Senate debates

Monday, 17 September 2012


Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Declared Commercial Fishing Activities) Bill 2012; Second Reading

5:27 pm

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

So I did not miss a lot? Based on previous speeches I have heard, I am sure it was there. This is not just a Greens issue or a conservation issue, and I really do believe that they have missed the point. Saying that, I do acknowledge that it was mentioned in the last three seconds of Senator Colbeck's speech that there are concerns from local fishers. This is an issue that they have run very hard on, and they have been in discussions and negotiations since at least March. They were part of the resource assessment group at AFMA and part of previous campaigns against supertrawlers in this country.

On the issue of localised depletion, I would like to read a few select quotes from The Commonwealth Small Pelagic Fishery: General background to the scientific issuesa report tabled in the Senate the day before our disallowance motion and a report which Senator Colbeck said he commissioned the scientists at AFMA to write. It is the only research we had on local depletion. Even in that report, although they said that the overall risks to local depletion across the entire fishery were low, they said:

- fishing should be spread out so as to avoid localised depletions, especially in relation to any local ecological ‘hotspots’ where there is particularly strong local dependency between predators and prey (e.g. in the vicinity of some seabird rookeries).

Another quote from the final section says:

However given uncertainties about detailed movement patterns of several of the species targeted in the SPF—

small pelagic fishery—

it would be prudent to distribute catches to minimise the chance of local depletion. This is consistent with global scientific advice on best practice for managing such species.

The message is very clear as it was to TARfish and rec fisher groups when they walked away from negotiations. There is no specific research on fish stock movements in Australia's small pelagic fisheries. I do not blame AFMA or the scientists for this. If the research had been in place then we would have the answers. The issue here is funding, which raises the issue of it having been seven years since we began planning to bring an industrial-scale vessel to Australian waters—and this was brought up by Commonwealth Fisheries Association in their recent advertising campaign.

We have on record Senator Abetz saying that they have been working for three years since 2009 to bring this vessel here. I would like to piece together the time line at some point to work out exactly what has happened behind the scenes. Who are 'we'? We have been planning to bring out a supertrawler to Australia for seven years. Who are we exactly: is it AFMA; is it the scientists; is it the Liberal Party; or is it the fisheries minister? Who are we? If we have been planning for seven years, why hasn't the issue of local depletion been addressed and answered?

Senator Colbeck talked about the last harvest strategy released in 2008. We are now overdue for another harvest strategy; in fact, we were expecting it four or five months ago, but it has not been completed. I would have expected, given the planning for the last seven years to bring this vessel here, that we would have a harvest strategy in place and these risks would have been addressed.

This brings me to a critical point in this piece of legislation. The Greens wanted a disallowance motion. It would have allowed the government—whom we have now found out have the same concerns; they have come round to our way of thinking on the supertrawler—to stand back, cancel the quota, address the risks and get it right. In this new piece of legislation, it is very concerning to us that the words 'social' and 'economic' have been taken out of a clause, so we are only dealing with environmental impacts. From our perspective, sometimes it is very hard to separate environmental, social and economic. Think about a fisheries management plan that might be required to satisfy stakeholders.

I have sought some scientific advice on this from one of the country's leading fisheries experts, and he said a spatial management plan—apart from marine protected areas which are designed to be a spatial management plan—to protect ecological hot spots, would require a target catch for a geographical area and move-on clauses for a boat. In other words, a boat would only be able to catch a certain tonnage of fish from any given area before it was required to move on. It may also include—and this is from my discussions with the CEO of Seafish, the proponent—the fact that the vessel cannot go anywhere near existing ecological hot spots such as seal colonies or bird rookeries or, for that matter, anywhere near the coastline where it can be seen. The exact words from the CEO of Seafish in my office were: 'We are quite happy to stay out of mind, out of sight.'

So a fisheries management plan, if it were going to satisfy stakeholders and it was legislated and enforceable, which is what the rec fishing groups have been asking for, would have to be based on social and economic considerations. Rob Pennicott, who runs one of Tasmania's leading tourism businesses and employs 58 people, is very concerned about depletion of fish stocks in the areas where he takes tourists out every day to look at dolphins and seals. If his feedback was not incorporated in a fisheries management plan, which, by the way, will be required if the public is going to accept this trawler in two years time, what is the point? If it is just an ecological based assessment by scientists, it is ignoring why we are here today debating this.

This is a big social issue across the country and it has been a huge learning curve for me. I met fishers right across the east coast of Tasmania. I must admit: I had no idea how important fishing is to the culture of my state. Being a surfer, I have always focused on my community but I had no idea just how important fishing is. I have been misquoted by the Liberal Party and by journalists such as Greg Barns in the Mercurysaying that I am antiscience and antieconomics because I said at a forum and on ABC Radio that the feedback I have received from the community is that they do not want to hear about science. They do not want to hear about economics. They have made up their minds. All the transcripts show that I was surprised and I had learnt something from these people. I believe in science and I believe in economics to some extent, but people make their decisions based on a number of reasons, not the least being that they do not trust the science of the economics in this matter.

Sometimes it is little things that tip you in your path in life. I have shared this with Senator Colbeck face to face. When I met with AFMA for the very first time, I specifically asked them: did you double the quota of jack mackerel to facilitate the arrival of this boat, the supertrawler? Their answer was:' No, it was based on science.' We found out just weeks later under freedom of information that Seafish had written to AFMA specifically asking them to double the quota to allow them to bring the supertrawler. That might just be a coincidence, but you would think when a senator was asking you questions, you might at least say, 'Yes, we did get a request to double the quota to allow a boat but it was based purely on science.'

I lost trust in the process after that and I have shared that with Senator Colbeck. If I cannot trust AFMA when I meet with them to give me a straight answer, it is not surprising that other people in community cannot either. We are looking forward to talking to the fisheries minister a little later about what he is going to do with the restructuring with his root-and-branch approach to the Australian Fisheries Management Authority.

On the economics, very quickly: I also believe that one of the issues underlying the big reaction to this supertrawler is the fact that a lot of people cannot see what is in it for them. When you explain to them that the quotas were set several years ago and given to commercial fishermen—who used to operate in these fisheries and who have invested their money, time and equipment but the majority of whom have not been using the quotas; most of them are not being utilised—the next question you get is, 'So if they are not buying the quotas off us what do we get as taxpayers?' My response is, 'If Seafish makes a profit, we can tax that profit—a federal tax; you may get some dividend through the company if it makes a profit.' A lot of people are very surprised that there is no resource rent on these fisheries. There is no direct return to the taxpayer. Yes, there are jobs—and I do not at all belittle the fact that we need jobs, especially in Tasmania—but our job as parliamentarians is to weigh up all the costs and potential risks against the benefits. We need to get that right before we proceed any way down the track of allowing supertrawlers to operate in Australian waters.

Lastly, on social media: it is here to stay whether you like it or not. You are not going to get rid of it. Campaigns run by GetUp! and other organisations are here to stay. The issue for a much bigger debate at some time is how policy can be set effectively with direct marketing campaigns to politicians. I used to teach my economics students at university about the special interest model: how companies who could afford lobbyists used to get in the ears of politicians and get what they wanted. The world has changed now. Individuals can go directly to politicians and companies and set up online communities. This is something we need to wake up to and understand is a new reality. In finishing, I am hoping something positive will come out of this and that we look at how we can better manage and fund fisheries and have a sustainable fishery for the future.


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