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Thursday, 11 October 2012
Page: 7945

Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (10:08): It will come as no surprise, I am sure, to the chamber to know that the Greens will not be supporting the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Making Marine Parks Accountable) Bill 2012. This bill is really a cynical attempt by the coalition to garner support from the rec fishers when, in fact, what they are doing is supporting commercial fishers. I will get to a lot more detail of that in a minute. One of the fundamental facts here is that this system of marine protected areas and bioregional planning will ensure that our marine environment is protected. Not only is that good for biodiversity; it is also good for fish stocks. In particular, in this system of federal marine parks bottom trawling will be banned from well over a third of Australia's exclusive economic zone, or EEZ. We know that bottom trawling is a very major threat to fish stocks—and I have articulated those arguments in this place many times in the past. We know it is a threat to fish stocks, along with some of the issues around industrial mid-water trawling—and we spoke at length about that issue during our last session of parliament. We know that these two issues, which are key threats to fish stocks, will be banned from a third of that area. That is a positive for rec fishing.

The coalition say, 'Here we are trying to protect the rec fishers' interests,' when in fact it is actually about running the commercial fishers' arguments. The things which the coalition say this bill is trying to do have already occurred. We already have strong science around these proposals—and I will come back to that. There is overwhelming community support for marine protected areas—and I will also come back to that. The legislation is about politicising this argument. It is not about the science; it is about further politicising this particular argument.

I have been involved in marine conservation for a very long time. Ever since I started work on marine conservation issues, marine protection issues and the protection of our marine biodiversity, I have been hearing that there is no science around no-take areas, there is no science around marine protection. There are pages and pages, reams, of science now that show the benefits of well planned no-take areas and of marine biodiversity protection. But we keep being told that there is no science, when in fact there is. They just do not want to listen to that science.

There has been an extensive amount of consultation, some of which we have just heard about from the previous speaker. There is overwhelming community support for marine protection. It is consistently shown in polling and community surveys that 70 per cent of the Australian community supports marine protection measures. In the latest one, only 13 per cent opposed it. Marine protection has broad community support. There were 36,000 public submissions to the south-west plan, which is the plan for the south-west coast of Western Australia and the coast of South Australia. Thirty-six thousand submissions were supportive of the draft plan. Eighty thousand people around the country sent in submissions to the final consultation phase. That is a lot of people paying attention to this issue. It is disappointing to note that, on websites, the rec fishers were reduced to offering inducements to people to encourage their participation in the process. The consultation process has been extensive.

I do find it hard that the coalition are now seemingly not supportive of marine protected areas when in fact the coalition have been involved in marine protection for a long period of time. They should be proud of the marine protected areas that at a federal level they have put in place. There are really some outstanding examples of what the coalition have done. They started this current process. In my home state of Western Australia, the Barnett government—while I have some criticisms that they have not gone far enough—have put in place a number of marine protected areas, such as Camden Sound and one of my favourite areas on the planet, the Cape to Cape region in the south-west. Years ago, when I was wearing another hat as the coordinator of the Conservation Council of Western Australia, I was involved in those consultation processes. I know each of the reserves that they put in place. I know them. I have walked the beaches there, including along virtually the entire Cape to Cape region. So they also recognise the value of marine protected areas.

In fact, I remember the debate over the Jurien Bay Marine Park in the late 1990s in Western Australia where there was an argument being put that, 'We don't need no-take areas in this marine park, because we are the best fisheries managers in the world and the rock lobster industry has the best fisheries management process. We do not need no-take areas.' This was the Western Australian government and the fishers running this line. There were many hours of arguments around the need for no-take areas. This was happening at the same time as the Marine Stewardship Council were doing their certification process. Again, the arguments there were long and about, 'We don't need to have no-take areas, because we understand the fishery. We don't actually understand a key part of that fishery, but we understand that fishery.'

Of course, circumstances now show that, in fact, we did not understand that fishery and we have had to see significant measures taken because numbers have dropped so low. History has now shown us that, if we had no-take areas there—even the modest ones that we were recommending—we probably would have a better handle on that fishery now than we do. The science is very clear about the role and importance of no-take areas. I think it would be fair to say that it is inconvenient science that the coalition does not like.

The importance of marine protection is recognised globally. Marine parks make marine ecosystems more resilient to environmental shocks and act as restocking areas for the surrounding waters. Marine protected areas have been shown to lead to larger fish and more biodiversity within protected areas. That also has an effect to varying degrees outside these protected areas. There is increased resistance to various environmental threats such as pollution, pests, overfishing and climate change. Where implemented, MPAs have led to the reappearance and/or increased numbers of top predators, better functioning food webs and more stable ecosystems. This is particularly important in a world of crashing fish stocks and ever more environmental pressure on our marine protected areas. Australia has some of the most wonderful biodiversity in the world. In particular in the southwest of WA we have an amazing array of unique species found nowhere else on the planet.

I also think the coalition are getting some of their understanding of the science wrong in terms of, for example, the crown-of-thorns starfish in Queensland where the science is showing that no-take areas—

Senator Ian Macdonald: Spare me, spare me.

Senator SIEWERT: Again, Senator Macdonald is saying, 'Spare me.' He does not want to hear the facts. He does not want to hear what the scientists are saying around crown-of-thorns starfish. Simply doing a bit of pest control will not deal with the issue.

Senator Ian Macdonald: I have lived with crown-of-thorns starfish.

Senator SIEWERT: Maybe you should look at the science, Senator Macdonald—the inconvenient science—that shows that you need healthy ecosystems that are resilient. Just doing some pest control does not deal with the underlying causes of those pest outbreaks. Terry Hughes says that reef health is the key to controlling crown-of-thorns starfish, that outbreaks are a symptom of low reef health, not the problem, and that we need to be looking at no-take reserves and that they are important for dealing with crown-of-thorns starfish.

Of course, the no-take areas and the marine protected areas provide an opportunity to benchmark fish populations in undisturbed ecosystems. There is overwhelming evidence to show the value of marine protection and the value of a series of marine reserves, a network, that is designed to support a resilient marine environment and marine ecosystems. Just last month Australia's moves to put in place a large national network of marine reserves was recognised by the IUCN at its annual—

Senator Ian Macdonald: Is this the one Christine is on?

Senator SIEWERT: Actually, she is not any more, Senator Macdonald.

Senator Ian Macdonald: But it gives you an idea of what the IUCN is like.

Senator SIEWERT: It has recognised and paid tribute to Australia. Actually, Senator Macdonald, the IUCN is a combination of government and non-government organisations and if you understood IUCN you would understand—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator McKenzie ): Order! Excuse me, Senators; can I please remind you to direct your comments through the chair.

Senator SIEWERT: Sorry, through the chair, Senator Macdonald probably needs to go and have a look at the way the IUCN operates as a house of both government and non-government organisations.

Senator Ian Macdonald: Yes, with people like Senator Milne.

Senator SIEWERT: The IUCN recognised the value, importance and significance of the series of marine protected areas that Australia is about to establish.

We hear lots arguments around the social and economic impacts. Again, this is inconvenient for the coalition because it shows that it does have significant benefits both socially and economically. We know, as I said earlier, that 70 per cent of people do support marine protection and appreciate the value. A number of us had the pleasure of listening to Tim Winton several months ago when he spoke so eloquently in this very place on the importance of our marine environment and how important it is to Australians, as we are a coastal nation and the vast majority of our community live on the coast and associate very clearly with the sea and with beaches.

Commonwealth marine parks, contrary to the scares that are out there, do not stop people enjoying our beaches. They do, however, reduce—

Senator Ian Macdonald: Who says that it stops them enjoying beaches?

Senator SIEWERT: Look at some of the words that people have been saying around locking up our marine environment. It does mean that people can still enjoy our beaches. The parks do, however, reduce human activities on our marine life. They are there to protect our marine environment, our marine ecosystems, and ensure that future generations can also enjoy our diverse marine environment.

Two-thirds of the marine reserves network, 87 per cent, of the total Commonwealth marine area, will allow recreational fishing and some forms of commercial fishing, but will restrict destructive industries such as bottom trawling and oil and gas extraction. That will improve the quality of these areas for recreational and sustainable commercial fishing. Contrary to the arguments that are being put, if we put in place a strong and effective system of marine protected areas we will ensure fish stocks into the future and we will ensure that we have a healthy marine environment that is there for future generations.

There have been some exaggerated claims that this will have an unacceptable economic impact. All sorts of figures have been thrown around. There are claims that it will cost hundreds of millions of dollars and some claims that $1 billion will be needed in compensation. The realistic figure is closer to $100 million. The Centre for Policy Development has unpacked these claims in its latest report, Marine reserves reality check. The centre's analysis shows that the new marine national parks in the proposed Commonwealth marine reserves network will cover an area that provides $1.2 billion a year in ecosystem service value—this is not recognised in our economic accounts—bringing the total value of Australia's fully protected marine reserves to $2 billion a year in ecosystem services. These services are based on a conservative analysis of the estimates from a major UN Environment Programme study, The economics of ecosystems and biodiversity, and is adjusted downwards to account for the lower productivity of Australia's waters. This is a huge contribution that marine environments provide. It costs less to avoid damage to ecosystems than to recover their functions once they have been damaged—and we know what impact poor management is having on fish stocks globally.

It is essential that Australia does act to ensure that our marine environment is protected. ABARES have undertaken an analysis of the cost of the marine reserves and estimate that the value of fishing production that will be displaced by creating the Commonwealth marine reserves network is around $11.1 million per year and about 1.1 per cent of the value of the fish catch gross value of production from wild fisheries.

This is nothing but an attempt by the coalition to undermine the system of marine reserves and the progress that the government is making on this. In a way it trashes its own proud history of marine protection that the previous Howard government set up. Is it now saying, 'We don't actually value what we did then; it is okay for us to do it, but we don't want that system extended'? The coalition is running the commercial fishers argument disguised as a rec fishers argument. Both commercial fishers and rec fishers have been making exaggerated claims about the impact it will have on their fisheries.

Senator Ian Macdonald: Rec fishers too?

Senator SIEWERT: I have said commercial fishers and rec fishers have both been running exaggerated claims about the impact it will have. They do not appreciate the value that marine protected areas play in actually keeping their fisheries sustainable.

Marine protection is vital to the future of our unique marine biodiversity and is the key to our protecting our fish stocks into the future. The science is clearly there. How much more science do you need to show the values of marine protected areas, of no-take areas and of a properly planned process? That is what this process is—it is about properly planning the use and protection of our marine environment. Imagine if we had had the opportunity to do that terrestrially. What a different landscape we would have. Hopefully we would not have the massive loss of biodiversity that we have seen in Australia. We, unfortunately, have an unenviable record in extinctions and biodiversity loss terrestrially in this country. We do not want to replicate that in our marine environment.

We have an opportunity to make sure that those areas are protected but that we also have fish stocks into the future so that future generations can enjoy our splendid marine environment, so that rec fishers can continue to fish and so that commercial fisheries can continue to operate into the future. Without adequate marine protection we will see our fish stocks crash and we will see the loss of marine biodiversity that has been witnessed elsewhere on the planet. The Greens oppose this bill.