Labor may not have the numbers in Parliament today to stop the boat. Which might be exactly what it deserves.
The Coalition won’t support the government’s attempts to send supertrawler Abel Tasman away, saying it’s another example of Labor singing from the Greens songsheet. Which is neither here nor there; overfishing is a significant problem in parts of the country and protection is paramount. Certainly the optics are right for Labor in making an environmental stand in this case.
But the opposition is right to be cynical. As environmental policy expert Andrew Macintosh writes for Crikey today, the proposed operations of the Abel Tasman tick all the boxes of the fisheries and environmental regime:
“The fishing will occur within the quota set for the Small Pelagic Fishery. The fisheries management arrangements for this fishery have been strategically assessed by the Environment Department on four occasions: 2003, 2007, 2009 and 2012. Moreover, the introduction of the larger vessel is in keeping with the desire to improve efficiency as it will lower unit costs, and Environment Minister Tony Burke had set stringent by-catch conditions on the operation of the vessel.”
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So what’s it really about? Politics and pressure from interest groups and backbenchers whose concerns are, at best, untested.
In stringing the operator of the trawler along, Burke has muddied an important issue and put questions around the efficacy of the strategic assessment process. And made the government vulnerable to a compensation claim it probably deserves to pay.
Rarely in Australian political history have independent MPs had so much power than in Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor. What they think matters much to the federal government and the broader policy debate, so today we ask them what voters most want to know. Readers have been lobbing questions via OurSay for the past month and this afternoon at 4pm AEST Bernard Keane will put the most popular questions to both men. Register now for our special Crikey Live event and watch the independents on the grill.