say: 'The Coral Sea is such a pristine area that we need to shut it down. We need to keep everyone out of it.' Yet it sort of belies the argument of why it is such a pristine area. It is a pristine area because Australia has managed the Coral Sea so well since the Second World War.

The Coral Sea has been carefully managed. The amount of commercial fishing in the Coral Sea is infinitesimal. What is there is very well managed by Australia's world-class Australian Fisheries Manage­ment Authority. Yet what the Greens, what the Wilderness Society, what other radical green groups and what the Pew foundation want to do is to shut it down. Cleverly, they have got a couple of fishermen to join their bandwagon. Let me tell you about that, Mr Acting Deputy President. I am not defaming or demeaning any of these fishermen. If I were in their situation, I would probably do the same.

The Pew people went to the fishermen and said: 'Look, you're not making much out of this fishery,' and the fishermen said, 'No, we're not; it is so tightly controlled. It's a good fishery but tightly controlled. It is not terribly profitable. It is a long way away. To get there costs us a lot in fuel.' Fuel under Labor governments is exorbitant. Because of Labor policies and their inability to manage money, fuel is a very expensive item these days. So the Pew people said to these fishermen, 'What if we get the government to give you $5 million for your licences?' The eyes of the fishermen lit up and they thought, 'Gee, this is a superannuation policy we would never have.' So the Pew people got a number of fishermen. I do not blame the fishermen. They were struggling. It is an expensive fishery and Pew have come along and said: 'Why don't you join with us? We'll close it down. We'll get this Labor lot in Canberra—because we practically control them these days—to offer you a few bob and that will be a good superannuation policy for you.' That negates the importance of Australia remaining its own master.

It is a bit like 'We will decide what happens with our waters, not some American environmental group'—supported, I might say, by some of the radical green elements in Australia who have already destroyed the very sustainable logging industry in Australia. They are out to destroy what is left of the fishing industry. They tried to destroy the northern beef cattle industry and with this government in power you would not be sure that they would not succeed in that in the not-too-distant future.

This bill puts control back into the parliament and it will allow sensible management of the Coral Sea to continue. I am not sure if all senators are aware of just how important the Coral Sea is to our commercial fishing industry. It is not a big fishery nor a terribly profitable one but it does bring in fresh fish for consumption by Australian consumers. If the Greens and the Labor Party continue, we are going to have to import all of our fish from the fishponds of Vietnam or Thailand being grown in conditions which some say are not very environmentally sustainable. But the fishery, small though it is, does supply fresh fish to the Australian market, and that is good for all of us.

In addition to that and perhaps the bigger aspect is the recreational fishing industry. Most senators would not have any real concept of what is involved. The Coral Sea is not the Great Barrier Reef, as many in these debates would have you believe; it is beyond the Great Barrier Reef. It is pristine water because it has been well managed by Australia but it is beyond the Great Barrier Reef. We are not talking about the Great Barrier Reef here although, as I say, many protagonists of the Labor government's approach would have you believe that it is.

Senator McLucas interjecting

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I am glad Senator McLucas is here. Senator McLucas sometimes lives in Cairns. She represents that area in the Senate as a senator for Queensland. She will know better than anyone the enormous employment opportunities that are created in the Cairns region—and, dear me, they are desperately needed after the Labor government shut down the shipbuilding industry in Cairns—in what we used to call the marlin bait fishery, the recreational fishermen. People fly in from New York on the overnight plane, land in Cairns, pay $10,000 or $20,000 to get on a boat, with three or four crew, and go out to the Coral Sea, catch some billfish, tag them, kiss them, record them, send the science data back to Australia's fisheries management people and come back to Cairns, get on the plane and fly back to America or Germany or wherever they come from. It is these people who contribute millions and millions of dollars to the Cairns economy and it is these people who are the most vociferous opponents of the Pew environmental group and their influence on Labor and the Greens in this parliament. They see this industry being destroyed.

It is not just the boats themselves that go out into the Coral Sea, it is all of the support industries: the boating industries, the marine industries, the tackle industries, the bait industry. It is all those young people who form the crew on those boats and who give Cairns that young and vibrant image. I have not taken a survey but I suspect that many of the crew are probably those backpackers from foreign lands who are on work visas here who come out and understand the magnificence of Cairns and North Queens­land, northern Australia, and they get these jobs while they are doing it. All of this could be put at risk if the Pew environmental group have their way with the Greens, the radical environment groups and the Labor Party. So it is absolutely essential that this bill be passed so that control of these bioregional planning matters comes back into the parliament of Australia.

I have said that our fisheries are well managed but the 2009 fisheries status report of fisheries done every year shows that 72.3 per cent of Australia's fish stocks are not subject to overfishing and since 2004, an important date, the percentage of healthy fish stocks—that is, those that are not overfished—has increased from 27 per cent to 58 per cent. In this business not many others will praise you so I will do a bit of self-praise and say that as fisheries minister back in those times that was a goal that we had, to increase that not overfished regime from 27 per cent. I am delighted to see that, as a result of many of the initiatives the Howard government put in in those days, that has got up to 58 per cent and, given good marine management, good fisheries management, we can improve on that. It cost Australia a bit of money but we did it and we were happy to do it.

The basic tenet of this bill is that parliament should have oversight on the bioregional planning process. I cannot think what objection those senators from whatever party who believe in the supremacy of parliament would have to this. Let the scientists, let the public servants, let the bureaucrats, let the industry help do what they do, but let parliament have oversight so that if perchance there has been a mistake made people can lobby parliamentarians, who can raise the issue in the chamber. If the bioregional planning is disallowed then it goes back to the drawing board with an instruction to the bureaucrats to come back with something better, something that does have widespread support and something that will enhance Australia's reputation.

As the party that introduced the world's first ocean policy, introduced the bioregional planning process, this is a logical further step from us, and I would certainly urge senators to support this and bring parliament back into the process.