Garrett denies deal with Greens

Fisho editor Jim Harnwell scored a quick interview with Environment Protection Minister Peter Garrett today and asked a range of questions relating to fishing issues.

The Minister rejected claims that the Government has done a deal with the Greens on banning fishing and indicated that the extremist anti-fishing policies espoused by Bob Brown were not shared by the Gillard Government. He also pledged that a re-elected Gillard Labor Government would consult with anglers and would only create no-fishing areas based on scientific data, not political agendas.

As the 2010 federal election draws to a close, Minister Garrett’s comments signal how important the so-called “fishing vote” could be in this knife-edge poll.

Whatever happens on Saturday, it’s clear that politicians from all parties are now well aware that Australia’s 5 million plus anglers are a potent electoral force.

Fishing World: Has the Gillard Government and/or you entered into a binding agreement, deal and/or formal/informal arrangement with the Australian Greens to adopt all or part of the Greens’ policy on creating massive no-fishing zones around Australia as part of the preference deal the ALP has made with Bob Brown?

Peter Garrett: No.

FW: If no agreement has been made with the Greens on this issue, will you now categorically reject the Greens’ stated policy on marine parks and, furthermore, rule out any future deal with the Greens that would unfairly disadvantage Australian anglers or which could be considered “anti-fishing”?

PG: As I and the Government has made clear repeatedly, our approach to marine planning is based on thorough and rigorous consultation, informed by science, not politics and arbitrary targets set by the Greens or anybody else. This will remain our approach.

FW: Have you met with Bob Brown or any Australian Greens official during the election campaign to discuss their policies affecting recreational fishing?

PG: No.

FW: Have you had any meetings or contact with the Pew organisation during the election campaign?

PG: No.

FW: Have you had any meetings or contact with any recreational fishing organisations during the election campaign?

PG: When I visited the Northern Territory last week I took the opportunity to meet with Chris Makepeace of the Amateur Fishermen’s Association of the Northern Territory.

FW: The Government has come under fire for allegedly failing to consult angling groups over your plans to protect marine bio-regions. If you are re-elected on Saturday, will you commit to ensuring anglers and angling organisations are given the same consultation opportunities as have been given to environment lobbyists? Furthermore, would you consider establishing an advisory committee to advise you and your department on recreational fishing issues?

PG: Labor has ensured that anglers and angling organisations have been given the same consultation opportunities as other stakeholders, and will continue to do so. Thanks in part to the scare campaign and fear mongering of my political opponents there is a perception that consultation is finished on the marine planning process. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Government has been undertaking consultation on Areas for Further Assessment, not proposed zones around the country. Based on those consultations and informed by good science, we will release draft plans early next year. That will initiate a whole new round of consultation for three months.

There is an inherent suggestion in the question which I must also dispute, and that is that conservation groups get more access than fishers or fishing groups. That is completely wrong.

Since becoming Minister I have had a number of meetings with the recreational fishing and boating sector. My Department has sought their views on the Areas for Further Assessment and has provided funding to help ensure that areas of interest for recreational fishing are well understood in the marine planning process.

The recreational fishing and boating sector is also represented on a Stakeholder Advisory Group which advises me on a Displaced Activities Policy. I have also been invited to attend a Recreational Fishing Roundtable convened by (Fisheries) Minister (Tony) Burke, and I would be very pleased to hear advice from that forum on the interests of the sector.

FW: Will you commit to “compensating” anglers for all areas lost to any new no-fishing zones implemented as part of a re-elected Gillard Government’s policy on creating marine protected areas? By “compensate” I mean legislating the creation of recreational-only fisheries and enhancing fishing opportunities via the development of artificial reefs and so on.

PG: There will always be great opportunities for fishing both now and in the future through Labor’s balanced marine planning process. We will continue to allow sustainable fishing in multiple use areas of the marine parks while confining the highest level of conservation protection to important and special areas. The consultation process underway is designed to better understand the areas of greatest interest to fishers so that any impact on fishers is minimised.

FW: Will you also commit here and now to a policy of creating no-fishing zones in your proposed system of marine protected areas ONLY if they are advocated as the sole management option recommended by peer reviewed scientific research? In other words, if there’s no credible science saying that recreational fishing needs to be banned in a certain area, will you ensure that sustainable and well-managed recreational fishing opportunities will be maintained?

PG: All of our decisions will be made taking into account the outcomes of our consultations and good science. In particular Labor is committed to a scientifically driven process that determines the location and size of marine protected areas. Only the Liberal Party is proposing an alternative position.

FW: The recreational fishing and boating industries have launched a national media campaign to defend fishing opportunities for Australian anglers. Is the Government aware of the discontent and anger out there over this issue? What is it doing to assuage these concerns?

PG: Labor is aware that some aspects of the campaign are misleading. For example, the suggestion that children will be restricted from beach fishing is not correct. The Commonwealth marine planning process only concerns Commonwealth waters which generally begin more than five kilometres out to sea.

FW: All the pundits are saying this is going to be a tight election. Do you think the so-called “fishing vote” could influence the outcome, especially in marginal seats?

PG: The views of all stakeholder groups will be heard at this election.

FW: If Julia Gillard and the ALP wins on Saturday, will you remain as the Environment Protection Minister?

PG: That is a matter for the PM.

FW: Thanks for your time, Minister.

PG: Thank you.

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