Senate debates

Monday, 17 September 2012


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

8:35 pm

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | Hansard source

Senator Boyce, they are not the same thing—I agree with that. I think it is fair to say that whilst they are different issues it is worth considering more closely arguments in relation to sovereign risk. In these circumstances we also need to reflect on what the Commonwealth Ombudsman has said. I have a letter from the Commonwealth Ombudsman that is on the website of member for Denison, Andrew Wilkie. The letter is dated 14 September and it is about the complaint. Whilst the Commonwealth Ombudsman has not dealt with the complaint and has not concluded investigating the complaint there are some issues in relation to the South East Management Advisory Committee's compliance with section 64C of the Fisheries Administration Act 1991. The letter raises issues of potential conflicts of interest and whether that made the decision-making process defective in any way. The Ombudsman has not concluded his views in relation to this matter, but in the third to last paragraph of the letter to Mr Wilkie he states:

Please note the admission by AFMA regarding the defective procedure at the SEMAC meeting of 26 March 2012, and information from AFMA that the dissenting SPFRAG members' views were included, in due course, in the SEMAC meeting papers of 26 March 2012.

Other matters have come up in the course of our investigation. We are in the process of giving further consideration to these matters before we will be in a position to conclude our investigation.

This is an ongoing matter by the Commonwealth Ombudsman, so I think we need to take that into account as well and proceed with caution. The government has taken a cautious approach in relation to this.

I note the comments of leading scientific opponent Jessica Meeuwig, the director of the Centre for Marine Futures Oceans Institute at the University of Western Australia who argues that nobody can say what is a 'conservative' catch if they do not know how many fish are out there in the first place. She said:

That's pretty clever math when you don't know what the total biomass is. There are lots of caveats about modelling and out-of-date data.

I think that reflects some of the concerns of Graham Pike.

This is a difficult issue. It is an issue that has quite rightly raised controversy, given the way it has been dealt with. But despite the concerns that I have I believe that this is, on balance, the right decision to make. I support this bill. I support the federal government's decision to start taking the necessary steps to ensure that there is a robust scientific process in place that can assess the environmental impacts of such commercial fishing activities. I think we need to get this right, and it is important that we do not go down a path that is irreversible and may lead to damage that cannot be remedied in future years. It is also fair to say that the Margiris has been a controversial vessel in some of the areas where it has fished. That is why there has been some community suspicion about this vessel. Having said that, I am most guided by the comments of Mr Pike and the fact that there is an ongoing investigation by the Ombudsman in relation to this matter. I can indicate I will be supporting the bill, but I would like to hear from the government what they say about the assertions of what jobs may be affected by this and whether the government consider that they have a liability at law in respect of those jobs that may be affected.


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