Thursday, 24 November 2011
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Bioregional Plans) Bill 2011; Second Reading
Debate resumed on the motion:
That this bill be now read a second time.
I am pleased to be able to speak about our wonderful marine environment yet again. I would like to point out some of the risks that our marine environment has faced since the last time we were talking about the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Bioregional Plans) Bill 2011. Since August this year, we have had two spills in the North Sea from oil production, at least one from a Shell platform. We have had spills from ConocoPhillips in China. We have had the shipwreck and the oil washing ashore in New Zealand. We have had a spill by Chevron 370 kilometres north-east of the Rio de Janeiro state, which continues to pump oil into the sea. That was caused by Chevron underestimating the pressure in their deep-sea mining. And of course we are still seeing oil wash ashore on the coastline of America from BP's Deepwater Horizon oil platform. I raise these issues because they highlight the threats to our marine environment.
We were very privileged in Parliament House yesterday to have Sylvia Earle—who is commonly referred to as 'Her Deepness', due to her knowledge of and well-known lifelong commitment to the marine environment—speaking to us upstairs in room 2S2. She reminded us that in fact we are all sea creatures, that we all depend on the marine environment for our life support systems. She reminded us that the marine environment is not a luxury, that it is not something that you add on top of things, that it is our life support system and that we need to value the oceans as a critical element of our life support systems. She told us about a speech she had made to the World Bank, where she had had a picture of a globe on the wall and had pointed to it and said, 'That is our world bank.' She was right. That is what the oceans and our marine environment are.
It is a tragedy that it has taken this long to recognise and start paying attention to the fact that our oceans are vital to our life support systems. Sylvia Earle pointed out that, although we have made tremendous gains in the last couple of years in our understanding of the marine environment, we have already lost more than we will ever know. She also pointed out that we have 400 dead zones in our coastal areas around the world and that we have only seen five per cent of our marine environment. She pointed out yet again that our oceans are the blue heart of our planet, that we have only protected a minuscule amount of our marine environment and that we need to redress that. One of the issues that are constantly on the agenda when we are talking about the marine environment is the accusation that we are locking up the oceans. It is a great shame that we have not learnt from the mistakes made in the terrestrial environment. What we have done there is manage to save the bits that have not been developed yet. For the marine environment, we need to take a much more strategic and holistic approach, which is what bioregional planning is about.
Some of the voices raised are trying to convince recreational fishers that they should be fundamentally opposed to the plans to establish a national series of world-class marine sanctuaries because it is bad for recreational fishing. In fact, this is an old-fashioned way of thinking. Marine sanctuaries and recreational fishing should—and must—exist side by side. Unless we have a comprehensive system of marine sanctuaries and marine national parks in place we will not have fisheries in the future. We already know the alarming state of our fish stocks around the planet. We already know that many of our marine species are endangered. Unless we take action now, there is going to be less and less access to fish stocks—not because we have marine sanctuaries in place but because we have overfished our oceans to the point of no return.
We need to have a science based system of marine sanctuaries in place so that we can ensure that Australia's unique oceans are protected. We know that our oceans contain many species that are found nowhere else in the world. Of the species that we now know that are there, 90 per cent are found nowhere else—not only nowhere else in Australia but nowhere else on the planet. We know that the evidence is in that shows that marine sanctuary zones are critical—crucial—in maintaining healthy oceans and fish stocks. This is internationally recognised as best practice. We believe that it is the most appropriate strategy for ensuring that our oceans are protected.
Australians love their oceans. Fishing is a big part of our beach culture. We know that recreational fishing numbers are increasing, with more people fishing more often. I see that evidenced very clearly in my home state of Western Australia. But unfortunately we also know that advanced fish-finding technology and larger boats mean fishers are travelling further and fishing longer in deeper waters. This is not the same as wetting your line off a jetty a few times a year. Fishers can return to the same spot again and again with GPS. In the past, this did not happen.
The annual recreational fishing catch is thought to be around a quarter of the annual commercial take, 45,000 tonnes. For many recreational fisher favourites, the catch is much higher than the commercial catch. There are a lot of species that recreational fishers favour and they catch more of them than commercial fishers do. Recreational fishing is not benign. It impacts on our oceans; it is a fallacy to pretend that recreational fishing has no such impact. Some people say that it is okay because recreational fishers use catch and release. But we know that there are high mortality rates from catch and release. If you catch four and keep one, with a 60 per cent mortality rate two out of the three fish that you release die. This is the same as if you keep three. There is a lot of research in now that shows the recreational fishing is having an impact.
We also know that marine sanctuaries help generate new fish stocks, so recreational fishing and marine protection can and must go hand in hand. Rather than railing against marine sanctuaries, we believe that—with the right information and better education as to the benefits of marine sanctuaries—recreational fishers should be behind this campaign to protect our oceans. Only by protecting our oceans will recreational fishers have fish available to them in the future. You only have to look at some of the videos that have come from the marine sanctuaries that are already in place to see that they teem with fish. (Time expired)
I rise to speak on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Bioregional Plans) Bill 2011. Australia is home to some of the most unique, beautiful and rare ecosystems in the world. Like the stunning diversity of our great continent, with its desolate plains, its rainforests, its mountain peaks and its geological marvels—many of which are in my home state of South Australia—Australian seas are a treasure of great magnitude. Australia has the third largest marine environment of any nation in the world.
Just as precious environments on land are protected in national parks, our oceans contain many iconic, ecologically important and fragile places that also deserve protection. The Great Barrier Reef is a natural wonder. The marine park management that has been put in place protects the amazing diversity of its coral and marine life. It is also very critical to the tourism industry in Queensland. In the south-west of Australia, over 90 per cent of the marine species in our waters are not found anywhere else in the world. The Coral Sea is recognised globally for its diversity and significance.
Not all of these unique ecosystems are protected. The marine bioregional planning process aims to ensure their longer term survival. We have a responsibility to keep our oceans healthy, resilient and productive for current and future generations. Marine bioregional planning is about improving the way Australia's marine environment is managed. Marine bioregional plans describe the marine environment and conservation values of each marine region, set out broad biodiversity objectives, identify regional priorities and outline strategies and actions to address these priorities. The Commonwealth marine areas are protected as a matter of national environmental significance under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The Australian government's objectives for Commonwealth marine areas are as follows: to conserve biodiversity and maintain ecosystem health; to ensure the recovery and protection of threatened species; and, to improve our understanding of biodiversity and ecosystems and the pressures they face. Marine bioregional plans are designed to contribute to these objectives: first, by supporting strategic, consistent and informed decision making under Commonwealth environmental legislation in relation to Commonwealth marine areas; second, by supporting efficient administration of the EPBC Act to promote the conservation and ecologically sustainable use of the marine environment and its resources; and, third, by providing a framework for strategic intervention and investment by government to meet its policy objectives and statutory responsibilities.
The EPBC Act provides that a bioregional plan may include provisions about all or any of the following: components of biodiversity, their distribution and conservation status; important economic or social values; heritage values of places; objectives relating to biodiversity and other values; priorities, strategies and actions to achieve the objectives; mechanisms for community involvement in implementing the plan; and, measures for monitoring and reviewing the plan.
Better management of the marine environment will be achieved by: providing advice and information to industry, with proponents proposing to undertake activities that will have, or are likely to have, a significant impact on matters of national environmental significance; enabling strategic, consistent and informed decision making in environmental assessments and approvals and in longer term planning by government and industry; targeting environmental programs, conservation measures and other government interventions within a region towards regional priorities, and, focusing investment in research and monitoring to address critical data and knowledge gaps to increase our understanding of ecosystems and human interactions with them and to improve the government's ability to meet its statutory responsibilities and policy priorities.
Marine bioregional plans aim to support all of these components. The plans will increase our understanding of Australia's unique marine environment. This enhanced understanding will improve the way decisions are made under the EPBC Act, particularly in relation to the protection of marine biodiversity and the sustainable use of our oceans and their resources by our marine-based industries. Importantly, marine bioregional plans will contribute towards managing the environmental impacts of human activities by identifying and describing a region's conservation values and priorities for managing those values. This will enable decision makers within government and industry to consider the interactions between proposed activities and conservation values, and the cumulative impacts of activities on the Commonwealth marine environment.
Marine bioregional plans are being developed with input from scientific and other experts, and in consultation with stakeholders. Consultation on marine planning is ongoing and will continue throughout the development process. The government is committed to transparency and accountability and has met with a range of stakeholders including commercial fishers, conservation groups, the tourism industry, state governments, the shipping industry and other users of the marine environment such as divers and recreational and charter fishers. This is in addition to community meetings being held by the department. In the south-west alone consultations have included two information sessions in regional capitals, 10 information sessions in regional centres and 47 targeted meetings, including with individual sectors.
The plans will include a number of key elements that further improve our understanding of the marine environment and support more informed decision making. The key elements are as follows. Conservation values: those elements of the region that are either specifically protected under the EPBC Act, such as species or places, have heritage values for the purposes of the EPBC Act or have been identified through the planning process as key ecological features in the Commonwealth marine environment. Key ecological features: the parts of the marine ecosystem that are considered to be important for a region's biodiversity or ecosystem function and integrity. Biologically important areas: these are areas where a protected species displays biologically important behaviour, such as breeding, foraging, resting or migration. These areas are those parts of a marine region that are particularly important for the conservation of protected species. Regional pressure analysis: a review of current information on present and emerging pressures, their impact on conservation values, and the effectiveness of mitigation and management arrangements that are in place. Regional priorities: key areas of focus that should inform decision making about marine conservation and planning, as well as industry development and other human activities. Regional advice on environmental assessments and referrals: this will assist people who wish to undertake activities in, or potentially impacting on, the Commonwealth marine environment to better understand and meet their obligations under the EPBC Act. Through the marine bioregional planning process, the Australian government is synthesising and consolidating a range of information to act as a guide in the management of the Commonwealth marine environment. Information resources are being developed to make this knowledge publicly accessible and to inform decision making, both within and outside government. Marine bioregional plans will also provide direction by identifying regional priorities, strategies and actions and provide regional advice on environmental assessments and referrals. Marine bioregional planning is the right thing to do. It is right to protect these beautiful ecosystems and also sustain fish stocks into the future.
This bill, in opposing the principle and substance of marine bioregional planning, clearly illustrates that the opposition has no environmental conscience, no regard for the future of our environment and no idea when it comes to Australia's oceans. Just like with almost every other environmental issue they go near, they have no idea, they are wrong and they should leave it to the experts. It is the right thing to do to aim for substantial conservation outcomes for our unique marine environments whilst we continue to support our important coastal communities and their industries. Therefore, the government opposes this bill.
I congratulate Senator Farrell for his speech—well, on reading the Hon. Tony Burke's speech, quite clearly! Senator Farrell is a nice guy, but that was the most uncomfortable 12 minutes he has ever spent in his life, trying to deal with a bill that he clearly has no idea about. Your language and terminology gave you away, I am afraid, Senator Farrell. But good luck, congratulations—you got through it! I hope you never have to be put in that position again. Senator Farrell, contrary to what was in the written speech that you just completely read, in breach of standing orders, can I ask you to tell whoever wrote the speech—Mr Burke, I suspect—that actually we are talking about bioregional planning because of the coalition.
Let me give you a little bit of history, because it is obviously sadly lacking in the Australian Labor Party. The Howard government, under environment minister Robert Hill—whom, incidentally, I had the good fortune to have a beer with just last night—introduced the world's first oceans policy. We were the first nation in the world to actually implement a policy in relation to the vast oceans that surround Australia and for which Australia has responsibility. And as part of that oceans policy the bioregional planning was introduced.
In the early days under the coalition government that planning was introduced for the very best interests of marine conservation, for ensuring that our seas and oceans were well managed and well looked after. But it was done in a cooperative way. At the time I was the Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation and so I speak from first-hand experience. The first bioregional plan was the south-east Australian bioregional plan. It came up from the environment department, but my department and I, and the constituents I represented as fisheries minister, were uncertain about it. Similarly, those people who use the oceans—the transport people, miners, fishermen, recreational people—all had a view. The original proposal that came up was a bit one-sided. Then there followed, as I recall, up to two years of negotiation. At the end of the day, in relation to the south-east bioregional plan, I think 90 per cent of the people were 90 per cent happy. Not everyone got what they wanted but, in the end, by results through consultations, through discussions and through cooperation, we were able to get the south-east bioregional plan that clearly was the first of its kind. It has been successful. It has achieved all of its goals and outcomes. And it has done that without in any way impacting overly badly on any of the multiple users of the particular area.
When the Howard government left office we had started on the north-east bioregional plan and we had started on bioregional plans across Australia—but, again, moving cautiously, starting the long process of consultation. Regrettably, the Howard government was defeated. Then we had in government a bunch of people who are myopic when it comes to the environment, urged on by the Greens—in this instance the Green involved, I believe, does have a genuine interest in the area, but the Greens and their leadership always want to go that extra step. The department then lost interest. The department suffered from a lack of political leadership and the more rigid elements within the department took over—and we found that these bioregional plans were then being rammed through without any consultation. Time and time again, at estimates, I asked about the plan in the Gulf of Carpentaria—'Oh yes, there's lots of consultation going on' was the response. I spent a bit of time up in the Gulf of Carpentaria, and every time I went there I would say, 'But I've been told at estimates there's consultation going on', and they would say, 'Yes, they had some junior officer fly in from Cairns who landed, went and talked to a local Greens group, got on the plane and went home'—and that was the consultation. The fishermen and particularly the Indigenous people had absolutely no involvement, no respect shown to them, in relation to the bioregional plan for the Gulf of Carpentaria, and that continues today. I was up there just a few weeks ago, and the mayor of Carpentaria shire and the councillors, who happen to be Indigenous, from Mornington Island were telling me that these things were happening off Mornington Island and they did not even know that this regional planning process was going on.
Contrary to what Senator Farrell's speechwriter also said, this bill is about enhancing the protection of the marine park and the bioregional planning process of our oceans. It provides that bioregional plans will become disallowable instruments, which are subject to the Legislative Instruments Act. That is essential because this parliament needs to take control rather than those who would effectively shut everything down. It is very important that parliament takes over, that it takes control, of this bioregional planning process. It cannot be left to the Greens political party or some of the more radical green groups or some foreign so-called marine environmental group like the Pew foundation.
The Pew environmental group is an American organisation founded, I might say, thanks to the oil wells and oil money of people in good old downtown Louisiana or somewhere in the south of America years ago who obviously wanted to salve their conscience by putting in lots of money to set up this environmental group. But they do not bother about looking after all the environmental ills in the Gulf of Mexico, where perhaps they might have some relevance; instead, they try to tell Australians, who have some of the best managed fisheries and the best managed oceans anywhere in the world, what to do. We do not want those sorts of people to be in charge of this process. What we want is for this parliament to have its say. That is a fairly unusual proposition in this chamber at the present time.
We are a democracy. We think that parliament should rule, but we have had the farce in the last couple of weeks of 10 to12 bills being passed through this parliament with not a word being said on them—not a word of support, not a word of objection, not a word of accountability. Thanks to the Greens political party and the Australian Labor Party, a dozen bills have passed through this parliament with not a word being spoken on them. We have had perhaps the most complex piece of legislation in the 18 carbon tax bills rammed through this parliament without any proper scrutiny and, again, with many in that package of 18 bills not even being looked at or even being spoken upon, yet we have voted on them—and they have been some of the most complex and far-reaching pieces of legislation we have seen.
As I said, the concept of having parliament rule is a concept that is sadly unknown in this chamber these days. I am so disappointed with the Greens political party. Once upon a time they used to say: 'Isn't it marvellous that parliament can have its say; it should scrutinise everything; it should keep the government accountable.' Nowadays the Greens political party are part of the process of shutting parliament down. I wonder sometimes why any of us bother coming in here. What are we getting paid for? Because in this chamber we are not able to actually debate government legislation.
What this bill does, at least in relation to the bioregional planning process, is bring some parliamentary oversight into the process. Who could argue with that? That is why I congratulate Senator Colbeck and Senator Boswell for the work they have done on this legislation. One of the things that concern us and which I know was a factor in the introduction of this bill is the proposal by the American Pew environmental group to shut down Australia's Coral Sea. It is a bit like the forestry debates of old. They come here and say: 'The Coral Sea is such a pristine area that we need to shut it down. We need to keep everyone out of it.' Yet it sort of belies the argument of why it is such a pristine area. It is a pristine area because Australia has managed the Coral Sea so well since the Second World War.
The Coral Sea has been carefully managed. The amount of commercial fishing in the Coral Sea is infinitesimal. What is there is very well managed by Australia's world-class Australian Fisheries Management Authority. Yet what the Greens, what the Wilderness Society, what other radical green groups and what the Pew foundation want to do is to shut it down. Cleverly, they have got a couple of fishermen to join their bandwagon. Let me tell you about that, Mr Acting Deputy President. I am not defaming or demeaning any of these fishermen. If I were in their situation, I would probably do the same.
The Pew people went to the fishermen and said: 'Look, you're not making much out of this fishery,' and the fishermen said, 'No, we're not; it is so tightly controlled. It's a good fishery but tightly controlled. It is not terribly profitable. It is a long way away. To get there costs us a lot in fuel.' Fuel under Labor governments is exorbitant. Because of Labor policies and their inability to manage money, fuel is a very expensive item these days. So the Pew people said to these fishermen, 'What if we get the government to give you $5 million for your licences?' The eyes of the fishermen lit up and they thought, 'Gee, this is a superannuation policy we would never have.' So the Pew people got a number of fishermen. I do not blame the fishermen. They were struggling. It is an expensive fishery and Pew have come along and said: 'Why don't you join with us? We'll close it down. We'll get this Labor lot in Canberra—because we practically control them these days—to offer you a few bob and that will be a good superannuation policy for you.' That negates the importance of Australia remaining its own master.
It is a bit like 'We will decide what happens with our waters, not some American environmental group'—supported, I might say, by some of the radical green elements in Australia who have already destroyed the very sustainable logging industry in Australia. They are out to destroy what is left of the fishing industry. They tried to destroy the northern beef cattle industry and with this government in power you would not be sure that they would not succeed in that in the not-too-distant future.
This bill puts control back into the parliament and it will allow sensible management of the Coral Sea to continue. I am not sure if all senators are aware of just how important the Coral Sea is to our commercial fishing industry. It is not a big fishery nor a terribly profitable one but it does bring in fresh fish for consumption by Australian consumers. If the Greens and the Labor Party continue, we are going to have to import all of our fish from the fishponds of Vietnam or Thailand being grown in conditions which some say are not very environmentally sustainable. But the fishery, small though it is, does supply fresh fish to the Australian market, and that is good for all of us.
In addition to that and perhaps the bigger aspect is the recreational fishing industry. Most senators would not have any real concept of what is involved. The Coral Sea is not the Great Barrier Reef, as many in these debates would have you believe; it is beyond the Great Barrier Reef. It is pristine water because it has been well managed by Australia but it is beyond the Great Barrier Reef. We are not talking about the Great Barrier Reef here although, as I say, many protagonists of the Labor government's approach would have you believe that it is.
Senator McLucas interjecting—
I am glad Senator McLucas is here. Senator McLucas sometimes lives in Cairns. She represents that area in the Senate as a senator for Queensland. She will know better than anyone the enormous employment opportunities that are created in the Cairns region—and, dear me, they are desperately needed after the Labor government shut down the shipbuilding industry in Cairns—in what we used to call the marlin bait fishery, the recreational fishermen. People fly in from New York on the overnight plane, land in Cairns, pay $10,000 or $20,000 to get on a boat, with three or four crew, and go out to the Coral Sea, catch some billfish, tag them, kiss them, record them, send the science data back to Australia's fisheries management people and come back to Cairns, get on the plane and fly back to America or Germany or wherever they come from. It is these people who contribute millions and millions of dollars to the Cairns economy and it is these people who are the most vociferous opponents of the Pew environmental group and their influence on Labor and the Greens in this parliament. They see this industry being destroyed.
It is not just the boats themselves that go out into the Coral Sea, it is all of the support industries: the boating industries, the marine industries, the tackle industries, the bait industry. It is all those young people who form the crew on those boats and who give Cairns that young and vibrant image. I have not taken a survey but I suspect that many of the crew are probably those backpackers from foreign lands who are on work visas here who come out and understand the magnificence of Cairns and North Queensland, northern Australia, and they get these jobs while they are doing it. All of this could be put at risk if the Pew environmental group have their way with the Greens, the radical environment groups and the Labor Party. So it is absolutely essential that this bill be passed so that control of these bioregional planning matters comes back into the parliament of Australia.
I have said that our fisheries are well managed but the 2009 fisheries status report of fisheries done every year shows that 72.3 per cent of Australia's fish stocks are not subject to overfishing and since 2004, an important date, the percentage of healthy fish stocks—that is, those that are not overfished—has increased from 27 per cent to 58 per cent. In this business not many others will praise you so I will do a bit of self-praise and say that as fisheries minister back in those times that was a goal that we had, to increase that not overfished regime from 27 per cent. I am delighted to see that, as a result of many of the initiatives the Howard government put in in those days, that has got up to 58 per cent and, given good marine management, good fisheries management, we can improve on that. It cost Australia a bit of money but we did it and we were happy to do it.
The basic tenet of this bill is that parliament should have oversight on the bioregional planning process. I cannot think what objection those senators from whatever party who believe in the supremacy of parliament would have to this. Let the scientists, let the public servants, let the bureaucrats, let the industry help do what they do, but let parliament have oversight so that if perchance there has been a mistake made people can lobby parliamentarians, who can raise the issue in the chamber. If the bioregional planning is disallowed then it goes back to the drawing board with an instruction to the bureaucrats to come back with something better, something that does have widespread support and something that will enhance Australia's reputation.
As the party that introduced the world's first ocean policy, introduced the bioregional planning process, this is a logical further step from us, and I would certainly urge senators to support this and bring parliament back into the process.
It is a great pleasure to follow Senator Ian Macdonald, a man whose knowledge of Australian fisheries and environmental protection measures is, I would say, second in this chamber only to that of Senator Richard Colbeck. Among the very good points that Senator Macdonald made, one that particularly resonated with me was the fact that in this place we often do not recognise the skills and talents of others in a public fashion, and I want to praise, firstly, Senator Macdonald, for his outstanding contribution in this area over many years as a minister—and indeed as a shadow parliamentary secretary he has maintained his interest, for the people of Australia—and, secondly, Senator Colbeck, whose initiative it was to bring forward the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Bioregional Plans) Bill 2011.
Outside the specifics of what it addresses, in essence this bill also speaks volumes about the coalition's approach to parliamentary scrutiny. Parliamentary accountability, openness and transparency are hallmarks of the coalition's ethos in government and accordingly, by introducing this bill, Senator Colbeck is saying that we would like the parliament to be able to maintain its voice on how Australia's fisheries and biodiverse zones are managed. That is a very simple proposition. It is a proposition that is put forward by a man who has a commitment to openness and transparency—a Tasmanian senator. I cannot help but contrast the attitude of Senator Colbeck from Tasmania and, perhaps, one of his Tasmanian colleagues, Senator Bob Brown from the Greens party. Senator Bob Brown has this week continued to vote against allowing scrutiny and discussion of bills. It is called the guillotine motion, Mr Acting Deputy President Back; of course, you would be well aware of that. In my time in this place it is unprecedented for bills to be put through with not a word of debate, not a skerrick of discussion, not any examination of things that are important to the Australian people. I think that is outrageous. I think it is wrong. I think it makes a mockery of our democratic system and makes a mockery of this place. It devalues the contribution that every single senator makes in this place. And so I contrast the attitude of the Greens, and the Tasmanian Greens in particular, with the attitude of Senator Richard Colbeck, a great Tasmanian senator with a firm commitment to this area
I come back to this point: if parliament is not able to enter into a discussion about serious matters, about matters that pertain to an economic area and region that in fact is greater than Australia's total land mass—I am talking about our marine zones—then why are we here? Why are we here if at the stroke of a pen a minister can make any decision that he likes in respect of the economic livelihood or mining—
Or she—yes indeed, Senator McEwen. It may be the case that you might get your gig as the environmental minister at some point; but I am not sure about that. Forgive me; I will not be a slave to political correctness, Mr Acting Deputy President, so I will just continue to refer to the generic 'minister'. Why is it that a minister can make these sorts of decisions without any reference to the parliament? Why is it that a minister can impact, affect, devastate, enhance the economic livelihood of so many Australians and the recreational interests of Australians without any reference to this parliament? The flaws in that approach are being highlighted not only by Senator Colbeck and Senator Macdonald but also by Senator Ron Boswell, who is a champion of freedom for people up there in Northern Queensland. So when Senator Colbeck introduced this bill it was not just about the marine parks and biodiversity; it was really about openness and transparency in government. There are occasions of course when ministers will have to have some level of discretion in going about their business, but you can have more confidence in the discretionary decision-making process when there is a substantial track record of goodwill and experience, I would guess, in making appropriate decisions.
In respect of fisheries, from my point of view as a proud South Australian I recognise the contribution of our Southern Bluefin Tuna Fishery. Some of my good friends are involved in that industry, and I make no bones about that. I support that industry not only as a great employer in South Australia; it is a great export earner and indeed it provides the financial lifeblood of that fantastic city Port Lincoln, in South Australia. As a regular visitor to Port Lincoln I cannot tell you, Mr Acting Deputy President, how many times the residents of that great place have asked me: 'What are the government doing to the tuna fishery? Why won't they fight for Australian interests, and South Australian interests in particular?'
It is a longstanding discussion. When we were in government and Senator Abetz was the minister, the international tuna association was found to have overfished in a number of countries, and quota reductions and penalties were necessary in order not only to penalise the countries that had done the wrong thing but also to ensure that tuna stocks were sustainable into the future. When we were in government, Senator Abetz went to that meeting and championed the cause of the South Australian tuna industry because they had been doing the right thing by fishing within their quotas, adding value where they possibly could and making sure that they had a sustainable crop that would continue to fuel the growth of the Eyre Peninsula, in part, and Port Lincoln more specifically. I contrast that with when Minister Garrett was charged with the same process. Rather than going there and fighting for Australian interests, Minister Garrett and his crew—no pun intended—just fell over and said, 'Yes, cut our tuna quota by 25 per cent.' They just gave it up like that. Overnight, that devastated the city of Port Lincoln. It put many, many people out of work; it took tens of millions of dollars out of the economy; it disrupted entrepreneurs' balance sheets; it disrupted businesses; and it said to them, 'We cannot plan with any certainty because of the slavish attitude of this government minister.' We know that Minister Garrett has a particular peccadillo in regard to tuna because when he was President of the Australian Conservation Foundation their stated goal was to ban any tuna fishing whatsoever—conventional, harvesting of tuna. This is an extreme approach. It is akin to the approach of that organisation, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, who tried to rename fish 'sea kittens' in order to stop people catching them. It is just bizarre. It is not grounded in reality. But this is the man who was appointed to be the environment minister and was put in charge of the environmental outcomes of our tuna fishery.
Quite frankly, it is very reasonable, given the track record in this area and the genuine concerns that some of us have about the livelihood of many hard-working men and women who are attached to the fishing industry, to ask: why would we want a minister in the government ideologically bound to stopping commercial fishing, to disrupting it? He is ideologically bound because the government is captive to a minority movement, an extreme movement, that does not want to see a sustainable approach of man utilising the god-given resources in a sustainable manner to feed and fuel Australia's future prosperity. That movement is the Greens movement. We know that; we have see it every single day in this place. It is littered with an unrealistic approach in which man is seen as some sort of cancer on the planet, and if we were not here the fish would be free to swim as wild as they possibly can and the animals could grow and prosper.
Quite frankly, Australians need to prosper. Our nation needs to grow and develop. You cannot entrust this sort of heavy-handed lone wolf approach to the livelihoods of individuals to any minister without parliamentary scrutiny, at least not with this government. The essence of Senator Colbeck's bill is that it makes the declaration of marine bioregional plans a disallowable instrument. At the moment these marine bioregional plans are deemed by the act not to be a legislative instrument and thus they are shielded from parliamentary scrutiny.
This bill is not about the government's declaration of marine protected areas. It is about whether the parliament has the right to have its say and do the job we are elected to do. That is all we are asking. We want to be able to do the job that we have been elected to do. Unfortunately, this week we have not been able to do that job because of the intransigence of the government and the Green movement teaming up to stifle debate.
I am a great believer in freedom of speech. Even if I do not like what is being said we should be able to have a battle of the ideas and the arguments. We should be able to have that openly to ventilate them fully, not only in this place but out there in the public discourse. But when a parliament has been effectively shut down, when our legislators have been muzzled, when we are not allowed to make a single contribution—not one of us is allowed to make a single contribution on any bill in this place—it says that we are only a step or two away from tyranny.
They are big words, but we should never forget the freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom in general is never more than a generation away. If we start to accept the fact that individuals can ride roughshod over this parliament, that individuals can make determinations about what this parliament can and cannot talk about, and it is followed blindly by members on the other side of this chamber, we start to have a problem.
I notice that Senator Bob Brown chipped in during the debates this week that this was just democracy. Well, it is democracy indeed, and ultimately the judgment will be rendered by the Australian people. I think the Australian people will be most concerned to find out that their elected parliamentarians are not allowed to discuss bills of great importance and interest to them.
In saying that, I accept that there are times when the parliament's time is short, never more so than this year because we have had fewer sitting weeks this year than in previous years. There is always the opportunity to have more sitting weeks. I know my colleagues on this side of the chamber are certainly very happy to come back next week so that we can fully explore the nuances of the government's and the Green's legislative agenda on behalf of our constituents, whom we are here to represent after all, and in particular our states.
For example, with respect to South Australia, one of the marine conservation zones that is being included in this bill runs from Kangaroo Island, just south of Adelaide—a magnificent place, a wonderful place not only for tourism but also a very productive place for the farming and fishing communities there and, indeed, there is a lot of aquaculture going on there as well—right up into the nib of the Nullarbor Plain in Western Australia. That is a massive zone that has an enormous impact on South Australia's wealth and, of course, the migratory habits of a lot of the fish that are captured and harvested, and farmed indeed in Port Lincoln as well.
Another significant point—it was made by Senator Macdonald and I pick up on it—is the recreational fishing market. I am a recreational angler. I can assure you that the fish are most safe from me catching them; I have not caught too much at all, but I love going fishing. I understand it is a very important industry, not only financially for many retailers, bait shops and people who are involved from that perspective; it is actually important to the welfare and wellbeing of Australians. It is very therapeutic for people to go out and put a line in the water, and hopefully catch themselves a feed. If you can catch a King George whiting or a squid, or something else, you have a fantastic day out and you get to feed your family.
We have already seen the South Australian state government trying to introduce marine zones and exempt recreational fishing. There has been a lot of push-back from the community of course, not least of all those who have bought holiday homes and boats on the coast, who just want to pop out and catch fish in the bay, close to home. There are instances where these zones are going to stop that from happening. What do you think happens to the property prices of a place where you are not allowed to fish or that is not easily accessible in a small boat? These sorts of things devastate local communities and they are done because there is a complete lack of consultation, there is a lack of awareness and there is a lack of interest in regional communities by most of the Labor Party. That is in South Australia. The same, unfortunately, can be said up here in Canberra. Unfortunately, the Labor Party's environmental credentials are all about stopping people from doing things rather than allowing people to live harmoniously and sustainably within the environmental agenda that is the agenda of most mainstream Australians.
I think we are all, at heart, environmentalists. We want to protect and defend our natural resources for successive generations. Any parent would say that. They want their children to be able to see the wonders and miracles of nature. We have a vested interest in conserving our environment and in providing opportunities for future generations to enjoy, indeed to profit from and to embrace. But we cannot do that with any confidence when we do not have faith in our government. When you do not have faith in your government and you have a minister that is extremely zealous, and has a longstanding link with some overbearing environmental organisations that seek to ride roughshod, quite frankly, over the rights and responsibilities of mainstream Australians, there is cause for concern. That is why this bill is so important.
This bill will allow every Australian to have a voice through their parliamentary representatives. It will allow us individually to stick up for our constituents, their interests and concerns, and to balance the interests of those who want to, either commercially or privately, partake of the bounty of the sea in a regulated, sensible and sustainable manner. It gives us all a voice to be able to do this and make this country an even better place. But of course, in order to do so, we have to be able to talk about these things.
We are aggrieved, the Australian people are aggrieved, that more and more legislation is being cannonballed through this parliament without any scrutiny whatsoever. We are expected to entrust ministers, in whom most Australians have very little confidence, to make discretionary decisions that could have devastating impacts on communities, on our commercial operations and on individual pleasures and pursuits. In any normal circumstances one might think we could trust our ministers to do that, but these are not normal times. These are not normal times for our parliament and I think that, unless we maintain the parliamentary voice, our country will be the lesser for it.
I rise this morning also to make a contribution to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Bioregional Plans) Bill 2011, which seeks to amend the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. I do so as a proud Queenslander who has lived in that state all of my life. I travelled to the Great Barrier Reef in my early teens, joining those who now amount to some 1.6 million visitors each year, to see the beauty of that marvellous piece of our coast and its biodiversity. I, along with many others, will continue to travel to that area of Queensland to see the particular beauty of our land there.
Under the bill before us, the bioregional plans and the proclamation of Commonwealth reserves become legislative instruments and are therefore disallowed. That causes enormous problems for the regions and its communities, and for the workers up in that area around Cairns, right down as far as the Whitsundays. People who have visited the Great Barrier Reef realise it has a substantive area of coverage, ranging from the tip of Cape York right down to just below Gladstone.
In the past, those opposite have actively opposed any marine planning, including activities such as consultation and draft plans being undertaken to deliver the government's marine plan election commitment. It is a commitment that we proudly put our stamp on. The Labor Party have a strong environmental policy and we believe in the environment. We do not just make tokenistic claims or present tokenistic bills in this chamber that are disingenuous in order to claim that we are environmentalists. We are environmentalists in the Labor Party and this is why we will be opposing this bill.
The Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee, which inquired into this bill, recommended that the bill not be passed. The committee indicated that it may reduce transparency in decision making. In fact, in their report they said:
The committee is particularly concerned with the potential financial hardship and uncertainty that the disallowance process may cause affected businesses, communities and other stakeholders.
They went on to say:
The committee considers that the Bill, if passed, would not contribute to a more effective and efficient environmental management process.
At a time when we are just coming off the back of a global financial crisis, and bearing in mind the terrible natural disasters that we have had in North Queensland just this year—Cyclone Yasi and the flooding—we cannot afford to exacerbate issues for businesses, communities and other stakeholders on the coast of North Queensland.
One of the other things that needs to be recognised is that, if passed, the bill would make bioregional plans and marine reserve networks disallowable. If they were disallowed, the consultation process would have to be repeated. Really, this bill is just another example of an opposition who oppose for the sake of opposing, and we have had plenty of that over many months. They do not have a policy, they do not have a position on things like this. This is tokenistic, disingenuous and should not be accepted.
Conversely, however, the Gillard government are working with communities to put in place marine plans and develop marine reserves to protect our precious marine environment for future generations and to ensure sustainable fishing and tourism industries exist. This is hand-in-hand with the Queensland Labor government. Senator Mason, who is in the chamber, would know this, coming from Queensland. We have a strong environmental commitment to our constituents in the state of Queensland. It is something we are extremely proud of, and we will sustain that position as a state government and also as a federal government. We will make sure that areas like the Great Barrier Reef are protected.
In stark contrast, the Liberal-National coalition is seeking to scare and divide communities up there by spreading misinformation. I have quite often heard speakers opposite indicate the loss of jobs, the loss of fishing opportunities, the loss of businesses. The scaremongering they did in the lead-up to the clean energy bills is common knowledge. It was a case of their leader, Mr Abbott, going into communities and knocking on the doors of any businesses that would allow him access and scaring them, telling them that their businesses would be closed down, their workers shifted overseas and so on. We are not surprised that the scaremongering is continuing. It appears to be the only policy that the opposition have.
The opposition's bill would mean uncertainty for commercial and recreational fishers. It does nothing but create uncertainty for those communities, and that is an area we are extremely concerned about. I am interested, in that regard, in some of the comments made by the previous speakers. I was interested to hear Senator Macdonald indicate that the laws put in place under John Howard were put in place in the:
… best interests of marine conservation, for ensuring that our seas and oceans were well managed and well looked after.
I have not heard a greater hypocritical comment in my life than that statement. I say that on the back of what is happening in Queensland now. We have a situation up there, which you are probably unfamiliar with, Mr Acting Deputy President Back, where the opposition leader is not in the Legislative Assembly. He has not been elected by the people of Queensland; however, he is the opposition leader. I am referring to Campbell Newman. He has indicated already that he is going to wind back particular environmental laws that have protected certain areas of the environment in Cape York. I am referring specifically to wild rivers. In fact, they are going to wind back laws on four of the rivers that are listed in the cape: the Wenlock, the Stewart, the Archer and the Lockhart rivers. I have been up in that area on many occasions and seen the beautiful, pristine areas of the Wenlock. I have actually caught a barramundi in that river. It demonstrates the hypocrisy of those opposite when they come in here and claim that the Howard government legislation was in the interests of ensuring seas and oceans are well managed, yet those in the LNP in Queensland are prepared to wind back legislation that has been put in by the state Labor government. It is great legislation, it is there to protect those beautiful rivers, and the LNP leader up there, Mr Newman, wants to wind it back so that mining will be allowed on those rivers. I am genuinely concerned about what that will do to the likes of the Wenlock River.
In mentioning the Wenlock River, can I say that this is where the hypocrisy really hits home. Everyone knows Steve Irwin in this place—a lot of people around the world know Steve. When Steve passed away, as an acknowledgement of his commitment to the environment—Steve was a true conservationist—John Howard, as the Prime Minister at that time, presented him with the opportunity to have a piece of land, about 130 hectares, on the edge of the Wenlock River and taking in the Wenlock River. Mr Acting Deputy President, I would love to take you there one day. You would understand the importance of this and you would understand the hypocrisy of those opposite in saying, 'We are environmentalists.' Maybe John Howard was an environmentalist; I do not know. He was one person whose policies I despised. In fact, the manner in which he dealt with workers and Work Choices was the catalyst for my decision to enter politics. But he may have had a bone of conservationism or environmentalism in him because he gave that land to the Irwins in recognition of the great work that Steve had done. I spoke to Terri Irwin recently about this and she is just horrified that we will lose beautiful, pristine rivers like the Wenlock River. In fact, she has been quoted in the press as saying:
Considering that a child dies every 20 seconds ... from drinking polluted water, I think it's absolutely ridiculous to be considering anything other than supporting wild rivers.
An environmentalist like Terri Irwin has come out and said that, yet you have the likes of Campbell Newman wanting to destroy the Wenlock River by allowing mining on that river and on four other rivers up on the cape.
I enjoyed Senator Bernardi's comment about having no fear of catching any fish. I have had that same issue at times, but the cape is one of those areas where—and I am sure Senator Scullion will concur with these comments—there are places you can go where you are guaranteed a good catch of fish. When I was up there earlier this year, I had the opportunity to go out around Weipa and I caught a bagful of fish—not to take home but to release. We only kept one fish and that was the only barramundi we caught.
This is what we are about as a Labor government. We are about protecting certain areas to make sure the opportunity exists for our children and grandchildren to throw a line in the water and catch a fish—generally to release them, because that is what true environmentalists and fishers are about up there. They understand the importance of their children having an opportunity to fish and that that is something we need to preserve for future generations. I do understand where Senator Bernardi was coming from, but there needs to be protection when we are doing these sorts of things and certainly this bill does not allow that.
I have had the great opportunity to be involved with the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre in Cairns. Several years ago they took me out onto the reef and they expressed their concerns about damage being done to the reef, they expressed concerns about issues associated with the environment and they expressed concerns about what was happening with land management. But farmers in the region, as a result of consultation, have been taking a responsible approach and have been considering the way they conduct their agriculture and their land use in those areas. That is, to some degree, lessening the impact on the reef. But on that visit I was quite alarmed to see certain parts of the reef suffering from bleaching. I have been to reefs in other parts of the world where all you see is white coral—it is dead. I would hate to see us end up in a situation where that is what we present to the 1.6 million visitors who travel to the reef each year.
Given that we are talking about the reef, I should record a few things about it. It is certainly an international tourist icon. An amazing number of people travel there, not only from our country but from throughout the world, just to see this amazing living reef. It is 2,900 unconnected coral reefs and, when you fly from the cape down to Cairns in a light aircraft, you can see this amazing structure. It is one of those structures you can see from the moon, I think. It stretches over 2,000 kilometres from the south of Papua New Guinea to Bundaberg. So it is a broad expanse of reef. There are also about 900 islands within the Great Barrier Reef. You see them, surrounded by all the different colours of the reef, as you fly down from the cape.
The reef is largely made up of complex and diverse coral reef systems, but it is also home to over 1,500 species of fish, 400 species of coral and many rare and endangered species in addition to that. It also supports the largest dugong populations in the world and it is an important breeding and feeding ground for whales and dolphins as well. Six of the world's seven species of marine turtle can be found there.
Complementing the reef's natural wonders is a rich cultural heritage. For thousands of years, this unique marine environment has been central to the social, economic and spiritual life of nearby coastal Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, many of whom I met with in my visits up around Cairns. I enjoyed the Dreamtime stories they told about this beautiful part of the world.
This amazing part of our state of Queensland makes a major contribution to tourism. As I indicated, there are 1.6 million visitors per year and the marine tourism industry generates $1 billion per annum for the local and Australian economies. That number of 1.6 million visitors has remained relatively consistent since the 1990s, demonstrating that people continue to want to travel there and see part of the reef and, no doubt, other parts of the hinterland around the back of the reef. People realise it is an important tourism area. Of the 1.6 million visitors, about 85 per cent visit the marine park. So not only do they go there to visit the wetlands, the rainforests up in the Daintree, the lakes at the back of Mareeba or the other activities around that area but 85 per cent of them go to visit the marine park in the area offshore from Cairns out to the Whitsundays, the marine park making up about 10 per cent of that larger area. There are approximately 730 tourist operators and 1,500 vessels and aircraft permitted to operate in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. About 60 per cent of these operators are actively undertaking tourism operations in the marine park. So you can see that the reef is sustaining lives and the operation of businesses up there. We are concerned that, should this bill be passed, that will all be jeopardised by the issues I have identified. We cannot afford to allow businesses—when we are off the back of the global financial crisis and the floods and cyclones in North Queensland recently—to be affected by the likes of this particular bill. The Gillard government are committed to working with communities and we will continue to do that to establish a system of representative marine reserves. Our marine environment is under long-term pressure from climate change and increasing industry activity. Fortunately a couple of weeks ago we passed clean energy bills to deal with this issue. Those opposite, of course, never supported that legislation. They voted against it several years ago and this time—a surprise to no-one—they voted against it again. I find it a bit rich having to listen to those opposite claiming they are environmentalists. Never, in their entire lives, have they shown a bone of environmentalism.
Honourable senators interjecting—
To hit the nail on the head, the Leader of the Liberal Party, Mr Abbott, has referred to the environment as 'absolute crap'—disgraceful words, which I would not use. Irregardless of what I think of the environment, I would not use those words in public. Those words are on the public record now and that is the opposition's position. That is what they stand for. That is why we will not be supporting this bill. (Time expired)
I am quite surprised. I have a great deal of respect for Senator Furner but perhaps he has been speaking on the wrong bill. The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Bioregional Plans) Bill 2011 simply gives the parliament the capacity to consider something. That is all it does, like very many regulations. The bill simply allows us to look at bioregional plans to ensure they do not have unintended consequences. Those on the other side recently have not been caught up in the usual thematic—that the Senate should scrutinise things carefully, have a debate and then vote. The new word is 'truncate'. 'Let's just stack this down to about two seconds' is the thematic the government are following. I would hope that the Greens are not going to vote against this legislation. And we have more of the same from those opposite, 'We couldn't possibly have any more scrutiny.'
Senator Furner was incredible in his contribution when he said that in bringing a regulation to this place somehow it is going to affect the Great Barrier Reef. He spoke with great passion about what a wonderful thing it is. Who could possibly deny that? Allowing something to be disallowable in this place certainly is not going to be doing that. He talked about the global financial crisis—that jumped in—and about the Queensland floods. Having a disallowable instrument is a really powerful thing. It is up there with an act of God.
He also talked about the consultation having to be repeated. Imagine consulting once and probably getting it wrong. So you bring legislation to this place to get checked and: 'Oh, no! Shock, horror! Don't tell me that we now have to consult again.' That would be horrific. Senator Furner is genuinely a lovely bloke but he certainly drew the short straw here. He said this is going to create uncertainty among recreational and commercial fishers. Recreational and commercial fishers out there need to really worry because the Senate is going to have an opportunity to scrutinise this particular piece of legislation! This is a fair dinkum short straw.
Then he goes on to talk about a great Queenslander, a fantastic Queenslander, who is really going to take the bat to the Labor Party in the oncoming election, a very thoughtful and insightful man, Mr Campbell Newman. He decried Campbell Newman because Campbell Newman is someone who understands this process. He decried the fact that Campbell Newman stood up for the Aboriginal people of Cape York and supported the wild rivers legislation, which allows only one thing—that through the decency of asking and consulting with Aboriginal people, we seek their written consent to put park-like provisions over their land. If we get their consent, then we can move to do that—quite a decent thing. But Senator Furner says that that is a terrible thing for Campbell Newman to be doing. That is absolute rubbish.
I remind Senator Furner, when he talks so carefully about the Wenlock River and the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve, and in the same breath decries John Howard, that it was in fact John Howard who gifted that reserve in memory of Steve Irwin. It was our government who created the park. He also said briefly that this bill will not allow protection. He talked about researchers in boats being concerned about the reef—I am not really sure what that was about. And we have to be careful because, if this is legislation passes, we are going to have increased bleaching of corals. You are drawing a long bow, Senator Furner. I feel sorry that you have been asked to defend the indefensible in this place.
This is a very good and important piece of legislation. It does one simple thing: it says that, if a marine bioregional plan is declared, it should come before parliament, as do literally thousands of disallowable regulations every day. As a disallowable instrument, it has to sit on a table for a period of time so that people can have a look at it, and there is a potential to disallow that instrument. It is a normal thing. There are some really good and important reasons why this should be disallowable. I follow this very closely in my life, as many would know. I am very proud to be part of a government that introduced its oceans policy—the first comprehensive policy that looked at further levels of protection for our oceans and our biosphere. It was an exciting time. If you read our policy, it was all about excitement: what we were going to do, how we were going to measure it, what sort of research we were going to do and how we were going to control the impacts. It was a very exciting time. Sadly, after the creation of a number of marine protected areas, once the current Labor government took power—porridge fingers! Everything it touched has turned to porridge.
Our alternative policy would immediately put on hold that bioregional planning process to allow for its restructure. We would provide a fair and balanced displaced effort policy. We would base marine protected areas on science. We would establish sensible and balanced marine park boundaries and develop management plans in consultation with industry. But if we had that plan we would want to make it disallowable. Everybody gets something wrong now and again and we might not have thought of something, but this place has the resources and the people to focus on that completely. We have committees, and that is what this place does very well.
There are two important points. The first is that as we have moved to marine protected areas there has been a primacy of the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities over all other matters. Whilst I know a lot of people in the department are wonderful people—Conall O'Connell and I have blued for years but he is a great bloke and a very wise man—it seems that over time that primacy means the view of the department is the only thing we take into consideration. A bioregional plan put by the environment minister will come in here and that will be it. What we have said in our policy is that all marine protected areas will be signed up by both the minister responsible for fisheries and the minister responsible for the environment. It is a far more comprehensive and sophisticated approach, as one would expect from the coalition.
One of the most important elements is to make sure there are no unintended consequences. When you put a marine protected area out there one of the things people very much need to understand is that we call it a bioregion. We have talked about fish, about corals, about dugongs and about whales, but let me remind everyone that you cannot make a whale turned left. You cannot make a piece of coral grow over there. You cannot say to a dugong, 'Don't swim over here,' because a line on a map does absolutely nothing to affect those things. A line on a map affects only the behaviour and activities of people. It is the people whom we are seeking to benefit, because that is what this place does, and we benefit people by putting in protected areas in the right way and in the right places. We need to ensure that the impact of putting in a marine protected area is a proper impact and has been done for proper reasons.
This is where we must look at the motive. In this country we have, without a doubt, world-standard fisheries, and as a past chairman of the International Coalition of Fisheries Association I say that with some authority. One of the things we know to look out for in our environment is the further politicisation of fisheries management. For example, in New South Wales there was a commitment by the then Premier Bob Carr with the Greens, for Green preferences in New South Wales, that up to 50 per cent of the inshore areas would be locked up and preferences would be swapped. It was a wonderful idea. Of course, they did not think about the notion of displaced effort. Imagine if we closed 50 per cent of the Senate: all of the senators on the other side would have to come and sit here, and there is not much room. You will wear out the cushions on this side exactly twice as fast as normal. By rolling out closures across 50 per cent of New South Wales you have, in one fell swoop, increased the fishing effort in New South Wales by 50 per cent. How can you say that is helping the environment? It is absolute nonsense, but it does happen and it has happened.
Things like this bioregional plan should be brought to this place so we can ensure that those unintended consequences of displaced effort do not happen. This legislation was not drawn up to protect the environment. It was done for a self-serving Labor government in New South Wales who did not care about the environment or the communities—they just cared about themselves. We have seen a lot of that. I have seen a lot of that in my time and in this government. This place needs to be positioned to ensure that the motive for providing marine protected areas is a pure motive based on science. Labor are not going to vote for our legislation, because they want to say, 'I want to be able to trade the environment off politically.' We do not, and our legislation says we do not. We want to put it before all of parliament.
There is another element of displaced effort which is a very technical management issue. Whenever we create a bioregion, bioregional plans invariably deal with use, so there are different rules about the sorts of things you can do in different places. In some places a certain sort of gear effort cannot be used, you cannot trawl in certain areas or do certain sorts of fishing, and some areas are completely protected. We know now, in fisheries management and with the use of marine protected areas globally, the most important thing is that, if when you do something you have an impact that closes half of it, you have to have a policy in place that ensures you do not have a negative impact on the environment. You need a displaced effort policy, and there might be a whole suite of things. If we were a commercial industry we would buy out 50 per cent of it. But there is no point in buying out 50 per cent if today you make a declaration to close an area and everybody comes over and doubles the use in that area and then you think about buying out a few fishermen over the years. On the first day that closure is made we are having a negative net impact on the environment. And so when the bioregional plan comes to this place, we will have an opportunity to ask, 'Before this comes into effect, have you already mitigated the changes to the use of those areas? Have you put in an effective displacement policy?' We can look at those policies and say, 'Fine. They have put those measures in.' We will be able to say, because it is consistent with coalition policy, that we will not declare an area before we have made the effort, dealing with the best interests of the environment and fisheries.
I am not only talking about the best interests of the environment and fisheries. It is also in the best interests of the communities, families and businesses that all rely on it, whether it is through tourism, visitation, support industries, commercial fishing or recreational fishing—in fact, all of those businesses that Senator Furner indicated earlier. I am surprised at Senator Furner's sudden embracing of the environment. He has claimed that they are true environmentalists on the other side. If they are, as they claim to be, true environmentalists then they should support this legislation. But, sadly, I suspect they will not.
You have to look for the motive. Why under such obvious, well-known, well-researched processes would they say, 'No, we do not want that level of scrutiny'? It is because those on the other side quite clearly have an agenda to ensure they can continue to trade away the environment against their political self-interest. They have done this in New South Wales. They have done this in North Queensland by trading away the interests and future of Aboriginal people against what is now on the public record as a preference deal with the Greens. They have put their own interests above the interests of both the environment and our first Australians. They should stand condemned. Even better, they should support this legislation.
Madam Deputy President, I thank you for the opportunity to contribute to this debate and to support the motion of my colleague Senator Colbeck. It is the fact, of course, that the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act was an initiative of the coalition government under then Prime Minister Howard, introduced by then Minister Robert Hill. It is the fact that the environment minister has the sole power to approve, in this case, the adoption of bioregional plans. It is the contention of the coalition, led by Senator Colbeck, that this amendment for it to become a disallowable instrument should be made to provide far greater parliamentary sovereignty and to allow both houses of parliament the right to debate the merits of any new protected areas in the marine environment.
This is a week in which we have almost seen the death of democracy, particularly in this chamber. So it probably would not resonate well with the Labor Party and Greens to have a process by which there would be a disallowable instrument introduced in the event of the minister's failure to consult prior to being given the opportunity to approve new bioregional plans.
There is not a person in Australia who does not favour the best protection of our marine and terrestrial environments. This is best evidenced in the fishing world. If you think of fishing, be it recreational or commercial, it tends to be intergenerational for many families over many years. Whether it is commercial fishing in which the grandchild is on the cray boat with their father and grandfather, or mother and grandmother, or recreational fishing, which we have heard evidence of from all of the speakers here, fishing is one of those delightful processes in Australia where generations combine over time continually.
We have heard from fishermen like Senator Bernardi and Senator Furner. Whilst I have been quite interested in fishing, I have the distinction of having only ever once caught one fish in my life and that was on an occasion when the hook was baited by others and in fact I went to sleep and somebody had to wake me up to tell me that there was a pink snapper on the end of the line! So I am certainly not one who has challenged the fish stocks around the Australian coastline. But what I can say is that there is a deep and ongoing concern by people, be they recreational or commercial fishers, to ensure the long-term viability and survival of fish stocks and other organisms in the marine environment. So I will not stand here and listen to carping and criticism by anybody about the interests and concerns of the coalition when it comes to this area.
Remember again that this legislation, as indicated by my colleague Senator Macdonald, is a world first and best practice. That particular act of parliament has become the benchmark around the world. Let us not forget in all of this conversation that is going on that Australia protects more of its marine reserves around its coastline than any other country in the world, so we have no occasion to be ashamed of our track record.
But what this is all about is the method by which this minister, Minister Burke, has gone about this process. I happen to be one person who has been a victim of the unwillingness and inability of Minister Burke to actually consult. In December last year I was consulting with recreational and commercial fishing groups on the concerns they had and the lack of information they had about the proposals to lock up areas of the marine environment around Western Australia. I was aware that the minister and his staff were going to engage in a consultation process here in Canberra. I made a direct approach to the minister's office through one of the interest groups asking, 'Could I come to Canberra to participate in that consultation and advice process?' The answer to a Western Australian senator was, 'No, you can't come.' So when I read some of these quotations—which I will read out in a few moments time—from Minister Burke about this outpouring of consultation, I know that it is absolute, utter, patent nonsense. That was not only my experience. I will also allude to witnesses at inquiries who, unfortunately, shared my experience. For seven years, from 1988 to 1995, I had the privilege of being the Chief Executive Officer of the Rottnest Island Authority. Rottnest Island is some 20 kilometres off the Western Australian coast and is probably the focus of offshore recreational activities such as fishing, diving and other aquatic activities along Western Australia's southern coast. Much reference has been made to the so-called Perth shelf. It is known universally as the Rottnest Shelf, and it would be fair to say that the vast majority of young children who fished probably started their fishing careers by throwing a line off the Rottnest jetty or over the side of a boat in that area. We made enormous advances in the time I was at the island in protecting both the terrestrial and the marine environments, for which we were awarded the first environmental tourism award in this country.
I do speak with some conviction and some knowledge, and I can simply say this from bitter experience—if you want to change the behaviour of a group of people in relation particularly to protecting an environment such as the marine environment you must undertake a number of processes. First, you must understand before you draft your plans that what you do has to be based on science. If it is not, your eventual proposal will be seen to be hollow. Secondly, you must be prepared to consult with—which does not equate to talking at—affected stakeholders. The whole process of consultation should suggest that you are willing to listen to the views of others and amend your own draft plans as a result of consultation. I can assure you that when we failed to do that it came back to bite us and those proposals failed.
I will give an example of where the consultation process works. Because of what is known as the Leeuwin Current, which comes down the Western Australian coastline, the waters around Rottnest Island in the winter months are three to four degrees Celsius warmer than the waters along the mainland, only 20 kilometres to the east. The result is that Rottnest has a greater number of tropical fish species in the winter months than there are along the mainland coast. The most southerly growth in the Southern Hemisphere of a coral called pocillopora exists in a beautiful bay at Parker Point on Rottnest Island. People were throwing anchors over the side into this coral area so that they could go snorkelling off their dinghies—there are beautiful pink corals and of course the fish those corals attract. These corals were being unwittingly destroyed.
I sat down with stakeholders and with my management team and marine and other environmental people and I said we would put a string of floats across the area so that the reef could be protected. Everybody laughed their heads off and said the first person past would cut the floats and the idea would fail. We consulted with the boat owners who used that bay and convinced them of the reason we were doing it. They became the owners of that protected area, and when I left the island seven years later there had not been one instance of vandalism in the area. The message for Minister Burke is simply that you must take the people with you. There must be sound reasons for protecting an area. If you give ownership to the affected people, they will become the most powerful weapon.
Inherent in everything at Rottnest Island was that we were beholden to the Rottnest Island Authority Act. I reported directly to both a board and through the minister to parliament but, most importantly, it was the parliament that had the opportunity to oversee the activities of our management of the island. This is the very point that Senator Colbeck is attempting to make with his bill—we should give to both houses of this parliament the opportunity to examine and if need be disallow, so causing the minister to go back and do the work that he must do in these critically important areas. We learnt a lot and they were lessons well learnt. If you fail to take the community with you, if you fail to convince the community of the good of an activity because it is based on ideology and not based on good policy, it will fail. This is the evidence we have seen, unfortunately, with this minister's refusal to consult and to take action based on the science. A recent media release from Mr Burke on the proposed marine plan stated:
The Gillard Government is working with communities to establish a marine reserves network to support a sustainable future for our marine environment and ensure our oceans stay healthy and productive.
The release quoted Minister Burke as saying:
Through our initial consultation in the development of these draft plans, where possible, we have avoided having an impact on local jobs or people who love to fish.
Those words sound fine, and if they had been followed through we probably would not need the bill being proposed by Senator Colbeck. This marine plan is inherently directed at Western Australia. When it was first announced in May this year the Minister for Fisheries in Western Australia, Mr Moore, came out immediately with a media release in which he encouraged the community to engage with the federal government on the key issues of environmental significance, in this case to the south-west bioregion, and he encouraged people within the community to make submissions. He said in May:
Although I have not yet had the opportunity to study the documents in detail, I remain hopeful that the Commonwealth has taken a balanced and pragmatic approach to proposed marine reserves which minimises the social and economic impact on stakeholders such as the fishing sector.
If this man is the Minister for Fisheries in the state with the greatest marine reserve around the Australian nation, why is it that Minister Burke personally and/or his senior staff had not already consulted with Minister Moore? Nevertheless, the WA Department of Fisheries, under the direction of that minister, did proceed to put in a submission. Regrettably, despite this 'consultation process' that has gone on, I will refer again to Mr Moore, who said in a media statement on 19 October, just five weeks ago:
We are still yet to receive any information about the points raised and about the process going forward. This leaves the State Government and WA community uncertain and concerned about the future access to our most precious waters and aquatic resources.
What right has Minister Burke to run roughshod over the state of Western Australia and its fisheries minister? Incidentally, the proposed zones include the western rock lobster fishery, which has been regarded as a world benchmark for many years.
Thank you, very much, Senator Siewert; I was hoping that interjection would be made. As you and I both know, as soon as the drop in crayfish numbers was raised Mr Moore acted without hesitation, in the face of enormous criticism, to introduce quotas so that he could get on top of that issue. Are they on top of it? I do not know. But you and I both know, Senator Siewert, that has been—through you Madam Acting Deputy President Boyce, I apologise—an exceedingly well-managed fishery over many years and that the minister acted on the scientific advice of advisers, industry and others in making his decisions. I have no doubt that he will review its performance over time. He will review those outcomes and, if need be, make further changes. That is all we want from Minister Burke. Because he has failed to deliver it, it is essential that these actions come back to this parliament, to both houses of parliament, so that they can be reviewed. I will quote again, if I may, from Mr Moore's statement:
Western Australia’s fisheries are well managed and regarded as some of the best managed in the world and as such, I do not see the need for the extensive network of ‘no take’ zones proposed by the Commonwealth.
Ideology replacing good policy and replacing science: it is regrettable. Mr Moore went on to say:
The Federal Government is always saying we should pursue evidence-based policy. In this case, it is just drawing lines on a map without any real regard for environmental outcomes or the long-term impacts on the Western Australian and broader Australian communities and businesses.
That is the circumstance in which we find ourselves.
Minister Burke has assured the parliament and the community that he has participated in a widespread consultation process as part of his bioregional planning process. Let me quote from just a couple of those who have made submissions to inquiries regarding this and put to the test whether my experience of last December, when I was refused the opportunity for a briefing from Minister Burke's staff, has been shared by others. Dr Ken Coghill, a former Speaker of the Victorian parliament said:
My clear perspective is that it is absolutely important to effective parliamentary democracy that the parliament have the opportunity to scrutinise and, if appropriate, disallow any action taken by the executive.
Let us hear from the Abalone Industry Association of South Australia, which said in its submission to the inquiry:
It is a real slap in the face to the good work done by our Government Fisheries Managers and Industry.
That is presumably the South Australia government—
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.
A Mr Cameron Talbot also made a submission, in which he said:
They certainly did far better than I did when I made my approach to the minister. Mr Talbot went on to say:
The Department does not consult us or simply ignores what we have to say. I feel that democracy has been lost and further more my faith in the Labour party has gone with it.
He goes on to speak about the fact that many fishermen and fisherwomen are Labor Party members and about how disappointed they are. I could go on and on about this process. I ask the question of those who would say that they are not supporting this motion by Senator Colbeck: what do they fear? We are elected senators of the Australian parliament sent by our states and territories to this place, and those in the other house are elected by their electorates to come here, to make laws. When there are circumstances in which legislation as it is currently formulated is deficient or incorrect it is up to us to correct it. There is no difficulty with the process of introducing disallowance legislation. It simply means, as we see in other instances, that it requires that the minister be diligent and that he and his staff, and those of the departments who are backing them up, do what they say they are doing. We have seen in this case that, demonstrably, there has not been the consultation and there has not been the science. There also has not been the rigorous approach in the areas to which we on this side of the chamber have drawn attention—that is, the functions and obligations of the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.
One of the wonderful things about this whole topic is that our capacity to come up with scientific validation is improving all the time. Senator Siewert and I are both well aware of work done at the University of Western Australia and other institutions, which enables them to monitor in real time fish stocks: numbers, ages, sizes et cetera. Let us use this data; let us develop plans; let us take the community with us and then let us review it over time. There are areas and times when we do have to stop fishing, be it commercial or recreational. For example, because of a breeding cycle or in response to the population size, density, pressure and age of the fish species concerned. But let us do it based on the science. Let us have the confidence in ourselves to feed this information back to the community. Let us not be so arrogant that we are not prepared to change our policies or our plans so that over time we can actually achieve what we all want to achieve: a sustainable marine bioregion and a sustainable terrestrial environment in this country
It is good to follow Senator Back, who is very knowledgeable in these areas and has highlighted particularly some of the local concerns about the impact of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Bioregional Plans) Bill 2011 and of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, which Senator Colbeck is seeking to amend on the local fishing industry.
We are often faced with choices—we are always faced with choices in this place—as to whether we empower the parliament or whether we empower the executive. At its heart, Senator Colbeck's bill is one about empowering the parliament; it is one about ensuring that the parliament has the final say in important decisions. That is the right thing for us to seek to do because this bill, at its heart, seeks to ensure that important decisions about marine activities and bioregional planning activities come back to this parliament so that this parliament has a say rather than all the say and all the power being left purely in the hands of the minister of the day. For that I commend Senator Colbeck for wanting to open this process up to a greater level of transparency, a greater level of accountability and to ensuring that the parliament—the peoples' houses: the House of Representatives and the Senate—is the institution that should have the final say when it comes to this marine bioregional planning process.
Senator Colbeck's bill will reinstate parliamentary scrutiny of an area of just over seven million square kilometres of Commonwealth waters. This is a vast area of waterways, and it does demonstrate the absolute significance of the bill and the significance of ensuring that we have the parliamentary scrutiny that I have just discussed. At present these waters are undergoing assessment by the government through the marine bioregional planning process with the ultimate aim of creating marine parks. This is a process that is being applied to waters from the state or territory boundary of approximately three nautical miles out to, as I understand it, 200 nautical miles out—the outer reaches of the Australian exclusive economic zone. It is proposed that the waters around Australia be sanctioned or divided into five bioregional zones. The current government is developing bioregional plans for four of these areas.
As Senator Colbeck highlighted in his second reading speech on this legislation, the first cab off the rank with respect to the draft plans is the south-west bioregion, which takes in 1.3 million square kilometres of water from the eastern tip of Kangaroo Island in my home state of South Australia, right around to the waters off Shark Bay, halfway up the coast of Senator Back's home state of Western Australia. For the two of us there are very real and very immediate local impacts as a result of this planning process. The north-west bioregion encompasses the remaining Commonwealth waters off the Western Australian coast—just over one million square kilometres from Kalbarri to the border with the Northern Territory. The north bioregion covers 715 square kilometres of coast across the Northern Territory, including the Gulf of Carpentaria, the Arafura Sea and the Timor Sea. The east bioregion covers 2.4 million square kilometres and also includes the airspace and the seabed below. It does not include, however, waters within the boundary of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which are already extensively protected through very specific legislation, as you Madam Acting Deputy President, would well know and appreciate.
Within these four marine bioregional zones the government has designated 23 areas for further assessment. It is highly likely, as I understand it, that these areas of further assessment will later have designated within them areas of sanctuary zones, recreation-only zones and special purpose zones. These zones will be closed to all but a few activities. They are areas where commercial and recreational fishing will be excluded and areas where particular types of gear and fishing practice will be restricted. That will have a profound impact on the activities within those particular areas. The marine bioregional zones and the subsequent declaration of marine protected areas within them are being brought forward under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, which is the act that Senator Colbeck's bill seeks to amend today.
Currently, the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities has the sole authority to sign off on the boundaries of these sanctuary zones and by association would be signing off on the limitations that are imposed on the activities which will be allowed to take place within them. This gives the minister quite exclusive power at the end of this process to have the final say. Senator Colbeck's bill, which we are debating today, seeks to return that power over these zones, over the operation of these sanctuaries and over the limitation of activities within these sanctuaries from the exclusive pen of the minister—from the exclusive judgment of the minister—to the will of parliament. It seeks to do so by making the bioregional plans disallowable instruments. As all members of this place would appreciate, making them disallowable instruments removes the absolute nature of the power from the minister. The minister would still have a say in the planning process. It would be the minister who would still approve the instrument. It would be the minister who would bring the instrument to the parliament and table it. But as a disallowable instrument it gives the parliament at least the opportunity to have a say if the minister and the processes supporting the minister have got it wrong in any way, shape or form. That is very important. It is very important that should the minister, his agencies or those involved in this bioregional planning process err and present plans that are unacceptable, this place or the other place have the opportunity to say, 'This is wrong and we will disallow it.' There is nothing in this legislation for the government, the crossbenchers or anyone else to be terribly afraid of—nothing at all. All it does is empower the parliament through this process. If you are afraid of the changes in this legislation, then it means for some reason you are afraid of the parliament, afraid of the judgment of the Senate or afraid of the judgment of the House of Representatives. I fear from time to time the judgment of governments. I fear from time to time the judgment of ministers. I acknowledge that from time to time the parliament approves and does things that I wish it did not, but I certainly do not fear the judgment of the parliament or of either house of the parliament. I think under our system they should enjoy supremacy of judgment, and this bill returns supremacy of judgment to its rightful place, to the two houses of parliament.
This bill will give the parliament the opportunity to have a say on those occasions that dictate it to be necessary. As we in this place all appreciate, those occasions are extraordinarily rare. There are many countless areas of disallowable instruments that are made by governments and it is exceptionally rare that the parliament exercises its authority to disallow them. But this bill provides for the exceptional circumstance, and in this place on this issue it makes sense for those exceptional circumstances to equally be provided for. The bill provides for greater parliamentary sovereignty, as I say, and would allow both houses the right, if they so wished, to have a say on whether any new marine park declaration should happen and to consider each one on its individual merits and the merits of the arguments associated with it.
The bill is not about whether the government's declaration of marine park areas goes ahead but whether the parliament has the right to have a say, to represent the millions of people who put us here, to represent the South Australians who put me here. They have interests in the protection of our marine areas and in fisheries activities both commercial and recreational within our marine areas off the coastline of South Australia, just as Senator Back highlighted those many industries and interests equally concerned about the coastline of his home state of Western Australia.
The coalition has a proud history in this space. We have a proud history as the original authors of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. It was a massive reform to the way the environment is protected in this country and it was a piece of legislation that the Howard government should rightly be proud of. I am confident former South Australian senator and former leader of my party in this place, Senator Robert Hill, is proud from his time as environment minister of his authorship of that act and his stewardship of it through the parliament.
So we have a proud record that stretches way back. It was the Howard government that in 1998 secured agreement with state governments to commit to establishing a national representative system of marine protected areas. The Howard government did not rest on its laurels there but made further international commitments to establish such a representative network by 2012 at the World Summit on Sustainable Development held in 2002. Of course, it was the Howard government that in 2005-06 initiated the investigation and subsequent implementation of the south-east marine reserves network.
You may recall, Mr Deputy President, that at the beginning of my remarks—well, you probably wouldn't because you were not in the chair at that time, but the chamber may recall that at the beginning of my remarks—
Senator Payne does. That is nice to hear. Somebody is listening out there! At the beginning of my remarks I said there are five bioregional areas and I outlined four of them that are under consideration at present. The fifth is the south-east marine reserves network. It is one where the implementation was conducted under the Howard government. In fact, it was conducted and implemented by Senator Colbeck, the author of this bill before us today. Senator Colbeck, as the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, was right there at the coalface working on the development and implementation of the south-east marine reserves network. So nobody in this place, I suspect, has a better appreciation of these issues and of this process than Senator Colbeck, who has been following this issue and working on it. He was intensely involved in it in government for such a long period of time.
Senator Colbeck highlighted his experience in the development of that south-east marine reserves network during his time in government in his second reading speech on this legislation. He highlighted the very thorough process of investigating and subsequently implementing that marine reserves network. In doing so there was extensive and open consultation with each and every stakeholder who felt they had a claim or a vested interest in this process. Senator Colbeck highlighted that the overwhelming success following the consultation with stakeholders on the draft proposal allowed the government to make around 20 changes to boundaries and zoning that act for the protection of marine species in that space. Senator Colbeck said that the result was a network that is both larger and more representative of the region than the original proposal and has far less impact on the fishing industry. It sounds like, as Senator Colbeck described it, a win-win outcome—an outcome that provided for a network of zones that protect marine species covering an area larger than was originally proposed but that does so with minimal impact on the fishing industry. That shows how these processes can be managed, can be undertaken and can be done in a sensible way, but it takes sensible people like Senator Colbeck to be able to do it and implement it. Unfortunately, since the change of government, we have not seen a level of consultation, cooperation and engagement with all stakeholders that has allowed this process to be shepherded through for the remaining four proposed marine bioregional areas. Instead we have seen, as is so often the case under this government, failure to give stakeholders effective input and to ensure that stakeholders have confidence in the outcomes of the process that is being undertaken. It is this loss of confidence, this loss of stakeholder engagement and this loss of faith at the grassroots level that require these changes and necessitate bringing this bill here today.
People will rightly say, 'Why didn't the Howard government provide for this final parliamentary oversight of these marine bioregional plans?' Perhaps the Howard government just had too much faith in the capacity of ministers of the day to exercise that power responsibly and sensibly and come up with sensible, sound outcomes at the end. Sadly, the Howard government had that faith but that faith has been proven, with the change of government and the change of ministerial personnel responsible for the administration of these schemes, to have been misplaced. Unfortunately, that requires us to look and say that perhaps the minister of the day cannot be trusted with open slather. Perhaps we erred way back when the EPBC Act and these processes were first put in place. And perhaps it is better to return the ultimate say to the parliament so that, when you have a bad minister who undertakes bad processes and delivers a bad outcome, the parliament can at least still do something about it. That, of course, is the nub of what this legislation is all about.
There have been real concerns that both the Rudd and Gillard governments have not engaged in appropriate levels of consultation with local communities and have not engaged in appropriate consultation with those commercial fisheries affected, nor have they engaged in appropriate levels of conversation or engagement with the marine recreational fishing interests. Equally, even some environmental groups have highlighted to Senator Colbeck that they have felt left out by the federal government when it comes to genuine consultation.
As I highlighted before, the South-east Commonwealth Marine Reserve Network, the one implemented by the Howard government, the one that Senator Colbeck had the direct engagement and involvement in, was a successful process that achieved bigger areas of protection than initially foreshadowed but still left sustainability and viability for the commercial fishing industry and for the recreational fishing industry. I do want to say, Mr Deputy President—and I know this is something that you in particular would appreciate—that all too often, when people talk about recreational fishing, there is a belief that it is just somebody dangling a line and it is of little consequence. But it is not of little consequence.
It is a massive industry, as Senator Edwards indicates—a massive industry that supports many, many jobs and many, many small businesses in particular throughout Australia. It is not just an activity that brings families together but an industry in and of itself that supports significant economic activity and significant jobs throughout Australia. That is what is at risk if we get this wrong. If the government gets it wrong, what is at risk is effective environmental protection as well as lasting opportunities for our commercial fishing industry and our recreational fishing industry.
So we urge the government and the crossbenchers to take out some insurance. If a bad process results in a bad outcome, put it back in the hands of the parliament. Bring it back to the parliament, accept this bill, allow these plans to become disallowable instruments and allow the people's representatives in this place and the other place to have the final say on these important planning processes. I commend the bill to the house.
I rise to speak on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Bioregional Plans) Bill 2011. Let me say from the outset that the coalition support a balanced approach to marine conservation. I noted in Senator Furner's earlier address on this issue that he referred to the Howard government and wrongly tried to accuse it of some kind of lack of commitment there—but the reason we have this bill before us is to try and rectify some of this current government's failings on this issue. I also applaud Senator Colbeck's work on this originally in the time of the Howard government. Here he is, still overseeing the fishes of Australia in a solid way, in a way which makes sense, in a reasoned and thoroughly commendable approach to preserving this industry and ensuring that it has a future in this country.
Let us firstly have a look at what a recent report from ABARES says about Australia's fish stocks. According to the ABARES Fishery status reports 2010, of the 96 fish stocks assessed, 71 are not subject to overfishing, which means that they are being harvested at an appropriate level. The report also found that 56 of the 96 stocks are also not overfished, meaning that the number of fish, or biomass, is adequate to sustain the stock in the long term. The balance of all the fish stocks not mentioned, the vulnerable, are the very reason that the Howard government and Senator Colbeck embarked on this conservation policy in the first place in the Howard era. So let us lose some of the hysteria being peddled about this debate.
Why is it an important bill? It is important because it will reinstate parliamentary scrutiny to millions of square kilometres of Commonwealth waters. Currently these tracts of oceans are undergoing assessment by the Gillard Labor government through the marine bioregional planning process, with the ultimate aim of creating marine parks. This process is being applied to waters from the state or territory boundary of approximately three nautical miles out to 200 nautical miles, the outer reaches of the Exclusive Economic Zone.
Australia, a land girt by sea, has had its ocean moat divided into five bioregional zones and the current government is developing bioregional plans for four of those areas. There will be areas closed to all but a few activities, areas where commercial and recreational fishing will be excluded and the areas where particular types of gear and fishing practice will be constrained. The marine bioregional zones and the subsequent declaration—