Independent NSW MP and South Coast resident Justin Field has slammed the NSW Primary Industries Minister Adam Marshall and local Member for Bega Andrew Constance for abuse of process in announcing an amnesty from prosecutions for fishing in five protected marine sanctuaries in the Batemans Marine Park in December last year.
The call follows the return of answers to questions through the Parliament by Mr Field that showed that the Minister had not consulted the Government’s own expert advisory committee the Marine Estate Management Authority or their scientific advisors, the Expert Knowledge Panel [see answer here]. The Minister only did “targeted consultation” with the local Marine Park advisory committee suggesting only recreational fishing interests were involved in the decision. [see answer here]
The answers also showed that even local Marine Park staff were only advised on the day of the announcement even though they were required to enforce the new rules and to urgently put out temporary signage to explain the new rules to users of the marine park. [see answers here and here].
The December amnesty announcement was made despite a current review being undertaken into the Management Plan for the Batemans Marine Park which hasn’t yet gone out for public submissions. Mr Field will today give notice of a motion in the NSW Legislative Council calling on the decision to be reversed while the current review of the Batemans Marine Park is completed and the proper community consultation is undertaken. [a copy of the notice of motion is included below]
Mr Field said, “This has been an abuse of process to benefit a small group of marine park users that has ignored the Government’s own advisory processes. The Minister and Member for Bega are now saying there will be a consultation but what confidence can anyone have that a public consultation will follow due process given what has happened already.
In March 2019 Andrew Constance was recorded in a secret meeting with fishing groups indicating that he had previously tried to manipulate the membership of the local Marine Park advisory committee to try to influence the Marine Park review process.
Mr Field said, “The Minister and Andrew Constance are now trying to claim the December announcement was the implementation of an election announcement but that doesn’t pass the pub test. Andrew Constance’s own media release back in March 2019 acknowledges the legislative requirement for a fair process and no such election commitment to rip up sanctuary protections was made by the responsible Minister at the time. This is just another abuse of process to try to avoid broad public involvement in the process.
“One of the biggest economic drivers in the Batemans region is the vibrant marine environment and that is underpinned by the Marine Park. The recent fires have put pressure on water quality in the coastal lakes of the region and inshore marine environment, now is not the time to be removing protections. The focus of the review of the Batemans Marine Park Management Plan should be on maintaining water quality and providing protected habitat for the marine environment to maintain its resilience. That’s why a proper process led by an understanding of the threats and guided by expert advice is essential and that is not what has happened here, “ Mr Field said.
Text of Motion
Batemans Marine Park rezoning
I give notice that on the next sitting day I will move:
- That this House notes that:
- On 12 December 2019 Minister for Agriculture, Adam Marshall, and the Member for Bega, Andrew Constance, announced an amnesty from prosecution to allow fishing in five protected marine sanctuaries inthe Batemans Marine Park.
- The decision to open these areas of the Marine Park to fishing was given concurrence by the NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean on the day of the announcement on 12 December 2019.
- The amnesty applies to five sites in Batemans Marine Park including Brou Lake, Clarks Bay, Forsters Bay, Montague Island and Nangudga Lake
- The amnesty acts to override the existing regulated zoning for these five marine sanctuaries, guaranteeing that prosecution for breaching sanctuary zone rules will not occur. To legally change the regulated sanctuary zoning for these sites under the Marine Estate Management Act a community consultation process is required. In this way the amnesty is simply a way to avoid the requirements of the relevant legislation.
- In answers to questions on notice , the Minister for Primary Industries has acknowledged that neither the Marine Estate Management Authority, the Marine Estate Expert Knowledge Panel, or local Batemans Marine Park Staff were informed of the decision before the announcement.
- In answer to further questions on notice following the announcement the Minister indicated that only ‘targeted’ consultation had occurred with past members of the Bateman Marine Park Advisory Committee.
- A small number of individuals representing the recreational fishing community were invited to attend the staged announcement of the decision with the Minister for Primary Industries and Member for Bega which we learnt through a social media post from the Minister on the day of the announcement.
- The announcement was made despite a review of the management plan for the Batemans Marine Park currently being undertaken, but for which public consultation on potential changes, including to zonings, has not yet been made public or been opened for public submissions.
- In Budget Estimates hearings on 10 September 2019 the Minister for Primary Industries, Adam Marshal was asked by Mr Justin Field:
Question and Answer
“Can you assure the community that the review process, the pilot process currently being run, will be open and transparent and that no decisions with regards to rezoning will be made outside of that process?
To which the Minister replied:
“I can assure you and assure this Committee that the process that is being undertaken right now by the DPI in reviewing those sanctuary zones will be robust, will be fulsome and will ensure that all members of the public have a chance to have their say. Then I will make a considered decision at the conclusion of that process.
In a follow up question the Minister was asked:
“So there have been no commitments made by the Government privately to some stakeholders to remove marine sanctuaries?”
To which the Minister replied:
“Certainly I have made no commitments in that regard.”
- Both the Minister for Primary Industries and the Member for Bega have said publicly since the December amnesty decision that the announcement delivered on a 2019 election commitment and have pointed to a media release from the Member for Bega dated 28 February 2019 as evidence of the announcement.
- It is understood that no such election commitment was agreed by the relevant Minister, Niall Blair, before the election and no announcement was made by the Minister or the Department of Primary Industries at that time, nor was the Minister or any other member of the Government quoted in or involved in the statement by the Member for Bega at that time.
- The February pre-election media release from the Member for Bega makes no commitment to lift sanctuary protections but rather proposes to fast-track consultation on a range of issues relating to the park and specifically notes that, ““It is a legislative requirement to undertake consultation and the government has determined to move this way quickly.”
- In speaking with local community members about the process to date, it is clear they had been given the impression in consultation with departmental staff over the course of last year that the election statements by the Member for Bega would be considered as part of the current management plan review pilot being conducted for the Batemans Marine Park. That reflects the evidence provided by the Minister in the September Budget Estimates hearings.
- Just before the March state election media reported a secret recording where the Member for Bega, in speaking to a group of local recreational fishers, publicly criticised marine park staff for enforcing rules in sanctuary zones and referred to plans to influence the makeup of the Marine Park Advisory Committee, saying:
“That hasn’t happened by accident… I’ve been involved in it, making sure people who are our friends on that committee with the very clear intent to make sure that the pilot works well and obviously we start to get some results”.
- That his house agrees that the Minister for Primary Industries and the Member for Bega have acted in a way that undermines public confidence in the decision making processes for the protection of the marine estate in NSW, a process that was created by the NSW Coalition Government through its Marine Estate Management Program and the passage of the Marine Estate Management Act to ensure evidence based marine estate planning to address the key threats to marine ecosystems and to protect the diverse environmental, recreational and commercial interests in the coastal and marine environment.
That this House call on the NSW Minister for Primary Industries and Minister for Environment to remove amnesty provisions for all sanctuary zones in the Batemans Marine Park and to allow the marine park management review pilot for the Batemans Marine Park and future marine park pilots to be completed in a thorough and transparent way.