Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Declared Commercial Fishing Activities) Bill 2012


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (09:42): There are a couple of areas that I would like to explore in relation to the aspects of this bill. Minister, could you please explain to me how on Monday of last week you were fulsome in your defence, if I might say, of the Abel Tasman and of the people who, as a result of the encouragement by your predecessor as fisheries minister, Mr Burke, brought this big fishing vessel to Tasmania On Monday, 10 September, in the Senate in answer to a question from Senator Whish-Wilson you were fulsome in your praise of the big fishing vessel. Quite rightly, you indicated that this had been looked at for some timein fact, I think you mentioned that it had been since 2004, without the date. The scientists and those people whom you appointed to assess the reports of the scientists came to the conclusion that this was a productive, efficient and environmentally friendly way of fishing. Minister, if you are looking for your answer from Monday, I can give it to you if you do not have it in front of you and do not recall what you said. But, clearly, you were right on the message.

My first question is what happened on the night of Monday, 10 September, in an issue of proper fisheries managementI am not interested in the politics of it, Minister. I do not care if Kevin Rudd was about to roll Julia Gillard as Prime Minister. I am not interested in those sorts of things. I would hope that ministers in the government of my country would be making decisions on the basis of science and on the basis of what is good for the fishery. Clearly, on Monday, 10 September you were confidentin fact I think your words were that you 'need to give confidence that the food impacts of the small pelagic fishery on predators and on small pelagic fishery species themselves, including through localised depletion, are unlikely'that is, any adverse impact. I am not a scientist but may I say, with respect, that that has always been my understanding. So I want to know, if you could please tell the Senate, what it was, as a responsible minister in charge of Australia's fisheries and the sustainability of Australia's fisheries, that happened on Monday night that caused you to change your mind completely.

I would also like to know, Minister, if you would be so good, which of the AFMA commission that you have appointed you do not have confidence in or respect for. The chairman is the Hon. Michael Egan, a former Labor treasurer of New South Wales, as I recall. There is Dr James Findlay, the CEO, a man whose scientific credentials are impeccable. If you ever wanted anyone in the world, I can confidently say, to give you good advice on fisheries and fisheries management it would be Dr Findlay. You have appointed a deputy chairman, Mr Richard Stevens, who I am delighted to say has been on the predecessor of the AFMA commission since I was minister. I know firsthand that Mr Stevens is an exceptional administrator when it comes to the science of fisheries management. There is Mr Ian Cartwright, who I know has been involved in fisheries management for years. You and I, Minister, have been involved in fisheries management in different periods of time in the flick of an eye in our history. Mr Cartwright has been there for years: a qualified, exceptional fisheries management person. You clearly agree with me, Ministerthat is why you appointed him.

I do not know Dr Glaister, Ms Jennifer Goddard, Ms Elizabeth Montano or Ms Denise North. Perhaps I have met them, but I do not know a lot about them. But, again, Minister, I am confident that, if you appointed them on advice from your department, on advice from the fisheries industry and from those people who know, they would be good people. The final member of the commission is Professor Keith Sainsbury, who I do know. Again, whilst you and I are involved in a blip in history, Professor Sainsbury has been around for a long time. And he is good! That is why you, Minister, appointed him to the commission. I would really like to know why you, Minister, having appointed these nine exceptionally well-qualified experts as commission membersI know half of them, and I know they are good fisheries management peoplehave decided that their advice is wrong. It is not as if they woke up one morning and said, 'Let's have a look at this small pelagic fishery.'

As you mentioned very generously in your answer to the question on 10 September, you would know that since 2004 these people and all of the best fisheries scientists and managers have been looking at the small pelagic fishery. They and you came to the conclusion, Minister, as did your predecessor, that getting a big trawler to get the same quantity of fish out of the same quotano more fish being caught; exactly the same quotawas a good way to go. Your predecessor, Mr Burke, as fisheries minister, encouraged Tasmanian fishermen to do exactly what was being done. Minister, ask your advisers all you like, but the record is there of what Mr Burke said and how he did encourage these people to do exactly what they did.

Mr Burke, in that instance, was correct. He knows as much about fisheries management as you or I do but he clearly took advice from the experts that he had appointed, not experts that have any political persuasion at all but experts in the business of fisheries management and that is why Mr Burke appointed them. Mr Burke took their advice, as well he should, and you took their advice. I refer you again to your answer to Senator Whish-Wilson's question on Monday, 10 September, where you took the advice, you appropriately referred the questioner to the science and you defended the action that your predecessor, Mr Burke, had taken as the fisheries minister.

Suddenly, on the night, I assume, of Monday, 10 September something happened. I know that one of your Western Australian colleagues of the left faction had indicated they were going to move a private member's bill, which the Greens naturally would have supported because they want to shut down any resource industry in Australia and it does not matter what it is.

Senator Johnston: All of them.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Yes, all of them. So it would have got support from Mr Bandt in the other house and a couple of your left-wing colleagues if the Prime Minister had not had the fortitude to pull them into line. But it would not have mattered as that in itself was a blimp. Then suddenly Mr Kevin Rudd indicates publicly that he is going to support the private member's billoops, Mr Rudd is going to support Ms Parke's private member's bill and that brings a whole new complexity to the issue. Can you just see Mr Rudd and Ms Parke moving the motion sitting on one side of the green chamber over there and all of their colleagues sitting on the other side! That was never going to happen, was it, Minister That was never going to happen. A Prime Minister who had some intestinal fortitude and who was a leader would have told her backbench members, Ms Parke and Mr Rudd, to toe the line, rely on the science and do what was right and do what Minister Burke had encouraged to happen when he was fisheries ministerand this would have gone through.

I have to say, Minister, that several months ago people rang me and said, 'We're seeking support.' I said, 'Well, don't come to me. I rely on the scientists. They have clearly said it's right. What's more, I know that the Labor Party is right behind you in your venture. So thanks for calling me but you need not waste your time or mine as it will go through. We know the Greens will be opposed to it.' The Labor Party, for once in their life, I suspectalthough not once, as you have been right a couple of timeswere firm on this. I said to the people who rang me: 'Just have a look at what Mr Burke said as fisheries minister. He encouraged you to do it. There's no way in the world the Labor Party would backflip on this. They've backflipped on the carbon tax and on the mining taxyou name itbut they won't backflip on this, because science is on your side. You have a senior minister, Mr Burke, encouraging you to come there, so don't worry about it. You'll be right.' And they were right, and I was delighted, Minister, to hear your answer just last Monday, when you defended them appropriately on advice from the scientists and from the commission that your predecessor appointed.

So, Minister, my question in this committee stage of the bill is: what actually happened on Monday night Forget the politicsI do not want to go into internal Labor Party factional dealsbut what happened in a scientific fisheries management way on Monday night that caused you, on Tuesday morning, to have a completely different view to the view you expressed in this chamber on Monday at 2.20 pm That is my first question: what happened The second question is: which of those eminent scientists and fisheries managers that you or your predecessor as minister for fisheries appointed to the AFMA commission do you now not have confidence in Which of those people are so incapable or ignorant that you no longer take the advice they have given you They are two fairly simple questions.

Unfortunately, my time has run out. I do have another question. I will be much briefer on that, but I will just forewarn you on that so your advisers might be able to assist by getting some information. I want to briefly question you about the role of the ombudsman in this issue, but I will leave that to my next question if I may. But my first two questions are: what changed on Monday night and which members of that commission do you not have confidence in

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