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

Senator Colbeck, I listened to you your speech with a respectful silence; I would expect you to do the same. As far as picking on Dr Wadsley, I think you are out of line.

We have discussed the science here in the chamber for three weeks. The Greens have had a very consistent position in the supertrawler debate and that is we want to see the quota disallowed. The key reason for that is that the doubling of the quota, from our point of view, was not based on necessarily science itself, but there were issues that were not addressed in that science. So, while there has been a lot of scientific work done by AFMA and other agencies on this fishery, we also believe that key risks were not addressed. We broke the science down into two parts. Before I get into that I will read some new information that has come to light in the last two days. Also the report there that Senator Colbeck was holding up I will go into in a little bit more detail on—and I also only received it this afternoon. It is quite telling in terms of the science on the setting of the quota, and it certainly raises more questions than it answers.

The letter from the Commonwealth Ombudsman to MP Andrew Wilkie last Friday, clearly stating—while its investigation has not been concluded because other matters are under investigation:

In the course of our investigation, AFMA has admitted that the SEMAC—

the South East Management Advisory Committee; part of AFMA—

failed to comply with s.64C of the Act in this regard. By allowing Mr Geen to remain in the meeting while the TAC matter was deliberated, after noting his conflict of interest as the holder of statutory fishing rights for the fishery, the SEMAC chairperson failed to follow the process set out under s.64C of the Act.

That is the first piece of information. It has been out in the media. It has been a point of public interest and public concern that perhaps the fisheries act was not followed and that there may have been a level of illegality in the setting of this quota, and we now have confirmation from an investigation that it does look like there is some smoke there in the fire. We will wait to see what further information comes from that investigation.

The second bit of information which we received this afternoon was on a report downloaded on the AFMA website called, Re-analysis of mean daily egg production in jack mackerel. This was posted to the AFMA website incorrectly—I understand, from speaking to Dr Wadsley. It was posted under their August databank rather than in their September databank, but it was picked up by Dr Wadsley. Essentially, to cut a long story short, 'After peeling away the scientific jargon'—and these are Dr Wadsley's own words—'the lowest plausible biomass estimates should have been used to set the jack mackerel quota.' Following through on this analysis, Dr Wadsley—and he has had this verified by another mathematician in the country about whom he speaks very highly—the TAC should have been set between 1,500 and 1,800 tonnes for jack mackerel, versus the 10,800 tonnes that was set under the existing analysis.

I have avoided using Dr Wadsley at all in any of the media that I have done on the supertrawler debate or in any of the forums I have spoken to and I have avoided bringing up his name in the Senate, because I have not seen it as being useful pitting one scientist against another. I have always tried to respect the AFMA scientists involved in the debate. But this is new information, and I think it has got to the point where Dr Wadsley has done so much work in this area that it does beg some specific answers from AFMA. The questions that Dr Wadsley has now put to AFMA include:

1. Why didn’t they have such a simple re-analysis carried out BEFORE they used the Neira (2011) report to set such an absurdly high and irresponsible TAC? Surely they have in place such checks?

2. Why didn’t they immediately inform their own Minister, the Hon Joe Ludwig, about the implications of the report for the jack mackerel quota, given that the report was lodged on the evening of Wednesday 12 September at the height of the 'supertrawler' debate?

I would also like to make it clear that, in all of my analysis and all my talking as a Greens senator on this issue, I have never focused on the setting of the quota for red bait or jack mackerel. The issue that I have been most interested in is not so much the quota itself but how the quota is going to be fished by a giant, industrial-scale vessel.

I have mentioned this before, but I would like to mention it again. A couple of months ago, a peak recreational fishing group, TARFish, along with conservation groups and other fishery groups, walked away from a working group with the Labor government. They put out a media release saying that they entered the negotiations in good faith and were prepared to see a trawler operate in Australian waters subject to their concerns being addressed. I will quote from their media release:

Following detailed discussions and a review of all the scientific information, provided to the Working Group—

presumably by AFMA and the Labor government—

TARFish has come to the conclusion that there is a lack of detailed scientific knowledge surrounding:

1. the extent and rates of movement of each species of small pelagic fish

2. the amount of time it would take for local populations of small pelagic fish to recover from intensive localized fishing, and

3. the size of the resident population of Jack Mackerel on the East Coast of Tasmania.

They posed a question: 'What would happen if a boat, a large trawler, was to take 2,500, 5,000 or 10,000 tonnes of fish from one area?' They also asked what impact this would have on their local fishing spot or on local ecosystems.

The lack of answers to those specific questions is the reason that we are here today debating this. Based on my discussions with these groups—and with Senator Colbeck, by the way—if those questions had been answered, if the data had been in place, and if a management plan had been put in place based on science that addressed these issues, I think we would have a situation where perhaps conservation groups would still have issues with bycatch but probably the fishing groups across this country would have walked away from their campaign.

It is disappointing to see again today the typical Green bashing that we got from Senator Colbeck. I missed Senator Abetz's discussion earlier but, based on previous—


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