Standing up for Canberra

Environment Protection (Supertrawler) Bill 2012

I rise to talk briefly about the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Declared Fishing Activities) Bill 2012 because I have a very keen interest in marine biology. This bill draws a very stark contrast between Labor's view of the environment and the view of those opposite. I think that is best exemplified by the comments made by the member for Dawson just now. As usual in the comments that we hear from those opposite there has been overblown language like 'Armageddon' and 'atom bombs'. There has been the extreme language typical of those opposite, with no measured or reasoned response. It is always overblown and extreme.

Our oceans and waterways are critical to our survival in so many ways. We are a very dry continent surrounded by vast oceans. It is the role of good government to protect our natural resources and our oceans. It is the role of government to respond when the community expresses concerns about something as significant as this. The Gillard government have shown that we take the environment seriously. Unlike those opposite—and we have just heard from one of them—we believe that human beings influence the environment and that we must therefore take every possible measure to reduce the impact we have on the environment. Overfishing or inadvertently killing marine life is something we must prevent.

I am very supportive of the approach taken by the environment minister to extend his legal powers over the supertrawler FV Abel Tasman. What Minister Burke has done is ensure our precious oceans and fishing waters are properly protected, because if we get this wrong, if the science and advice is not double-checked, the outcomes could be very damaging. My office—and I am sure those of many others here—has been contacted by Canberrans and other Australians concerned about the possibility that this supertrawler could catch marine life like dolphins, seals, seabirds and threatened or protected species.

Anyone who has spent any time swimming in Australia's oceans, particularly in the Great Barrier Reef, begins to appreciate the sensitivity of our marine life and our oceans and to value them. I have been very lucky to have had the experience of spending quite a bit of time swimming and snorkelling up on the Great Barrier Reef. There is a whole new world down there that I have been lucky enough to see and appreciate, and I want to cherish it.

At Christmas time I, like about two-thirds of Canberrans, head to the South Coast. It is sort of Canberra-by-the-sea at Christmas time. I, like everyone else, headed down there for a break and there are a lot of areas that are protected now. The marine life has been protected. There are a lot of zones up and down the South Coast that are now protected. We were down at Guerilla Bay and there is a lovely little inlet there with a cave under the water that you can go snorkelling in. For the first time, I saw a seal at Guerilla Bay. It was just extraordinary, because like everywhere along the South Coast there are Canberrans who have been going there for decades. There was a man on the beach who had been going there since 1961 and he said this was the first time in his life he had seen a seal in Guerilla Bay, which is pretty extraordinary, given the location. I think that highlights what can be achieved when we look after our marine life and protect our marine areas and how they can be replenished and rejuvenated as a result of our taking care of them, taking them seriously and cherishing them.

I understand the concerns about this particular issue. As I said, I have had many, many people from my electorate as well as throughout Australia contact my office, because the stakes here are very high. We are not talking about a simple fishing vessel here; this is about a supertrawler. It is the industrialisation of fishing. If something goes wrong, if the science is not as originally predicted, then the price we pay will be irreversible.

There are also genuine concerns, despite what the member for Dawson said, from some recreational fishers. They are people like me who have a genuine concern about our marine life and the health of our oceans. There are also concerns that we get this right so that future generations have sustainable fish stocks. I remember my husband telling me about a time he was flying up to China, I think, or somewhere in North Asia. It was at night-time, he was up in the cockpit with the pilot and they were looking down on the waters there. It must have been some bay that he was overlooking. He said that there was a row of lights, of boats in the ocean, almost cheek by jowl. They were lined up right across the ocean, going out to fish in those oceans. Just think about the consequences and what that means, the impact on the marine life when you have those sorts of volumes, not just here in Australia but throughout the region. It is incredibly important that we have sustainable fish stocks in Australia but also throughout the world. That is why I really welcome this decision by Minister Burke.

I also welcome a cautious approach when it comes to the sustainability and future health of our oceans and our marine life. I would have thought that those opposite would share our caution when concerns are raised and join with the government in ensuring critical decisions are made based on the best scientific evidence. It is the right thing to do, to put a pause on fishing activities like this and make the right decision. Like many others, when I first heard about this supertrawler I was concerned. Like many others, I made my concerns known and this is why I am so pleased with the actions taken by the minister to ensure further investigation of the issues and the evidence.

I also welcome the review that the minister has announced into fisheries management. Fishing techniques have changed dramatically over recent decades. We have not had a review of this nature for 20 years. I think the last really serious world-leading fishing management approach was taken by the Hawke government in the early 1990s. So I really welcome the review and this root and branch assessment of how we maintain our fisheries and our world leading status in that area. I commend the government for responding to a matter of great importance to the people of Canberra and to Australians and to the future of our fisheries and our ocean life.

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