24 October 2014
(Second Reading Debate, 22 October 2014, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
The Marine Estate Management Bill 2014 creates a new Act for marine park and aquatic reserve management. New South Wales has immensely rich marine biodiversity that includes sea dragons, dolphins, whales, sharks, seals, Opera House seals, coral, crustaceans, molluscs, starfish and sea slugs, as well as numerous fish species, 70 per cent of which are only found in Australia. However, the future of life in our waters is at risk from climate change and ocean acidification, pollution, overfishing and a lack of safe havens for marine life to recover and rebuild. The 2009 New South Wales State of the Environment report identified 45 aquatic species and communities listed as vulnerable, endangered or extinct. Eight of the 23 key commercial fish species are currently overfished.
It has been widely reported that the world's commercial fisheries will collapse by 2048 if action is not taken now to protect aquatic species. New South Wales fishing industries will only survive if we protect our marine biodiversity. Science shows that marine parks and no-take sanctuary zones protect marine biodiversity and fish species. Over a thousand papers have been published on the topic and the scientific consensus is that marine parks are essential to maintaining biodiversity. Sanctuary zones, in particular, lead to dramatic increases in the number and size of fish, with effects spreading into adjacent areas, which are known to be the best fishing spots. But New South Wales has been going backwards in marine protection. I understand we are the only place in the world that has.
We have had recreational fishing permitted in shoreline sanctuary zones, a moratorium on new and expanded marine protections and some recreational fishing restrictions lifted in grey nurse shark critical habitat waters. The amnesty on shoreline recreational fishing was introduced before a six-month assessment of the practice by the independent expert knowledge panel began. If the move was not politically motivated, the Government would have waited for the panel's assessment before putting biodiversity at risk.
Sixty per cent of fishing happens from the shore and the cumulative impacts are massive. The amnesty makes New South Wales the only place in the world to allow fishing in areas set aside for recovery and it must be urgently lifted. I am relieved the marine park moratorium has not been provided for in this bill, notwithstanding the Minister's comment that the Government remains committed to it. The World Conservation Union target for sanctuary protection is 20 to 30 per cent of global waters, however, only 7 per cent of New South Wales coastal waters are protected in marine sanctuaries.
This year a Galaxy Poll found that 93 per cent of people in New South Wales support marine sanctuaries and that support only drops to just below 91 per cent among recreational fishers. Some recreational fishers do loudly oppose no-take zones but their views do not reflect the wider population and fishing community's values. More importantly, their view is not in their interests or the State's long-term interests. I hope that the moratorium will be lifted and that Sydney will be assessed for marine protections under this new legislation. Sydney boasts more marine fish species than New Zealand, the Mediterranean and the United Kingdom but faces many threats.
I welcome the Minister's commitment in response to my March question in Parliament that the Marine Estate Management Authority would explore conservation and commence consultation on a Sydney marine park this year. The Marine Estate Management Bill bases marine parks and aquatic reserve management on a statewide Marine Estate Management Strategy setting out the vision and priorities for the marine estate based on threats and risks. While there is community support for this approach, the bill fails to legislate obvious criteria for deciding new parks. Basing it on risks and threats will not be enough. We need the "comprehensive, adequate and representative" principle to underpin and drive the design of reserves so that we can fill the protection gaps such as in the Hawkesbury and Twofold shelves.
The objects in the bill are ecologically sustainable development; economic, social, cultural, scientific and environmental opportunities; coordination by public authorities; and a comprehensive, strategically managed system of marine parks and aquatic reserves. I welcome inclusion of the principles of ecologically sustainable development but the objects do not reflect the primacy of biodiversity and ecosystem function and the need to ensure marine life can recover and thrive. The bill reduces the consultation period for the declaration of a new marine park from 90 days to 60 days, which contradicts the Government's claim to improving consultation. Protections will also be subject to a review cycle of 10 years instead of five. Ten years is a long time and potentially major and permanent damage can be done during this period. I call on the Government to retain existing consultation and review periods.
However, I share community concern that the Minister for Primary Industries should not have a veto power over new marine protections. Biodiversity protection has always been the responsibility of the environment Minister and this has ensured that vital declarations for long-term sustainability are made based on science. The Minister for Primary Industries is accountable to industry, including fishing industries, and this could relegate environmental sustainability below industry demands and flies in the face of claims that this Government will base marine protection on science not politics. While industry should have a say and be consulted, the final decision on declaring marine protections must be about environmental sustainability and left wholly with the environment Minister. I strongly welcome maintaining the ban on mining in marine parks.
In November, Sydney will host the 2014 International Union for Conservation of Nature [IUCN] World Parks Congress at which over 4,000 delegates from over 160 countries representing parks from around the world will meet to share knowledge and innovation and set the agenda for future protected areas conservation. With our vast coast, New South Wales should be at the forefront of marine protection and should be able to contribute new protections and advancements in environmental sustainability at the congress. It is unfortunate that this bill did not take the opportunity to create progressive new protections. However, it does include important provisions that I hope will help this State protect our marine biodiversity for future generations.