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Thursday, 18 November 2004
Page: 72

Senator WONG (2:45 PM) —My question is to Senator Ian Macdonald, Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation. Can the minister confirm that the Queensland National Party annual conference has passed a resolution calling for a more equitable distribution of the fishing entitlements under the government's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Representative Areas Program? As the minister responsible for both fisheries and conservation in the coalition government, what action does he propose to take in response to that resolution? Was the minister involved in any discussions with a representative of any political party on this issue before or during the recent election campaign? If so, who was that person or persons and what was the agreement arrived at during those discussions?

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation) —Whilst I have the greatest regard for the Queensland National Party, I was not at their conference, I am not aware of their resolutions and certainly I would not want to speak for them—and I suspect they would not want me to speak for them either. Senator Ian Campbell has responsibility for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, but as a Queensland senator and a senator responsible for fishing in Australia, I have quite a bit to do with it. I can say that the Representative Areas Program is a great step forward for conservation, preservation and proper management of the Great Barrier Reef—a world icon—and it is really a good initiative.

We have acknowledged that that particular action by the Howard government has caused some hurt to the fishing industry and we have made a decision to try to help that hurt with quite a generous structural adjustment package—unlike, I might say, the Queensland government, which has been making some quite dramatic decisions that impact on fishermen in the Queensland waters but is not giving one cent of compensation to those fishermen. The structural adjustment package from the Commonwealth is very generous. It closed a couple of days ago. There have been 584 applications for some form of assistance and they are being processed at the moment. We hope to ensure that the money starts flowing to fishermen prior to Christmas.

As for the boundaries, I think Senator Ian Campbell and the government have made it quite clear that there will be no change to the boundaries in that particular area. That is government policy.

Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator Ian Campbell —Your policy is to tear up the boundaries!

Senator IAN MACDONALD —As Senator Ian Campbell is indicating to you, the Labor Party policy seems to be to tear up those boundaries altogether and leave the fishing industry in great uncertainty and those interested in the conservation of the reef wondering what might happen.

Senator Wong, I think you asked me whether I had been spoken to by any particular political party prior to the election. In public news releases I did invite the Fishing Party to come and see me about their proposals. They did not take up that offer so I was not able to speak to them. No other political party apart from my own party dealing with our election policies spoke to me about it. I can indicate to you, Senator Wong, that at some time I was in the electorate of Hinkler with Mr Neville, the excellent National Party member for that area. He did get me to speak to a group of recreational fishermen who were very concerned that in their area some 74 per cent of the Great Barrier Reef had been locked away. They indicated that they were prepared to accept one-third of the reef being locked away but they thought 74 per cent was a bit unfair. I did indicate to them that after the election I would approach Ms Chadwick, the chairman, to discuss that. As I said to them, I thought there was very little likelihood of that being changed, and that remains my view. I think that has covered all of the questions you asked me. If there are others I am sure you will have them in the supplementary question.

Senator WONG —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, you have confirmed that you had one meeting with the Fishing Party.

Senator Ian Macdonald —None!

Senator WONG —Perhaps you could clarify whether that is in fact the case. When will the review of the Representative Areas Program commence? Which department will oversee the review—the Department of the Environment and Heritage or the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry? What will be the criteria used in conducting the review? Were these criteria part of the preference agreement between the Queensland National Party and the Fishing Party?

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation) —I am sure Senator Wong did not listen to my answer at all. I said neither the Fishing Party nor any other party approached me in relation to that so I cannot answer that question. There is to be no review of the Representative Areas Program. I have forgotten what portfolio Senator Wong is representing, but if it is anything to do with fishing, agriculture or environment she is way off track. There is no commitment by anyone to review the Representative Areas Program. The Prime Minister announced in Townsville that, because the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority had been in existence for more than 10 years and because statutory authorities are usually reviewed around the 10-year mark, he would institute a review of GBRMPA. He went on to say that he has no particular problem with the authority but it would be reviewed in the normal course of events. That has not progressed. When it is I am sure it will be done by Senator Ian Campbell, the responsible minister.

Senator Ian Campbell —Very responsible!

Senator IAN MACDONALD —The very responsible minister, as he interjects, and as I agree. I am quite uncertain as to where Senator Wong's question is coming from. The supplementary question seems quite nonsensical. (Time expired)