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Thursday, 1 November 2012
Page: 8749

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South Wales) (11:19): 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. This is a very sensible piece of legislation which would help to alleviate a great deal of concern that is being felt across the Australian community, particularly by those people who are concerned about the environment and those who are concerned about their livelihoods—their jobs—especially in coastal communities. Coming from New South Wales, as I do, I know there are many communities that are concerned about this.

It is also of concern to those people in the scientific community who want to continue to maintain that Australia not only has the best fisheries management regime in the world but also that we are managing our marine estate with the very best possible legislation. This bill will require the environment minister to commission an independent, social and economic impact assessment before any proclamations are made. It would require him or her to obtain an independent scientific peer-reviewed advice before making any proclamations and for this advice to be made public. It would require the minister to establish independent scientific reference panels and stakeholder advisory groups for each region to ensure that the decision-making was rigorous. Finally, the bill would put parliament in charge of final decision-making, to enable it to make proclamations disallowable because, currently, they are not disallowable.

We know that Australia's fisheries are globally benchmarked and recognised as amongst the best managed in the world. So the question needs to be asked: why do we then need to lock Australians out of our oceans? Let us look at Minister Burke's declaration and what it actually means. The new marine reserves take the overall size of the Commonwealth marine reserves network to 3.1 million square kilometres, which would be by far the largest representative network of marine-protected areas in the world. The effect of this would be that together the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and the Coral Sea Commonwealth Marine Reserve would become the largest adjoining marine protected area in the world, covering 1.3 square kilometres.

Following the release of the maps of the new parks, Minister Burke has said it was too late to change the boundaries or zone classifications, even though there still is a 60-day consultation period to complete. Reference to that was made in the Financial Review of 14 June 2012. How can this possibly be consultation? Basically it is a take-it-or-leave-it approach with no consideration being given to the views of Australia's coastal communities. But of course lack of consultation is endemic within the Gillard Labor government, as it was under the Rudd Labor government. In my own portfolio areas and in health in general, which I cover in this place, we have seen many examples of that. I have traversed that at length in many debates in this place.

As part of this declaration the government will also have to undertake design and implementation of a fisheries adjustment assistance package. The Prime Minister indicated on the day of the announcement that this could be around $100 million, although it appears that estimates of this could be much higher. Recreational and commercial fishers, as well as many of those related businesses and those communities that rely on fishing, have raised substantial concerns about the ALP's handling of marine protected areas.

Justifiably there are concerns by many communities who believe that they will face enormous economic and social losses unless there is proper and effective consultation on potential marine protected areas. Only proper and effective consultation will ensure that in the future marine protected areas achieve a balance of preservation of our environment with economic growth, ensuring that our coastal communities remain strong. The question is: can Minister Burke be trusted? That is the concern that many have in this area. In particular many are saying that Minister Burke cannot be trusted, and that is blindingly obvious after the recent declared commercial fishing activities amendment to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

This is another political decision by this government. It is certainly not a scientific decision. It is another example of the political fix rather than sound policy. This has also meant that amendments are needed, because they have not thought the process through properly. This is another example of policy on the run. Minister Burke has trashed the reputation of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority Commission, even though he himself appointed every member of the commission. He also has trashed the reputation of some of our world-leading scientists in the scientific community and institutions that have done the science in this area. The government has demonstrated that even if you do everything asked of you and then some extra, it is still not enough.

Businesses are very concerned they have been dudded—not only the businesses themselves but also their employees. How can business operate under this sort of environment? Should Australian fishers trust a man with this shambolic track record? Currently the environment minister has sole power to approve the adoption of bioregional plans. Declarations of bioregional plans and marine protected areas have significant environmental and social consequences. Therefore it is not appropriate for these declarations to be made without the opportunity for proper review, because they are not disallowable instruments. Regrettably the minister has displayed a complete lack of leadership and an inability to inform himself of the fundamental peer reviewed science that supported the small pelagic fish harvest strategy that he oversaw as fisheries minister. How can we trust him to have understood the science around marine parks? The issue is: who has he consulted? What reputable scientists has he talked to?

This is another vote against the minister, against sound peer-reviewed science that supports fisheries management in Australia. The latest Commonwealth fish status report confirms the ongoing improvement of Australian fish stocks. The Fisheries Status Report 2010, produced by the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics and Sciences shows that the fish stocks managed by the Australian government are more sustainable in 2010, building on improved performance in recent years. Of the 96 fish stocks assessed, 71 are not subject to overfishing which means that they are being harvested at an appropriate level. The Australian Fishing Trade Association estimates that the economic contribution that recreational fishing makes to the Australian economy is between $10 and $15 billion per annum.

Yet the government have bungled their recent announcement about 33 new marine parks because they have failed to adopt a balanced approach to marine protected areas. They have also failed to engage in the appropriate consultation with the fishing industry and the wider communities. The recreational and the commercial fishers, as well as many of their related businesses and communities that rely on fishing, have raised substantial concerns about how the government has handled the issue of marine protected areas. I turn now to the coalition's position. The coalition has supported a balanced approach to marine conservation; it was our policy for the 2010 election and we stand by it. We started the process of establishing comprehensive marine bioregional plans which include determination of marine protected areas around Australia's coastline. The former coalition government engaged in extensive and cooperative consultation processes before any marine protected areas were declared. It was this consultation which ensured that the appropriate balance was struck between protecting marine biodiversity and minimising the social and economic impacts on fishermen, businesses and coastal communities to achieve better outcomes overall. The result of all of this was a greater protected area with less impact on industry. As I indicated earlier, we know this government does not have a good track record of effective consultation.

There is considerable angst amongst fishermen regarding the declaration of the marine national parks. Their concerns are not being heard. The consultation process is absolutely flawed and as a consequence of that the results of that process will be absolutely flawed. The coalition is committed to returning balance and fairness to the issue of marine conservation, an issue that should be subject to scientific and commercial rigour and, above all, conducted in an open and transparent manner.

As I have indicated, the environment minister currently has sole power to approve the adoption of these bioregional plans. The declarations of these plans and marine protected areas have significant environmental, social and economic consequences that need to be properly assessed. As a consequence, we will look at returning balance and fairness to marine conservation.

Let us look at some of the practical effects of these changes. At the last federal election one of the most lasting images for me, particularly in seats such as Richmond and those along the northern areas of New South Wales, was the bumper sticker that said, 'I fish and I vote'. It was an issue that created enormous angst up and down the New South Wales coast. Whilst, as a New South Wales senator I am particularly concerned for that area, I know that angst is shared right around Australia. When I last spoke on this matter I raised the issues around the federal seats of the Central Coast, such as Paterson.

Residents are quite rightly concerned about the devastating impact that the reduction in fishing will have not only on their communities in general but also, and especially, on tourism and the flow-on consequences to their local communities. It was against this background that at the last election we saw, particularly in New South Wales, the damage that recreational and commercial fishers have already sustained as a consequence of the previous Labor government's deal with the Greens which saw large areas of state marine parks made into no-go fishing zones. Naturally, the fishing industry and the recreational and commercial fishers, particularly in New South Wales, are justifiably concerned about the impact that this legislation will have on them.

These issues were canvassed at great length when the Environment and Communications Legislation Committee inquired into the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Bioregional Plans) Bill 2011. At that time there was overwhelming support for parliamentary review of the marine bioregional planning process, and that was evident in the many submissions to the committee. For example, the submission from the Abalone Industry Association of South Australia said:

It is a real slap in the face to the good work done by our Government Fisheries Managers and Industry. We are very uncomfortable with the fact that the final decision of adopting the bioregional plans rests with the Minister for Environment only. We would prefer to have a far more rigorous and robust process through the parliament that doesn't have the potential to be clouded by extreme green views.

Then we had Ms Kathryn Williams, who identified herself as 'An irate Australian Citizen'. She said:

The Government seems to rush into these types of proposals and not take into account what the layman says. You say you listen to us at these Marine Park meetings but I think you are only there to show your presence and that you have already made the decision to go ahead.

How typical is that reflection from Ms Williams about what this government does! Whether it be about marine parks or in my own area of mental health, I listen to Minister Butler go off on his conversations with people, mostly in Labor seats and the odd Independent seat, basically talking to his own people and giving the appearance of consultation when, in effect, it is clear the government is not going to make any changes or listen to people at all.

In that inquiry we also heard from Mr Greg Haines, the Managing Director of the Haines Group. He said:

The apparent political power of these minority groups, combined the perceived shallow public consultation conducted on Marine Parks zoning has left an indelible impression in the minds of many that Democracy is dead. At least in the matter of Marine Zoning. If this all sounds far-fetched, you need look no further than the submissions to the 2005 Review of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act.

The Australian Fishing Trade Association said this:

To date no briefing regarding the science being used with Bio Regional Planning has been transparently tabled to stake holders. Thus no comment from stake holders has been achieved. This vacuum of information has not been helpful in any understanding of current process, future process or past process.

In conclusion, unlike Labor and their Green alliance partners, the coalition does not believe that the scientific and economic challenges of fishing and marine protection are incompatible. The Australian fishing industry is one of the most environmentally responsible fishing industries in the world, and the very last thing that the fishing industry wants to do is to destroy the environment that is providing them with a living and with the opportunity for recreational fishing.

The coalition believes that the establishment of such areas should not be about politics but, above all, about protecting marine biodiversity and minimising social and economic impact on fishers, businesses and their communities. The coalition will return balance and fairness to marine conservation so that all Australians can have confidence that the best decisions are being made in protecting our marine biodiversity as well as the fishers and communities that feed so many Australians. I commend the bill to the Senate.