Part of something historic
Friday,29 June,2012 08:08:47
The date — Wednesday 27 June 2012
The place — Australia’s capital city, Canberra
The reason — The Australian Government has announced a massive plan for Marine Protected Areas with vast ‘no go’ zones. This not only affects the seafood industry but many other important stakeholders and a number of likeminded people and organizations (including an environment foundation) decided to meet in Canberra at Parliament House and do what has never been done before and that is agree to work together to defeat this plan.
We met first in a media scrum in the middle of the Parliament buildings.
“Why have you come together today when the process for Marine Protected Areas has been in play for some time?” was the first question from one of the journalists.
These were the issues that were going through my mind as that question was asked.
• At what time did everyone decide that enough was enough with the Australian Government trying to change the landscape of how we fish, where we fish and when we fish and that this job was greater than one organization could handle?
• At what time did all these groups realize that the Australian Government was not listening to anyone from the commercial, recreational, boating and other such stakeholder sectors?
• At what time did we feel that the Australian Government was keener to get in the Guinness Book of World Records on the size of ‘no go’ marine protected areas — walking the line set by international conservation groups like Pew — rather than on true independent science?
• Where is the agenda for utilization of the oceans (the blue revolution) where the future of the world may be decided and that includes having a vision about the bio-marine activities covering everything from energy to aquaculture?
Clearly something connected with us. Everyone’s back is against the wall. The timing was right, and through the fog that the various debate and discussions where unity was not strong we now had a group that was forming under one banner, the Australian Marine Alliance (AMA).
At the end of the day all the sectors involved in the ocean have more in common than they think but they have been created in silos and rarely do they communicate with each other. As a consequence they have seen each other as the enemy and work in that fashion. Hopefully what happened this week in Canberra will be the new beginning. It needs to be as — in my opinion — the old system has not worked well.
A number of groups had seen the opportunity in the lead up to this and after the announcement last week by Environment Minister Burke, quaintly done at the Sydney Aquarium, of the massive ‘NO GO’ areas, others opted in. It was impressive to see and be part of and hopefully the group, under the banner of the AMA, will gather more force and be able to put an end to this nonsense.
AMA spokesman, Dean Logan said, “What’s offensive is that fishing has not been proven to be an irreversible threat to the marine environment anywhere in Australia and not one species of fish has ever been fished to extinction. The marine environment is being damaged predominantly by inappropriate land based development, pollution from agricultural runoff, urban runoff and sewage as well as introduced pests from bilge water and ships' hulls. The Gillard Government’s solution to these problems is nothing but a lock out of fishermen.”
The Government made the announcement to increase the national network of marine reserves from 27 to 60, which covers more than a third of Australia’s coastline.
They listened to Pew and the gospel that follows them in Australia and on paper have created a massive network of marine ‘no go zones’ that cover much of Australia’s coastline. There is little respect on the impact on jobs, families, the fishing industry, and local economies. There has been absolutely no transparency in any socio-economic impact statements that may or may not have been prepared.
According to information obtained by AMA the effect on communities will be devastating and estimated to be in excess of AUD 4.35 billion.
In Queensland, the Australian Government plans to join the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and the Coral Sea Conservation Area which will see all of the 1,000,000 square kilometre Coral Sea, stretching from Cape York to offshore of Bundaberg become a marine park. The means a total ban on any extractive activity covering just over half the area including areas beyond the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park where some 34 percent of the park is already off limits.
The information that AMA received was that their decision came from ‘consultation’ with only 1950 people from tourism and marine businesses, environmental groups and the public, through 250 meetings across the country.
For some people in the commercial seafood industry this is an opportunity for them to opt out, get compensation and head for retirement. Clearly there is respect from AMA for these people. But it is plainly wrong for these areas to be totally closed off in order to achieve this outcome for those in that position.
The industry understands what happens when areas get closed – any one in any doubt should review the situation on Port Phillip Bay and Scallop fishing. No scientific evidence to back the case, no impact studies done, incredible damage done to the industry from harvest through to retail and still today nigh on impossible to get even something like environemntally friendly indivudual diving for scallops approved in those productive scallop waters! Crazy…
The evidence of fisheries management being able to control healthy stocks is overwhelming, not only in Australia but internationally. Science is improving and our knowledge is increasing. Of course there is still much to learn from the oceans but the precautionary principles that are applied today in fisheries management ensures that Australia has healthy fish numbers into the future. Why does the industry pay the Government for fisheries management if they are not achieving long-term sustainability?
With this current situation the Government has announced a 60-day consultation period. Following this a report will be presented to the Minister who can table the report and make the decision without the scrutiny of Parliamentary debate. It is a decision he alone has the power to make.
The Minister talks the talk but he represents the area of Watson, an inner Sydney area covering an area of approximately 42 square kilometres, where he has lived all of his life. He was appointed Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries & Forestry in 2007 but you would have to say he did not shine in that portfolio. I heard him speak about the ‘fish retail shop being the pharmacy shop of the future where good quality natural produce would be available’ but I doubt whether anyone could nominate any major things he achieved in that role.
I was present at a seafood event where the Minister was guest of honour. He chose to leave early because of an 8am appointment with TV Channel. He did not just mention this once – he said it a number of times. You could feel the vibe in the room. This highlighted to me that he has no understanding or respect for the industry for which he was serving – all of those who had paid good money to attend were hard working seafood people most of whom were going to have to get up far earlier than him the next day.
As I have said the decision on MPA will rest solely with him. My gut feeling is that we are where we are now because of the decisions he has made. This would indicate to me that we should have no confidence whatsoever in him changing the current thinking.
According to the Prime Minister, “Australia must be ready to act as the food bowl of Asia - not only a mineral resources quarry - to meet the needs of a growing region.” This was reported in May when the Prime Minister told a Melbourne audience that Australia was a potential “food superpower.” “It would involve building our food-processing industry so that it can supply Asia's growing consumer markets and developing the research, technologies and logistics that strengthen irrigation, grow higher-yield crops and improve safety,” she said.
In Rio Prime Minister Gillard told the world that the future was all about sustainable development and how they should follow Australia’s example.
Even people at high levels in the Department (Donna Petrachenko, Chief Advisor International Biodiversity and Sustainability & Australia’s Commissioner to the International Whaling Commission within the Australian Government Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities) when speaking at The Monaco Blue Initiatve earlier in the month said that, in order for investors to get opportunities, governments needed to work with them to tell them of opportunities. This process was not just about marine protected areas, she said. It was about reducing costs, building certainty and protecting areas.
This is not good enough for the communities potentially affected by this decision. It is not just about commercial fishing industry issues (and all the sectors that rely on them right through to restaurants, retailers and importantly the consumers) it includes the charter boat industry, the tackle industry, the boating industry, super-yachts, marine retailers, commercial fishing industry and their families and the 4million+ recreational fishing community.
It was great to see a fishing family (husband, wife and son) from Batemans Bay make the journey to Canberra to be part of the group. They were organized well with a copy of their submission on total closures to Prawn Trawling which highlighted how informed they were about the environment that they worked in and the care they take to ensure they leave the areas they operate in pristine condition. These people are not asking for much. They pay their license fees, they meet their obligations, they follow the rules and they are not a drain on society. Why take away their living and put their lives in jeopardy? What on earth are these politicians and these green conservationist groups thinking about?
At a time when Australian media is pushing other agendas with the Government (refugees/boat people dying in their efforts to get to Australia; the infamous carbon tax about to hit; the Speaker of the House involved in sexual harassment court case, etc) it was clear that we were never going to be the ‘big story of the day’ but we had interested media engaged and the Federal Opposition was keen to hear our stories.
Time will decide whether this was a great historic moment or just another day in Canberra but I am optimistic that we forged a bond of like-minded people on a particular subject that is hurting all our industries.
The Government must decide whether they truly want what the Prime Minister has been preaching internationally ie sustainable development; or whether that is all about poltical spin and building a good story for the worlds press. My feeling is that the current Australian Government are just happy to get on the international Pew groups band-wagon and lock all these ocean areas up forever condemning Australia to be a country that is prepared to pass on its responsibilities of feeding its people seafood to countries where possibly a greater and more destructive impact will be made environmentally.
What on earth are they thinking?