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Monday, 15 September 2008
Page: 68

Senator BOSWELL (7:31 PM) —I want to take the opportunity to speak on the report of the Environment, Communications and the Arts Committee on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2008. I am aware of the majority report that has been tabled, and I must say that I understand that Senator Ian Macdonald will be putting in a minority report, which I have signed. One of the reasons that we cannot support the report in question is that what is in it is just not correct. For instance, the report states:

The decision to prosecute was made only in cases where there was evidence that the person knew, or reasonably ought to have known, that they were breaching the zoning plan, and/or there were other circumstances suggesting prosecution was appropriate.

When we took evidence at the committee hearing, we found there were many people who received criminal convictions who were not warned. In fact, there were 324 people who received a criminal conviction. We were told, and it is repeated in the majority report, that people were warned. I questioned a number of people who received convictions, and none of them said that they were warned at all.

We took evidence from two people, and one was very moving indeed. He was a young man called Barry Garlick. He told a story which I thought was absolutely to the point. He said:

I went on a one-off fishing trip. I did not catch a fish or harm the environment. I made a mistake and I have paid a fine for it. I have learnt from what I did, and I have fixed as much as I can. When Australians make mistakes we fix them because it is the right thing to do. I now hold a criminal conviction. The law has been corrected but there is still a mistake in it. This will severely affect my life, my fiancee’s life and, most of all, my children’s lives. I love the environment. I would never intentionally break the law to harm it. My family and I plead with you not to change the law but to fix the mistakes in this law.

When we listened to this young man, we found he was a pest exterminator. He said, ‘When I leave this job, I will be very hard pushed to get another job because I went fishing.’

Mr Garlick’s story was that he went up to Cairns or somewhere and came back to Ayr. He, his brother and another chap went out and decided they would go fishing. They said that it was blowing a bit, so they went behind an island and they got picked up. He said:

I thought the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was where the Great Barrier Reef is ...

He said: ‘I had no idea. I came from Brisbane and I went up to Cairns. On my way back we decided we would throw in a line and I got fined.’ I think he was fined $2,000. He was happy to pay the fine—he was not happy, but he paid the fine—but his concern was what will happen when he goes to apply for another job and he says he has a criminal conviction. He said, ‘I will not get another job.’ I asked the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts whether they would consider putting anyone on in their department who had a criminal conviction. They were not too keen to do so.

There was another witness, Peter Aston. He was a man of 70. He said:

... I am proud of the fact that I am a citizen of this country. On having a criminal conviction, it is all very well to say, ‘Oh, it’s okay; it’s not really affecting you,’ but it is. It has changed my life very much. I have tried very hard to find ways around this. The fact is that, all through the process, I was not really believing it was happening—that it could happen here in Australia, that it could go this far without somebody saying, ‘This is silly. Let’s just give the man a fine and send him home,’ or something. For it to go on and on and then find that it is locked in—that you are a criminal forever ...

He is a man who sails around the world, writing stories. He says he will find it very difficult to obtain from any country a visa to enter that country. There was quite a lot of evidence about young people going out and getting convicted. One particular story was told about a grandfather who took his 12-year-old grandson out in a tinny. They were picked up and the grandfather now has a criminal record. Another case was told of a family that went out; now the whole family have criminal records.

We were told that people were given a warning. But none of these people were given warnings. I am not saying warnings were not given, but none of the people that had convictions and gave evidence were warned. The main point goes on to say that the people who are convicted should not worry about it because they can apply to the Governor-General or they can fight it out in the court. It would take $5,000 to fight it out in a court. There was an injustice caused to a number of people, somewhere between 324 and 116, depending when you take the time from. These people received a criminal conviction with no warning, which has affected their lives. Senator Macdonald and I have joined together in moving an amendment that these convictions be read as spent. I hope that the Senate will support us. I know that during the election campaign, as reported in the Townsville Bulletin, Senator Kerry O’Brien said:

The government—

we were the government at the time—

was holding fishermen’s vote to ransom and yesterday’s announcement was beyond the pale. Frankly, it is an indictment of the government that they are prepared to play politics about these issues.

Senator O’Brien said that those who had been convicted had had these convictions sitting against their names for some time. He said, ‘Why could the government not act before today?’ He also said:

An elected Labor government was also sympathetic to overturning the criminal records of the 324 fisherman convicted for the offence. This is about correcting the initial mistake and we should take a bipartisan position on that.

We sat through, I suppose, four hours of listening to people giving explanations of how their lives had been affected by having a criminal offence. One guy, we were told, coached a soccer team and had a great deal of difficulty getting a blue card. I think he did eventually get one. Another guy could not get insurance. We heard that Peter Aston, who sold his home, writes stories and goes around the world in a yacht, cannot get a visa. So I ask everyone in the Senate to be reasonable. This is a total injustice. I will admit that it was caused by legislation the coalition government brought in. In 2006 I spoke to Senator Campbell, who was the environment minister at the time, and he was able to stop the criminal convictions and make it an ordinary offence like a parking ticket. But that did not cover the people who had previous convictions. I pleaded with the Prime Minister of the time six or eight weeks before the last election. I was given a set of words and we told the people we would remove the convictions. I see some injustices in the parliament from time to time but this would be one of the greatest. (Time expired)