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Monday, 17 September 2012
Page: 7007

Senator COLBECK (Tasmania) (12:51): I too would like to add a few comments to the motion moved by Senator Collins. Just to follow on from the comments that were just made by my colleague Senator Abetz in respect of green policy and its impact on my home state of Tasmania in particular, I think as we start this discussion that it is very interesting to look at the comments on the Greens website on economic development in my home state of Tasmania. I note the front page of my local paper today says that the North West Coast of Tasmania is losing 50 jobs a week. That is the impact of this disastrous Labor-Greens government in my home state of Tasmania. Tim Morris, the Treasury spokesman for the Greens, talks about de-industrialisation—so code for closing down business. That is what de-industrialisation means. He talks about demographic change as opposed to growth—in other words, they do not want any growth in Tasmania. I would have to say on the back of Senator Abetz's comments that the Greens are doing a pretty good job. There are 50 jobs a week going down the drain on the North West Coast of Tasmania, where I live.

The Greens policies are actually working. They are de-industrialising my region of Tasmania. They are causing demographic change as opposed to growth. In fact, they are shrinking the economy in Australia. No wonder Tasmania is so reliant on revenues from the Commonwealth when the Greens, as cabinet ministers, are being given the imprimatur by the Labor Party—who is so weak in Tasmania that it cannot even fill a cabinet itself—to shrink the economy. That is effectively what is happening in Tasmania. And then, as Senator Abetz said, there is suddenly an urgent issue that the government wants to bring before the parliament today in relation to a change to the EPBC Act. What a complete and utter shambles this process has been right from the start.

I had a briefing with the minister's office last week, after the legislation was introduced. The minister's office, and Minister Ludwig's office, told us that this was prospective legislation and that it would have no effect on anyone who was currently operating in the industry—that it was all about new entrants to the fishing industry.

On reading the legislation, it was immediately obvious that it applied to everybody in the fishing industry. It did not matter whether you were a recreational fisher, it did not matter whether you were a charter boat operator, it did not matter whether you were a commercial fisher or whether you were involved in the aquaculture sector—everybody in the fishing industry from commercial right through to recreational was impacted by this piece of legislation. I wonder whether the minister had even read it? And if he had, did he comprehend it? Because the effect of the legislation was not as he said in his press conference, and it was not as briefed to the coalition by Minister Ludwig's office and the two respective departments. We were given a very different message to the one that was given publicly.

It comes back to the matter of trust that we have talked about on a number of occasions. Senator Abetz quite rightly reminds us that six days before the last election the Prime Minister said: 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead', and then went on to legislate for that. Minister Burke and Minister Ludwig said: 'This will only impact on this one vessel', and yet when the legislation is introduced into the House, it impacts on everybody.

There are a range of perspectives and a range of views around the supertrawler, but this has gone way beyond that. This now comes to a matter of ministerial competence. Quite frankly, this minister, Minister Burke in particular, is incompetent. There is no question about that.

We asked the minister's office to tell us what the minister had done to allay the concerns that he had about the current circumstance, particularly the social uncertainties that he was talking about in his press conference. We were greeted with a very blank look. So to help them out I asked: 'Has the minister spoken to the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation?' That is a government and industry funded organisation that conducts research around our fishing industry—around sustainability, around all of the issues of bycatch, and around the issues of marine-mammal interaction which, we are told, is now Minister Burke's major concern. I asked if he had spoken to the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation to allay his concerns? I am quite happy to accept that he may have had some concerns. That is quite understandable. But he also has a responsibility to inform himself on the issues around those concerns.

The advice to me was that he had not spoken to the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation. That is quite astounding. He was the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry between 2007 and 2010. He would be well aware of their expertise, yet made no effort to talk to them.

I then asked if he had spoken to the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania? That institute has some world-renowned experts in the management of this fishery. In fact, one of their specialists had just spent two weeks lecturing at the United Nations FAO Committee on Fisheries about managing these fisheries—an acceptance of Australia's position of knowledge and world's best practice. An American company that is one of the largest seafood purchasers in the world has just contracted the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies to do some research. They have come to the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies and said: 'We recognise your expertise. We know how good you are; your reputation is very strong. Will you do some research for us?' And they have contracted $900,000 worth of research from this organisation.

So did Minister Burke talk to the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies? No. So what did the minister do to inform himself? What did he do to relieve himself of the uncertainties and the concerns he had about marine-mammal interactions—something that he now calls bycatch? No-one else in the industry calls it bycatch, but Minister Burke has redefined the term bycatch from what it actually means—and what the fishing industry means by it—to something else. But what did he do?

He spoke to the department. The only thing that Minister Burke did to allay his concerns was to talk to the department. I think that is a complete failure of ministerial responsibility. It would be quite easy for him as minister to and ring the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation and have a conversation. It would be quite easy for him to ring the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies and have a conversation to allay his concerns. He could have rung SARDI in South Australia, another very, very fine organisation that looks after fisheries management in this country. But absolutely no effort was made. Why would he do that? If you do not know then you have a case to run. If you have not made any attempt to inform yourself then you can go out there and say, 'I'm uncertain,' because he was, but he had made absolutely no effort to find out what was going on.

We come back to the legislation that is now so important. After discovering it was all-encompassing—because the opposition found that it was, rather than just doing what the minister portrayed it as when he did a press conference last Tuesday, and it picked up the commercial, the recreational, the charter boat operators and the aquaculture sector who, I have to say, have real cause to be concerned given the Greens attacks on the aquaculture sector in Australia as they do not want to see it expanded and it is part of their rationale around de-industrialisation—what did he do? The first thing was to go to Craig Thomson and give him an amendment which seeks to take out from the bill recreational fishers. Unfortunately the government's lack of understanding of the recreational fishing sector means that they only half did the job, because charter boat operators are regarded as commercial operators and therefore the question was: when is a recreational fisher not a recreational fisher? When they are fishing on a charter boat. They stuffed up the first attempt at amending this bill to take out what they said was not there in the first place.

Then they came back with another amendment to define recreational fishing. It is another process and another demonstration of the failure of this minister and his incompetence in dealing with this matter. Then there is the concern of the broader community, including the recreational fishers who were worried about the first amendment and put out a press release asking why legislation was brought in that included them when the government had said it would not. There was another failure in interacting with the recreational sector. Why anybody would trust this minister, I really do not know. He told them he would not include them, yet he did. They had to put out a press release to say, 'Take us out,' before he reacted.

Then we come to the issue of social uncertainty. What does that actually mean? We asked the minister's office in the briefing what 'social uncertainty' meant, but they could not provide us with a definition. They did not know what it meant. Is social uncertainty something in the minister's mind? But we are here preparing to take away the activity of a business which has done everything that the government asked of it plus some, on the basis of social uncertainty. We still do not have a definition, and are not likely to get one, because it has been removed from the legislation. That is the process the government has undertaken.

Then we have the issues around the rest of the commercial fishing industry and aquaculture, and their existing activities which were also subject to the legislation. All of those issues remain. We have yet another amendment that came into the House of Representative to try and sort that problem out. It sorts out the issues for anyone in an existing activity, but anyone who wants to change their activities—for example, someone who might want to put a new net into the water, a new dolphin excluder onto their net—is now subject to this legislation. Senator Abetz commented about bank managers asking what statutory fishing rights were worth. That uncertainty remains under this legislation. In a demonstration of how bad this legislation is, they then came in with the sunset clause—'We'll kill it off after 12 months'. That's how bad this legislation is, and yet they want to rush it through the chamber today; it is urgent that it be brought on today. There is demonstration of their failure in the development of this legislation and of their failure in the consultation around this legislation from talking to the recreational sector, one of the sectors that had real concerns about this legislation, which said it was not consulted in the development of the bill. Yet now there is a huge rush and it has to be done urgently.

All of the failures of this government throughout this process, many of which have been canvassed in the debate on this bill and previously through the development of the management systems around the fisheries which I am sure will be canvassed during the debate as the bill comes on, have been shown and yet this is still an urgent piece of legislation. That is despite the recognised position of Australia's fisheries management. The other thing that really concerns me about this rush to legislate is that it actually significantly undermines confidence in Australia's fisheries management. Minister Burke appointed the AFMA commission directors; they are his appointments. Michael Egan, the former New South Wales Treasurer, who is chair of AFMA—

Senator Fifield: I wondered where he'd got to.

Senator COLBECK: These former treasurers turn up in strange places. Michael Egan was appointed by Minister Burke. He appointed the AFMA commission that is overseeing this entire process.

So is Minister Burke, in his rush to push this legislation through the parliament, expressing no confidence in his appointments on the AFMA commission? Perhaps.

Senator Collins might like to answer that question later on as to whether he was expressing no confidence, because Minister Burke tabled the management plan for the small pelagic fishery in this parliament. That plan incorporates the harbour strategy, which says that a large-scale freezer vessel may very well be the way to deal with this. Minister Burke's denials of his knowledge of or involvement in this process are completely unbelievable. He has absolutely no credibility in this debate, and this debate is now urgent and must be brought on because of his uncertainty, which he has made absolutely no effort to deal with. We now have to suspend debate on all other matters to bring this on.

It also trashes the reputation of our fisheries management system, which is globally benchmarked, as I have said in this place before, as the second best in the world for sustainability behind Germany. I do not think Germany is a huge fishing nation—needless to say, we give them credit for being there at the top of the tree—but we are at No. 2 on sustainability. That is what this argument is all about. Minister Burke, now the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities after presiding over the introduction of all the management systems as Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, is now talking about his uncertainty about those systems. I wonder whether Minister Burke has any confidence in his own decisions. That is probably the key question: are Minister Burke's actions now in trying to rush this piece of legislation through the parliament a motion of no-confidence in himself? I think that is probably correct.

Senator Fifield: It'll get up, I think.

Senator COLBECK: I will take your interjection, Senator Fifield. I think Minister Burke's motion of no-confidence in himself will be passed. It was passed in the House of Representatives last week. The best thing this minister could do is resign, because he is a complete and utter failure. He claims no knowledge of decisions that were made during his time as fisheries minister—

Senator Bernardi: He's like Sergeant Schultz.

Senator COLBECK: I think that is an insult to Sergeant Schultz, Senator Bernardi. I think Minister Burke's activities and actions go way beyond Sergeant Schultz. I think that is an insult to Sergeant Schultz. I have a bit of time for a Sergeant Schultz, Senator Bernardi, much more than I have for the minister.

In fact, at the last election we saw this minister, after three years in the agriculture portfolio, did not even bring down an agriculture policy. A 1½-page statement was all he could manage. What a legacy! A legacy of failure! We often wondered what he did, and he is now wondering what he did, because he does not know. He has no recollection of his own actions, he has no recollection of the work that he did in conjunction with his fisheries department during the time he was in the ministerial chair, and he now wants to rush through this parliament a piece of legislation which is effectively a vote of no-confidence in his own decisions. I do not see why the opposition should support that.

Obviously, the legislation can come on in due course—that is fine—but why should we trash the reputation of the AFMA commissioners that he appointed to administer management systems that he put in place as fisheries minister, and at the same time trash the reputations of our world-leading fisheries management scientists? That is part of the process we are being asked to deal with here today, because it is now urgent. The minister says it is now urgent. I have to say that the only thing I think we can take out of this is that the minister is pushing for, and looks to succeed in passing, a motion of no-confidence in his own actions as fisheries minister.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Stephens ): Minister Collins.

Senator Bernardi interjecting