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Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP

ABC Radio National - Background Briefing
Friday, 11 April 2003

Subject: Political ramifications of a decision on the new environmental protection for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and impact on recreational fishers

Ultimately, though, this is a very political matter. The whole plan has to get a tick from Environment Minister David Kemp, and he has to convince Cabinet to back it. And the real politics of the coastline adjacent to the Reef are pretty hairy for the Coalition.

There are two extremely marginal seats which are playing a role as a representative areas program is being formulated. Hinkler, based on Bundaberg, is held by the National Party's Paul Neville, with a microscopic 0.04% margin.

The Liberals Peter Lindsay holds Herbert, based on Townsville, by the skin of his teeth with a margin of 3.24%. And not to be discounted in all this are the Cairns-based seat held by Liberal Warren Entsch, and Dee-Anne Kelly's National Party seat around Mackay. The recreational fishermen know where the fulcrum of political leverage lies in this argument. Brian Pickup from Sunfish's North Queensland Branch.

Brian Pickup:
If the angry angler out there wants to voice their opinion on their green zones and how they want the parks and that managed, then they will do that through the ballot box.

I suppose there's the opportunity for 900,000 people in Queensland that actually fish to probably get behind it and probably have a little bit of lobbying power there.

Brian Pickup. Sunfish Chairman, John Doohan, is talking about harnessing the angry angler vote in a new party, The Fishing Party. If it does get off the ground, it could prove to be the angry white whale under the piquet [phonetic] as the Federal Government sails into the next election.

Brian Pickup:
We are quite capable of screwing up a political agenda. We're quite capable of continuing this agenda right up until the next election, which will be next year some time.

What you're saying to me is that Sunfish is a political whale, and if you decide to surface underneath the government boat and start flashing your tail around, there's going to be a bit of damage done, isn't there?

Brian Pickup:
There's going to be a lot. There's going to be a lot of damage and, you know, if it gets down to the crunch, if it comes to the crunch - and I've said this in New South Wales, I've said it in our national forum, it's high time that the recreational fishers out there start to flex a few muscles and if they just chop us off, well, you know, Bob's your uncle, isn't it?

When the tape is turned off, John Doohan's nod and a wink is explained as being inspired to follow the lead of the New South Wales Shooters' Party to get a formal voice in Parliament for fishermen. Background Briefing asked Environment Minister David Kemp if he could live with a fishing party of angry anglers in the lead up to the next election?

Dr Kemp:
Well, I don't believe that there's any inevitability at all. I haven't heard that particular suggestion. The recreational fishers interests have been very clearly represented in the course of the community consultation. There have been over 10,000 submissions made. Just an enormous amount of community interest and...

Well, in terms of that community interest, if the fishermen just manage to harness just a small percentage of that, you've got marginal seats. Coalition marginal seats sitting adjacent the Reef there, and they're often called the sugar seats. But they could just as well be called fishing seats.

How do you think the representative areas program will go when you take it to Cabinet and say, 'Oh, by the way it could cost us a couple of marginal seats in Queensland to get this up.' It's not going to go down too well, is it?

Dr Kemp:
Gerald, you're sounding very pessimistic about this whole process. I don't know quite why you would be pessimistic. I think we've had a very good community consultation process. I'm quite sure that the interests of the recreational fishers are being fully taken into account in the drawing up of these boundaries. I'm expecting a positive outcome to this process and I'm expecting one which is going to provide sound protection for the Reef into the future.

Back at the Research Station on Orpheus Island, Terry Hughes is dismayed at the prospect of the blunt hammer of politics shaping the representatives areas program.

Terry Hughes:
Well, I would hope that the Federal Government will rise above parochial politics. Because the Great Barrier Reef is a national icon. It's not just an icon of a few marginal seats in North Queensland, and it's being managed [indistinct] for our future generations. For all of Australia and indeed for all of the world. It's not just a parochial election issue.

There are two other major voices in this debate. Commercial fishermen and the tourism industry.


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