FRAN KELLY: The Government has finally released its new management plans for Australia’s forty four marine parks. It says the blue print will deliver a more balanced approach to ocean protection while also enabling greater eco-tourism and fishing activity. The Opposition doesn’t accept that though and it’s going to seek to disallow the plan. It claims the network of Marine Parks has been gutted. Shadow Environment Minister Tony Burke says the changes will remove more area from conservation than any decision by any Government anywhere in the world. Tony Burke joins us in the breakfast studio. Tony Burke welcome back to breakfast.


KELLY: This management plan covers more than 3.3 million square hectares of marine protection. That’s the second largest in the world and yet you say it’s the biggest backward step in conservation by any country on earth. How do you justify that?

BURKE: People probably associate more clearly with National Parks on land. Imagine for all the National Parks we have on land if with a stroke of a pen the Government said they are all still National Parks but you can walk into half of them and shoot the wildlife. That is effectively what has just happened. That for areas where there was a higher degree of protection they have gone against even their own panel. So take the Coral Sea at its worst. The area that was protected in the Coral Sea half of it was protected as a full National Park area. The independent committee they had recommended that be reduced  to 40%. Josh Frydenberg has said that’s not low enough and has taken it all the way down to 25%. That means now you can have long-liners go all the way from north to south in the Coral Sea. You can have mid-water trawlers, same technology that was used by the super trawler, can go all the way north to south through the Coral Sea. That’s what's happened overnight. And it’s no surprise they didn’t want to announce it.

KELLY: Well they have announced it. They have put it out on their website.

BURKE: It turned up on the website because officials put it out. We started responding to it and about an hour later the Minister came forward with a comment.

KELLY: Let’s stick with the Coral Sea because I think you’re right it’s a hotspot in terms of that’s the ocean adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef. The area afforded the highest level protection green-zone will be reduced as you say to 24% down from 50% under your original plan which you were in charge of when you were Minister but was never legislated.

BURKE: That’s not true. 

KELLY: It was legislated at 50%?

BURKE: It was completely legislated and this was one of the fictions that Josh Frydenberg is putting out. In 2012 all the legals were completed, all the regulations were done, even to the extent that the then Opposition, the Liberal Party, moved to disallow the entire plan. They moved to disallow it but every legal instrument was in place and there was a timeline of dates at which each restriction would come into force but every legal part of it was legislated, was in place.

KELLY: But it was disallowed?

BURKE: No. We were successful in preventing the disallowance.

KELLY: But not implemented?

BURKE: Parts of it had been implemented but the full timetable hadn’t been completed because you need to pay individual fishers out.

KELLY: Alright sorry, I’m glad we have cleared that up. Under this plan put out by the Environment Minister, almost 70% of the Coral Sea will now be classed as yellow zone. Yellow zone limits protection to the sea bed. I presume the sea bed when we are talking about this area near the Great Barrier Reef is the critical and vulnerable protection zone here, isn’t it?

BURKE: I think it’s a mistake to refer to one part of the ocean as being the only critical part of a protection zone. And bizarrely the best example I have for how the highly protected areas have been proven to work is because of a decision made by the Howard Government. The Howard Government put into place the green zones within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and at the time a whole lot of people said that you should only be protecting the coral you don’t need to protect the whole thing. The evidence is now in that the areas that were fully protected, even species like coral trout, their biomass is 50% more plentiful in the areas where it is highly protected to the areas where it’s not. And it’s no surprise when the recreational fishers go out to that area, they go right to the boundaries of those highly protected zones because they know when you have a highly protected area you are not just protecting individual stock you are protecting the entire habitat. We need that sort of resilience now more than ever.

KELLY: Under this plan the Minister acknowledges there will be 16% more of the total area of the park than under your plan which would be open to recreational fishing. That includes access to 97% of Commonwealth waters within 100 kilometres of the coast. That will be popular, but the point that the Minister says he says that his new marine zones are more targeted restrictions and better integration Marine Park management with world class fisheries. He said “We have not only increased conservation protection but also ensured regional economies are supported.” Is that fair enough to try and look for that balance?

BURKE: They say they have got a good conservation outcome and I guess that is true if you are not a fish. They talk about the impact on communities, what we put in place. The total impact of it was only 1% of the gross value of production for Australia’s fisheries.

KELLY: We are talking recreational fishers?

BURKE: No I am talking about commercial fishers there. With respect to recreational fishers let’s remember this. If you go out in a tinny to get to the Coral Sea and travel 100 kilometres out, you are probably not coming home again that night. We are talking about a very small number of recreational fisher’s that go out to that area. Some do. What we had under the old plan was the largest recreational only zone in the world. Where recreational fishers within the Coral Sea could fish in part of it without any competition from commercials. That’s been wiped out. The only reason recreational fishers can go there now is because he is letting the commercials go almost everywhere. 

KELLY: So you are saying that these changes meaning commercials fishers will have access to areas that were put aside for recreational only?

BURKE: Recreational only. That’s right.

KELLY: How do you think this is going to go down with the voters? There is something like 5 million weekend fishers in this country, I think. That’s a lot of voters. The Government is going to say, as I’ve said before that 16% more total area available to recreational fishers.

BURKE: I remember the scare campaign that was run on this in 2013 where they had photographs of people in Queensland fishing from the beach and saying you won’t be able to do this anymore. If you were casting your line 100 kilometres then it might have been able to affect you. Yes there will be a scare campaign and yes it will be dishonest and ultimately the facts will win out on this. And on a day like today where we have just seen one of the iconic species of the world, the last male disappear of the white rhino, it’s a real reminder that if you don’t take proper steps to protect habitat and large scale environmental protection the repercussions take you down a pathway that Australia should not want to lead. And when Josh Frydenberg says Australia is leading the world today he is right but it is in the exact wrong direction. 

KELLY: Are you saying that Labor will try and disallow this?

BURKE: That’s already been reported.

KELLY: You are listening to RN breakfast, our guest is the Shadow Environment Minister Tony Burke. Tony Burke on another issue the Government is cranking up its campaign against Labor’s plan to scrap refunds for excess franking credits. Malcolm Turnbull says and I quote “This is a cynical, unconscionable raid on the savings of older Australians, mothers, fathers, grandfathers and grandmothers”. This has got a potential to really bite you electorally hasn’t it? Is Labor going to adjust its policy? Is it going to protect pensioners who have some type of benefit under this scheme?

BURKE: There are two separate issues there. On the policy, the policy has been announced and we have been clear on that. On  the issue of making sure you do the right thing by pensioners, we will have more to say about pensioners...

KELLY: Well hang on if you are now saying it’s the right thing by pensioners, why didn’t you announce it when you put out the policy?

BURKE: With respect to pensioners generally there’s been a series of attacks on pensioners by this Government, we have resisted all of them and we will have more to say about pensioners as we get closer to the election. The big thing with this particular policy where the Government is providing information that is just plain out wrong is with the deception of only referring to taxable income and ignoring the fact that large amounts of retirement income in the retirement phase of superannuation are tax free.

KELLY: Yes but what I am talking about is those pensioners, people on a pension, so presumably they don’t have those large superannuation accounts that you are talking about, some as we've seen, potentially hundreds of thousands are on a pension but are getting some benefit under this scheme is Labor looking now to exempt genuine low income pensioners from this policy?

BURKE: We will have more to say about pensioners closer to the election as we always have more to say about pensioners and we have always been the party that has provided the better deal for pensioners and that won’t change.

KELLY: So far your plan, as announced, will take money away from pensioners. Do you accept that?

BURKE: There are a number of pensioners affected in the current policy and in terms of the full impact of all of Government’s policies on pensioners we will have more to say as we get closer to the campaign.

KELLY: How quickly will you let these pensioners know whether their income and their earnings are going to be affected?

BURKE: People will get plenty of notice. 

KELLY: Would it help Labor’s cause if you just released the costings that have been put together for you by the Parliamentary Budget Office so we can all see exactly who is going to be hit by this change?

BURKE: Realistically Fran on this one, both sides of politics do this. We always ask for the Treasury costings and they always ask for the Parliamentary Budget Office costing. The idea of having an independent Parliamentary Budget Office was to make clear that you could have a body that was doing the costings accurately and independent of politics. That is what the Parliamentary Budget Office is, that’s what they do.

KELLY: Spare a thought for the poor voter who is sitting back and listening to all these claims and counter claims. Bill Shorten is asserting that self-managed funds are pocketing $2.5 million in cash payments, the sector has rubbished that says that is only a handful of people. You have over egged it haven’t you?

BURKE: Well 80% of the benefit here going to the top 20% of earners. That’s the sort of policy we are talking about.

KELLY: But most of them do not have superfund of $2.5 million, or getting cash payments of $2.5 million. 

BURKE: As I say we are talking about the sort of policy which is overwhelmingly at the higher end of retirees and in terms of pensioners themselves I have said a number of times in this interview already that we will have more to say and it was only last year that we had legislation in front of the Parliament to cut the pension for part pensioners. We opposed it and the Government put it through.

KELLY: Tony Burke, thank you for joining us.

BURKE: Great to be back.



Tony Burke