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Thursday, 24 November 2011
Page: 9465

Senator BERNARDI (South Australia) (10:14): It is a great pleasure to follow Senator Ian Macdonald, a man whose knowledge of Australian fisheries and environmental protection measures is, I would say, second in this chamber only to that of Senator Richard Colbeck. Among the very good points that Senator Macdonald made, one that particularly resonated with me was the fact that in this place we often do not recognise the skills and talents of others in a public fashion, and I want to praise, firstly, Senator Macdonald, for his outstanding contribution in this area over many years as a minister—and indeed as a shadow parliamentary secretary he has maintained his interest, for the people of Australia—and, secondly, Senator Colbeck, whose initiative it was to bring forward the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Bioregional Plans) Bill 2011.

Outside the specifics of what it addresses, in essence this bill also speaks volumes about the coalition's approach to parlia­mentary scrutiny. Parliamentary account­ability, openness and transparency are hallmarks of the coalition's ethos in government and accordingly, by introducing this bill, Senator Colbeck is saying that we would like the parliament to be able to maintain its voice on how Australia's fisheries and biodiverse zones are managed. That is a very simple proposition. It is a proposition that is put forward by a man who has a commitment to openness and trans­parency—a Tasmanian senator. I cannot help but contrast the attitude of Senator Colbeck from Tasmania and, perhaps, one of his Tasmanian colleagues, Senator Bob Brown from the Greens party. Senator Bob Brown has this week continued to vote against allowing scrutiny and discussion of bills. It is called the guillotine motion, Mr Acting Deputy President Back; of course, you would be well aware of that. In my time in this place it is unprecedented for bills to be put through with not a word of debate, not a skerrick of discussion, not any examination of things that are important to the Australian people. I think that is outrageous. I think it is wrong. I think it makes a mockery of our democratic system and makes a mockery of this place. It devalues the contribution that every single senator makes in this place. And so I contrast the attitude of the Greens, and the Tasmanian Greens in particular, with the attitude of Senator Richard Colbeck, a great Tasmanian senator with a firm commitment to this area

I come back to this point: if parliament is not able to enter into a discussion about serious matters, about matters that pertain to an economic area and region that in fact is greater than Australia's total land mass—I am talking about our marine zones—then why are we here? Why are we here if at the stroke of a pen a minister can make any decision that he likes in respect of the economic livelihood or mining—

Senator McEwen: Or she!

Senator BERNARDI: Or she—yes indeed, Senator McEwen. It may be the case that you might get your gig as the environmental minister at some point; but I am not sure about that. Forgive me; I will not be a slave to political correctness, Mr Acting Deputy President, so I will just continue to refer to the generic 'minister'. Why is it that a minister can make these sorts of decisions without any reference to the parliament? Why is it that a minister can impact, affect, devastate, enhance the economic livelihood of so many Australians and the recreational interests of Australians without any reference to this parliament? The flaws in that approach are being highlighted not only by Senator Colbeck and Senator Macdonald but also by Senator Ron Boswell, who is a champion of freedom for people up there in Northern Queensland. So when Senator Colbeck introduced this bill it was not just about the marine parks and biodiversity; it was really about openness and transparency in government. There are occasions of course when ministers will have to have some level of discretion in going about their business, but you can have more confidence in the discretionary decision-making process when there is a substantial track record of goodwill and experience, I would guess, in making appropriate decisions.

In respect of fisheries, from my point of view as a proud South Australian I recognise the contribution of our Southern Bluefin Tuna Fishery. Some of my good friends are involved in that industry, and I make no bones about that. I support that industry not only as a great employer in South Australia; it is a great export earner and indeed it provides the financial lifeblood of that fantastic city Port Lincoln, in South Australia. As a regular visitor to Port Lincoln I cannot tell you, Mr Acting Deputy President, how many times the residents of that great place have asked me: 'What are the government doing to the tuna fishery? Why won't they fight for Australian interests, and South Australian interests in particular?'

It is a longstanding discussion. When we were in government and Senator Abetz was the minister, the international tuna association was found to have overfished in a number of countries, and quota reductions and penalties were necessary in order not only to penalise the countries that had done the wrong thing but also to ensure that tuna stocks were sustainable into the future. When we were in government, Senator Abetz went to that meeting and championed the cause of the South Australian tuna industry because they had been doing the right thing by fishing within their quotas, adding value where they possibly could and making sure that they had a sustainable crop that would continue to fuel the growth of the Eyre Peninsula, in part, and Port Lincoln more specifically. I contrast that with when Minister Garrett was charged with the same process. Rather than going there and fighting for Australian interests, Minister Garrett and his crew—no pun intended—just fell over and said, 'Yes, cut our tuna quota by 25 per cent.' They just gave it up like that. Overnight, that devastated the city of Port Lincoln. It put many, many people out of work; it took tens of millions of dollars out of the economy; it disrupted entrepreneurs' balance sheets; it disrupted businesses; and it said to them, 'We cannot plan with any certainty because of the slavish attitude of this government minister.' We know that Minister Garrett has a particular peccadillo in regard to tuna because when he was President of the Australian Conservation Foundation their stated goal was to ban any tuna fishing whatsoever—conventional, harvesting of tuna. This is an extreme approach. It is akin to the approach of that organisation, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, who tried to rename fish 'sea kittens' in order to stop people catching them. It is just bizarre. It is not grounded in reality. But this is the man who was appointed to be the environment minister and was put in charge of the environmental outcomes of our tuna fishery.

Quite frankly, it is very reasonable, given the track record in this area and the genuine concerns that some of us have about the livelihood of many hard-working men and women who are attached to the fishing industry, to ask: why would we want a minister in the government ideologically bound to stopping commercial fishing, to disrupting it? He is ideologically bound because the government is captive to a minority movement, an extreme movement, that does not want to see a sustainable approach of man utilising the god-given resources in a sustainable manner to feed and fuel Australia's future prosperity. That movement is the Greens movement. We know that; we have see it every single day in this place. It is littered with an unrealistic approach in which man is seen as some sort of cancer on the planet, and if we were not here the fish would be free to swim as wild as they possibly can and the animals could grow and prosper.

Quite frankly, Australians need to prosper. Our nation needs to grow and develop. You cannot entrust this sort of heavy-handed lone wolf approach to the livelihoods of individuals to any minister without parlia­mentary scrutiny, at least not with this government. The essence of Senator Colbeck's bill is that it makes the declaration of marine bioregional plans a disallowable instrument. At the moment these marine bioregional plans are deemed by the act not to be a legislative instrument and thus they are shielded from parliamentary scrutiny.

This bill is not about the government's declaration of marine protected areas. It is about whether the parliament has the right to have its say and do the job we are elected to do. That is all we are asking. We want to be able to do the job that we have been elected to do. Unfortunately, this week we have not been able to do that job because of the intransigence of the government and the Green movement teaming up to stifle debate.

I am a great believer in freedom of speech. Even if I do not like what is being said we should be able to have a battle of the ideas and the arguments. We should be able to have that openly to ventilate them fully, not only in this place but out there in the public discourse. But when a parliament has been effectively shut down, when our legislators have been muzzled, when we are not allowed to make a single contribution—not one of us is allowed to make a single contribution on any bill in this place—it says that we are only a step or two away from tyranny.

They are big words, but we should never forget the freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom in general is never more than a generation away. If we start to accept the fact that individuals can ride roughshod over this parliament, that individuals can make determinations about what this parliament can and cannot talk about, and it is followed blindly by members on the other side of this chamber, we start to have a problem.

I notice that Senator Bob Brown chipped in during the debates this week that this was just democracy. Well, it is democracy indeed, and ultimately the judgment will be rendered by the Australian people. I think the Australian people will be most concerned to find out that their elected parliamentarians are not allowed to discuss bills of great importance and interest to them.

In saying that, I accept that there are times when the parliament's time is short, never more so than this year because we have had fewer sitting weeks this year than in previous years. There is always the opportunity to have more sitting weeks. I know my colleagues on this side of the chamber are certainly very happy to come back next week so that we can fully explore the nuances of the government's and the Green's legislative agenda on behalf of our constituents, whom we are here to represent after all, and in particular our states.

For example, with respect to South Australia, one of the marine conservation zones that is being included in this bill runs from Kangaroo Island, just south of Adelaide—a magnificent place, a wonderful place not only for tourism but also a very productive place for the farming and fishing communities there and, indeed, there is a lot of aquaculture going on there as well—right up into the nib of the Nullarbor Plain in Western Australia. That is a massive zone that has an enormous impact on South Australia's wealth and, of course, the migratory habits of a lot of the fish that are captured and harvested, and farmed indeed in Port Lincoln as well.

Another significant point—it was made by Senator Macdonald and I pick up on it—is the recreational fishing market. I am a recreational angler. I can assure you that the fish are most safe from me catching them; I have not caught too much at all, but I love going fishing. I understand it is a very important industry, not only financially for many retailers, bait shops and people who are involved from that perspective; it is actually important to the welfare and wellbeing of Australians. It is very therapeutic for people to go out and put a line in the water, and hopefully catch themselves a feed. If you can catch a King George whiting or a squid, or something else, you have a fantastic day out and you get to feed your family.

We have already seen the South Australian state government trying to introduce marine zones and exempt recreational fishing. There has been a lot of push-back from the community of course, not least of all those who have bought holiday homes and boats on the coast, who just want to pop out and catch fish in the bay, close to home. There are instances where these zones are going to stop that from happening. What do you think happens to the property prices of a place where you are not allowed to fish or that is not easily accessible in a small boat? These sorts of things devastate local communities and they are done because there is a complete lack of consultation, there is a lack of awareness and there is a lack of interest in regional com­munities by most of the Labor Party. That is in South Australia. The same, unfortunately, can be said up here in Canberra. Unfortuna­tely, the Labor Party's environmental credentials are all about stopping people from doing things rather than allowing people to live harmoniously and sustainably within the environmental agenda that is the agenda of most mainstream Australians.

I think we are all, at heart, environ­mentalists. We want to protect and defend our natural resources for successive generations. Any parent would say that. They want their children to be able to see the wonders and miracles of nature. We have a vested interest in conserving our environ­ment and in providing opportunities for future generations to enjoy, indeed to profit from and to embrace. But we cannot do that with any confidence when we do not have faith in our government. When you do not have faith in your government and you have a minister that is extremely zealous, and has a longstanding link with some overbearing environmental organisations that seek to ride roughshod, quite frankly, over the rights and responsibilities of mainstream Australians, there is cause for concern. That is why this bill is so important.

This bill will allow every Australian to have a voice through their parliamentary representatives. It will allow us individually to stick up for our constituents, their interests and concerns, and to balance the interests of those who want to, either commercially or privately, partake of the bounty of the sea in a regulated, sensible and sustainable manner. It gives us all a voice to be able to do this and make this country an even better place. But of course, in order to do so, we have to be able to talk about these things.

We are aggrieved, the Australian people are aggrieved, that more and more legislation is being cannonballed through this parliament without any scrutiny whatsoever. We are expected to entrust ministers, in whom most Australians have very little confidence, to make discretionary decisions that could have devastating impacts on communities, on our commercial operations and on individual pleasures and pursuits. In any normal circumstances one might think we could trust our ministers to do that, but these are not normal times. These are not normal times for our parliament and I think that, unless we maintain the parliamentary voice, our country will be the lesser for it.