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Monday, 17 September 2012
Page: 7092


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (19:55): It is always a pleasure to be in the chamber when my very learned colleague Senator Brandis looks at the law involved in issues before this chamber. I think the chamber and parliament indeed is well served that we have someone of Senator Brandis's legal expertise here. I know he will make an excellent Attorney-General, a competent Attorney-General, should we be successful in the next election.

I love Senator Brandis's description that the more stupid you are the more power you are given. In the instance of this particular exercise, I can only say to Senator Brandis that Mr Burke and Senator Ludwig will be the most powerful people that Australia has ever known, because they are certainly the most stupid, and this bill says it all.

I guess I should start by retracting a little of my condemnation of Mr Burke and Senator Ludwig. They only brought this in because of Kevin Rudd. It is Kevin Rudd's fault yet again that we have this type of on-the-run legislation. It has nothing to do with fisheries management, nothing to do with the law and certainly nothing to do with science. It is all about some people on the very Left of the Labor Party who were concerned, as are the Greens, with proper fishing techniques in Australia. These people in the Labor Party had threatened to and had prepared to bring in a private member's bill, which Mr Rudd—bless his soul—had indicated he was going to support. There was a bit of support in the Labor Party for this. It looked like the bases of a challenge for the leadership of the Australian Labor Party.

What does Ms Gillard do to stem the challenge? She immediately adopts this populist bill, notwithstanding that the hapless environment minister, Mr Burke, a couple of months beforehand in his then position as the fisheries minister, had actually encouraged ships of the type of the supertrawler, like the MV Abel Tasman, to come to Australian waters. So you have the hapless Mr Burke on record encouraging this ship, or ships like it, to come into Australian waters. Then he was left to pick up the political problem that Ms Gillard had that her leadership was in doubt. So it was poor old hapless Mr Ludwig who then had to do a complete backflip and be the one to announce that he was not going to let the ship in.

Senator Edwards: Gymnast Joe.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: You call him 'Gymnast Joe'; some, like me, would call him 'Jellyback Joe'. This is the second time a hapless minister for agriculture has—against what I know is his better judgement—had to change his first decision, which, in the two instances I talk about, was a reasonable decision. He has had to change his decision within a matter of days to accommodate the Left wing of the Labor Party and the Greens political party that keeps Ms Gillard in power as Prime Minister.

As I say, I withdraw some of my criticism of Mr Burke, for the reasons I mentioned, and some of my criticism of Senator Ludwig for the same reasons. I know Senator Ludwig totally disagreed with the live cattle export ban. I also know that he totally disagreed with this decision on the MV Abel Tasman. But in both instances he was done over, so to speak, because of internal ructions within the Labor Party and the fact that Mr Kevin Rudd would use this whole populist issue as a grounds for a challenge to Ms Gillard for the prime ministership of Australia.

Madam Acting Deputy President, I draw your attention to an answer to a question asked—very poorly, I might say, given that he got all his facts wrong—by Senator Whish-Wilson in this chamber last Monday. When Senator Whish-Wilson first raised this issue, this time, in the chamber by asking Senator Ludwig about this incident, what did Senator Ludwig do? He went to extreme lengths to justify his decision, and the decision of Mr Burke when he was the fisheries minister, to welcome this big trawler into Australian waters. Senator Ludwig, in answering Senator Whish-Wilson, said:

Rather than go through the long history, I will just say that the rules were changed after that by Senator Macdonald—

when I was then fisheries minister—

with the direction to AFMA—and it was a very sound direction.

Senator Ludwig, you criticised Senator Whish-Wilson for being inaccurate and not having done his homework, but you actually fell into that trap a bit as well, because the facts show that there was no direction by me but in fact advice to me by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority—but, never mind. Senator Ludwig went on to say:

It moved the situation to a circumstance where we would concentrate on output controls versus what would commonly be described as input controls. Output controls meant that we would look at issues around the total allowable catch rather than at the type of gear or effort that went into fishing.

Senator Ludwig again went on to defend this big trawler coming into Australia by saying:

I note the recent report from eminent fishery scientists that states that factors in play in the fishery, taken together, 'give confidence that food-web impacts of the small pelagic fishery on predators and the small pelagic fishery species themselves, including through localised depletion, are unlikely'.

So there was Senator Ludwig on Monday defending Mr Burke's position of welcoming this trawler in and on Tuesday—not 24 hours later—he was banning this trawler that he had been protecting and applauding the day before.

Senator Whish-Wilson's second supplementary question was in fact accurate. Senator Which-Wilson asked:

Can the minister comment on remarks made to the media by members of the Labor caucus, including ex-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, over the weekend, concerning a private member's bill to ban supertrawlers from operating in Australian waters?

Senator Whish-Wilson, you got that bit right. Your intelligence on the ALP caucus was pretty good! You did know that this was the first step towards a challenge to Ms Gillard for the leadership of the Labor Party. That is the bit of your three questions that day that you got absolutely 100 per cent correct. I refer the Senate to Senator Ludwig's answer to the second supplementary, in which he said:

But can I say one of the important parts that is missed in this debate is that the Australian Fisheries Management Authority is an independent authority responsible for the sustainable management of Commonwealth fisheries.

Senator Williams: Sustainable management.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: That is exactly it, Senator Williams—sustainable management of our fisheries. I will perhaps take the opportunity of this debate to turn back the clock some eight years—eight years almost to the day—when there was another supertrawler going to come into Australian waters. I just want to set the record straight. I refer any senator who might be interested to my press release of 14 September 2004. I suppose you can quote yourself if it is that long ago. In that press release I said:

Further to that approach, I

Ian Macdonald—

have been advised by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) this evening that it has frozen boat nominations to fishing permits in the Commonwealth's small pelagic fishery.

Towards the end of that press release I said:

I am pleased that AFMA by its decision today has reconfirmed its commitment to precautionary principles in the sustainable management of the fish stock and the interests of Australian commercial and recreational fishermen and conservationists.

I only raise that to show that AFMA had some concerns back in 2004—concerns that caused them to extend this temporary ban until June 2005. In that time they got all the scientists and all the best experts together and they had a look at the small pelagic fishery. They then brought out a fisheries management plan for the small pelagic fishery.

That plan was in place from that day until last Monday. That was a plan that had science behind it and expertise behind it. It was not a plan that was run by the rabble in the Greens political party—seeing a populist issue with which they could put pressure on this government yet again.

Back in 2004-05, it was the Greens with their determination to shut down yet another Australian resource industry, the fishing industry, that raised this issue but it was dealt with by the scientists and the experts at the time. At the time the Greens were smarting because their attempts to shut down the Tasmanian forestry industry had been thwarted at the 2004 election by not only the science but by the workers, the CFMEU and ultimately the voters of Australia who returned the Howard government, I suggest, on the back of John Howard's principled stand on the Tasmanian forests. The Greens had lost the day, and Australia could have looked forward to a bright future in sustainable forestry.

Unfortunately, I regret to say—and this will tell you what it is all about with the Greens—they have continued their campaign against the forestry. They are in alliance with a weak Labor Party who no longer has any interest in the jobs of the timber industry in Australia. I am afraid that the victory for Tasmanian forests that all Australians thought was there has been whittled away by a weak government dependent upon Greens support in this chamber. At the time they had lost that battle so they were going to try and shut down the fishing industry. They failed there but, fast-forward eight years, and again we have this weak government dependent upon Greens support for their very existence. Ms Gillard depends on Greens support to stave off the challenge from Mr Rudd, and we have this sort of policy before us.

I will talk to those few commercial fishermen who expressed some concern at the incident of the supertrawler and gratification that this backflipping, jelly-backed government had flip-flopped yet again. I say to those fishermen: this is the small pelagic fishery today; tomorrow it could well be you. If you want some support for that, go and ask the fishermen up my way out of Cairns, out of Mooloolaba, who used to obtain a living from fishing in the Coral Sea. I suggest to the recreational fishermen who think—there are only a few of them—they have had a victory in stopping this supertrawler that they have a talk to the marlin boat fishermen out of Cairns and see what happens when you have a weak, jelly-backed government like we have now in charge of Australia's marine policy.

I say to any fishermen, recreational or commercial: this is the death knell for what you want to do. Here you have a government and, as Senator Brandis says—and I love this—with two ultrastupid ministers who are given the most power of any minister. They are ultrastupid, because if they do not know what they want to do or the Greens put a bit of pressure on them or Kevin comes with his challenge to Ms Gillard, these two ministers can shut down recreational fishing tomorrow. They can shut down every form of commercial fishing.

Madam Acting Deputy President, tell me what is commercial about the marlin boats—is that commercial fishing? The people that go out to catch marlin, the wealthy Americans who bring hundreds of thousands of dollars to Cairns and create jobs, pay the charter boat operator to take them out. Does that make the charter boat operator a commercial fishing activity? I do not know. I would take Senator Brandis's advice on that and I know what the advice will be. It is a recreational fishing activity. They catch the marlin, tag them—and it is the only science you get on marlin—throw them back; and yet this is the sort of activity that the Greens political party aided and abetted by a weak lily-livered, jelly-backed government that is running Australia at the present time wants to shut down.

I conclude—and I wish I had a lot more time on this—by again going to proper governance of Australia. You cannot have politicians running fishing policy. You cannot have politicians getting involved in technical matters that they know nothing about. What you do—and what the Labor Party used to do and what certainly our government did—is you say, 'Let's get some scientists. Let's get some people who are trained in this area, who understand it and who can do the research. Let's get the experts. Let's talk to the fishermen and get their views.' You then get this independent statutory authority, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, to make a determination on the best science available to them. That is the way you run fisheries in this country; you do not run it because you have a Greens political party that is determined to sell Australia out to foreign planation owners who rape and pillage forests overseas and to foreign fishing entities who grow fish in who knows what sort of conditions without any of the controls that Australian fishermen have. You do not want those sorts of thoughts from a populist party which is rapidly losing its political clout—you have only got to have a look at the Queensland elections and the New South Wales local government elections to see that the Greens have reached their zenith and are now on the way out and rapidly so. They will grab at any populist policy to try and retain some political relevance.

My only despair—and as an Australian I am emotional about this—is that we have a government that is so awful, so incompetent, so inept and so unable to make a decision and keep to it that they will roll over to the Greens every time.

May I conclude by again reminding senators that on Monday last week Senator Ludwig stood in this chamber, directly opposite me, and protected and applauded the MV Abel Tasmanfor what it was doing; on Tuesday he suddenly found that his decision the day before was not the politically correct one. So I despair for Australia under this government. (Time expired)