Commercial Fishing Legislation

It is great to see that the band is back together. The Green-Labor band are back together and they are coming to a regional town near you. The last time the band were together and went on a Green-Labor magical mystery tour they banned the live cattle trade. We all remember that. In the first tour they went on they played to sold out crowds all around regional Australia.

They had people turning up everywhere around regional Australia—in Cloncurry, in Richmond, in Rockhampton, in Darwin, in Karratha—all coming out to see the Green-Labor magical mystery tour and what it could do next to a natural resource industry in this country.

And back then not only were they able to damage diplomatic relations with our closest neighbour, with a country of more than 200 million people just to our north, but they shut down an entire industry overnight, without telling anybody. That is still causing massive heartache and pain in regional areas. And now, they have the band back together! They thought that Joe Ludwig did such a good job—sorry, Senator Ludwig, through you Mr Acting Deputy President—with the live cattle trade that he is now going to repeat that and move on to fishing as well.

And he is doing it in cahoots with the Greens again. He is doing it at the behest of a Green-Labor agenda that does not want to see anyone in this country make money from using the natural assets and wealth that we have in this nation. We are so lucky in this country to have been given the great pastures and the open-ended plains on which to grow cattle. We have the third-largest ocean territory in the world to any other country. But according to the Greens, the Labor Party were not allowed to use these. They should be locked up and everything should be kept in pristine condition, except where Greens and Labor voters live. It is okay for people in the cities to build massive amounts of concrete—10, 12 and 13-storey buildings. Look at this parliament itself—we spent $1 billion on this and look at what we did: we carved it into a hill! Basically, we dug up a hill here—a beautiful, pristine hill here in Canberra to make this building. And I am glad we did! We have improved this area. But, according to the Greens and the Labor Party, you cannot do anything anywhere else in the nation.

This bill is all about demonising our fishing industry. It is about saying that we should not be allowed to fish in our own oceans and eat our own seafood. I think the people of Australia actually want to eat Australian seafood. They do not want to see overseas seafood; they would prefer to eat seafood fished in our waters, providing jobs to people who need them and supporting regional economies. But the Greens-Labor party have put their colours down here in this bill: they do not support that. They do not want those industries to thrive and they will take any opportunity to try to restrict production in these industries, all for driving votes in city areas.

I will come to the fact that this is not based on any kind of science at all and that it completely makes no sense. But before I do that I actually want to run through what is in this bill and what it is trying to do. What this bill does is to set up an independent expert panel to review a decision to ban supertrawlers, and that independent expert panel will come back with advice about that ban. Now, I actually thought that the Greens and the Labor Party wanted to ban supertrawlers. That was what I thought their policy was.

The government, on our side, has also said no to supertrawlers—these large boats that can have the capacity of more than 2,000 tonnes. We both have said no to them. We both have the same policy position. We both have restricted them. But, apparently, we want to set up a panel to review a decision that we all support, that there is no need for any further potential dispute or controversy over, and we are going to waste more resources doing it. This is Monty Python-esque: we are going to set up a panel to review a decision that we all support! Why are we doing this? What is the point at all of wasting our time with this bill? Why has this bill not been removed from the Notice Paper? There is no political controversy here. We all have the same policy and we all agree. Indeed, this is something that was done a few years ago. There was some controversy at the time—I admit that—but we have moved on. We have moved on and there is no need for this legislation or for this particular bill.

At the time that it was a little more controversial, the then Minister for Fisheries, Tony Burke, decided—well, I think the Labor government had approved this particular supertrawler to come and fish in Tasmanian waters and then it became controversial—to introduce the declared fishing activities bill in September 2012 to ban this particular supertrawler coming in. Now, it should be noted that it was actually Minister Burke—when he was the then agriculture minister—who created that issue. In 2009, Minister Burke, introduced a small pelagic harvest strategy which said that there are considerable economies of scale in the fishery, and the most efficient way to fish may include large-scale is factory freezer vessels.

So in 2009 the Labor Party supported supertrawlers—we now call them supertrawlers—they supported large factory fishing vessels. They encouraged companies to try to apply for fishing licences under this small pelagic harvest strategy, and some companies did. I think it was the Abel Tasman at the time. That was certainly from Europe—perhaps the Netherlands. It decided to come here and take advantage of this harvest strategy that the Labor Party had put in place and take advantage of the fishing licences that they could legitimately and legally buy.

That became controversial politically and a few years later the Labor Party decided to ban it, after this company had already made investments and after they had already brought the vessel itself to Australia—they decided to ban it. That was completely bungled. Indeed, they bungled it so badly that they got the ban wrong too. They could not even ban a fishing boat correctly without getting it wrong! When they introduced that bill, initially it actually banned recreational charter vessels as well; so it created uncertainty for our recreational fishing industry. It was doing it tough and it did not need that additional uncertainty.

Now, we are all on the same page: these vessels are gone, the problem has gone and at least we do not have companies applying here and wasting their money because we cannot make up our minds. We have made up our minds, so why do we need to do anything with this bill? There has been no case made that we actually need to change anything. In fact—as other speakers have recognised—we have some of the most efficient, sustainable and scientifically-based fishing management practices in the world. We have long-standing arrangements in which fishing activity is regulated both at the federal and at state levels, based on principles of sustainable use. And it should be based on those principles; there is no argument about that. Fishing, generally speaking—and certainly fishing in ocean waters—is a public good.

It has common-good problems. If we did not have regulation of how much could be taken, we would have too much taken because the private incentives do not accord with the public benefit. Too many people would go out and fish immediately to get what they could and not consider the long-term sustainability of those fishing areas. So we do need regulation. That is why we have regulators like the Australian Fisheries Management Authority at the Australian government level and the various state government bodies to look after inshore areas as well. It is a heavily regulated industry.

In fact, I looked at this a couple of years ago and, as a result of that regulation, there are no endangered fish species that are local to Australian waters. Despite what you often hear from the other side, we do not have endangered fish species in Australian waters, as a result of Australian fishing practices. It is true that some of the pelagic fish—that is, the migratory fish species that visit our waters seasonally, like southern bluefin tuna—are at risk, but that is not because of Australian fishing practices. That is due to fishing practices of other countries who have waters that we do not control in which these fish sometimes swim.

I do not get it. I do not understand. Perhaps the Greens and Labor Party think that somehow fish, cattle and all these other resources that we use and eat have passports or reside in particular countries, because they are so fascinated and so devoted to putting more red tape and regulation on our farmers, our fishermen and our forestry industry that they completely ignore what happens overseas.

We should be promoting Australian seafood. We should be making sure that we can catch as much of our seafood needs as possible from Australian fisheries. That will be good for global fish stocks because we know we manage them well. What happens instead is that, when we clamp down on Australian fishing resources and the Australian fishing industry, we still eat fish. People do not eat less fish. People still eat seafood. They simply import it from other nations that probably and often do have inferior environmental records to ours.

When you look at the actual stats in this area, Australia as a whole imports around 70 per cent. The last time I looked, it was 72 per cent, but I am sure it jumps around a bit. But about 70 per cent of our seafood comes from overseas. As I said earlier, we have the third largest ocean territory of any country in the world, yet we have to import more than 70 per cent of our seafood. To me, it does not really make a lot of sense that we import so much seafood when we have access to so many resources here which could fulfil our needs.

We extract just 28 kilograms per square kilometre. For every square kilometre of our ocean territory, we extract around 28 kilograms of seafood or marine catch. We import a lot of seafood from other countries to meet 70 per cent of our needs. A lot of our seafood comes from China, Thailand and Vietnam, and New Zealand as well. We import a lot from New Zealand. I do not have the figures in front of me, but I believe New Zealand extract 50 to 60 kilograms per square kilometre, which is about double our take but still a low level compared to the globe.

But these other countries we import from—China and Thailand are our biggest—extract more than 5,000 kilograms per square kilometre in their waters. In the ocean territory that they control, they extract more than 5,000 kilograms. Compare that figure. We extract 28 kilograms per square kilometre; they do more than 5,000 kilograms per square kilometre.

The reason they take that much is their regulations are not as stringent as ours. Their oversight and their environmental record is not as good practice as ours. I am not trying to be critical of those countries. They are at a different level of development. They have different priorities. We have the great luxury and benefit of being able to afford to regulate our industry to the level we do. But at the marginal level, when you are thinking about whether we should eat more Australian seafood or less, whether we should import more from China, Vietnam and Thailand or less, clearly we should try and maximise our take here, within the sustainable use constraints, and to minimise what we import from countries which clearly do not have the same environmental standards and records.

But the Greens do not want to talk about that because they are on a crusade to shut down regional communities and to spread a fear campaign in cities about the sustainability of our natural resources and primary industries. The people involved in these industries do not take kindly to demonisation. The people involved in these industries are doing the best they can to earn a buck, to put food on the table for their kids, to pay off a boat which usually costs millions of dollars these days, and they are continually being subjected to changed and increased requirements and ridiculous demands about what should or should not happen.

The most recent one, of course, was a couple of years ago, when the marine reserves were introduced by the former Labor-Green government. They just shut down the whole of the Coral Sea—completely shut it down. There was no extraction at all in the Coral Sea as a result of these marine reserves. I said earlier, at the start of this speech, that we should base our fishing policy and our fishing catch on sustainable use. Clearly that decision was not based on sustainable use, because zero is not sustainable use. Zero is not the level of extraction that will maintain a population of fish. You can of course extract a percentage of the fish and still maintain a stable fish population over time to make sure our future generations will still have access to this resource and still have a diverse and sustainable environment to live in.

They wanted zero because green on a map looks really nice. When you stand in front of the TV cameras in the election campaign at the Sydney aquarium in front of beautiful fish that look like Nemo—they are not even on the reef; they are in an artificial environment—it sounds nice to say, 'We're stopping fishing in the Coral Sea.' That is why they do these things. They do these things because it looks good on a political pamphlet dropped in people's letterboxes during a campaign. They do these things because stopping fishing sounds nice in a TV advertising jingle.

But the actual reality of what happens is it is not good for the fish, it shuts down industries, it hurts regional communities and it takes away people's jobs and livelihoods. That is what is not on the political pamphlets. You do not turn over the other side and see how many mums and dads lose their jobs because of these decisions. Those marine reserves alone—it was just one decision, one thing that has happened to the fishing industry in the last couple of decades in this country—were going to cost Australia around $20 million a year, according to ABARES, and more than 100 jobs.

In this place, people will probably say, 'What does it matter, 100 jobs is not that many.' Well, 100 jobs is 100 families; it is 100 people impacted; it is 100 people who will worry about how they pay their mortgage; it is 100 people who will worry about what they do with the boat that they have been left with, which now does not have much value or much use because of decisions we make in this place. And for what benefit? We do make decisions in this place that cost people their jobs at times, and they are hard and tough decisions. But it must clearly and surely have a corresponding benefit that we thinks compensates for the harshness of those policies. But this has no impact. It does not protect fish. It is not good for the environment. It is about suiting a political campaign, not a real world impact.

In November last year I was up in Karumba, a big fishing community in the gulf in Queensland. Fishing and a little bit of tourism is all Karumba really has going for it. It is a beautiful place. If anyone is listening and wants to go on a road trip, having a beer at the Sunset Tavern in Karumba is a great experience. When you are watching the sunset there over the gulf, you think you are close to God. It is a beautiful place. But it cannot just survive on grey nomads driving thousands of kilometres to come and visit now and then. It needs an industry as well. It has the fishing industry. There are a lot of prawn trawlers there. Indeed, my chief of staff used to work on a prawn trawler up there when he was younger. It is a great place.

According to ABARES, this marine reserves policy was going to cost jobs but it was also going to reduce the average income in Karumba by $2,023 per person per year. Imagine if we had an environmental policy which cost someone in Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane $2000 a year!

Senator Sterle:  "You had Work Choices, remember mate!"

And we saw what happened with Work Choices. It was not a good policy—although I do not believe the figures are commensurate. It was not a good policy and we walked away from it because of the impact on people. Likewise, this policy was not a good policy. Through you, Mr Acting Deputy President, I accept Senator Sterle's acceptance that the marine reserves policy was a bad one because it cost people in Karumba $2,000 a year. We should consider those impacts on people. This gets ignored because Karumba is a place of only a few hundred people and it is a long way from here. There are no TV cameras there. There is no media there to report people's stories and heartache at the policies that we do here.

What I would love to have happen in this place is that we stop the demonisation of people who are just trying to have a job and make a living in this country. When we make wild claims about fishing, about the beef industry and about irrigation in the Murray-Darling Basin we are individually and personally attacking people in our community. We are telling them they are doing something that is not right—which is absolutely rubbish. All of us still eat steaks that the beef industry provides—or most of us do. All of us still eat the fish from our waters. All of us still wear clothes that are made from the cotton that is irrigated in those communities. Very few of us give up those things, but we want to righteously stand here and condemn and object to people's livelihoods while living on the back of the wealth they produce. I hope this bill goes down, because it will be a small step towards rejecting the demonisation of these industries and starting us back on the path of supporting industries such as fishing, farming and mining. People here like to condemn those in the mining industry all the time while living off that wealth and using the taxes they generate to make this country a better place.

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