The Coalition will seek to hold the Gillard government to account over marine planning by ensuring the declaration of marine parks - within an area twice the size of the Australian landmass – are subject to parliamentary scrutiny.
Currently, the Environment Minister can declare marine reserves, with potentially major ramifications for all users of the ocean across this vast area, at the stroke of a pen.
Senator Boswell said it was ridiculous that a single Minister could make far-reaching decisions over waters extending to the edge of Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone without any checks and balances.
The Gillard government is continuing a process for the development of marine reserves in the EEZ that began under the Coalition.
But Senator Boswell said the government’s consultation process had been minimalistic, especially under former Environment Minister Peter Garrett, who demonstrably favoured green organisations over all other affected interest groups.
“The most stark example of that was his declaration of the Coral Sea Conservation Zone after discussions only with selected green groups, while all other stakeholders were frozen out,” Senator Boswell said.
It appeared discussions with potentially impacted groups had improved under replacement Environment Minister Tony Burke and Fisheries Minister Joe Ludwig, but Senator Boswell said there was ongoing deep concern among both professional and recreational fishermen about the degree and standard of consultation, and the lack of any role for the parliament.
“Green groups, and conservationists generally, deserve a say in the process but so too do the tens of thousands of people who have a deep stake in the ocean environment for their livelihood and their leisure activities,” Senator Boswell said.
A Bill will be introduced to the Parliament to amend the Environment Biodiversity and Conservation Act to make the declaration of marine reserves disallowable instruments.
Over the next year the Government is due to roll out a vast network of marine reserves throughout the EEZ, starting with a declaration within weeks over waters that stretch from offshore of Adelaide to well north of Perth.
The reserves will contain potentially large areas where many activities will be totally banned.