I am quite surprised. I have a great deal of respect for Senator Furner but perhaps he has been speaking on the wrong bill. The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Bioregional Plans) Bill 2011 simply gives the parliament the capacity to consider something. That is all it does, like very many regulations. The bill simply allows us to look at bioregional plans to ensure they do not have unintended consequences. Those on the other side recently have not been caught up in the usual thematic—that the Senate should scrutinise things carefully, have a debate and then vote. The new word is ‘truncate’. ‘Let’s just stack this down to about two seconds’ is the thematic the government are following. I would hope that the Greens are not going to vote against this legislation. And we have more of the same from those opposite, ‘We couldn’t possibly have any more scrutiny.’
Senator Furner was incredible in his contribution when he said that in bringing a regulation to this place somehow it is going to affect the Great Barrier Reef. He spoke with great passion about what a wonderful thing it is. Who could possibly deny that? Allowing something to be disallowable in this place certainly is not going to be doing that. He talked about the global financial crisis—that jumped in—and about the Queensland floods. Having a disallowable instrument is a really powerful thing. It is up there with an act of God.
He also talked about the consultation having to be repeated. Imagine consulting once and probably getting it wrong. So you bring legislation to this place to get checked and: ‘Oh, no! Shock, horror! Don’t tell me that we now have to consult again.’ That would be horrific. Senator Furner is genuinely a lovely bloke but he certainly drew the short straw here. He said this is going to create uncertainty among recreational and commercial fishers. Recreational and commercial fishers out there need to really worry because the Senate is going to have an opportunity to scrutinise this particular piece of legislation! This is a fair dinkum short straw.
Then he goes on to talk about a great Queenslander, a fantastic Queenslander, who is really going to take the bat to the Labor Party in the oncoming election, a very thoughtful and insightful man, Mr Campbell Newman. He decried Campbell Newman because Campbell Newman is someone who understands this process. He decried the fact that Campbell Newman stood up for the Aboriginal people of Cape York and supported the wild rivers legislation, which allows only one thing—that through the decency of asking and consulting with Aboriginal people, we seek their written consent to put park-like provisions over their land. If we get their consent, then we can move to do that—quite a decent thing. But Senator Furner says that that is a terrible thing for Campbell Newman to be doing. That is absolute rubbish.
I remind Senator Furner, when he talks so carefully about the Wenlock River and the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve, and in the same breath decries John Howard, that it was in fact John Howard who gifted that reserve in memory of Steve Irwin. It was our government who created the park. He also said briefly that this bill will not allow protection. He talked about researchers in boats being concerned about the reef—I am not really sure what that was about. And we have to be careful because, if this is legislation passes, we are going to have increased bleaching of corals. You are drawing a long bow, Senator Furner. I feel sorry that you have been asked to defend the indefensible in this place.
This is a very good and important piece of legislation. It does one simple thing: it says that, if a marine bioregional plan is declared, it should come before parliament, as do literally thousands of disallowable regulations every day. As a disallowable instrument, it has to sit on a table for a period of time so that people can have a look at it, and there is a potential to disallow that instrument. It is a normal thing. There are some really good and important reasons why this should be disallowable. I follow this very closely in my life, as many would know. I am very proud to be part of a government that introduced its oceans policy—the first comprehensive policy that looked at further levels of protection for our oceans and our biosphere. It was an exciting time. If you read our policy, it was all about excitement: what we were going to do, how we were going to measure it, what sort of research we were going to do and how we were going to control the impacts. It was a very exciting time. Sadly, after the creation of a number of marine protected areas, once the current Labor government took power—porridge fingers! Everything it touched has turned to porridge.
Our alternative policy would immediately put on hold that bioregional planning process to allow for its restructure. We would provide a fair and balanced displaced effort policy. We would base marine protected areas on science. We would establish sensible and balanced marine park boundaries and develop management plans in consultation with industry. But if we had that plan we would want to make it disallowable. Everybody gets something wrong now and again and we might not have thought of something, but this place has the resources and the people to focus on that completely. We have committees, and that is what this place does very well.
There are two important points. The first is that as we have moved to marine protected areas there has been a primacy of the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities over all other matters. Whilst I know a lot of people in the department are wonderful people—Conall O’Connell and I have blued for years but he is a great bloke and a very wise man—it seems that over time that primacy means the view of the department is the only thing we take into consideration. A bioregional plan put by the environment minister will come in here and that will be it. What we have said in our policy is that all marine protected areas will be signed up by both the minister responsible for fisheries and the minister responsible for the environment. It is a far more comprehensive and sophisticated approach, as one would expect from the coalition.
One of the most important elements is to make sure there are no unintended consequences. When you put a marine protected area out there one of the things people very much need to understand is that we call it a bioregion. We have talked about fish, about corals, about dugongs and about whales, but let me remind everyone that you cannot make a whale turned left. You cannot make a piece of coral grow over there. You cannot say to a dugong, ‘Don’t swim over here,’ because a line on a map does absolutely nothing to affect those things. A line on a map affects only the behaviour and activities of people. It is the people whom we are seeking to benefit, because that is what this place does, and we benefit people by putting in protected areas in the right way and in the right places. We need to ensure that the impact of putting in a marine protected area is a proper impact and has been done for proper reasons.
This is where we must look at the motive. In this country we have, without a doubt, world-standard fisheries, and as a past chairman of the International Coalition of Fisheries Association I say that with some authority. One of the things we know to look out for in our environment is the further politicisation of fisheries management. For example, in New South Wales there was a commitment by the then Premier Bob Carr with the Greens, for Green preferences in New South Wales, that up to 50 per cent of the inshore areas would be locked up and preferences would be swapped. It was a wonderful idea. Of course, they did not think about the notion of displaced effort. Imagine if we closed 50 per cent of the Senate: all of the senators on the other side would have to come and sit here, and there is not much room. You will wear out the cushions on this side exactly twice as fast as normal. By rolling out closures across 50 per cent of New South Wales you have, in one fell swoop, increased the fishing effort in New South Wales by 50 per cent. How can you say that is helping the environment? It is absolute nonsense, but it does happen and it has happened.
Things like this bioregional plan should be brought to this place so we can ensure that those unintended consequences of displaced effort do not happen. This legislation was not drawn up to protect the environment. It was done for a self-serving Labor government in New South Wales who did not care about the environment or the communities—they just cared about themselves. We have seen a lot of that. I have seen a lot of that in my time and in this government. This place needs to be positioned to ensure that the motive for providing marine protected areas is a pure motive based on science. Labor are not going to vote for our legislation, because they want to say, ‘I want to be able to trade the environment off politically.’ We do not, and our legislation says we do not. We want to put it before all of parliament.
There is another element of displaced effort which is a very technical management issue. Whenever we create a bioregion, bioregional plans invariably deal with use, so there are different rules about the sorts of things you can do in different places. In some places a certain sort of gear effort cannot be used, you cannot trawl in certain areas or do certain sorts of fishing, and some areas are completely protected. We know now, in fisheries management and with the use of marine protected areas globally, the most important thing is that, if when you do something you have an impact that closes half of it, you have to have a policy in place that ensures you do not have a negative impact on the environment. You need a displaced effort policy, and there might be a whole suite of things. If we were a commercial industry we would buy out 50 per cent of it. But there is no point in buying out 50 per cent if today you make a declaration to close an area and everybody comes over and doubles the use in that area and then you think about buying out a few fishermen over the years. On the first day that closure is made we are having a negative net impact on the environment. And so when the bioregional plan comes to this place, we will have an opportunity to ask, ‘Before this comes into effect, have you already mitigated the changes to the use of those areas? Have you put in an effective displacement policy?’ We can look at those policies and say, ‘Fine. They have put those measures in.’ We will be able to say, because it is consistent with coalition policy, that we will not declare an area before we have made the effort, dealing with the best interests of the environment and fisheries.
I am not only talking about the best interests of the environment and fisheries. It is also in the best interests of the communities, families and businesses that all rely on it, whether it is through tourism, visitation, support industries, commercial fishing or recreational fishing—in fact, all of those businesses that Senator Furner indicated earlier. I am surprised at Senator Furner’s sudden embracing of the environment. He has claimed that they are true environmentalists on the other side. If they are, as they claim to be, true environmentalists then they should support this legislation. But, sadly, I suspect they will not.
You have to look for the motive. Why under such obvious, well-known, well-researched processes would they say, ‘No, we do not want that level of scrutiny’? It is because those on the other side quite clearly have an agenda to ensure they can continue to trade away the environment against their political self-interest. They have done this in New South Wales. They have done this in North Queensland by trading away the interests and future of Aboriginal people against what is now on the public record as a preference deal with the Greens. They have put their own interests above the interests of both the environment and our first Australians. They should stand condemned. Even better, they should support this legislation.