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Thursday, 11 October 2012
Page: 7941

Senator THISTLETHWAITE (New South Wales) (09:51): I rise of course in opposition to this bill, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Making Marine Parks Accountable) Bill 2012, and in doing so I want to state that I have been close to the ocean for most of my life. The ocean is really the thermometer for our planet. Just as human beings take their body temperature as an indicator of sickness or wellbeing, the ocean is the indicator of our planet's wellbeing. For some decades now the ocean has been giving warning signals to the human race that the planet is under pressure. We have had ocean warming. We have had rising sea levels. We have had certain fish stocks being fished almost to the point of extinction. The scientific evidence has been getting more and more thorough and has been conducted more and more routinely by more and more nations, particularly those like Australia that rely so heavily on coastal development, on shipping, on resources from the sea and, importantly, on fishing. The number of studies being conducted has continued to grow and all of the scientific evidence indicates that our oceans are under pressure and that the process of studying our oceans' biodiversity, health and conservation is necessary. This has been based on sound scientific principles over the last couple of decades. So the process that the government has undertaken through the development and protection of our oceans' biodiversity with marine parks is not an knee-jerk reaction at all. In fact, it is a process that has been undertaken for decades in Australia. So much so that much of the evidence and the scientific study commenced and grew under the years of the Howard government.

The government's current marine park proposals have been more than a decade in development. The development of marine bioregional plans and the identification of the Commonwealth Marine Reserves Network proposal have been underpinned by strong scientific information, by detailed analysis and, importantly, by detailed socioeconomic studies on the impacts and rigours of the development of marine parks. Also importantly, there has been sound consultation with stakeholders and those affected.

The science underpinning the proposed reserves commenced more than 15 years ago under the Keating government. Importantly, it was fully embraced by the Howard government when they came to office in 1996. The rationale for creating a comprehensive, adequate and representative system of protected areas in our oceans has endured and strengthened in this nation over those years. The principle was enshrined in the Howard government's Oceans Policy, and successive Howard government ministers, from Robert Hill to Malcolm Turnbull, championed and implemented that policy. To their credit, those ministers did not blink in the face of opposition to good policy, as those opposite are at the moment.

It started with the marine bioregionalisation of Australia, a monumental exercise in integrating multidisciplinary data into a picture of how biodiversity is structured across Australia's oceans. The CSIRO, Geoscience Australia and a number of universities and museums all collaborated on that work for years. Forty-one provincial bioregions have been identified in Commonwealth waters and, in order for the Commonwealth Marine Reserves Network proposal to be representative of Australia's marine ecosystems, the government has sought to include a part of each of those bioregions in the reserve network proposal. The first three years of the marine bioregional planning program were dedicated to the consolidation of scientific information and in some instances the collection of new data. This resulted in the publication of a bioregional profile for each of the regions. These profiles were prepared using scientific information about the region's biophysical and socioeconomic characteristics and conservation values.

One of the last accomplishments of the Howard government and the member for Wentworth, as the then environment minister, was to publish the marine bioregional profile for the South-West Marine Region. That document—a lovely glossy document which of course bears the picture of the then minister—contains the goals and principles which have guided the development of the current marine reserves proposal. Clearly the science was good enough then, but for some reason it is now no longer good enough for those opposite. Why is that? Simply because they see an opportunity for a vote in opposition.

The outcome was based on science that was undertaken by the Howard government. When they were last in government the coalition achieved several key milestones, including the rezoning of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and the creation in 2006 of the world's first representative network of marine reserves in temperate oceans, the South-east Commonwealth Marine Reserves Network, comprising 13 large-scale offshore marine reserves around Tasmania and Victoria. Both of these achievements have received extraordinary and well-deserved praise from around the world. The Australian Labor Party, when in opposition, ultimately supported those decisions, despite reasonable criticisms at the time from some sectors that consultation with key stakeholders had been rushed and that the decisions had been taken to protect the environment—necessarily, in our view—on less than complete scientific and economic evidence.

Now we have the likes of Senator Colbeck saying that the coalition will wind back 'no fishing' areas and scrap the entire marine park network plan if they win power in the Senate and the lower house. That is what he said in Fishing World magazine on 14 June this year. What has the change been? The change is that the opposition now find an opportunity for a vote opposing these quite reasonable and sensible proposals that are based on thorough scientific and socioeconomic studies.

The government supports protection of precious areas like the Great Barrier Reef. Indeed, we have commended those opposite for the action they took to protect this important bioregion and area of heritage significance for Australia and its economy. The rezoning of the Great Barrier Reef in 2004 provides an example of the opposition's work, where there was an area that was rezoned from 4.5 per cent 'no take' to more than 30 per cent 'no take'.

I have mentioned earlier that there was limited consultation on the design of the adjustment program for the Great Barrier Reef. It was conducted by an expert panel, and the panel's report was never released. A key feature of the coalition's south-east marine network is the extension of the network off limits to commercial fishing to 80 per cent. That figure, the 80 per cent of the coalition's marine reserve locking out commercial fishers, is the reason why the arguments being put today by those opposite are the height of hypocrisy.

None of the Commonwealth proposed reserves in any region restrict boating in state coastal waters or the types of fishing undertaken by the vast majority of recreational fishers, which primarily occurs from beaches and jetties or in bays and estuaries. So the claims of large-scale recreational fisher lock-outs are unfounded, as are exaggerated estimates of the impact on fishing and boating relating to industries. In the Commonwealth regions in question, 96 per cent of the ocean within 100 kilometres offshore remains open to recreational fishing.

So we have seen that the process that has been undertaken by the government was based on sound science, sound socioeconomic studies and sound consultation. It is now the consultation that I wish to go to in the time that I have left. Throughout the marine bioregional and planning process, many stakeholders have been consulted and have been provided the opportunity to have their input, which has assisted in the development of the draft marine bioregional plans and proposed Commonwealth marine reserve networks around Australia. When Labor came to government in 2007, we continued that overarching policy that was in place by the coalition regarding marine reserves but, importantly, we revised the process to address the specific deficiencies that had been identified in both the consultation process and the transparency of the socioeconomic studies and consultation.

The result was several additional rounds of public information campaigns and consultations conducted between 2009 and September of this year. The examples of consultation include engagement of stakeholders on areas of further assessment as early as May 2009 in the south-west region. A number of iterations of the draft proposal were released for 90 days consultation last year—the most recent a 60-day public consultation period on the final marine reserve proposal in September of this year. Following the 90-day consultation in 2011, the representatives of commercial fishing industry in the south-west region were invited to two comprehensive workshops, one in October 2011 and the other in February 2012, to inform of options for finalising the marine reserves network. Up to 35 representatives attended each of those workshops and, between May 2011 and February 2012, the department held a total of no less than 245 meetings, which consisted of sector and multisector stakeholder meetings; open-house information sessions where members of the public were able to talk to departmental staff individually and in groups about the proposals; and targeted meetings with stakeholders.

The meetings were attended by a total of nearly 2,000 stakeholders and, of the 245 meetings, 98 were held in Western Australia, 19 in South Australia, 26 in New South Wales, 69 in Queensland, 22 in the Northern Territory and 11 in Canberra and Hobart. In each marine region, a 90-day public consultation period enabled stakeholders to provide feedback on the proposals. The feedback in the submissions was received on a full range of issues and the whole process took several years, with proposals refined on the basis of stakeholder and public input and information produced through the socioeconomic evaluations.

I have been involved in consultations at a local level with representatives of trawlermen, recreational fishermen and conservation groups in the Nelson Bay area in the electorate of Paterson, one of the areas that I am proud to represent on behalf of the Labor Party. I can tell you: in the consultations that I have had with those representative organisations, the message I got was that the government has not gone far enough in allocating and designating certain areas within that particular marine reserve as no-take areas. This is from the experts—a group of five trawlermen who work that area on a daily basis who have told of the threats to certain fish stocks, in particular the fishing of prawns, in that area. They have said that these plans do not go far enough. So that is some of the message that has been coming through that I have seen from this process. No-one can say that the deficiencies that existed under the previous government in relation to consultation have not been dealt with by this government in the process that we have undertaken to ensure that not only is the science covered but also we get as much feedback as possible from affected communities and representatives concerning the socioeconomic effects and, importantly, their views of the scientific evidence.

I want to say something about my state of New South Wales. New South Wales is in the process of conducting a review of marine parks, and the New South Wales government has released the review of state marine parks policies conducted by an expert panel led by Professor Bob Beeton. This report is a considered and balanced document that in many ways goes to the heart of some of the debates about marine parks—or marine reserves as they are called under the Commonwealth law.

While it is clearly up to the New South Wales government to interpret and respond to the report's findings and suggestions, there can be no doubt that the authors strongly endorse statutory reserves as a key tool in protecting and managing the marine environment. So they are continuing the tradition that was established under Labor in New South Wales of creating marine parks to protect the coast of New South Wales. The report makes a strong case for the completion of both state and national marine reserve networks focused on biodiversity conservation. The report also strongly endorses the application of economic and social science, alongside the biological sciences, in the design, zoning and management of marine reserves.

So in all respects this government has worked comprehensively with fishing communities and with representatives of conservation organisations to correct the deficiencies that existed in the past, with respect to consultation on these important conservation issues. We believe that we have got the balance right. We believe that the proposal released by the government will ensure the protection of various regional bioconservation areas related to our oceans and that it will have a limited effect on fishing communities and local environments. Importantly, this has been done in consultation with those affected. So, on that basis, we see no need for this bill to proceed.