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Monday, 17 September 2012
Page: 7013


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (13:22): The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Declared Commercial Fishing Activities) Bill 2012 we are discussing today should be a concern to all Australians because of the very dangerous precedent that it sets. What is more, whilst I have not seen the minister's new second reading speech, you can bet your bottom dollar it is substantially different to the one that he gave to the House less than seven days ago on 11 September 2012. Make no mistake, this is a minister who claims no knowledge of the Commonwealth harvest strategy, which enticed a trawler to Australia for business purposes. Minister Burke was the minister who tabled a Commonwealth harvest strategy in both houses of parliament which included these important words:

there are considerable economies of scale in the fishery and the most efficient way to fish may include large scale factory freezer vessels—

These are the words of Minister Burke's own harvest strategy. That was in 2009. On 3 September this year, exactly a fortnight ago, Minister Burke accredited the relevant fishery under part 13 of the act for an interim two-week period and subject to conditions. On 10 September, a week later, the science was still robust.

On 11 September, we got a piece of legislation and, in the minister's second reading, we were told a number of things, and I seek to go through those because what it shows and highlights is the complete duplicity and dishonesty of this government and its shambolic approach to public policy. There he was in 2009 advocating a large-scale factory freezer vessel, and indeed 'vessels' plural, in the strategy—he was contemplating not only one such vessel but a multiplicity of such vessels.

On 11 September in his second reading speech, he talks about concern of a new style of large-scale fishing operation in Australia. Funny that. I wonder who made the suggestion of a large-scale fishing operation? It was the minister's own harvest strategy. And it is that big that we should all be concerned that the government's own Australian Fisheries Management Authority website stresses that the net to be used by this fishing vessel is by no means the largest that will be operating in Australia. If this is a new style of large-scale fishing, can the minister explain to us the bigger nets that are being used as we speak? Are they old? How can a new style of large-scale fishing be smaller than that which already exists? Oh what a tangled webs we weave when we set out to deceive.

Let us think of the background of this minister. Where did he cut his teeth politically? The Wilderness Society. Make no mistake as to what his antecedents are and that is why when he saw community concern against a big trawler he immediately said, 'Here's the opportunity in conjunction with our Greens alliance partners to get into every particular fishery that we can.' That is why on 11 September, just last week, he introduced legislation to deal with recreational, charter and commercial fisheries of our country, on the basis that if he felt a social uncertainty about the particular fishery he could ban it for two years. That was his agenda. That was the Greens agenda. This is the minister who says, 'I didn't sign off on the Commonwealth harvest strategy which invited these larger trawlers into Australia.' Oh, yes he did. He must have known or he was so incompetent that he does not deserve the big white car that he is driven around in let alone the ministerial stipend that he receives? Then he talked about the nature of this vessel. If this is a one-off, why did he want 'vessels' plural in his harvest strategy?

In that speech he gave on 11 September, he specifically said:

The amendments propose to incorporate—

and—

The provisions would only be activated if … there is uncertainty about the environmental, social or economic impacts of the identified fishing activity and that further assessment is required.

Is the minister denying that this was his second reading speech? Is the minister going to say the same as he did about the harvest strategy, that he had no knowledge of it, that he has no understanding of his ministerial portfolio? The government have come into this place today with a completely different second reading speech where social and economic impacts dealing with uncertainties the minister might have have been scrubbed out of the legislation.

So what does the minister claim? What does he know about his portfolio? What does he actually lay claim to? He dismisses the harvest strategy, he dismisses this speech which he gave to the parliament fewer than seven days ago, and now, on the back of the member for Dobell, Craig Thomson of Health Services Union fame, moving amendments for the government, the bill has been mucked up even further and requires further amendments. This is shambolic, written with capital letters. I am sure that one of these days the dictionary definition of Burke will be 'shambolic', because this is how he has gone about his ministerial duties.

The amazing thing about his second reading speech of 11 September—as is the wont of all those that cut their teeth in the Green movement; you have to clothe your deceit in morality—is that he finished by saying about that which he was proposing about the environmental, social and economic impacts that, if there were any uncertainty, he had to stop the fishery for two years. Do you know what his last few words were? They were, 'It is the only decent option.' Well, here we are, fewer than seven days later, and it is no longer the only decent option. He has ripped up two-thirds of that which he claimed was the only decent option. So much for morality. So much for the decency. So much for the options that were available.

But, of course, this is the same government that goes to the people six days before an election and says, 'There will be no carbon tax' and then, at the behest of the Greens and the green agitators within the ALP, imposes a carbon tax on the Australian people. This is the government that will also react to anything that it thinks is populous because it is so desperate to try to regain some traction with the Australian electorate. Sure, on this one, it may have tried to jump onto a populous issue. Remember, that is exactly what it did with the live cattle exports. Remember that? On the back of a TV program, it banned it overnight. And, slowly but surely, the policy unravelled. The Australian taxpayer is now facing a minimum of $30 million in compensation, and the sad thing is that when you have this shambolic public administration by Greens senators and hapless government ministers, it is not the Greens senators and the Labor ministers that pay the compensation bill—it is the Australian taxpayer.

As I said previously, when a government pulls the rug out from investors in circumstances where a harvest strategy three years earlier had invited a consortium to invest in a large-scale freezer vessel, when it tells them everything is okay and everything gets signed off, and then at one minute to midnight it cancels or moves the goalposts, it should send a shudder down everybody's back. If the government will do that to a fishery, why not to agriculture and mining? Indeed, the analogy I used before was: what is the difference between a local council saying to a person, 'You can build a house on this block of land', the person going out and buying the block of land and all the building materials, and, just when they are about to put the mattock into the ground to dig the foundations, the council saying, 'Sorry, we've changed our minds; you can no longer build'? Do you think that person would feel aggrieved? Absolutely. Would that person seek to sue for the cost of the block of land and all the building materials? Of course they would. Similarly, I have no doubt that this legislation will lead the government to a situation—like the live cattle exports—of huge compensation bills.

Why is this legislation being rushed through? It is because the government wants cheap popularity. I say to the recreational fishers and I say to the charter fishers: you know what this government's agenda is. Their real agenda was exposed in the original legislation. And it was not only a technical defect, because the minister specifically referred to it in his second reading speech. He said that the only decent option was to ensure that he had the power to stop a fishery on social, environmental and economic grounds if he, as minister, felt that there was any uncertainty. If they can do it now to the commercial fisheries, we know what they want to do. They want to have this across the totality of the fisheries and, as is the wont with the Greens, they will start and will slowly, slowly move across.

I say to the recreational fishing community, especially in my home state of Tasmania: see what they did to the forest industry—slowly, slowly. It was old growth forest, then it was regrowth forest and then it was plantations. And what are the Greens doing in Tasmania? They are campaigning against wild sea fisheries and the aquaculture industry. They celebrate when, through government manoeuvres, you cannot expand a fish farm in Tasmania. They are against the wild fisheries and against fish farming. That is unfortunately the result of a Greens-Labor alliance government, where the Labor Party, whilst being the majority in number, is the minority when it comes to backbone, when it comes to integrity and when it comes to sticking by their core consistency.

Make no mistake, if this legislation gets passed, 45 people who were unemployed and then got a job will, today, as a result of this legislation, which is predicted to go through this place, be unemployed again. That is the human face of this Greens-Labor alliance government. What is more, the science has been gone through. The Australian Fisheries Management Authority was appointed by this government and relies on the science of all the scientific bodies that deal in this area—be it the CSIRO, be it TAFI, be it the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation—that agree that the science is right.

All of them agree that this fishing should be able to take place. Indeed, the minister himself signed off in 2009 about the Commonwealth harvest strategy in this area.

But this product will actually be used for the feeding of Africans with fish protein. If we do not harvest it for them, on the sustainable and very modest basis that we will, who is going to provide them with cost-effective fish protein? I know who. It will be the countries that do not have proper harvest strategies. It will be countries that do not have the sorts of total allowable catches that we do; strategies and total allowable catches that are celebrated worldwide, because they are seen as the best strategies for a country with a substantial coastline. I understand from Senator Colbeck that, yes, Germany might be seen as different, but they are not exactly—with respect to the country of my birth—a fishing nation; they may have been somewhere in the dim, distant past but they are not at the moment. We are celebrated as the real trendsetters in strategies in total allowable catches—being exceptionally conservative.

In relation to this particular issue, the science is there. The government asked for large freezer vessels—and I stress 'vessels' plural not singular—and the government is now, at the last minute with their Greens alliance partners, passing special legislation to stop it. There will be a compensation bill. The losers will be the Australian taxpayers, funding that compensation bill. The losers will be the people who no longer have a job, courtesy of this. The losers will be the total Australian economy, because those who invest in Australia know that you cannot rely on this government.

This is a government that promises one thing, like no carbon tax, and then delivers the opposite. This is a government that announces cash for clunkers before an election so the motor vehicle industry gears up for it, but straight after the election they junk the policy. This is a government that is shambolic. This is a government that reacts on a knee-jerk basis. We had ministers standing in this House less than eight days ago claiming the science was robust and defendable. Now they are trashing their own appointed Australian Fisheries Management Authority. They are trashing the reputation of world renowned fisheries experts from all around Australia. All these people are having their reputations trashed, and we are having urgent legislation put in to stop one particular vessel with one particular quota.

Can I say, there will also be other losers in this: those fishing families that have leased or sold their licences to this particular company. Some people do not like the idea of big fishing ventures. Well, it is like one farmer buying the farm next door or leasing the property next door. It happens every day in Australia, and we should not be concerned about it. What we should be concerned about is the populism of people wanting to see this trawler stopped. The strategy was put in place years before; people were invited and required to jump through all sorts of hoops so that they could get all the required licences, which they did; and then the government says: 'Well, we can't attack you on the science. We can't attack you on the economics. But the Greens want us to oppose this; therefore, we will.' That sends a message to every single person who might seek to invest and create wealth in our country.

This is an important job security issue for 50 people in my home state of Tasmania, where jobs are being shed by about 100 or more every single week. The Greens-ALP alliance seeks to snuff out the one glimmer of hope on their horizon with an opportunistic populism.

Can I simply say to those recreational fishermen who are concerned about the coalition stance: be careful, because the precedent has been set. The minister can, and this government will, move on you if they think they can get away with it. That is why you were included in the first draft of the bill and that is why we oppose the bill—(Time expired)