Marine and Fisheries Bill

11 Sep 2019

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (12:29:00): I am pleased to join this debate on the Marine and Fisheries Legislation Amendment Bill 2019, and I want to come back to the point that was taken up in the point of order a couple of minutes ago.

Despite the government’s speaking notes, the fact is that the Fisheries Act 1995 provides that expert advice should be made available. The information backing up the valuer-general’s valuation of the gear in particular has not been made available. It should be made available, and regardless of how often government members repeat the litany that it has been made available, the fact is it has not.

Now, back to the bill or back to the specifics of the bill, it is a bill that amends the Fisheries Act 1995, the Marine (Drug, Alcohol and Pollution Control) Act 1988, the Marine Safety Act 2010 and the Transport (Safety Schemes Compliance and Enforcement) Act 2014.

In effect this is a small, thin omnibus bill. It is a bill that deals with fisheries and with marine matters, and really the only connection between the two is that they both relate to saltwater.

The headline of course in this bill is the fisheries aspect, and that is quite understandable. But I am concerned that the handling of this bill and the way that this bill has been presented effectively conceals the impact of what is imposed upon other sectors.

More disturbingly, I think, there is a further pattern with this bill in that the consultation appears intended to achieve an outcome that reflects the government’s view of the world and to achieve an outcome that validates the sorts of figures that have been proposed for recompense for fishers in particular in line with the budget that has been set.

In my view that is worse than no consultation at all. It is pretending that the provisions here accord, to a large extent, with the concerns of those involved, and they simply do not.

We also have two reasoned amendments now, both relating to the fisheries aspect but very, very different amendments. One is from the member for East Gippsland, which is concerned with the restitution paid to those who are about to lose their licences, those families that are about to lose their livelihoods, and that is a direct response to the mean-spirited and nasty approach, and sneaky approach, that the government has taken to dealing with the affected fishers.

The second amendment is from the member for Prahran and is about the sustainability of the Gippsland Lakes for recreational fishing.

In terms of my comments on the details of the bill, I want to start at the back of the bill,  with part 5. That is the part that proposes amendments to the Transport (Safety Schemes Compliance and Enforcement) Act, and it changes the definition of marine premises in that act from a very short and sharp:

  1. … building or … facility used in connection with the undertaking of marine operations; and
  2. land on which vessels are stored—

to insert a whole lot of provisions that are related to:

… design, commission, construction, manufacture, supply, maintenance, repair or modification of a recreational vessel …

That is a significant extension. I want to touch briefly on one of the businesses that may be affected by that. That is Hart Marine, who operate currently in Mornington. They have been a great success story on the peninsula. They were originally synonymous with high-performance sailing, and I am sure members would be familiar with names like Skandia Wild Thing; Ichiban; Secret Men’s Business 1, 2, 3.5 and 4; Chutzpah; and Finesse. A very, very long list of very well known and very, very effective high performance yachts.

But Mal Hart is also is engaged in another type of vessel construction, and that is pilot boats. In particular the ORC self-righting pilot boat, which is a virtually—well, absolutely—unsinkable pilot boat.

So far, one of those boats has been sold to Townsville and is operating, there are three in Tasmania, two to Flinders Ports, one to Victoria Police, one to Timaru in New Zealand, one to Gladstone, one to Port Phillip Sea Pilots and one to Svitzer Australia, and currently under construction there are two more for Queensland Police, one for Gladstone, one for Port Phillip Sea Pilots and one for Odyssey Marine.

It is a real success story.

What concerns me about part 5 of this bill is that that may well have an impact on this success story and the many others, though perhaps less prominent, marine industry players that we have, a in an industry that is absolutely critical to the Mornington Peninsula.

In particular, with regard to this aspect, there are simply a couple of sentences in the minister’s speech that regurgitate what is actually in the text of the bill. It does not explain in any way why the minister is choosing to go down this path. There is no evidence of consultation. I do not think there was any. There is no evidence that there has ever been an issue to justify this regulatory overreach.

I make the point that if this was a proper Westminster-style debate, we would be taking this bill into committee—or consideration-in-detail as it is called in this place—and there would be the opportunity to explore the point with the minister and to find out exactly what the reason for this provision being in the bill is, and whether that reason justifies the inclusion.

We have had none of that. So can I simply say if we are not going to have that opportunity to explore the details of this legislation, can we at least have in the second-reading speech some justification, not simply a regurgitation of the facts of the bill. If you cannot justify it, do not put it in the bill.

Part 4 of the bill amends the Marine Safety Act. Clause 11 excludes volunteers from being considered for marine work, and given the nature of the work I think that is entirely reasonable.

Clause 12 is about inactive pilot licences. Again I think this is an issue—and the member for South-West Coast touched upon this—where there has been no effective consultation. I know there have been discussions. I know there have been serious discussions between agencies and the pilot providers in regard to rewriting licensing and training, but my understanding is the provisions of this bill are not consistent with those discussions. Again it appears to be overreach.

I make the point that the overwhelming majority of those who conduct pilotage in this state are members of Port Philip Sea Pilots. They are not Johnnies-come-lately. They have been operating since June 1839, right since Governor Gibbs gave them the opportunity to start.

They have been operating for 180 years and, despite the suggestions of some, their safety record is absolutely impeccable, particularlywhen you consider that 40 years ago a big vessel was 10 000 tonnes, now an average vessel is 70 000 tonnes, and in Western Port 100 000 tons is a regular occurance.

They do a very, very good job. I have had the privilege, I should say, of seeing their operations firsthand, from the vantage of the pilot boat, the safety of the vessels, their concern for the safety of the vessels, their concern for those aboard, their concern for the cargoes and their concern for those who seek to interact illegally with those ships and cross the path of those massive ships is absolutely impeccable.

So why the government thinks it knows better than the pilots, why it thinks it knows better than the agencies that have been negotiating with the pilots and why it would refuse to hold worthwhile discussions and is now seeking to impose an outcome that is not in any way negotiated and is perhaps entirely undesirable simply demonstrates the arrogance of the government.

In the minute or so remaining to me I want to return to the issue of fisheries and the reasoned amendments. The member for Gippsland East has laid out very clearly the concerns of the coalition with regard to what is happening in East Gippsland. We accept the fact that the decision has been made, but reasonable compensation, just compensation, is absolutely critical when implementing these processes—and transparent compensation. As I said at the start, that is not what we are getting here.

The second reasoned amendment, from the member for Prahran, which is around effectively the suspension of this bill until the sustainability of the Gippsland fishery is established for recreational purposes demonstrates clearly two entirely different approaches to sustainability.

One is about managing things sustainably so that you continue to enjoy that resource, and that is certainly an approach we would take on this side of the house. The other is, ‘Lock it up. Let no-one in’. That seems to be the approach being demonstrated by the member for Prahran and his colleagues.

I have considerable concerns about that. First it is the Gippsland Lakes, potentially then it is Westernport Bay, then it is Port Phillip Bay and all of a sudden you have got a lot of people who enjoy recreational fishing who are locked out of that opportunity.