Mr ENTSCH (Leichhardt-Chief Opposition Whip) (20:36): I welcome the opportunity to speak on this bill. Quite frankly, the process under which the Coral Sea marine reserve was declared last week is an absolute disgrace. For generations this resource has been fished in a totally sustainable way; the fact that the area is now judged worthy of being a marine reserve is testament to that.
The bill would require the environment minister to fulfil four requirements before declaring an area a marine reserve. Firstly, he must commission an independent social and economic impact assessment so that the government and affected communities are fully aware of the long-term ramifications.
What concerns me is that even before ABARES had completed its socio-economic report on the impact of the MPA, Ministers Burke and Ludwig-clairvoyants that they are, and we have seen that more recently with the live trade debacle-announced a nationwide assistance package in the vicinity of $100 million.
In Cairns we have a very well-regarded, experienced and independent economist named Bill Cummings. Earlier this year, Mr Cummings was commissioned by Cairns Regional Council to examine the economic impact of declaring the Coral Sea as a marine reserve.
What became immediately evident on seeing his findings was how short-sighted this government has been in only assessing the immediate economic impact on commercial operators. They have not considered the flow-on effects to businesses further down the chain, the likely future growth and opportunities forgone in the future, the management cost impacts and the losses to post shipside activity.
On the other hand, Mr Cummings has, and what he found is quite frightening. By looking at these other impacts, and extrapolating them over 30 years-that is a standard economic forecast-he has come up with a cost just for the Cairns region of $1 billion. That is a billion dollars in a region with one of the highest unemployment figures in the country, contributing to the economic black hole that Labor has already got this country into over the past five years.
Secondly, this bill requires the government to obtain scientific peer-reviewed and publicly available advice before making any proclamations. There is no denying the fact that the government cannot produce any scientific evidence to show a threat from fishing activities to species in the Coral Sea. Just as with the last-minute banning of the MV Margiris, this government continues to ignore science.
Take a look at this article from the Cairns Post on 20 November celebrating the fact that overseas buyers are ‘lining up to take product from the Northern Prawn Fishery after its sustainable certification by the Marine Stewardship Council’. Gaining this certification is no mean feat. It proves that the operators in this fishery are using world’s best practice to harvest their catch sustainably with less impact on the environment and on the by-catch.
So what does this government do? It takes this certification and rubbishes it by declaring the Coral Sea as a marine reserve, shutting down 20 per cent of the Northern Prawn Fishery. What about the millions these operators have invested and the thousands of jobs they support? I just shake my head in disbelief.
The third requirement of this bill is that the government must establish independent reference panels and stakeholder groups in each region to ensure rigorous decision making. What does that mean? It means no more whistle-stop tours where the minister has already made up his mind; it means no more backhanded swapping of areas to keep marginal Labor MPs out of the firing line; it means no more playing industry groups off each other, bargaining with boundaries to buy support; and it means no more bowing to the pressure of ‘gan-greenous’ overseas lobby groups, like the PEW foundation, who do not have the courage to take on the polluters and the over-fishers in their own waters.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this bill will put parliament in charge of final decisions by making declarations disallowable, scrapping the carte blanche powers that the minister clearly has abused.
To close, left as it stands the Coral Sea marine reserve is a failure for sustainability, it is a nail in the coffin for family-owned businesses and it is a death knell for highly-exploited species in Third World fisheries. This bill, put up by the member for Dawson, will instead provide a framework of accountability and transparency around the creation of marine reserves, and that is why I wholly support it here today.
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