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Monday, 17 September 2012
Page: 7003

Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (12:31): The government comes in here seeking to deal with a bill on an urgent basis but does not give any reasons in support of its motion. What this government has done is indicative of the shambolic way that it treats every major policy issue and indeed minor policy issue that comes before it.

Only today a week ago, the science on matters relating to a fishing trawler that is to operate in Australian waters was 'robust' and was to be supported. Indeed, we had Minister Ludwig in this place fully supporting the science. But 24 hours later somehow the science had changed. It was the political science that had changed: the Greens had insisted on this legislation.

And make no mistake: the legislation that was introduced was exactly what the Green-Labor alliance would have wanted to inflict on the Australian people if they had had the opportunity. But, due to the coalition's opposition to that bill, it became apparent that this was such a big and wide a net that it would have put the Margiris's to shame. What they tried to do in casting their big net was to include every recreational fishery, every charter fishery and every commercial fishery. What the legislation said was that if the minister felt 'uncertainty' on social, environment or economic grounds he could shut a fishery for two years. What do you think that did overnight to the value of fishing licences? It absolutely decimated them. What do you think that did to the future of charter fishing in Australia waters? It decimated their value. And, of course, for those reliant on the recreational fishery, it also placed their businesses under great, great uncertainty.

But for the coalition's opposition to this legislation, those factors would not have been aired in the other place. So reduced was this shambolic government that they had to rely on the member for Dobell—the one of fishnets fame as opposed to fishing fame—Mr Craig Thomson, to move an amendment. That is how reduced the ALP-Green alliance has become.

Then they realised they had other problems, and so they had to move even more amendments. Do you know what? This is what this government does with every piece of legislation. Remember how they introduced the carbon tax? It was rock solid; it was going to stay. Now, they have been changing it, haven't they, bit by bit because they would not listen to the coalition.

This bill, which was introduced into the House less than a week ago, all of a sudden has great urgency. It has to be passed as a matter of urgency. I simply ask the question: why—when the two ministers concerned only a week ago were still arguing and advocating that the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act was sufficient to look after the interests of our fishing stocks. So what changed? What was the issue that concerns the Labor Party? What it clearly is is a sign of a desperate government seeking to cling to any populist policy to try to regain support within the Australian community.

This legislation sets a very dangerous precedent and the reason that I want to air that precedent is that, if the government can do it to Seafish Tasmania, it can do it to anybody. Let me give you an example: you want to build a house. You approach the local council and say, 'Can I build a house on this block of land?' They say yes, so you go and buy the block of land. You buy all the building materials and then just on the day you are about to dig the first bit of the foundation, the council says, 'Guess what? We've changed the rules: you can no longer build your house.' Having committed your money to a block of land and all the building materials, and just as you were about to really start the project, the council says, 'Sorry; we've shifted the goalposts.'

This is exactly what the government has done to Seafish Tasmania. Indeed, it was no less than the minister for the environment, Mr Burke, who, whilst he was minister for fisheries signed off on the Commonwealth harvest strategy that specifically suggested that there be a trawler of this nature in the Australian waters to economically harvest this particular fishery. It was he who signed off on it. He was on TV over the weekend saying, 'Look, I didn't actually sign off on it.'

I used to be a fisheries minister. I know about the Commonwealth harvest strategy and I know that briefs go across your desk about these matters each and every day. He could have stopped this in 2009 if he had any uncertainty about the social, economic or environmental consequences. In 2009 he did not have any problems. He did not have any problems Monday last week. So when did the uncertainty finally hit him? Having been briefed by his department, having been given all the details, where has this uncertainty been created for this minister?

Senator Bernardi: Q&A.

Senator ABETZ: Senator Bernardi interjects: undoubtedly, the uncertainty arose on Q&A. One wonders where. In this debate about this particular fishing venture, I note that we have had a senator whose great intellectual input has been: 'I don't care about the science. I don't care about the economics; I'm just against it.' With great respect, how do you engage in public policy if you say to people, 'I'm not interested in the science. I'm not interested in the economics; I’m just against it'? You cannot really have a rational debate on that score.

And, of course, it was a Greens senator that said that. So when the minister in this Greens-ALP alliance is confronted with a Greens senator saying, 'I don't want to argue the science with you; I don't want to argue the economics with you,' the reason he could not argue is because there was no scientific or economic argument in his quiver to shoot in this debate. He had to say, 'It's the vibe; it was the heart flutters.' It was undoubtedly that which convinced him. Armed with that great intellectual argument he went to the minister, no doubt, and said, 'Please make a change.' As compliant as they are, this Greens-ALP government, they will always do that which the Greens insist upon.

Let us make no mistake: every single person who wants to invest in Australia or who is concerned about making a contribution to the growing wealth of our country will have to think twice under this Greens-ALP alliance because they have a fisheries minister who is signing off on a strategy to which you say, 'That's a good idea; I might adopt that—I'll invest on that basis.' Then that same minister, under a little bit of pressure from the Greens, says, 'Right, I know you've made all these investments; I know you've employed 45 unemployed people; we are now going to change the rules on you.' The reason: 'I feel uncertain about the science,' or 'I feel uncertain about the social implications,' or 'I feel uncertain about the environmental implications.' Excuse me, but should a minister not be required to provide some robust material which tells us why this minister has this uncertainty? Now the minister can just say, 'I'm sorry, I'm uncertain.'

Senator Payne: Socially uncertain!

Senator BERNARDI: Yes, Senator Payne, socially uncertain—that is all that is required. On what basis would anybody seek to make an investment in our country with this sort of shambolic government? You saw what they did with pink batts; you saw what they did with cash for clunkers; you saw what they did with solar panels; you saw what they did with green loans; and just when you think, 'Surely they can't have another muck-up of this nature'—oh yes, they can! They had the live cattle export issue, didn't they, where they changed the rules overnight. Instead of just providing holding pens and stun-guns for those particular abattoirs in Indonesia they cancelled the trade overnight and they have a $30 million-liability which the taxpayer will have to fund, not the Greens senators or the Labor ministers that made the change. It is the Australian taxpayer that has to fund the shambolic decisions of this government. Not having learnt from the live cattle export trade we are now having a repeat, yet again, in the fishing sector.

We can argue about whether or not you support the trawler; that is one issue. But there is a fundamental principle here and a fundamental precedent that we need to be very, very careful of. That is the precedent of a government luring somebody to Australia in partnership with an Australian company to harvest a particular fishery—according to everything that is required of them by government—only to change the rules at one minute to midnight just before the net is about to touch the water. That is not the way you do government in this country. This is not the way you administer good public policy—unless, of course, you are in the Greens-ALP alliance.

This has sent shock waves through every business that wants to invest in Australia. It is sending shock waves through Australian businesses that want to reinvest in Australia. Indeed, just recently I was at a mining conference where, on the back of the shambolic mining tax of this government, it was reported that due to Greens-ALP alliance policies on that tax Mozambique has less sovereign risk attached to its mining industry today than Australia. I trust those Greens-ALP senators are proud of that sort of record. That is what they have done: they have trashed our country's reputation.

We as a coalition are putting a stake in the ground here, saying: 'This is where we stand on these issues. It is for people to be able to understand that if we make a promise, if we give somebody an assurance that they can invest if they abide by certain rules and principles, we will allow them to go ahead.' But of course, when you do not have a moral compass, when you do not have a policy compass to guide you, you can go to the people six days before an election and say, 'There will be no carbon tax.' Remember the open hands which show honesty and integrity, and Ms Gillard on TV saying, 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead'? Well, if you are willing to go back on such a fundamental promise, I suppose we should not be surprised that Ms Gillard and her government and the Green alliance partners pushing it are willing to go back on their promise, on their undertaking, on their assurance on this particular venture: that they should be allowed to fish in Australian waters. They held out the law, they held out the Commonwealth harvest strategy—that what you need is a big freezer vessel. That is what a company, a consortium, did, only to have this government now stop it.

The question is: why do we need to debate this today, immediately? What is the utter urgency here? None has been made out other than they want to stop this particular venture in the circumstances that I have already outlined. That sends, quite rightly, terrible shock waves through the investment community. You might ask: why should we be concerned about the investment community? I will tell you why. The investment community in Australia through this particular venture had employed 45 people to work on that vessel. Today, courtesy of the Green-ALP alliance, they are back on the dole queue in, as it happens, my home state of Tasmania. The only thing that Tasmania is on the leagues table with is the unemployment rate. We saw 100 jobs lost on King Island just recently in an abattoir; we saw 100 or more jobs lost in the fresh vegetable sector. There was a glimmer of hope on the horizon, a new venture and new jobs whilst sustainably harvesting our natural resources, only for it to be struck by this government.

I say especially to the Australian Greens: they now have a history of devastating the Tasmanian economy. I remember they started off with being opposed to a hydro dam and, at the time when they opposed the hydro-dam, do you know what they said on the front page of the local paper? Sure, it was some 30 years ago, but they said: 'A better alternative would be'—wait for it—'a coal-fired power station.' That was none other than that great environmentalist, Bob Brown. Why do the media not throw that back at him as an example from 30 years ago and as an example of the consequences of green policy? I might I add, because of that consequence, Tasmania now imports brown coal fired electricity into Tasmania. It is doing wonders for the economy! After that, they moved onto forestry and they virtually destroyed that, courtesy of a Green-Labor alliance government, not only in Canberra but also in Hobart. Part of the Green campaign is to spike the markets of timber companies in Tasmania who seek to market their products around the world. And do you know what they did through their policy? Ensured that Ta Ann in Tasmania could not sell their regrowth and plantation timber product to the London Olympics. It was boycotted because of the green issues surrounding it. Do you know who backfilled that? The Indonesian timber companies that are dropping rainforests at three million hectares per annum without any proper forestry plan. That is another example of the perverse outcome of green policy: you have regrowth plantation timber being displaced by virgin rainforest timber that will never be replanted in Indonesia.

So you can move on to this particular issue where this particular trawler will be harnessing the fruits of the ocean for a fish which is not very acceptable to the Australian palate but a vital source of fish protein to the people of Africa. That is going to be the destination of this product which will be harvested sustainably, according to world's best practice. Anybody else who wants to partake in this debate, I simply ask them the question, as I continually do about Tasmanian forestry: where do they forestry better than they do it in Tasmania and we will learn. The Greens have never told us who does forestry better than they do it in Tasmania. Why? Because they cannot.

Similarly, in relation to the Commonwealth harvest strategy for fisheries and the setting of our total allowable catches, as conservative as they are, I ask: is there any other country in the world that has such an exacting regime? Indeed, the vessel will have Australian fishery management authority personnel on it. There will be cameras monitoring the net as it is brought up so that anything untoward can be reported immediately. This is what we are talking about: very good, robust science and very good, robust economics, with a good social outcome with this fish product going to the people of Africa who need a cheap source of fish protein. And for cheap political purposes not only are those opposite going to stymie that social good they are also going to stymie the investment climate in Australia, and that is why the coalition is opposed to this motion.