Environment Protection and Biosecurity Conservation Amendment (Making Marine Parks Accountable) Bill 2012

I rise to continue speaking on the Environment Protection and Biosecurity Conservation Amendment (Making Marine Parks Accountable) Bill 2012. Since I commenced my comments on this bill I have had the opportunity to visit an area in South Australia—Port Lincoln, on the west coast. This area has a huge fishing community. While I was there I met with a wide range of people and industry representatives—working from tuna to abalone to pilchards to rock lobsters. I discussed with them the management of their industries, and it is obviously a very highly regulated industry already. The tuna industry has very, very strict quotas—almost down to the kilogram—on the fish that they are allowed to take. So we certainly have an industry that is highly regulated and highly responsible. These are very serious industries which make an amazing contribution to their community.

The community of Port Lincoln has a huge reliance on the fishing industry, but all the other industries rely on the infrastructure investment that has been made by the fishing industry to allow them to be competitive. The development of the mining industry and the agricultural pursuits on the Eyre Peninsula are very much supported and underpinned by the success of the fishing industry in Port Lincoln.

In discussing the proposal for this particular situation with the industry groups in Port Lincoln, it was very apparent that not one of them could understand why the government sees it as necessary to lock up so much of our oceans—without any scientific evidence whatsoever that our fisheries are under threat. I do not think too many people would disagree that Australia's fisheries are globally benchmarked and recognised as some of the best managed fisheries in the world. It seems to me a total contradiction that we pride ourselves on being great custodians of the seas, with marine protection policies that are recognised as world class, and yet we still feel the need to overlay these policies with another level of unnecessary protection.

The Australia fishing industry have behaved in an environmentally responsible way for years. They deserve to be treated as adults and not as a disposable industry because your partners, the Greens, are hell-bent on destroying all of Australia's food production capacity. As one South Australian fishing industry expert, David Hall, has succinctly put it, 'Marine parks have now become both a hypothetical and an expensive answer to a non-existent problem.' The last thing that the fishing industry wants to do is to destroy the environment that is providing them with a living. Similarly, recreational fishers have a vested interest in protecting their patch. Judy Lynne, of Sunfish Queensland—which represents 35,000 people, many of them recreational fishers—has said that what this does do is to take away the validity of the true value of a green zone, which is there to protect things that are under threat.

It seems that recreational and professional fishers alike are totally unimpressed with Minister Burke's behaviour regarding the operation of marine parks. If an industry as large as the fishing industry feels it cannot engage in a sensible and meaningful discussion with its minister about something that has such huge ramifications for its future, one can only conclude that this is a breakdown in his leadership. He has displayed a complete lack of leadership, because he has not really bothered to inform himself about the facts and the scientific evidence behind this particular issue. In a nutshell, he has failed to engage in proper consultation, he has failed to engage the experts, he has failed to engage the scientists, he has failed to engage the fishing industry, and he has failed to engage the wider community. Only proper and effective consultation will ensure that marine protected areas balance preservation of the environment with economic growth and strong coastal communities.

The coalition is proud of the rigorous assessment it undertook when it was in government in the establishment of 11 marine protected areas along Australia's south-east coast. The coalition believes that the establishment of such areas should not be about politics but about protecting biodiversity and minimising social and economic impact on fishers, businesses and their communities. We will return balance and fairness to marine conservation so that all Australians can have confidence that the best decisions are being made in protecting our marine biodiversity as well as the fishers and the communities that feed so many Australians.

I will quickly emphasise the coalition's position. We support a balanced approach to marine conservation. It was our policy for the 2010 election and we stand by it. The coalition started the process of establishing comprehensive marine bioregional plans, which included the determination of marine protected areas around Australia. To this end the former coalition government engaged in extensive and cooperative consultation. The consultation ensured that an appropriate balance was struck between protecting marine biodiversity and minimising the impacts. The final result was a greater area protected, with less impact on industry.

The Gillard government do not have a great track record of consultation and there is considerable angst amongst fishers regarding the declaration of marine parks, and it appears that their concerns are not being heard.

The consultation process is flawed and, because they have a flawed consultation process, the results are flawed. The coalition is committed to returning balance and fairness to marine conservation. We are also committed to ensuring that our sovereign risk is not totally and utterly accelerated by the perpetuation of this constant changing of the rules as we go along.

The bill to which I speak to today is a reaction to this lack of consultation, a lack of proper research and a lack of respect for the people who have sustainably managed and operated our fisheries around Australia for many years. They are world-recognised, responsible fishermen.

This bill seeks that the proposed new marine protected areas be assessed in accordance with objective, scientific, economic and social evidence. This bill will require the minister to obtain independent scientific advice and not just to rely on the knee-jerk reactions of those hell-bent on destroying any opportunity for Australians to enjoy the fantastic environment in which we live.

This bill will require the minister to obtain genuine community and industry input. It is so important that the input of the community and the industry is put into these bills, because the disengagement of industry in decision making about something that is so totally vital to their industry really does create a situation where we will end up with policies that have absolutely no relevance to the delivery of outcomes for all Australians.

This bill will require the minister to commission an independent social and economic impact assessment before any proclamations can be made. I cannot see how anybody in this place could possibly be questioning the requirement for an independent assessment to be done before we put into place any policies or legislation.

Finally, this bill will put the parliament in charge of the final decisions by making declarations disallowable by the parliament. I certainly support this bill and I believe that everybody in this place should also support it.