Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill 2014


Senator SESELJA (Australian Capital Territory) (09:33): The government will not be supporting the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill 2014. I will go through first broadly what the bill does and also the Greens' proposed amendment, which we will not be supporting either. I will go through some of the reasons why we take a different approach on this issue.

 

The bill amends the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to repeal a sunset provision and enable the minister to establish an independent expert panel to conduct an assessment of the potential environmental impacts of a declared commercial fishing activity and to prohibit the declared fishing activity while the assessment is undertaken. On the Greens' proposed amendment, I will quote from Senator Whish-Wilson:

The Greens have put up an amendment to ban supertrawlers and vessels with freezing capacity over 2,000 tonnes. That is a globally recognised tonnage of fish that is being looked at by groups right around the world.

He goes on:

We consider that we need separate legislation for any size over that.

He goes on:

We would ask that Labor, through Senator Ludwig, who brought this forward, consider a proper amendment that will ban this type of fishing activity in this country once and for all. This is what millions of rec—

recreational—

fishermen across this country want—

apparently, according to Senator Whish-Wilson.

We do not agree with the Greens and we do not agree with the Labor Party on this issue. The reason the government opposes this bill as well as the amendments is that the amendments will have no effect on the recently expired or current declaration made under the now lapsed legislation. We support commercial, recreational and Indigenous fishers and are committed to the continuation of Australia's well-managed fisheries. The coalition has confidence in the sustainability of Australian fisheries managed by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority. We will make any decisions regarding fisheries management based on the science. We will not be rushed. We will consider the expert panel report in its entirety and make appropriate decisions.

The government is aware of the concern among a range of groups, including recreational fishers, about the potential impact of supertrawlers on Australia's marine environment, protected species and local fish stocks. We intend to build public confidence in the fishery and fisheries management more generally. Commercial fishing has to be both environmentally and economically sustainable.

Agreeing to this bill would mean that the Minister for the Environment could declare any fishing activity at any time, and who knows what a future environment minister might do with that? For instance, he or she, in future, might consider that there is uncertainty associated with small rowboats and declare them, which would then mean that an expert panel would be established to investigate the matter, all at the cost of the taxpayer. Senator Ludwig is only bringing this back now, we believe, to play cheap wedge politics, and the Greens, not surprisingly, are jumping on the bandwagon.

Now I want to go back to Labor's record on this issue and their hypocrisy on this issue. It was Tony Burke, in his role as Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, who created this issue by inviting these types of vessels as part of his 2009 Small Pelagic Fishery Harvest Strategy. I quote:

… there are considerable economies of scale in the fishery and the most efficient way to fish may include large scale factory freezer vessels.

That is from page 2 of the Small Pelagic Fishery Harvest Strategy, from the Australian Fisheries Management Authority in 2009. Indeed, the former minister proudly trumpeted:

This is the first time a trawler with a storage capacity of 2000 tonne or more is likely to operate in an Australian fishery …

Then, as the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Tony Burke completely bungled the development and introduction of the declared fishing activities bill in September 2012. This legislation was so bad that it needed amendment within hours of introduction. Labor clearly did not understand fisheries or fisheries management. Their bill initially banned recreational charter vessels. The declared fishing activities amendment was so bad that there was a 12-month sunset clause to kill it off.

As I said earlier, Senator Ludwig is bringing this back now to play cheap politics, notwithstanding that appalling history of mismanagement of this issue by the Labor Party and particularly by the former minister. But we know, in fact, that Senator Ludwig did once stand up for Australian fisheries. I quote from then Minister Ludwig in August 2012, responding to a Greens motion:

This disallowance motion is a message that the Greens political party do not support sustainable catch limits based on science.

Agreed. He continued:

It is a message that says the Greens want fisheries managed by politics, not qualified fisheries managers.

Well, we agree. He continued:

And it says that the Greens do not support the commercial operators who fish in some of the world's best managed fisheries.

He went on:

That message should be well understood, because I have no doubt that the same disregard for the science and management of our commercial fisheries will be extended to the legitimate pursuit of recreational fishing. As minister for fisheries—

this was Senator Ludwig saying this at the time—

I will not allow the emotive politics of the Greens political party to run fisheries management policy in this country. We will ensure that the Australian Fisheries Management Authority is independent, that it makes independent decisions based on the science through its expert commissioners and on the facts that are presented to them. They will continue to make decisions based on sound judgement to ensure that fisheries are sustainable and meet all the ecological requirements—and, moreover, predicated on the precautionary principle so often espoused by the Greens.

He went on:

Why? Because AFMA will continue to apply sound policy to ensure that we will have sustainable fisheries now and into the future. For those reasons, the government oppose this motion.

That was a reasonably succinct position put by the then minister as to why we should reject these kinds of moves, why we should reject this Greens view of the world, which is not based on science. It is based on their version of cheap politics. It is based on their aversion really to any economic activity using our natural resources.

We know what the Greens are on about, but unfortunately the Labor Party in opposition has moved far closer to the Greens than we would like to see and, I am sure, much closer than many Labor senators would like the Labor Party to be. Many senators, I am sure, would be concerned about the Labor Party pandering to the Greens.

Senator Whish-Wilson: That's why they're doing so well in the polls and you're doing so crap.

Senator SESELJA: All right. That is an interesting interjection there from Senator Whish-Wilson that the reason the Labor Party have had a spike in the polls is that they have gone closer to the Greens agenda. That is interesting. I wonder what Sam Dastyari might think about that when he is asked about whether or not it is good politics and good policy for the Labor Party to be following the Greens. But there is some truth in what Senator Whish-Wilson says, in that the Labor Party are following the Greens. I think Senator Whish-Wilson and I can agree on that. I think that for the Labor Party, if they do want to be back on the government benches at some point in the future, that is not the best strategy, because a party—

Senator Whish-Wilson interjecting

Senator SESELJA: Well, we will all have a different take on that, but Senator Whish-Wilson's position now is half right: the Labor Party are following the Greens, but I would disagree with the idea that the Labor Party following the Greens and moving further to the left on any policy, be it on fisheries management or anything else, is somehow going to be a winning formula, and I am sure that there would be many Labor senators—and I will not name names, but we know who they are—who would be horrified by that prospect.

Senator Lines: I think Labor is much better at getting the politics right than you are—

Senator SESELJA: Well, it is interesting, isn't it? The Labor government were obsessed with the politics. You are right, Senator Lines. You are absolutely right. The Labor Party in government were obsessed with the politics. They were obsessed with opinion polls. And that is one of the reasons they were such a shocking government, such an absolutely shocking government. In the end, their obsession with those things—instead of being good managers, instead of actually looking after the country, instead of showing good leadership—their obsession with those internal matters and their obsession with focus groups and opinion polls did not help them to be a good government and did not help them to maintain the support of the Australian people. So I thank Senator Lines for her contribution. She is absolutely right. They were obsessed with those kinds of things rather than good policy.

Senator Lines interjecting

Senator Whish-Wilson interjecting

Senator SESELJA: I am very much enjoying this because I enjoy any time we can get political advice from the Greens party, because the Greens party, with their eight per cent of the vote—their eight per cent of the vote that they consistently attract—show just how much they represent mainstream Australia.

Senator Whish-Wilson interjecting

Senator SESELJA: Sorry, what was that? I missed that from the eight per cent party. I could not quite hear. But, unlike the Labor Party, we will not take our policy advice or our political advice from the Greens.

That is at the heart of this issue. What Senator Ludwig said when he was in government was right: we should rely on the science; we should not go for cheap politics on this issue; and the way we have managed our fisheries over a long period of time is world's best practice. It is world's best practice. You could look at instances where we have gotten things wrong, of course, but, if you compare our record to that of most nations around the world, we do a great job of maintaining a sustainable industry, of feeding millions of people right around the world through our fisheries and of having the highest environmental standards. Ask yourself. I often think about this when we discuss the issue of fisheries. We saw attempts by the former government to really scale back the amount of fishing that could take place in our waters. You often say to yourself: well, we are still going to be getting fish, but if we are not getting it from Australian waters, if we are not doing it with the best environmental standards here in Australia, we will be getting it from other places that have far lower environmental standards than we do in this country. I think we fundamentally have to ask ourselves the question about what would happen if we were to take the Greens view of the world and part of the Labor Party view of the world and say, 'Look, we're just going to ban it more and more and make it more and more restrictive for commercial fishing.'

We understand the need for balance. We absolutely support recreational fishing and we know that, if you overfish, that is negative in the long term for commercial fishing, it is negative for recreational fishing and it is not sustainable. So we have always taken a scientific approach to this, but you ask yourself: if you ban it more and more, it will happen in other places where there will not be the same kinds of environmental standards. We will not have the jobs in this country that flow from the industry. We will not have the ability to feed not just ourselves but the world, as we should. What will happen is that we will be importing more and more of the stuff, with no real knowledge of the environmental standards that apply in other places. That, to me, is the fundamental when we look at these issues.

Regarding this bill, let us go to the expert panel report. The independent expert scientific panel has completed its assessment of the potential impacts of supertrawlers, boats greater than 130 metres, on our marine environment. The panel focused on assessing the potential impact of supertrawlers on the marine environment and protected species, including seals, dolphins and seabirds, and the potential for localised depletion of target species. The panel provided the Minister for the Environment with a report on its findings in mid-October, which was published on the Department of the Environment's website on 19 November. The report gave a big tick to the existing risk based fisheries management framework used in Australian fisheries management. It is this framework that has resulted in Australia's fisheries being recognised as among the best managed anywhere in the world. This risk based management framework is already in action in the Small Pelagic Fishery. The harvest strategy exceeds internationally recommended standards such as those made by the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force in the report Little Fish, Big Impact. The report also highlighted that there are risks from the proposed fishing operation, as there are with all fishing, be that commercial or recreational. The government believes that scientific evidence must continue to underpin the management of our fisheries.

That sums up our objections here to what is being driven, and is consistently driven, by the Greens—and that is that we will do it in a scientific way, not in an emotive way and not based on whatever scare might be out there at the time. It is based on the best scientific evidence around how we can continue to have a vibrant fishing industry, which we on this side of the parliament certainly want to see. We want to see a commercial fishing industry in this country that is viable, creates jobs, feeds Australians and creates an export market. That is a great thing for Australia. We also want to manage threatened species. We also want to make sure that it is commercially sustainable, which means that overfishing is not only bad for the environment; it is not commercially sustainable in the long term. We also want to see strong Indigenous recreational fishing opportunities.

 

All of those things do operate in this country. In large part, they operate quite well. We believe in taking a scientific approach, accepting the expert advice, rather than having this ad hoc approach that we are seeing in this kind of legislation. For all of those reasons, the coalition will not be supporting the bill.