Labor and the Greens combined twice in the Senate today to protect the total authority of the Environment Minister to declare a vast network of marine reserves across Australia’s 16 million square kilometre Exclusive Economic Zone - without any reference whatsoever to the parliament.
Senator Ron Boswell had sought to force the Minister to bring the declarations to parliament through a private members bill which Labor and the Greens first blocked procedurally, and later in a division with the support of outgoing Family First Senator Steve Fielding. Independent Senator Nick Xenophon voted with the Coalition to tie the vote 31 to 31.
Left wing Labor senator Doug Cameron said the bill should not succeed because enabling a say for the Australian parliament could compromise Australia’s obligations under international treaties. Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said the bill was an attack on marine reserves.
Senator Boswell told the Senate it was “unconscionable” that an individual had the sole authority to dictate any and all activities across such a vast area of ocean, in which Australia claimed exclusive rights, without reference to the Parliament. The Government is developing plans for marine reserves across the EEZ. The Greens want 30% be totally inaccessible.
Senator Boswell said the Labor Party would regret their decision. “The reason that Labor and the Greens combined on this is that they fear the parliament might not support the extreme outcomes they want in terms of the size of reserves, and the level of constraints on professional and recreational fishing, especially,” he said.
“This action is a warning to every Australian professional fishermen, every recreational fishermen whose interest extends beyond state waters, and the thousands of people employed in the industries that service them. It signals the fierce determination of the Labor Party and the Greens to deny Australians any say whatsoever, so that they can retain an ability for their Minister to be a dictator over an area twice the size of the Australian landmass.”
Senator Boswell said the performance of the government on the marine reserves issue in the lead-up to the 2010 election had so justifiably outraged fishers that it generated a “near death” political experience for the Labor party, with major swings against members and candidates in coastal seats down the eastern seaboard.
“This decision will guarantee the same resentment will be expressed at the next election, right around the country, whenever it is held,” Senator Boswell said. “That outcome is now inevitable.”