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Howard's fish policy sticks

Date

Tom Arup

An excerpt from the Howard government's policy.

An excerpt from the Howard government's policy.

TAXPAYERS have paid $80,000 for consultants and meetings for a Gillard government policy to compensate fishers for the creation of new marine national parks - yet Labor has decided to stick with a policy almost identical to one John Howard put forward in 2004.

A Herald comparison reveals the government policy statements are very similar. The only big differences appear to be the title, the font, a paragraph inserted about fisheries security and how reserves are referred to.

The Minister for the Environment, Tony Burke, released Labor's compensation policy last week, saying it was ''consistent with the Commonwealth's marine protected areas and displaced fisheries policy released in 2004''. He revealed plans for eight new reserves in the south-west ocean and proposals for protected areas in the north, north-west and eastern oceans.

The consultants' report in 2009 had argued for a narrower and more targeted approach to compensation. Recreational fishers, charter fishers, employees of commercial fishers, and industries affected indirectly should not be compensated, the report said.

A spokeswoman for the Environment Department said the Australian National University academics Tim Bonyhady and Andrew Macintosh, and the consultancy firm MAXimusSolutions, were paid $71,940 for their advice. Consultants were also paid $2200 for a presentation and $4449 more was spent on stakeholder advice meetings.

The Howard government's policy was brought in to compensate fishers for the expansion of banned areas in the Great Barrier Reef. While $10.2 million was initially budgeted for the reef package, it ended up costing almost $250 million.

Mr Burke said speculation on the cost of industry adjustment for the increase in marine parks was premature.

Last year Professor Bonyhady and Mr Macintosh reviewed the Barrier Reef compensation package in the academic journal Ocean and Coastal Management, using documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. They concluded the cost blowout and ''poor outcomes'' of the 2004 package were the result of a lack of planning, the policy's vulnerability to political influence, and a failure to set strict boundaries on compensation.

Mr Macintosh told the Herald: ''The policy [announced by Mr Burke] is almost the same as the 2004 policy but for the fact they have changed the font.''

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