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Thursday, 11 October 2012
Page: 7937

Senator SCULLION (Northern TerritoryDeputy Leader of The Nationals) (09:31): I rise today to make a contribution to a very important piece of legislation, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Making Marine Parks Accountable) Bill 2012. It is a private member's bill.

I note that with the allocation of speaking times I have 20 minutes, and so this is actually being run as a pretty conventional debate that no doubt in some way we would normally conceive of as adversarial. I am a bit surprised; I actually thought this would be in the section of noncontroversial. It is a very sensible piece of legislation, with some principal elements of the legislation that I would have thought would simply have been ticked off by all sides and that we would just have moved on by having a very sensible series of amendments to a piece of legislation that at the moment is causing a great deal of concern right across the Australian community—particularly for those people who are concerned about the environment and those people who are concerned about their livelihoods and their jobs, particularly in coastal communities. It is also a concern for those people in the scientific community who want to continue to maintain that Australia has not only the best fisheries management regime in the world but that we are managing our marine estate with the very best legislation.

So I am not expecting anything but support for this legislation. Perhaps I am a little optimistic, but I have never read a piece of legislation with principles that are so simply and effectively put. It beggars belief that we would even be having too robust a debate. But this is an opportunity for me to stand and explain the benefits, which I am sure you will all be agreeing on.

The member for Dawson has introduced this legislation, no doubt as a consequence of his experience; he has lived in a marine community and he knows the consequences of poor planning.

Senator McLucas: And who put that planning in place?

Senator SCULLION: I am going to take that; already we have interjections from the other side. Someone asked me, 'Well, who put those things in place?' I am going to get to exactly who actually decided that marine protected areas should be currency in a political debate and that the outcomes and the motivation for providing for a marine protected area should be about a deal with the Greens and political preferences rather than looking after the environment. I would hope that those opposite would simply understand that we have gone well beyond those issues now. We are now moving to a far more rational way to manage our oceans.

In this country it is quite clear that there is no reason that we should have a poor planning outcome. There is not a single reason, because we are endowed with the very best internationally. We are endowed with the best science and we are the envy of the world in terms of our marine scientists and the stuff that they do. Whether it is the CSIRO, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the Australian Institute of Marine Research or the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, all of our fisheries offices around Australia in the states and territories do an absolutely outstanding job. Not only are they outstanding—because we stand in this place and we do not like to annoy people too much, so we all call them outstanding—but I can recall in another life as the chairman of the International Coalition of Fisheries Associations that Australia was the envy of the world. There was a clear connection tied closely between the facts that we had such great scientific resources and how we had the best managed fisheries and marine ecosystems internationally.

So there is no reason at all that we should have a poor planning decision. The challenge is that it is not only about owning these wonderful individuals and institutions and the advice that they provide, it is actually using them and taking consideration of the advice, ensuring that we do so. We know, particularly in the issue about marine protected areas and marine planning, that those institutions have been completely ignored or sidelined on many occasions. Every time that has happened there has been a negative impact not only on the environment but on those people who wish to use the environment sustainably and the communities that they support.

We also have great wealth in another area: we have great wealth in an area of science that is not particularly well known publicly. We have modellers who can actually model the impact on pretty much anything. It was towards the later years in the rollout—probably around 2005-06—that this science really came to the notice of the Australian community. But that science is, of course, measuring the impact on communities of almost any change. For example, if we decided that we would take the tourism out of here, push the rainforest down and put sugarcane in, someone would be able to tell you the exact impacts on the businesses and the communities that rely on them at that stage. So these are change models. A friend of mine, Melanie Fisher—I do not know what Melanie is doing at the moment—gave us some fantastic advice about the direct impacts on communities. When we model the impact on a community of a particular decision, we can moderate that decision and change that decision to ensure that it minimises any impact on the community. In terms of marine protected areas, it can be as much as changing a zone, moving a zone slightly over or changing a use pattern in regard to the distance from a port. That might keep two fuel businesses in business.

So we have the science, not only in looking after our ecosystem and this wonderful marine biosphere but also in how to look after the communities that depend on it. But, again, we actually have to ensure that the decision makers—in terms of Commonwealth marine protected areas, the decision makers are in this place, although not entirely, and I will get to that in a moment—rely on information that has been provided by that great science both in the conventional sense and in the marine sense.

We have had a bit of a sad history, and I touched on it earlier with the interjection. In terms of the rollout of marine protected areas, the history is a bit of a sad one. Motive has played a big part in my life—I am not sure where I stumble on the term—but I also like to think: 'What's motivating this person to approach me? What's motivating me to go through this activity?' I think that is a very important part of life. When you look at the motivation for a marine protected area, I think its success will rely pretty much on the motivation. If you are motivated to protect a particular piece of iconic biodiversity, it is very likely that that particular piece of iconic biodiversity will be protected. But suppose you are simply motivated, as we have seen plenty of times in this place and at a state level—certainly New South Wales is a standout—by making a currency out of marine protected areas so that you can do a preference deal with the Greens. This is not some sort of assertion. This is something that has been well documented, particularly in Queensland, where a deal was done: 'We will roll out this. We will give these protected areas to the Greens if you give us your preferences in these seats.' So the motivation of the Labor government in Queensland and the Labor government in New South Wales was simply, 'I want to get myself re-elected.' The motivation of getting myself re-elected is hardly a way to manage fisheries and our biosphere, and that is why it has fundamentally failed.

Of course, we as Australians should embrace every single opportunity to take away the perverse capacity to politically interfere with good science. I am not putting my hand on my heart and saying that we on this side would not do such a thing. I think that when such a thing exists in politics it provides a temptation that may be available to anyone. So we should remove it, and that is exactly what this piece of legislation does. This piece of legislation will ensure that we use the very best science. It ensures that time is set aside to ensure that there are no perverse and unintended consequences, which are something that in this place we are always trying to avoid.

I know that we are having complaint from Labor. They do not want this tool taken away from them. It is a tool that they use time and time again in their relationship with the Greens. We have not had to use the tool, because we do not have a similar relationship with the Greens, so they do not come and talk to us about what we are going to lock up if they give us their preferences. When this legislation passes, those sorts of circumstances will be a thing of the past. That is why I think this really should have broad support from this place. I know it will certainly have broad support in the wider community.

A really important part of this legislation is the element of the legislation that includes the term 'before'. Before you proclaim an area, these are the things that need to be done instead of saying, 'Right, we're going to go out and close all these areas, and then we're going to deal with the negative impacts.' Everybody accepts that there are negative impacts, whether it is the displaced effort, smashing communities you did not really mean to or the fact that you did not really have a budget for ensuring that you can offset the commercial effort—'Oh, sorry about that; we just can't do it for you now.' That will not happen again.

Fundamentally this legislation, I think, is encapsulated in the proposed amendment at the end of section 343. It says:

The Minister must obtain, and the Director must report on, scientific advice …

I know you will be recoiling on the other side at a suggestion that this place must take on board scientific advice, but I think it is something that the wider Australian community would agree with. Then it goes on to say 'stakeholders' views'. Again, I am not really sure what the problem is going to be from the other side on this, but I would have thought that stakeholders' views would be really important to consider in this matter. It is a very, very important matter. This is a matter about communities, jobs and sustainability. These are very important issues that need to be discussed with the stakeholders. It goes on to say 'and an independent social and economic impact assessment'. So the Melanie Fishers of the world, who have done such brilliant work, for the first time will be consulted before you make the proclamation.

Senator McLucas interjecting

Senator SCULLION: So instead of making the proclamation and then having to go and try to tidy up the mess afterwards, Senator McLucas, and smashing communities like Cairns and businesses in Cairns, what will happen if there are amendments made is that there will be some research done. A social and economic assessment will be done to ensure that we can have a balance of both things—with, of course, the best science. Australia has, as I have said, an enormous number of experts, and it is all about ensuring that we use them in this place.

That is exactly what this legislation does.

But the most important element is the last one,which goes on to say:

… an independent social and economic impact assessment before Proclamations over areas of sea (or over both land and sea) are made.

We learn as time goes on. Thirty years ago we thought that rolling out a marine protected area was a great thing—a matter of solitary islands and we will sneak one around here and that will be fine. But pretty soon everybody was saying, 'Look, there are an awful lot more fishermen in the area over here adjacent to that. Why is that?' Well, fishermen are not allowed here anymore so we have learned that, if we take a whole bunch of fishermen from one area and push them into other areas, we have actually increased fishing pressure in those other areas.

All the science in the world says that you cannot displace effort. So on the very first day of the proclamation people cannot go to one area so they go to an adjacent area. From that first day of something to protect the environment, you have increased pressure. That has always been the challenge, and this piece of legislation from the member for Dawson ensures that the effort has been displaced before a proclamation so there is no net negative impact on the environment, none. For the first time we have learnt from the past and now there will be no displaced effort.

I have been in this place from time to time and I have talked about what we can manage. There are plenty of issues around marine protected areas—and when you say 'marine protected areas' a lot of people think of fish and whales and all those sorts of things. But when you put a marine protected area in, you are actually having more of an impact because a marine protected area only affects people. I can assure you that there will be no dugongs out there inspecting section 343 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Making Marine Parks Accountable) Bill. None of them will be doing that. There will be no mackerel or dugong saying, 'I am not going to go there, then. That is going to be completely different.' It is only going to affect people. Legislation can only impact on people, and on people it will impact, and it will impact on coastal communities. If you want to be fair dinkum, you will accept this legislation because it ensures that we consult science, we get it right first, and that we do not take any action until such time as we have got it right.

It is not a matter of slowing these things down—it is all part of a planning process and, yes, the planning process might have an 18-month lead-up time. We may say that we intend to close this area and declare these, and they will be declared when we have gone through the processes and finished them. This is the best science. This is what the scientists will tell you. This is what the social assessors and the social scientists and experts will tell you. These things have to be planned and have to be done in this particular manner, and that is exactly what this legislation says. This legislation says that this is the process and this is what you are going to do.

There is another element of the legislation that says, 'Look, at the end of the day when they have done it all, let us check to see that they have got it right.' So it will have to be a disallowable instrument to sit in the parliament and we will have a chat about it. Those on the other side are shaking their heads because they do not want it to be. We do not mind transparency. We do not mind the representatives of the people at the highest possible level in this land having a look at that and saying, 'I am not sure whether you have displaced all the effort or whether you have compensated for the impacts.' This will ensure that you do not actually approach it with an attitude that says that it does not matter if all these communities are smashed and those businesses shut down, that they will build up and we will compensate them later. That is not going to work.

There have been some terrific arguments on the other side. I can remember Senator Furner—lovely bloke—in the last debate here when he was rolled out and told to argue the impossible. Poor old Furner stood up and said, 'Listen, if we have a disallowable instrument it is going to cause coral bleaching. That is what is going to happen if we have more transparency.'

Senator Ian Macdonald: What?

Senator SCULLION: Yes, I know—ask the Hansard here, Senator Macdonald! It was a sad day. He is a great bloke but it is very difficult to defend the indefensible. The other issue is of course that it is going to give us something that is a complete change. It is going to give us the capacity to budget for it. We know the disaster in Queensland—

Senator McLucas: So do we—Campbell Newman!

Government senators interjecting

Senator SCULLION: because we did not plan it properly. We now have an opportunity to ensure that we plan it properly. But there is something else along with the capacity to budget, one issue that you will all agree with. If you pick up a fishing magazine anywhere or talk to a coastal community anywhere and you say, 'Listen, what do you reckon about a marine protected area?' you had better have your mouth guard on. I can tell you what this legislation will do: it will make it popular. It will put the force of Australians' support, which they want to do, in a tool looking after their bioregions and their marine estate. That is what Australians want.

This is a piece of legislation that quite forensically and quite cleverly deals with those issues that have not only not made it popular, but have not made it work. It has not worked because there are so many unintended consequences. We have displaced fisheries. We have made claims that we are going to compensate and yet we have not budgeted for it. Ten years after people have been compensated they are still arguing with government. We need a planning phase and we need a forensic mechanism of ensuring that we plan these things so that there are no unintended consequences and at the same time we can continue to offer what we should be most proud of—our incredible marine biosphere—the highest level of protection we have internationally. I commend the bill to the Senate.