by Jeni Bone
Labor and the Greens combined twice in the Senate yesterday to protect the total authority of the Environment Minister, Hon Tony Burke, to declare a vast network of marine reserves across Australia’s 16 million square kilometre Exclusive Economic Zone - without any reference whatsoever to the parliament.
Australian fish markets - soon to be an ancient wonder.
Wayne Bayne, Far North Queensland Chairman of Marine Queensland says he is disappointed for the country, because this has far more serious ramifications for the democratic process. 'Because it's relatively industry specific at this stage, it has been hard to get mainstream media to focus on this. But 11 coastal communities rely on fishing and marine activity for their livelihoods, and their representatives do not even get the opportunity to voice their opinion. It stinks! This will eventually effect tourism, restaurants, infrastructure, all those things to the detriment of the economy.'
But Wayne concedes, at least the issue is definitely on the Political radar. 'Now it's essential that our industries keep the issue alive and remind our politicians at every level that this is not acceptable practice and is not in the best interest of Australia.'
Fish, Wayne continues, 'is a renewable resource right in our own backyard (oceans) and we need to manage it for the financial benefit and the future of our country'.
'The Australian Fish Management Authority is regarded as one of the best in the world, because they are so highly regulated and the least productive in the world. As I see it, we are digging up non-renewable resources like coal and iron ore and spending them on importing fish from Asia. It doesn't make sense.'
The tied vote 31/31 in the Senate yesterday will 'make life a little more difficult', says Wayne, 'because this now affects the entire country, not just one area'.
'Why should one Minister have the responsibility to hand down decisions when our elected politicians don't have a say - the people we have voted to have a say on our part. People like Warren Entsch who should be commenting on behalf of the electorate of Leicchardt, have been denied the ability to do that. That goes for all the other coastal communities and their elected representatives. It's affecting the democratic rights of all of us.'
It's too much for one Minister to manage, asserts Wayne. 'The Marine Bioregional Planning Process has a lot of facets, not just environmental, but financial impact, community impact, and no one Minister can be an authority on all these issues and handle the amount of information required to make a decision that affects millions of people - yet he is given that authority.
'According to the Qld Auditor General's report last year, there are 576 national terrestrial National Parks in Queensland, and the Qld government has management plans for 11 of them. Why zone something if you have no management plan for it? If you look at their plans for Marine Parks, the same could be said. If you're not going to manage it, why have it, regardless of whether it's marine or terrestrial?
'We are being sold down the drain for political advantage. What other reason can they have for zoning something and never putting a management plan in place?'
In the Senate yesterday, Senator Ron Boswell had sought to force Minister Burke to bring the declarations to parliament through a private members bill which Labor and the Greens first blocked procedurally, and later in a division with the support of outgoing Family First Senator Steve Fielding. Independent Senator Nick Xenophon voted with the Coalition to tie the vote 31 to 31.
Left wing Labor senator Doug Cameron said the bill should not succeed because enabling a say for the Australian Parliament could compromise Australia’s obligations under international treaties. Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said the bill was an attack on marine reserves.
Senator Boswell told the Senate it was 'unconscionable' that an individual had the sole authority to dictate any and all activities across such a vast area of ocean, in which Australia claimed exclusive rights, without reference to the Parliament. The Government is developing plans for marine reserves across the EEZ. The Greens want 30% be totally inaccessible.
In a statement, Senator Boswell said the Labor Party would regret its decision. 'The reason that Labor and the Greens combined on this is that they fear the Parliament might not support the extreme outcomes they want in terms of the size of reserves, and the level of constraints on professional and recreational fishing, especially.
'This action is a warning to every Australian professional fishermen, every recreational fishermen whose interest extends beyond state waters, and the thousands of people employed in the industries that service them. It signals the fierce determination of the Labor Party and the Greens to deny Australians any say whatsoever, so that they can retain an ability for their Minister to be a dictator over an area twice the size of the Australian landmass.'
Senator Boswell said the performance of the government on the marine reserves issue in the lead-up to the 2010 election had so justifiably outraged fishers that it generated a 'near death' political experience for the Labor party, with major swings against members and candidates in coastal seats down the eastern seaboard.
'This decision will guarantee the same resentment will be expressed at the next election, right around the country, whenever it is held,' Senator Boswell said. 'That outcome is now inevitable.'
Wayne Bayne believes the time is right for fishing marine and allied industries to unite to prevent a future of being locked out of our oceans and prime fishing grounds. 'We will take a deep breath now, present the facts to industry and urge them to keep up the fight, not just one or two people. It now has to be an industry wide cooperative approach.'
Industry has an opportunity to brainstorm the issue 11 July, at a meeting in Brisbane arranged by Marine Queensland. 'People who can make it are certainly encouraged to be there and be heard.'
More at www.ronboswell.com