Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (10:04): This bill obviously corrects a mistake made by the previous government, but there is nothing—I do not attribute any blame in that. I am grateful that Mr Gary Gray, who was the relevant minister at the time, is, as always, very frank and open about this. This is fixing an administrative error. As the minister has mentioned here, we all make mistakes. The important thing is to fix them as soon as possible. The minister in the other place clearly indicated that this was an oversight. There were reserves granted without ministerial approval, and this legislation, according to the minister's speech in the other place, is simply to backdate what would have been ministerial approval at the time.
I want to ask the minister a question generally about this area. Senator Siewert, in her speech, spoke often about marine protected areas, and I agree with most of what she said. Marine protected areas were introduced by a Liberal government, something the Greens political party have never acknowledged.
Senator Siewert: That's not true!
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Okay, you do acknowledge it. I simply want to make the point that any serious environmental legislation in this parliament has always been introduced by Liberal-National party coalition governments. Fraser Island, the environment department—I could go back for hours. We are never given credit for it, but then we are not here to get credit; we are here to do the right thing by the Australian environment.
Senator Kim Carr: You are hilarious!
Senator IAN MACDONALD: One of the reasons I am speaking today is because I am very proud of the record of Liberal-National party federal governments in the environment area. You can go back: Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Fraser Island, setting up the first environment department, the first environment minister—all Liberal government initiatives. Nothing has ever come from the Labor Party—very little, with respect, in the Labor Party, encouraged by the Greens. You can laugh all you like, but the facts are there. Unfortunately, we do not get the credit for it. If you talk about the environment, you think it is the Greens that do it, but every serious piece of environmental legislation that has come through this parliament has been an initiative of Liberal governments—not of the Greens and certainly not of the Labor Party. I want to make that point, as I often do, because we have a very proud record of environmental legislation and regulation. Unfortunately, the listening public—I notice we are on broadcast today—never appreciate that. We do not want thanks; we just want to do what is right, and marine protected areas are an example of that.
In fact, it was a Liberal government and a Liberal minister that first introduced an oceans policy. The first oceans policy anywhere in the world was done by a Liberal-National government—Senator Hill, in fact. That was a world first. And as a result of the oceans policy, we introduced a series of marine protected areas. Some people were a bit upset about that at the time, but we did it because it was right for the Australian environment. It is a proud record that we have. But in relation to marine protected areas, the basis upon which they were introduced is that they be multipurpose, that they address all of the issues that might happen in our ocean. Some of them are petroleum exploration. The plans of management that come under these marine protected areas are the important issues. Setting up the marine protected area is fine; it is the management plans that come under it.
I remember that the first one was in the southern seas between Victoria and Tasmania. It took a long time to get the management plans right, but eventually—and I have said this many a time in this place—all sides of the argument were 80 per cent happy; no-one was 100 per cent happy, but all sides were 80 per cent happy. So, we had marine protected areas, but we allowed controlled fishing; we allowed exploration provided that it was done the right way and was very strictly controlled. That is why I wanted to say just a few words today, engendered by Senator Siewert's comments on marine protected areas. We have to make sure that the plans of management in marine protected areas do look after the oceans, as was the original intention of the Liberal and Nationals governments when this was introduced. But we have to make sure it is done sensibly. And as you would expect, as a Queensland senator living on the coast near the Great Barrier Reef and the Coral Sea I am particularly interested that the plans of management, particularly for the Coral Sea marine protected areas, are sensible—not doing what the Pew foundation would want.
You may know, but in case you do not, the Pew foundation is an American environment group, funded, I might say, by the oil industry in America, which apparently has a bad conscience about what the oil industry did in America earlier in the last century. So, the Pew group has now put a lot of money into this organisation. It is not too keen, it seems, about looking after the United States' problems but comes out here and tries to tell Australians how to look after our natural resources. I might say, just in passing, that I have as much respect for President Obama's entry into the environment debate in Australia as I do for the Pew foundation's entry into the debate! I will never forgive the American president for blowing into Australia and starting to lecture us about control and protection of the Great Barrier Reef when, again, Australia has a wonderful record in protection of one of the seven wonders of the world—the Great Barrier Reef. I wish the American president would look after his own backyard and not bother about giving us a lecture about our environmental control and management of some of the wonderful natural assets we have in Australia. In fact, as was mentioned earlier, it was the Liberal and Nationals governments that first set up the protections of the Great Barrier Reef—at a time, I might say, when there were also Liberal and Nationals state governments in Queensland, and of course they were very much involved in this.
So, I just want to emphasise that in dealing with marine protected areas—and this bill before us relates to that—we have to make sure that the management plans are right, and we have to make sure that we properly manage those marine protected areas. That means, particularly in relation to the Coral Sea, that fishing must be allowed, but in a controlled way. Fishermen more than anyone understand the importance of the ecology and of sustainable use of the environment. And it is very important that the department and the advisers and those who deal with these areas do not overlook the fact that you can have controlled and managed fishing operations in marine protected areas. Again, I am aware that in the marine protected areas and in the Coral Sea there are wonderful new initiatives for fishing—sustainable initiatives. Fishermen would be the first ones to say that they do not want to overfish, that they do not want to destroy the fish stock, because that is their livelihood.
And we have to get through to the Greens political party, to the Pew foundation and hopefully to the bureaucrats who administer these acts that it is important to have these marine protected areas in a multifaceted, multipurpose arrangement, and the management plans need to address that. I am particularly passionate about the fishing industry everywhere, but specifically in the north. As we all know in this chamber, most of the fish that Australians eat these days is imported, and very often we are not very sure what its origin is, how it has been grown or how it has been caught. We do know about that in relation to the small amount of fish that we do catch or grow because we have a very strict regime of fisheries management in Australia. The Australian Fisheries Management Authority is a wonderful organisation made up of professional fish managers and scientists who look into these things. They determine the sustainability of any fishing in those areas, and they are far better placed to do it than the Pew foundation and some of the Greens political party.
I say 'some of the Greens political party' because I know that Senator Siewert was part of the Joint Select Committee on Northern Australia that has just tabled a report on aquaculture. It was a unanimous report, and I thank Senator Siewert for her contributions to that report, the same as I thanked, yesterday when I tabled that report, Ms MacTiernan, Mr Gray and Mr Snowdon, for their positive contributions to that report on aquaculture. I know that some in the Greens political party understand that you can have fishing, you can have aquaculture, providing it is properly controlled and managed.
In this committee stage of the debate my question to the minister, which is almost a rhetorical question, is: does this amendment act in any way impact on the other uses of marine protected areas, particularly in fishing? As I say, it is important that we have marine protected areas, but it is important that we, as a nation, manage them properly and do allow controlled exploitation of those areas that is done in a way that will not impact upon the ecology or on Australia's wealth.
I will leave that there. I obviously support the bill. It is an administrative bill correcting an oversight of the previous government and needs to be done. I just want to ensure that nothing in the bill, in any way, impacts upon the proper management and use of marine protected areas for other purposes.