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Thursday, 11 October 2012
Page: 7962

Senator BOYCE (Queensland) (11:28): Poor judgement and poor implementation have been hallmarks of the Rudd-Gillard governments. But if we are looking for fantastically dumb things to do, the legislation that the government has in place on marine parks in the Coral Sea is one of the most destructive and far-reaching that they have managed to produce. The Coral Sea, which will be locked up by the proposals of Minister Burke—the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities—is a vital and renewable food source.

Minister Burke in the overall proposal is looking to lock Australians—Australian industry, Australian recreationalists—out of 3.1 million square kilometres of Australia's water. The government is of course not planning to lock us out because fishing is harmful to our marine environment; it is locking us out because of a deal that it has done with the Greens. Why would we be surprised? This government will do anything to stay in power even if that means Australians lose that great Australian tradition of eating wild-caught fish.

If it were fishing that was harming our waters, then fine; something should be done to protect our oceans from fishing. But fishing is not harming our waters, and Minister Burke knows that only too well. He is being incredibly negligent in pushing this proposal—one that has a high probability of damaging food security and industries, and the health ultimately of Australians.

Minister Burke knows that it is introduced organisms and run-off that are harming our waters, not fishing. In this area the reef rescue plan and other groups in Queensland are doing a sterling job in working to protect our waters from run-off. That is why the coalition has put forward this bill through the shadow parliamentary secretary for fisheries, Senator Richard Colbeck, calling on the minister to (1) commission an independent social and economic impact statement before any proclamations are made; (2) obtain independent scientific peer reviewed advice before making any proclamations and for that advice to be publicly available; and (3) to establish independent scientific reference panels and stakeholder advisory groups for each region to ensure rigorous decision making.

The one question that we do not seem to have any sort of answer to from Minister Burke or this government—or indeed from the sponsors of the government's legislation, the Greens—and one they cannot answer and have not answered is: how is it possible for the government to have produced a regulatory impact statement on the marine reserves network that does not include any costings at all and completely lacks assessment or even proper identification of the risks? When the government can answer that question perhaps we might withdraw this legislation, but not until then.

Our bill, whilst it sounds innocuous, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Making Marine Parks Accountable) Bill 2012, I believe is one of the most important bills—and I do not think I am exaggerating here—to come before the chamber. It is calling on the government not to rush in and lock our oceans up and deny Australians access to wild-caught seafood without proper analysis. We would not be asking for much at all if this government had the slightest sense of proper implementation and proper analysis. What we are asking for is a proper process, and that should be just a fundamental part of governing. But with this government it is not, and we have had so many examples of that.

Senator Whish-Wilson earlier was talking about the science in New South Wales, the science in South Australia and the science internationally that he believes would support the development of marine park reserves. I would like to point out to Senator Whish-Wilson that the Coral Sea, which is the major part that will be locked up by these reserves, off Queensland's north coast is not an estuary in South Australia. That is where the research has been done: in South Australian estuaries with water depths of a quarter or less than that of the Coral Sea, which is the area that needs scientific analysis.

This minister needs to explain to the Australian people why he is planning to go ahead with his bill and denying them access to a nutritious food source when he knows full well that Australia is already a leader in ocean management. University of Canberra's emeritus professor of fisheries Bob Carney's assessment of the government's regulatory impact statement into extending the marine reserve network found bias and imbalance riddled throughout the statement. The bias starts right in the opening statement of the government's impact statement when they say:

Australia's oceans, like those around the world, are subject to many pressures arising from direct exploitation as well as the indirect impacts of expanding human activities across the planet.

That assertion is just wrong. Yes, Australia's oceans are under pressure from indirect impacts of expanding activities across the planet but they are not under pressure from direct exploitation. That is because of the very proud history that Australia has in oceans management. Australia's oceans are unlike other countries in that they are not under many pressures arising from direct exploitation because direct exploitation is very well managed in Australia. That is as a result of legislation introduced by ministers such as Senator Robert Hill and Senator Ian Macdonald under the Howard-Costello government.

Most of the major pressures on Australia's oceans come from indirect impacts and those are predominantly the impacts of activities on land. For Senator Whish-Wilson to suggest that it is the coalition turning common sense on its head is absolutely laughable. It is the Greens and Labor that are turning common sense on its head. Where there is science that supports the use of any type of direct exploitation of the ocean floor as there was with the supertrawler, which would have operated within quotas and in a very strict system, we will support that.

When there is no direct science, as is the case with the government's proposed marine park reserves, we will oppose it. We will put in place legislation that gives us a better outcome—an outcome that would actually look at the areas that would go into this marine park.

The health of our oceans is borne out by Australia's rankings in the world. We rank fourth in the world on the UN Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. The Australian Fisheries Management Authority, which I am pleased to say is an independent authority, although it appears to upset this government when it behaves like an independent authority, has demonstrated that Australian fishers have been consistently ranked amongst the world's best for resource management by—and I would like to emphasise—international experts writing in peer reviewed journals. I know using the term 'peer reviewed journals' is somewhat of an anathema to this government and to the Greens. Any sort of research that supports their idea is good enough. It does not matter that no other expert in the field agrees with them or that their research was done in conditions that are completely different from those areas that the government is seeking to lock up. They will just accept whatever they want.

Let us look at the research by experts in the peer reviewed journals. They say that Australia is one of the world's best managers of its fishery and ocean resources. There is absolutely no evidence that fishing is harming our Australian oceans—none whatsoever. Even the green groups admit that fishing is not harming our oceans. I am somewhat bemused by Senator Whish-Wilson's comments, which were strictly around Tasmania, suggesting that marine park reserves will help commercial and recreational fishermen. I am not quite sure what 'help' stopping their activities will be for them. I have no idea how that will be helpful to them. The only appropriate approach that the government should have taken was to identify real ecological threats, and that is what the coalition is proposing in this bill.

The declaration of bioregional plans and marine protected areas has significant environmental and socioeconomic consequences, and so it must be properly assessed. In Townsville, for example, an assessment done by an independent accountancy firm suggests that the cost to Townsville and the surrounding area of this lock-out will be in the region of $1 billion. That is not covered at all in the government's regulatory impact statement on their legislation. So let us look at the real cost of what the government is planning and ask what the benefits are. The answer is that there are no known benefits to be achieved whatsoever by the government's legislation.

The Greens will not support the coalition's bill because of their misplaced priorities, in my view. They can be depended on not to look past their myopia and see that the government's proposal will actually harm our oceans. Their ideology comes at a high price when they refuse to even consider the harm that Minister Burke's proposal will do to the environment. If the government proposal goes ahead, it will have a disastrous impact on our fishing industry and related industries. I was told a story in North Queensland recently that even services such as supermarkets and doctors left town after the Bligh government's buyback of commercial contracts. This was because the chandlers and other providers such as the bait and tackle shops et cetera that relied on the commercial and recreational fishing failed and then so too did the service industries that supported them.

Let us look at the disastrous impact that the government's legislation would have were it allowed to go ahead without proper analysis and without proper cost and benefit assessment. Imagine what it will do to our tourism industry—and I am not talking about the minor issue of Tasmanian charter boats; I am talking about the multibillion dollar industries of deep sea fishing and tourism out of Cairns and North Queensland generally. Minister Burke likes to suggest that there will be no effect on recreational fishermen because these marine parks start so far offshore that recreational fishermen will never go there. Well, sorry, there will be an effect. The problem, of course, is that if commercial fishermen are restricted closer to the coast, they will become direct competitors with the recreational fishermen.

The hospitality industry, as part of the tourism industry, will also be seriously affected by the government's legislation. When eating at seafood restaurants in Brisbane—some of which include restaurants such as Gambaro's, which is associated with the current member for Brisbane, Teresa Gambaro—I know that I am going to get Australian wild-caught seafood when I order it from the menu. There are a number of other organisations such as Samies Girl that also provide Australian seafood—but they provide it at a premium. Seafood imported from primarily Asian countries does not have our environmental standards or our standards of workplace health and safety, so you have them fishing out areas, you have waters that are by no means as clean as the waters in which we catch our Australian fish. It is going to become almost impossible to find freshly caught Australian seafood if the government's plan goes ahead. Demand will be so high and supply so low that most Australians will not be able to afford to eat Australian seafood at all.

We already have well over 80 per cent of seafood imported into Australia. Do we want that to go to almost 100 per cent? Australian families simply will not be able to buy Australian seafood. What the government is doing is outsourcing Australia's fishing industry offshore to countries whose fishing practices are not as sustainable as ours and it is shipping jobs offshore as well. I very much hope that the Australian public will maintain their rage, as they have on the government's proposal to extend marine reserves from 27 to 60. They need to think about how it will affect them. It sounds impressive to say we will have all these marine reserves, but it is not so great when you think about how those marine reserves are going to affect the diet, the lifestyle and the livelihood of Australians.

The impact in Queensland will be huge. In Queensland alone, Minister Burke is proposing to lock up more than the equivalent of half the state—989,842 square kilometres of our ocean will be locked up. The international benchmark for marine reserves is 10 per cent. Good old Queensland will end up with 80 per cent of our coastal waters locked away. We have a comparative economic advantage as well as a comparative environmental advantage with our fishing zones and the government wants to just rip that comparative advantage away. We have the third largest fishing zone in the world and yet, in terms of our take from that fishing zone, we come in 61st. So to suggest that we are overfishing our fishing zones is incredible in my view. Where will we end up ranking if these marine reserves go ahead? We will fall even further than 61st in terms of our take from our massive and well-managed oceans.

There is also the risk of unregulated illegal foreign fishing activities replacing the legal and well-regulated domestic fishing activities. Who will police Australian waters when Australian fishers in the main are banned from fishing in our waters? Think about that, Mr Deputy President—989,000 square kilometres. We do not have the resources to use Customs or border protection or anybody else to keep an eye on an area of that size. The people who jealously guard it for us are Australian fishers who work to Australian standards, use Australian environmental controls, work on low energy efficiency and design their products so that they do not damage the ocean floors. These are the people who are also policing our fisheries right now and ensuring that other countries do not fish in our waters. When they are not there, who will save us?

It is ironic that the government is prepared to risk Australia's food security, the health of Australian people, our iconic lifestyle and our oceans and is prepared to send our fishing industry offshore so it can stay in power. Where is the logic in this? Where is the rigorous assessment one would hope a government like this might manage to produce once in a while?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Thorp, you have a couple of minutes before the debate expiry, and then you will be in continuation.