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Thursday, 5 March 2015
Page: 1260

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (10:49): It is a pleasure to follow Senator Canavan in this debate. For those who listened to his contribution, the point that needs to be emphasised again and again is that Australia should be proud of our status among all the countries of the world as a responsible manager of our natural resources. In our fisheries, our biodiversity, our land management practices, our freshwater management practices, agriculture, forestry, mining and resources and extractive industries generally Australia is a world-class citizen. In many ways, we are top of the class for having responsible frameworks that provide the best opportunities to manage our natural resources—both our finite natural resources and our renewable natural resources—and best protect our environment while allowing for economic growth, job opportunities and the potential as a country to enjoy and sustain the standard of living that we expect and hope all Australians can access now and into the future.

We should stand proud. That is not to say that our laws and our systems in all of these areas are perfect or that there is not continual opportunity for improvement in the way we manage resources, but we are very good, very able, very responsible managers of all aspects of our natural resources. All too often, there are people who seek to vilify the way in which we manage those natural resources. There are people who seek to portray Australia as being an irresponsible citizen. Sadly, all too often, those criticisms come not from the rest of the world—the rest of the world largely recognises that Australia sets best practice in natural resource management—but from within pockets of the Australian community which, as Senator Canavan rightly identified, are often quite detached from the land, the ocean and the environs that we are debating here and the resources we are seeking to manage.

Sometimes the criticism and vilification comes from within this parliament—particularly from within this chamber, from some of those in the Greens' corner of the cross benches, and sometimes from those opposite. That is disappointing because we should be holding Australia up as the gold standard, because that, in large part, is what we are. And we should be encouraging people to see the resources we dedicate to scientific research, to informed assessment against that scientific research and to putting in place sound regulatory structures around that, as shining examples of what the rest of the world should be aspiring to, and what we can help the rest of the world do to manage our resources.

Senator Canavan rightly highlighted, in relation to fisheries in particular, some of the countries from whom we import fish. In those countries the management practices are vastly different from the practices we apply in Australia. And by no means are those practices of the some high standard that we have. He acknowledged—and I, too, acknowledge—that often these are developing nations. Their economies are at a different stage and their legal and regulatory structures are at a different stage. Their capacity to enforce and deliver compliance regimes for these types of regulations are also at a stage that is different from Australia's and from Australia's economy. So it is not intended as a criticism of them, but as an example that, in relative terms, Australia stands out well and truly ahead of the pack.

But we should not simply rest on our laurels. Where there is scope to improve management of our natural resources, including our fishery stocks, then that is exactly what we should do. But the actions for such improvements should be based on the scientific evidence. They should be based on informed knowledge. They should be based on a realisation that when you take action that constricts an industry—that restricts its capacity to operate—there is an impact. There is an economic impact and, from that economic impact, there is a social impact. By constricting industry—by constricting that activity—you create less wealth, you have fewer jobs and you have, therefore, poorer standards of living for Australians.

Getting the balance right to ensure that we have, in a fishery sense, sustainable industries into the future—which can sustain the businesses, the industries, the employers, the employees, the jobs, the families, the communities, the towns and the support businesses which all rely on those industries—is what is so very important.

Sadly, sometimes rather than information or new approaches that are based on science or on an appropriate understanding of effective regulation and effective lawmaking, we see posturing for the sake of cheap headlines. That is what the legislation before this chamber is really all about. The opposition introduced the private member's bill to repeal division 4 of part 15B of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act on 19 March last year. If they had such long-standing concerns about this part of the act they could have exercised them during their time in government. But they did not; instead they decided to engage in a bit of posturing just a few months after they arrived in opposition.

The effect of the proposed bill would be to remove the sunset clause currently contained in part 15B of the EPBC Act, which has prohibited new declarations from being made from 20 September 2013. Removal of that sunset clause would allow for new declarations to be made once again under part 15B. Since this legislation has been introduced we have had a further amendment proposed by the Australian Greens, which would also seek to create an offence in the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act of using an oversized fishing vessel in a Commonwealth marine reserve or marine area. Oversized fishing vessels under that amendment are proposed to be any vessels that have a processing and storage capacity greater than 2,000 tonnes.

The Greens amendment adds to the amendment proposed by the opposition—that is, it would operate alongside the power to make declarations over new commercial fishing activities, and establish expert panels. It is important to understand, in relation to what the opposition is proposing by removing the sunset provision, that while this private member's bill would allow for new declarations to be made prohibiting new commercial fishing activities for up to two years, part 15B—the part of the act that we are talking about—has never provided the power permanently to stop supertrawlers from fishing in the Australian fishing zone.

The government opposes this bill of the opposition, and the amendments of the Greens, because we see them largely as posturing, and because we think that they are not the most effective way of regulating this part of the fishing industry. The private member's bill of the Labor Party, and the proposed Greens amendment to that bill, will not provide a permanent ban or a permanent stop to supertrawlers from applying to operate in Australian fisheries. We hear lots from those opposite, suggesting that that is what this legislation is about, but in reality it will not do so. This legislation will only provide for temporary bans of up to two years. The Greens amendment focuses instead on storage capacity. Fish storage capacity can, of course, be reduced or amended on different vessels.

The government believes that we should support, of course, commercial and recreational fishers both, and we are committed to the continuation of having well-managed fisheries in Australia—well-managed fisheries where that management and the approaches to it and the caps and limits on fisheries take that are applied are determined and based on scientific information and knowledge.

We are aware that there are concerns from a range of groups, including recreational fishers, about the potential impact of supertrawlers on Australia's marine environment, on our protected species and on our local fish stocks. We acknowledge those concerns. That is why late last year we announced that there would be a ban on supertrawlers—factory freezer vessels of more than 130 metres—from fishing in the Australian fishing zone, and that that ban would be implemented appropriately under the Fisheries Management Act 1991. It is an appropriate change, and it is an important provide a conservative, considered, scientifically based, sound regulatory environment for our fisheries industry to operate in. It is important that we provide this to protect those fisheries stocks.

Australia adopts a very conservative approach to the setting of catch limits for all Commonwealth fisheries. The small pelagic fishery catch is currently set at 7½ per cent of the total estimated fish population. That, of course, means that 92½ per cent of the estimated fish stock is left in the water for rebreeding purposes and to ensure the sustainability of the industry.

Not only do we adopt conservative approaches to the setting of those limits and appropriate quotas but we are also committed to an informed approach to fisheries management. Our government has invested $1½ million in independent research to refresh our data on the current size of many Australian small pelagic fish stocks. The first results from this research will be available in March and will assist in setting total allowable catches for the small pelagic fishery from 1 May this year.

Until the new survey results are available the conservative catch limits we have are based, of course, on the earlier survey data—the earlier best available information we had. Initial results from the research suggest that the spawning mass for species like the jack mackerel may be similar to previous findings, but this analysis will be reviewed by independent scientific experts prior to it being finalised so that we can have confidence that the decisions taken for appropriate management of our fish stocks are absolutely the right ones based on and informed by the best available scientific information.

I said before that it is an act of hypocrisy on the part of those opposite to be bringing this bill before the parliament right now, given the way they have treated this issue in the past. Senator Ludwig and his party lament, it seems, their own poor handling of this issue when they were in government. We are doing what they could not and did not do, which is to provide for an effective permanent ban in relation to supertrawlers. We will bring that in via regulation under the Fisheries Management Act—where it belongs, where it always should have been. We are doing what those opposite should have done when they realised and acknowledged there was a problem with the proposed supertrawlers, rather than what they did, which was put in place at this time-limited provision in the EPBC Act. We have confidence in the sustainability of our fisheries, managed as they are by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority. But we believe we can strengthen that confidence further by the new regulation we have proposed in relation to supertrawlers.

We should, though, remember what the Labor Party said when they were in government. Mr Tony Burke, who first had a role to play in this space as agriculture minister, responsible for fisheries, basically invited supertrawlers to come to this country. In the 2009 the Small pelagic fishery harvest strategy, a document released under his watch, said:

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

There is certainly an encouragement there identifying the economic benefits and the benefits of scale from such approaches. The minister then went on and, in fact, proudly trumpeted the coming supertrawler when it was revealed; he went out and proudly proclaimed that this was the first time a trawler with a storage capacity of 2,000 tonnes or more was likely to operate in an Australian fishery.

The Labor Party were there, happy at that stage to see this activity going on. Their response was then poorly-structured approaches in terms of time-limited actions via the EPBC Act. We believe our response has far greater credibility because it will provide a permanent and lasting approach. But it is also complemented by our commitment to act in every possible way in a manner that preserves our fishing stocks and is informed by science—informed by research, informed by knowledge—and then acted upon in the setting of appropriate regulatory arrangements.

As I said at the outset, as a country we should be celebrating our achievements in relation to the management of many areas of our natural resources. In fishing, that is absolutely one of them: we take seriously the setting of limits. We take seriously an appropriate management of fishing stocks and of fishing zones and areas because we know that we need to allow those species to regenerate to be able to have sustainability. But we also take seriously the need for industry to be able to operate, for businesses to be able to operate and to create the jobs, the income and the support that communities need and so richly deserve.

We also know that, if we overreach and over-restrict what happens in Australia in relation to fish stocks, we will see an increase in importation from other parts of the world. If we see that increase in imported product, it will most likely be coming from countries whose management practices do not reach the same high standards that we have. So, rather than coming in here, as some will do, and vilifying the approach we have to managing our natural resources in Australia and to managing our fisheries in Australia, people should come in here and celebrate the strength, credibility, reliability and knowledge that underpins our approach. In celebrating that, people should highlight it to the rest of the world and encourage others to adopt the same types of standards that we have, to recognise that we are a world leader and to recognise also that this government is proposing a permanent solution to a problem that is being debated rather than the temporary one proposed in this legislation. That is why this legislation should be defeated, as I would urge the Senate to do. (Time expired)