PARLIAMENT HOUSE, Canberra: I rise to speak strongly against this bill in front of us. It is not because I am enamoured of the concept of the supertrawler but rather for three fundamental reasons. First, in no good conscience could I support a bill which gives such unfettered power to a minister to close down fisheries on a whim. Second, this bill represents a decision of the minister which is completely at odds with everything he has said and done over the last three years. By making this decision at the last minute, he causes 50 jobs to be lost and creates investor uncertainty for everyone. Finally, the independent expert authorities give us no reason to make such an immediate and hasty decision.
I will move to the first point that I have outlined. This bill is an attempt to address community concerns about the supertrawler, but in writing this bill and putting it through the parliament the minister has gone to an extreme situation. You just have to look at the operative clause of the bill in front of us. The operative clause says that the minister can make a decision to stop any fishing going on if there is any uncertainty about the environmental, social or economic impacts of the fishing activity. It is an extraordinary clause in this bill. If the minister believes there is any social, economic or environmental uncertainty in relation to the activity in question, the minister can immediately close down that particular. The types of things which the minister may be concerned about can include—and this is also in the bill itself—the method of fishing; the type of vessel used for fishing; a method of processing, carrying or transshipping of fish; or any area of waters or of the seabed.
So, on the basis of the smallest social complaint, the minister is able to make a decision overnight and close down an entire area, close down an entire type of fishing, or close down any type of vessel.
It is extraordinary. You can imagine the implications, if we pass this bill, as to what GetUp! and the Greens will continue to do. They will start campaigns not just on the supertrawler today; mark my words: tomorrow it will be the next level of boat or it will be the next type of waters which they are concerned about. They will show that one seal has been killed somewhere and demand that the minister close down a certain area of water from further fishing. This puts into jeopardy every single commercial venture and every single social fishing expedition that people may enjoy.
It is not just us saying this. The peak fisheries body, the Commonwealth Fisheries Association, which represents the interests of fishers in Commonwealth managed fisheries—a significant part of Australia’s $2.2 billion seafood industry—has this to say about this bill:
Responding to community issues over this single boat by damaging all Australian fishing operations, both commercial and recreational, and creating massive uncertainty for the professional fishing industry in Australia is simply not acceptable in our view.
That is the view from the peak body, the Commonwealth Fisheries Association—that it is simply not acceptable because it creates so much uncertainty, not just for the large trawlers but for commercial and recreational fishers as well. It is fundamentally unacceptable to give the minister so much power in order to make a decision based on a whim.
The second reason that I speak against this bill is that it represents a decision of the minister which is completely at odds with everything that he has said or has agreed to up to this point. It makes a mockery of the entire Australian Fisheries Management Authority process.
Let me give you some context in relation to this decision, Mr Deputy Speaker. Here in Australia we have some of the most sustainable fisheries management practices in the world. It is widely acknowledged across the planet that we have some of the most sustainable fisheries management practices in the world. The fisheries are overseen by an independent statutory authority, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, and it takes advice from scientific experts about the environmental implications, what catches we can take et cetera, to ensure that the fisheries are sustainable. In its own words, it says it takes a conservative approach to the management of our fisheries so that they are sustainable. I should point out that every single one of the commissioners who sit on the Australian Fisheries Management Authority has been appointed by Minister Burke, the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. This authority sets the total allowable catches and it polices them. That is what it does, and it does an exceptionally good job at it. No-one has ever criticised this authority for not doing its job well. It does an exceptionally good job. If there are any concerns in relation to it, they are properly taken up with the authority.
Three years ago, on the advice of the authority—in fact, under the auspices of the authority—the minister launched the small pelagic fishery harvest strategy. This is a strategy which, based on the science at the time, provides the overarching framework for fishing in the nation. In this document, which was launched in June 2008 but revised in October 2009, Minister Burke in fact invites supertrawlers to come to our fishing locations. It is right here on page 1 of the document. Mr Burke invites large-scale factory freezer vessels to come and fish in our areas because they provide economies of scale. That occurred three years ago.
Over the last three years, AFMA, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, have been giving the all clear to this supertrawler along the way. As recently as last week, Minister Burke himself announced that, after a ‘rigorous assessment’ of the environmental impact of the supertrawler soon to commence fishing, he would impose ‘tough new environmental conditions’ to ensure ‘world’s best practice’ fishing was adopted. He went on to say that this would ‘ensure that the environmental impact is no more than if the same quota was being fished by a smaller vessel’. That occurred one week ago.
So three years ago Mr Burke invited the supertrawler to come down to fish. Over the course of the three years, his independent authority, give the all clear, encourage the supertrawler, do all the negotiations and sign off on all the scientific and environmental considerations. One week ago, Minister Burke says that there is no problem here and that there is no difference between one large boat and multiple small boats. Even as recently as Monday, the day before the decision, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry himself, in the Senate, again gave the all clear to this occurring. He said:
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.
That was on Monday. On Tuesday, we had the minister, because of the campaign of GetUp!, because Kevin Rudd was going to support Melissa Parke’s bill, make the decision, and 50 jobs were gone overnight.
This is no way to run our fisheries. It makes a mockery of the entire process. Even overnight, the Dutch Deputy Prime Minister—and bear in mind that the Dutch are one of our key allies—has called the Fisheries Minister to express his concern over what has occurred here, and he has made this public. Rarely does it occur that a head of state, a deputy head of state or a head of government make public their concern about the governance of another country, particularly when they are from a country which is such a strong ally. But this is on the front page of the Australian today. The Deputy Prime Minister of the Netherlands is expressing his concern, and he is doing so because it has been a seven-year process and yet, overnight, with no warning, the decision has been made to simply halt this action.
The question was asked, and I know our shadow ministers have asked Minister Burke: did you seek advice on this decision? Did you speak to any experts, any scientists? Did you go and speak to the Australian Fisheries Management Authority before you made this decision? Apparently the answer was no. He spoke to his department, apparently, but did not speak to any experts before making this decision. I just find this absolutely extraordinary. It is no way to run a country.
My third reason for strongly opposing this bill is that the independent authorities, the expert scientists that the other side of the parliament constantly say that we should be relying upon, give us no reason to make such an immediate, hasty decision. In fact, the advice coming from the Australian Fisheries Management Authority is quite clear. They say that no more than seven per cent of the fish stock may be taken from any fishery, and they say that there is no evidence that larger boats pose a higher risk to the fish stock or to the marine ecosystem than smaller boats. That is the advice from the government’s appointed commissioners in charge of managing our fishing authority.
If we are concerned about the impact on the environment from new developments in fishing technology, we must go through a proper process of reviewing the overall system. If you are concerned about our quotas, then go through a proper process where you consult with the industry and consult with other stakeholders about your concern, but do not just make a decision on the run, like this government did on Tuesday, out of the blue, and create so much uncertainty for the entire fishing industry in doing so.
This is not the first time that the government has made such decisions, because we know it did exactly the same thing in relation to live animal exports. On that occasion, it was a television program which caused it to make a decision on the spot which shut down an entire industry, put hundreds of people out of work and put into jeopardy the food security of one of our near neighbours, Indonesia. This government has form in this type of decision making, but this is not the way to run the country. If this government is serious about managing our fisheries then it should listen to what the Australian Fisheries Management Authority has said. It should conduct its processes rigorously and systematically over time, listening to the stakeholders and doing proper consultation, rather than having this knee-jerk reaction, making decisions on the run because of a GetUp! and green campaign.