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Thursday, 5 March 2015
Page: 1243

Senator LINES (Western Australia) (09:31): I rise today to support the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill 2014. Most Australians have a love of the ocean, whether we live in our coastal fringes or in more regional and remote communities. Our love of the ocean is legendary. We want our oceans to be pristine and to be protected. Australians also love eating seafood. It is part of the way of our life, and it is also part of our national holidays, particularly the festive season, when our fresh fish outlets often open for 24 to 36 hours straight. Australians consume around 25 kilos of seafood every year. We pride ourselves on the quality of our seafood, yet do many of us stop to think about its sustainability? This is not just a fringe issue for a select group of environmentalists. If we want to continue to consume good-quality seafood then we all have a responsibility to ensure its sustainability and, more broadly, the sustainability of our oceans.

There are fish stocks statistics produced by the United Nations which are alarming and should, whether we consider ourselves to be environmentalists or not, make us stop and take note and force us as parliamentarians to do something positive towards the sustainability of our fish stocks. Fifty-three per cent of the world's fisheries are fully exploited—53 per cent—and 32 per cent are overexploited, depleted or recovering from depletion. Most of our top 10 marine fisheries, accounting for about 30 per cent of all capture fisheries production, are fully exploited or overexploited. Our oceans are not an endless resource. The WWF reports that UN figures indicate that over 85 per cent of the world's fish stocks are now fished up to full capacity or are overfished. In a world—according to the World Wildlife Fund—with an ever-expanding population, the question is how we can balance what we take from the seas and how we keep the oceans healthy so we can ensure that we have fish into the future.

When in government, Labor recognised the importance of a sustainable fishing industry. Labor recognised that our fish stocks needed to be protected, and we recognised that the livelihood of those who work in the industry needed protecting as well. When in government, Labor acted. Now, in opposition, our concern for sustainable fishing, for protecting the industry, for ensuring jobs and for keeping our oceans and our fish stocks sustainable continues.

In 2012 Labor stopped the supertrawler before it started fishing in our oceans. We have seen, in our neighbouring countries, what supertrawlers have done to local fishing industries, and we certainly do not want to see that absolute depletion of fish stocks and livelihood, and a way of life being stopped, in Australia. Labor responded to this threat because of tough new powers that we implemented with the community's support.

I would like to think that the threat of supertrawlers has gone away, but it has not. The powers that Labor used to stop the first supertrawler were opposed by Mr Abbott and the Liberals when in opposition. Australia now needs protection again from supertrawlers. We need to ensure that our oceans, our recreational fishers, fishing businesses and livelihoods are protected and have certainty. Under this private senator's bill, proposed by Labor Senator Ludwig, new supertrawlers will have to face the same tough response that the original supertrawlers faced.

Mr Abbott and the Liberals have had over six months to do something to stop future supertrawlers and to protect our oceans, but they have failed—absolutely failed. Why would we be surprised? We know from the Abbott government that if it has a whiff of environmental about it, if it has a whiff of sustainability about it, if it has a whiff of protecting our environment for the future, it is not something that they are interested in. It is something that they will do whatever is in their power to move against. We know from experience that it is only those at the big end of town that get protection from the Abbott government. On environmental issues, on issues of sustainability, on climate change, the Abbott government just turn their backs.

Labor, with this bill, will not allow the Abbott government to turn its back on the issue of supertrawlers. Certainly, Labor will not be turning our back on ensuring the sustainability of our oceans, their fish stocks or our fishing industry. Senator Ludwig has moved to introduce this bill because the Abbott government has failed to take action to protect the livelihood of businesses in the fishing industry, has failed to take action to protect our oceans and has failed to take action to ensure that fishing and fish are sustainable. It is only Labor who is standing up for our oceans, for local business and for recreational fishers. To date, the government has done nothing.

I would like to reflect back. When Labor introduced these powers in September 2012, they were opposed up hill and down dale by the Liberal and National parties. The then opposition, in their usual Tea Party way, were convinced of a Labor-Greens conspiracy. We hear that in this place day in, day out—some kind of conspiracy. They did not think any more science or research was needed, and they did not want to stop the supertrawler. Yet the Prime Minister recently had the gall to say that it was banned with the support of members on his side of the House. The truth is there in the Hansard, the truth is there in the media, and the truth was there in 2012, when they were opposed to Labor's bill. The Abbott government are yet to do even the most basic work required to implement sensible root-and-branch reform of fisheries management as recommended by the Borthwick review and responded to by Labor in March 2013. Those are the facts.

This Labor private senator's bill, put up by Senator Ludwig, will make the government put their money where their mouth is. Will they stand by their voting record and their convictions, or will they follow the leader, the self-professed weathervane, who has tried to rewrite history?

The bill restores the powers to enable the minister for sustainability, environment, water, population and communities, with the agreement of the Commonwealth fisheries minister, to make an interim declaration that a fishing activity is a prohibited declared commercial fishing activity while an expert panel assesses the potential environmental impacts of the activity. The bill will allow them, with the agreement of the Commonwealth fisheries minister, to make a final declaration for a period no longer than 24 months that a fishing activity is a prohibited declared commercial fishing activity. The bill in all senses protects the Australian industry. It protects our fishing stocks, and it protects the livelihoods of so many people employed in that industry.

As the government has refused to act to protect our fisheries or stand up for recreational fishers, it has left it to Labor to do so. If I think back again to 2012, when Minister Burke was in the chair, some of the National Party—in fact, it was Senator Williams in this instance—accused the minister of jumping at shadows. How could you be so misinformed of all of the data about supertrawlers as to accuse the minister of jumping at shadows? Senator Williams went on to try to convince Australians that the trawler's catch size was no larger than the quota already set for fishers domestically, yet we saw huge community concern not just in Tasmania but right across Australia. Australians were very, very concerned and very opposed to supertrawler activity.

Senator Colbeck: Senator Williams was right.

Senator LINES: And here we have, Mr Deputy President, heckling from those opposite. Are they already setting the course of once again burying their heads in the sand, not looking at the science and not looking at what has happened to our fish stocks across the world?

Those statistics from the United Nations are alarming. Quite frankly, if the Abbott government are not alarmed by them, they are showing their total disregard not only for our environment, not only for our oceans and not only for our fish stocks but for the livelihoods of those in Australia who work in the fishing industry. Let us have a look at what is happening here. Again, the opposition from the Liberals when in opposition was overwhelming. They never, ever let science get in the way of their Tea Party, head-in-the sand beliefs. We are going to act.

We saw earlier this year what they wanted to do with pristine wilderness in Tasmania. Tasmania seems to be a particular target of the Abbott government. They seem to think it is just their plaything, a place for them to wreck and to overfish. Well, it is not, and the world is watching. We saw their quite frankly embarrassing attempt to take back some pristine wilderness in Tasmania, and they got well and truly slapped over that. They told mistruths. They tried to pretend it was not a pristine environment—and they were wrong.

They are also wrong on supertrawlers and they will be held to account for their failure to act. Are they going to continue to argue that, somehow, supertrawlers are good for us, the environment and the fishing industry? Is that what they are going to try to demonstrate here today? It will be a tragedy if that is what they are going to try to do.

Australia is not unique or alone. We have to manage our fishing industry sustainably—and we do not have a bad record in that regard. It is not the best record, but it is not a bad record. We do not live in a closeted, closed environment. We need to be a model for other countries in the world. We need to play a part in urging other countries to run their fishing industries sustainably. We cannot do that if we support supertrawlers. We cannot be that good role model—we just can't. What happens here happens across the world. Our fish stocks are at alarmingly low levels and in many areas fish species are not going to recover.

Senator Colbeck: What a load of bullshit!

Senator Jacinta Collins: That is unparliamentary language.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Just a moment, Senator Lines—

Senator Colbeck: I withdraw.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you. Please continue, Senator Lines.

Senator LINES: It is so typical of this government that it does not bother to read the science. It thinks its bullyboy tactics will work, but they will not work. They do not work on the Australian public and they certainly do not work in here. The stats are there for all to see. Presumably the government is now disputing the United Nations stats on fisheries. We will hear the government's views today.

This bill is absolutely worthy of support. It is a bill that Labor is proud to put forward. It is a bill which shows the abject failure of the Abbott government to act in this area—their absolute failure. I can only assume that their view has not changed since 2012. I can only assume, from the kinds of comments we have heard in this place this morning, that their Tea Party, ignorant, head-in-the-sand attitude towards our oceans is continuing. But this bill is worthy. It creates an expert panel, it looks at science and it looks at research—all of the things the Abbott government has so far failed to do. Let us put the science on the table. Let us put the research on the table. Let us start to make decisions that are fully backed up by experts. While some in here might think they are expert in particular areas, they are not. It has been proven over and over again that the Abbott government cannot be trusted in any area where sustainability is needed—unless it is sustaining their mates at the big end of town or unless it is about ripping off ordinary Australians. They are perfectly happy to do that, but on our environment, on climate change and on the protection of our pristine forests, our oceans and our fish, they have been found sadly wanting. I commend the bill to the parliament.

Senator BACK: I oppose Senator Ludwig's private senator's bill, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill 2014. What the bill attempts to do is amend the EPBC Act to repeal a sunset provision and enable the minister to establish an independent expert panel to conduct an assessment of the potential environmental impacts of a declared commercial fishing activity and to prohibit that declared fishing activity while the assessment is undertaken. Like the mover of the bill, Senator Ludwig, it is redundant. It is, like Senator Ludwig, superfluous. In the words of the Oxford dictionary, it—and Senator Ludwig, for that matter—can be omitted without any loss of significance.

So let us go to what we are dealing with in this particular bill. Senator Lines was not around, so she can be excused for her relative ignorance in the area. But I want to place on record, if I may, the history of this whole sad debacle and the fact that the coalition, in opposition and then in government, had to help the Labor Party out and help the country out, as we so often do. It goes to the failed Mr Burke. Mr Burke was then Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. When we are speaking about supertrawlers, Senator Lines might not be aware but I would like to remind those who are that it was indeed Mr Burke, the failed then minister, who in his role as agriculture minister created the issue. What did he do in 2009? Senator Colbeck will remember. He invited these types of vessels as part of his 2009 small pelagic harvest strategy. I am going to quote from Mr Burke, if I can, just to embarrass him a bit further, if that is possible. He said:

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

That was in AFMA's Small Pelagic Fishery Harvest Strategy of 2009, page 2, in case Senator Lines wants to have a look at it. Indeed, he went on to trumpet further:

This is the first time a trawler with a storage capacity of 2000 tonne or more—

get these words, Deputy President—

is likely to operate in an Australian fishery …

Subsequently, we had an environment minister in the Labor government who put a different position. Who do you think that environment minister might have been? Could it have been Mr Shorten? No. Was it Ms Gillard? No. It was none other than Mr Tony Burke—the same person, now with a different hat. He had taken his agriculture and fisheries hat off, he had put his environment hat on, and what did he say to Senator Colbeck? He completely bungled the development and introduction of the declared fishing activities bill in 2012. It is amazing what three years does. It is a long time in politics, isn't it, really?

In fact this legislation, as Senator Colbeck pointed out to him at the time, was so bad it needed amendment within hours of its introduction. Why? Because, as Senator Colbeck said at the time, Labor did not understand fisheries or fisheries management. Their bill initially banned, if you do not mind, recreational charter boats! That is how much Mr Burke understood. That was the guy who encouraged the Dutch at that time to come into our waters, but of course he did not understand the difference between recreational and commercial fishing. Needless to say, the declared fishing activities amendment bill was so bad there was a 12-month sunset clause to kill it off.

So there was Senator Ludwig, once upon a time, standing up for Australian fishers. And who was the agriculture and fisheries minister when his colleague reversed what he had done in 2009? It was Senator Ludwig, the very man who then subsequently failed to protect the very industry of which he was the minister. But he has plenty of form in that because, as we know, as agriculture minister he failed to stand up to Ms Gillard when she went ahead and banned the live export trade of cattle to Indonesia and subsequently to other markets. So he has form in his failure to stand up for anything or anybody.

I will come in a few moments to an explanation of why this particular bill is redundant and superfluous. It can be omitted from the statute without any loss of significance. At the time, there were Greens amendments—and I am sure Senator Whish-Wilson will speak to his amendment again this morning—but just let me put on the record what the then minister, Senator Ludwig, said in August 2012 in response to a Greens motion in this area. Again I quote Minister Ludwig, then the minister, now the redundant, irrelevant senator who has introduced this bill. This is what he said about a disallowance motion moved by the Greens political party:

This disallowance motion is a message that the Greens political party—

his words, not mine—

do not support sustainable catch limits based on science. It is a message that says the Greens want fisheries managed by politics, not qualified fisheries managers. And it says that the Greens do not support the commercial operators who fish in some of—

listen to this, Senator Lines—through you, Deputy President—

the world's best managed fisheries.

He is actually talking about Australian commercial fisheries. Isn't it amazing? He went on to talk about the fact that:

… the same disregard—

that the Greens would have—

for the science and management of our commercial fisheries will be extended to the legitimate pursuit of recreational fishing.

Do you remember that it was Minister Burke who could not get it right between commercial and recreational boats of certain distances, certain lengths and certain tonnages? But Minister Ludwig at the time then stood up and said:

… I will not allow the emotive politics of the Greens political party to run fisheries management policy in this country. We will ensure that the Australian Fisheries Management Authority is independent, that it makes independent decisions based on the science through its expert commissioners—

and on he went.

It begs the question: why is Senator Ludwig bringing this bill back in? Indeed, you would not believe it; despite all that 'failure' that we have heard of from Senator Lines, do you know what the Abbott government has done? It has done what Labor failed to do. It has done what Labor could not do. It has actually banned these supertrawlers.

So what does Senator Ludwig want in this particular bill? What he wants is for taxpayers to pay for reviews of more scientific reviews. How unusual would that be for the Labor Party? Use taxpayers' funds frivolously to actually review the scientific reviews. He wants the creation of a panel to review every declared activity. It is a waste of taxpayers' money, a deliberate step to try and politicise fisheries management. After his own failure and that of his colleague Mr Burke, you would think that the last thing he would want to do is introduce a bill like this to give the wider Australian community the opportunity to expose Labor for what it was in government.

We already have the world's leading fisheries management. It is in place. We already have the assessments under the EPBC Act. We have said before and we will go on saying it through our minister, Minister Colbeck: the coalition have confidence in the sustainability of Australian fisheries managed by AFMA. The only thing that this bill will do is introduce more red tape.

Let me go to what the coalition is doing and has done in government. We oppose the bill and we oppose the Greens' amendment. Senator Ludwig, of course, is left lamenting what is now a redundant and superfluous bill. We did what they could not do: we banned the supertrawlers. We are bringing in regulation under the Fisheries Management Act, where it belongs and where it should always have remained, had the Labor Party not tried to fiddle with it. We support and will continue to support commercial, recreational and Indigenous fishers, and we are committed to the continuation of Australia's well-managed fishery. We have confidence in AFMA. We have confidence—I certainly have confidence—in the minister because of his deep knowledge of and association with the industry. I have had the privilege and pleasure of being with him and working with him and watching him as he interacts around Australia with both commercial and recreational fishers. I recall—

Senator Whish-Wilson: What about southern bluefin tuna?

Senator BACK: Don't get on to southern bluefin tuna, Senator Whish-Wilson—


Senator BACK: because all we will talk about is Mr Graeme Wood and the Triabunna mill in Tasmania. Senator Whish-Wilson would be wise to not start going down that path, Deputy President, I can assure you. It is interesting in Tasmania. I will get to Tasmania in a few minutes because the Tasmanian commercial fishing industry were a very significant client of mine when I had a business in Tasmania, and what a tragedy it is today to see where that industry has landed itself as a result of the efforts of the Greens. But of course, through the agency of the minister, it is trying to re-establish and recreate itself.

Let me go to the excellence of the Australian industry. We have heard commentary this morning about the UN and all its protestations. I heard a few protestations by the UN when I was there in 2013. I heard an absolutely nonsensical statement made by a woman in the UN. She made the observation that bushfires in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales were due to climate change! It sat down with those people and explained to them what a Mediterranean climate, eucalypt-dominated forest in a summer dry season creates—and it was not climate change. But it does remind me that I want to draw attention to the excellence of Australia's and particularly Western Australia's commercial fishing operations. I want to go to the Marine Stewardship Council, which is the international body that is actually the final arbiter of excellence or otherwise of the management of fisheries.

What do you think was the first fishery in the world to be certified under the MSC standards? It was, of course, Western Australia's western rock lobster industry. It is the most significant, single species fishery in Australia. It was in the year 2000—Senator Sterle would know this from being familiar with it all—that it became the first fishery in the world to be so certified as a well-managed and sustainable fishery, and it earned the right to market its product internationally under the MSC eco label. As a result of the wonderful work of Mr Robb, in his capacity to negotiate a free trade agreement between Australia and China—something that the Labor government were not able to do in six years—that we are now going to see an improvement and an increase in the export of western rock lobsters directly into the Chinese market. The species of crustacean will go into that market live and fresh and will go straight onto the tables—demonstrating again not only the excellence of our industry but also the demand for the freshness of our product.

The management of that fishery began in 1963. It has one of the longest-running management plans of any fishery in Australia and probably in the world. It has collected accurate data over time. It was in July 2010, following approaches from industry, that the then minister for fisheries announced that the western rock lobster fishery would be managed under an individual quota management system. Those of us associated with that fishery know what the improvement has been of allowing fishing 365 days of the year and a fishing quota so that the fishermen can decide on market demand and their capacity to maximise their returns, maximise the value and maximise the supply into our target markets.

But let me stay, if I may, with the Marine Stewardship Council, particularly in terms of the comments made only recently in this chamber about the supposed failed management of our fisheries. What is another Australian fishery that is certified under the Marine Stewardship Council? It is the patagonian toothfish fishery. An interesting point about it is that the product is frozen at sea and retains and remains the highest quality. I know Senator Urquhart and Senator Whish-Wilson would also be very interested in this, because it is Tasmanian fishers who are active in the patagonian toothfish fishery. It is another one that has been certified. It is another one that has an international certification of excellence.

Another fishery, which I think Senator Ruston would be interested in, with an international certification is the Northern Prawn Fishery—an Australian fishery. Do you knowing something else about it, Madam Acting Deputy President? It also has product that is frozen at sea, which retains the highest quality, so that it comes back to customers in Australia and overseas at the absolute best level. I do not know why it is that there are people in this place who have to run down our commercial fisheries.

But let me now come to the small pelagic fishery, because at this time it is undergoing a certification process by the Marine Stewardship Council. Geographically, where does the small pelagic fishery operate? It is everywhere from the New South Wales border right around to my home state of Western Australia. As I said, it is undergoing a certification process at this very time.

Before I move on, I want to remind those who are listening to this particular contribution that the MSC certified Patagonian toothfish fishery and the Northern Prawn Fishery are both fisheries which rely on the product being frozen at sea and retaining the highest quality prior to its consumption. So let us not demonise the processing of a product, as so many people seem so willing to do, or say that allowing it to be frozen in some way deteriorates it or in some way adversely impacts on the fishery itself.

To answer some of the questions that have been asked, the coalition, in government, commissioned the expert panel, and the expert panel has reported. It responded to the commercial fishing activity declaration that was made on 19 November 2012 under the EPBC Act. It defined the Small Pelagic Fishery and said that the activity was in such a fishery using midwater trawl methods. It specified the length of vessels and has reported. This independent Australian expert scientific panel has now completed its assessment of the potential impact of supertrawlers—that is, boats greater than 130 metres—in this fishery. It focused its attention on assessing the potential impact of these trawlers on the marine environment and protected species including seals, dolphins and seabirds, and the potential for localised depletion of target species.

The panel provided the environment minister with its report in mid-October. It was published, as we always do because of the demand for transparency, on 19 November 2014. The report gave a big tick to the existing risk based fisheries management framework used in the Australian fisheries management. If you had been listening to some of the earlier contributions, they would not have appeared to have been consistent with that advice and that report.

It is this framework that has resulted in Australia's fisheries being recognised as amongst the best managed anywhere in the world. The risk based management framework is already in place and, as I say, the Marine Stewardship Council is currently undertaking an assessment for certification. The harvest strategy exceeds—not meets but exceeds—internationally recommended standards such as those made by the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force in its report Little fish, big impact. The report also highlighted that there are risks from the proposed fishing operations, be they commercial or recreational. Of course, the coalition, as it always does, widely consulted before it took the decision that it took. We know what that was. That was to place a ban on those vessels greater than 130 metres in size.

What additional research has been undertaken? It is science that must underpin fisheries management. There is a $1½ million research program well underway. We know that, for the current season, the total catch limit was set at 7.5 per cent of the estimated total fish population, leaving 92½ per cent remaining. I come back to where I started: like the person who moved this motion, it is redundant. The work has been done. It is superfluous. It can be omitted without any loss of significance to the community or to commercial fishing.