Transcript - Senate Chamber - 14 March 2012

Just when you think this shambolic government cannot get any worse - oh yes, they can. Just when you think they cannot bend over to the Greens anymore - oh yes, they can. Just when you think the government surely cannot have another liability issue on their hands after pink batts, the live cattle exports, after the Australian network tender debacle - oh yes, they can. This is the one area where this government excels.

Their bad decisions are always followed up by even worse decisions. Despite having seen the Greens decimated in recent elections, the hapless ALP will still dance to their tune. So having acknowledged and praised the science of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority as late as last Monday—only two days ago—the government now claim the science is 'uncertain'. So how did the science change? I will tell you how. It was the political science that changed because you had a Greens senator telling the people of Tasmania he was not interested in the science, he was not interested in the economics. He was just against the proposal.

Can you imagine the policy discussions in the Greens party room. 'My heart flutters are a few more than yours per second', or 'I have a stronger emotional feeling on this issue.' That is how they decide policy. It is not on science, it is not on economics. It is about heart flutters and the vibe and the feeling. Of course, that is how the Greens make their policy decisions on the run which the hapless ALP, in lock step with them, just adopt willy-nilly. The concept of rational debate clearly does not occur or is not understood in the Greens party room. It is all about heart flutters, is all about feelings, it is all about emotions. Science, economics, sovereign risk and sustainable jobs all count for nought.

The other bit of political science, of course, was when Mr Rudd said that he would support the private member's bill of the member for Fremantle. And the other bit was the Twitter trolls are now determining Labor Party policy. Having induced a trawler to Australia with discussions for well over three years and a harvest strategy that actually refers to the use of “large-scale factory freezer vessels”, signed off by none less than the now Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Tony Burke, encouraging a vessel to Australia, Mr Burke now says, “I am uncertain.”

So having lured the enterprise, the enterprise abided by every single requirement and it is still being blocked. Every other fisherman in Australia needs to be concerned about this. Indeed, the bill that was introduced included every single recreational fisher. They now, I understand, have moved an amendment to the rushed bill. That is what happens when you do policy on the run.

Of course, recreational fishers, I understand, are now excluded. But what about the charter fishers? What about the other commercial fishers, who have literally, by one ministerial decision, had millions written off their balance sheets? Small family fishermen have now had their asset devalued because the minister feels 'uncertain'—without any scientific backing—and can simply say, 'I am closing the fishery for two years,' putting family fishers out of business.

So I say to the fishing industry: you might have been against the Margiris, but be very careful what you wish for. This minister will be able to stop any fishing activity for two years. Let's make no mistake, having been embarrassed that the Greens put recreational fishing into the bill, we now know what the true full agenda is: to include the recreational fishing sector. Sure, they have had to take a backwards step, but make no mistake: the trawler has been used to ensure that fisheries can be closed at the whim of a minister.

This is bad policy. It is a policy that is reminiscent of pink batts, cash for clunkers and the live cattle exports. Now we have this fishing debacle to add to this shambolic government's exceptionally poor record.

About Eric

Eric Abetz has been a Liberal Senator for Tasmania since 1994 and has served in a range of Leadership, Ministerial and Shadow Ministerial roles.

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