Ditch the government’s reserve plans and start again, writes Dean Logan, Chief Executive of the Australian Marine Alliance.
On June 5, 2012, the chief executive of the Australian Conservation Foundation, DonHenry, wrote an opinion piece in another newspaper on the imminent closure of the Coral Sea by the Gillard government. Mr Henry noted that the federal government received 487,435 submissions on the proposed Coral Sea Commonwealth Marine Reserve and, of those, 99.9 per cent supported the reserve, but with stronger protection than proposed.
According to Mr Henry, 'it was an unprecedented response . . .'. In fact Mr Henry went on to place the 'sheer numbers' and 'unprecedented response' in context with the 10,600 submissions received by the Finkelstein media enquiry. What Mr Henry and the Gillard government did not tell Australians was that two weeks before that opinion piece, it was acknowledged in Senate estimates that of those 487,435 submissions, 486,000 – or thereabouts – were deemed campaign submissions and computer-generated from overseas.
As a result, only 1000 submissions of the 487,435 received were deemed by the department as non-campaign submissions and therefore of substance.
If education policy was Kim Beazley’s 'Noodle Nation' then the Marine Bio-Regional Planning Process is Tony Burke’s 'Plaited Poodle' –a policy so complex and so crude, that the only solution is to shave it back completely and start again. Under Labor, the Marine Bio-Regional Planning Process has been plagued by a level of horse-trading rarely seen in the Australian policy context.
I believe industry stakeholders have been pitted against each other by a ministerand government screaming for votes.
Each participant was given a set of colouring pencils and asked 'in confidence' to shade in areas of marine environment where they wanted access to remain, and yet Mr Burke asked us all to trust him because 'the Marine Bio-Regional Planning Process is a science-driven Process'.
The first thing this government did, though, was to decommission the scientific reference group that effectively liaised with industry and that provided independent scientific advice to stakeholders throughout the entire Marine Bio-Regional Planning Process.
The process was exceptional and deemed a success by stakeholders with regard to the South East Bio-Region. Funnily enough, the South-East Bio Region under Labor’s leadership still does not have a management plan in place after seven years; and yet, we are being asked to support additional large scale no-take marine reserves right across the country.
The government then decommissioned the Stakeholder Advisory Group(SAG) – the SAG was the central conduit for industry to effectively liaise with Canberra policy makers on all Marine Bio-Regional Planning Process-related matters.
Third, the science underpinning the entire Marine Bio-Regional Planning Process hinges on the relationship between Mr Burke’s own department (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities) and the Bureau of Rural Sciences. This relationship is considered by Mr Burke as a commercial in-confidence relationship and not open to peer review.
Proposed Coral Sea Heritage Park PEW - .. ©
Add to this the decision three weeks ago by federal Minister for Resources Martin Ferguson to issue hundreds of new oil and gas leases throughout Australia’s marine environment and the decision only two weeks ago by federal Fisheries Minister Joe Ludwig to issue a licence for a Dutch-owned super trawler to fish off southern Australia, and is it any wonder we find yesterday’s announcement hard to stomach.
There is a better solution: an effective management regime where 100 per cent of Australia’s marine environment is effectively managed and where we don’t find ourselves – as we currently do – importing in excess of 75 per cent of our seafood.
Australian coastal communities, industry, families and fishers have proven to be great custodians of the environment and deserve the right to be a part of the process, not locked out if it.
What we need to do now is shave back the poodle completely, re-build the scientific integrity with regard to the Marine Bio-Regional Planning Process and deliver an outcome that surpasses the solution handed down yesterday the Gillard government.
This article first appeared in the Newcastle Herald. Republished with permission.