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The Fishing Party Courts the Coalition

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gee I wish there were more marine parks, click for a larger image

I have just finished looking through the senate group voting tickets for the upcoming election. I put together a guide for voters to let people know where their vote is likely to end up if they vote above the line.

In 3 out of 7 senate tickets, the fishing and shooting party preferences the coalition in second place, ahead of any other minor party. In other words, a vote for the fishing party is a vote for the coalition. In the remaining states the coalition is in close to second place, usually second only to the Christian Democrats. It is even more interesting in Queensland, where a competing fishing party lists the coalition second, but puts the fishing and shooting party in 7th place. This points to an ideological rather than strategic preference for the coalition. Even the Greens, who have a 'deal' with Labor that sees them in second place on the Labor ticket, put many other minor parties ahead of Labor on their ticket. The reason for this is simple strategy. It allows the Greens to collect preferences from a few minor parties to help them get over the line, but will not prevent Labor from getting the Greens preferences if the Greens candidate gets eliminated, because those minor parties will most likely get eliminated first. The website of the 'old' fishing party has on it's front page in large print a statement of support for coalition policy and a request that voters put the Greens and labor last, but does not even mention candidates from either fishing party.

What makes this ideological preference for the coalition so interesting is the rather 'chequered' history between the two groups. Consider some examples. In the leadup to the 2004 federal election, the fishing party (at the time there was only one) ran an emotive and reactionary campaign against the recently introduced Great Barrier Reef marine park - at the time the largest in the world (recently overtaken by Hawaii). There have also been various scare campaigns claiming that

  • locals in the north could not go fishing at all due to the marine parks,
  • that fishing would be banned along 3600km of Queensland coastline,
  • that fishing would be banned in the Great Sandy Straights (south western side of Fraser Island),
  • that fishing would be banned in Moreton Bay,
  • that fishing would be banned in 30% of the southeast corner of the state etc.
The fishing party took nearly half a percent of the votes in the QLD senate (by my estimates that is a vote from about one in every 30 fishermen). Ironically, these above the line votes went straight back to the coalition which, thanks to the extra two senate seats they won in Queensland, gained control of both houses of parliament for the first time since 1981. The fishing party ended up rewarding the party whose legislation they had been campaigning so strongly against. The party leader described his group as 'politically naive' in one press statement and kingmaker in another.

The fishing party must have been overjoyed at playing a significant role in this outcome and anticipated a few favours. They had actually lined something up - a series of written guarantees (I have not seen them), including a review of the Great Barrier Reef marine park network. This was a deal made in secret that was not announed until after the election. Would their supporters have voted for them if they'd known it was a vote for the party that introduced the marine park? Being a pragmatic bunch, this would no doubt depend on the outcome. They finally got their review in 2006. So what changes did the fishing party achieve? None. The review concluded that no changes were necessary and that no further reviews were necessary until 2013 and that there should be reports every 5 years. The fishing party interpretted this by saying that the government 'botched the job' and proudly announced their success in the matter to anyone who would listen. For a party whose catch cry is 'say NO to no take zones', this must have been a kick in the guts. When not boasting about their success, they complained bitterly about it and to this day the GBR marine park network is a common complaint in their campaigning. Interestingly, the fishing party refuses to direct their anger at the coalition, even though the coalition was directly responsible. They have tried to blame everyone but the coalition.

You would expect this to have made them 'twice shy' in their dealings with the coalition, especially when it comes to promises of a 'review'. Apparently not. They followed this up by declaring that the NSW coalition was going to abolish two of the state's marine parks. This claim did the rounds for a long time in the leadup to the state election and still gets regularly trotted out as evidence of the coalition's true position, but no-one bothered to check the facts. The closest thing I have found is a promise to 'review' the marine parks. Neither the coalition nor the fishing party made any attempt to correct this misrepresentation, so one can only assume they both had an interest in perpetuating it. Fortunately the coalition lost that state election so there was no need for any embarassing attempts at blame shifting.

Recently, the federal government set up some large marine parks in areas of particular interest to scientists off the coast of Tasmania. The fishing party ran yet another scare campaign, but it must have been hard to get recreational fishermen wound up about federal waters off the Tasmanian coast. After the parks went ahead the fishing party was a bit more savvy and is now praising the coalition for not banning fishing close to the shore, even though those waters are the jurisdiction of the state government.

This praise coincides with recent claims that Tony Abbott is going to halt the marine park expansion if elected in 2010. In response, the Labor party has agreed to go into further consultation with the fishing community if elected, but the fishing party has suddenly acquired the ability to see through political spin and are describing this as empty rhetoric. Lengthy consultation processes are always part of the process. During this process the fishing party discourages people from providing any details about what they want (other than no marine parks) in case their favourite spots get locked up. Then after the locations are selected they complain that they weren't listened to and that now their favourite spots have been locked up. Curious, I tried to track down the claim by Tony Abbott. What I found instead was a promise of more marine parks, but that there would be a 'temporary halt' while they consulted with the public (ie, another review).

I have been told by fishing party supporters to ignore the history of the coalition because it is water under the bridge and that what matters is what the coalition is saying now, even if they aren't actually saying what fishing party supporters think they are saying.

The coalition no doubt benefits from this because it gets to appeal to both pro and anti marine park activists at the same time. However, what the fishing party and it's supporters get out of it is unclear. What is clear is that it is getting harder and harder to put this down to simple naivete. The only explanation I have seen from the fishing party is that if they gave their preferences to Labor instead of the coalition, they would then flow on to the Greens, and that Greens preferences never go to the coalition. Both claims are false. The anti marine park activism is largely limited to a few select online blogs and forums where the range of opinion is severely curtailed, thus allowing these claims to go largely unchallenged and the appearance of unanimity among fishermen to be put forward. This article for example has been posted on some and promptly removed without explanation, while all sorts of accusations against other political parties and criticisms of marine parks are allowed and encouraged. While the motivation to control people's opinion and encourage only criticism of marine parks is understandable from a group that genuinely opposes marine parks, it stops making sense when they channel all of this effort into rewarding the party that has created Australia's biggest and most heavily criticised marine parks.

It makes me wish I was a cartoonist.

If you don't like how your favourite party allocates your preferences, follow the instructions and vote below the line.

NSW coalition to destroy marine parks, or make more?

UPDATE: The NSW coalition has released a recreational fishing policy in response to questions about their stance on marine parks. They have reversed their position on the Batemans and Port Stephens marine parks. They no longer plan to abolish these. Beyond that, the policy contains little detail on marine parks, just vague criticism of the Labor party's marine park policy and empty rhetoric. It leaves all options open to the party, from 'no more marine parks' to 'lock up the entire coastline' (and this is without allowing for more backflips). The anti marine park lobby is however claiming it as a victory, and there is no doubt that is pushes all the right buttons for them. With a victory looking likely for the coalition, it will be interesting to see what their policy really means. What do you think?

In the runup to the 2007 NSW state election, national party candidates promised to abolish the Port Stephens and Batemans marine parks. No such promises are being made this election, and the party did not respond to enquiries about these two marine parks. Perhaps the chance of victory has lead them to reign in their more 'colourful' candidates.

The NSW state coalition has however garnered the full support of the anti marine park lobby for this election, who are telling anyone who will listen that they will ban more marine parks. What the coalition has actually promised is of course somewhat different:

Also in the policy was more detail of the plan to put marine parks on hold.

Four advisory panels would be set up to advise on the areas under assessment, in consultation with the community and industry, who would have access to peer-reviewed scientific evidence of threats to marine biodiversity.

The panels would develop socio-economic impact statements for each area, as well as a "displacement policy".

"As a last resort, if such consultation and negotiation does not reduce impacts below levels that are reasonably compensable, then compensation, structural adjustment or other appropriate measures will be delivered before any constraints on fishing are implemented," the policy statement says.

The coalition appears to be appealing to both camps here, though they have obviously found a more receptive audience in the anti marine park lobby. No doubt the promises to abolish marine parks at the last election is contributing to this, even though not a word is being said about it now. The fishing party and the various lobbies opposed to marine parks must be getting so desperate for validation that they gloat over any crumbs the major parties will feed them. They even hold up some recently created marine parks in Tasmania as evidence of the coalition's pro recreational fishing stance, because they are so far offshore that they don't bother most recreational fishermen. Of course, these parks were established by the federal coalition government in federal waters and were never going to be close to shore anyway. One case where the federal coalition did upset recreational fishermen with marine parks is the Great Barrier Reef, which is largely credited with the rise of the fishing party from micro party to minor party.

It is unusual to see self proclaimed sceptics proclaiming a 'promise' like this one from a politician as some kind of victory, especially from the party that gave them the Great Barrier Reef marine parks. One answer might come from the handouts that were promised. In a policy that promised compensation as a last resort, $15 million in grants were promised. Of this, only about $1 million goes to recreational fishermen to set up a 'representative body'. There are no doubt several leaders of the anti marine park lobby already lined up to be on the board of this peak body and finally get the recognition they deserve. Who says you can't buy votes? Several other such representative bodies have fallen over lately because funding was not continued, or because people realised they do not actually represent most fishermen, or because the government simply stopped paying attention to what they said.

The coalition has not promised to make their consultation process better or even different to that of labor, as this would involve acknowledging that there are no substantive differences in the policy so far. They have promised only to do the same sort of assessment again. Given the lengthy time frames involved in setting up marine parks (due to the now well established consultation processes), the inability of the coalition to rule out more marine parks in the span of a single term leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

I think it is time for both sides of the marine park debate to demand real answers from the coalition.

Read about the fishing party's senate preferences and their unusual relationship with the coalition over the last few elections here.

Coalition marine park review released


We finally have an answer to questions raised earlier regarding the intention of the NSW state coalition for marine parks in the state. Prior to the NSW state election, the coalition courted the anti-marine park movement with a curious form of dog whistle politics. They had previously promised to abolish two marine parks if elected. This time they promised a review, which was enough to get the anti marine park movement on the coalition bandwagon. One can only assume that this gained more votes for the coalition than it lost, as they won the election and rewarded the supporters with a review of marine parks. They even stacked the review committee with scientists preferred by the anti marine park movement and controlled what scientific evidence the committee was allowed to consider.

The review is now done. Like all good committees, their first finding was that there should be a committee to carry on doing their job. Their main finding regarding marine parks is that there should be more of them.


The NSW coalition would like to thank the anti marine park movement for making this possible. Despite these sorts of outcomes, the relationship between the coalition and the anti marine park movement has been a long and fruitful one. After the federal coalition established the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, The Fishing Party started a campaign against the park and against marine parks in general. They went into the next federal election with a scare campaign claiming that coastal recreational fishing would be banned outside of the south east corner of Queensland. They gained roughly half a per cent of QLD senate votes. Due to preference distributions, these votes went back to the coalition, helping to deliver them and extra senator in QLD and control of both houses of parliament. The Fishing party did not blink, as it was obviously the fault of the Democrats. They have since abandoned such subtle methods and instead posted banners on the Fishing Party website begging supporters to vote for the coalition and put Labor/Greens last.

Other recommendations by the audit committee include that someone should tell them what marine parks are for and that scientific research be expanded beyond merely monitoring fish stocks in a reactive sense to assessing the sustainability and resilience of our fisheries. Discuss.

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