Senate debates

Tuesday, 18 September 2012


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

1:37 pm

Photo of Ron BoswellRon Boswell (Queensland, National Party) Share this | Hansard source

I have learned a lot about the supertrawler and the Tasmanian small pelagic fishery sitting here listening to Senator Scullion, who was a master mariner and fishermen and has, I think, served as the world fishing president for a number of years. He certainly knows what he is talking about. I wish that he could have had more input into what has been happening, because that explanation was terrific.

Sometimes in this place truth becomes stranger than fiction. This is no more the case than what has happened with the supertrawler. The irony of this is that both Minister Burke and the fisheries minister, Joe Ludwig, have been out there defending the position of the supertrawler against the Greens. Mr Burke was even involved in the policy—he was then fisheries minister—when he introduced the Small Pelagic Fishery Harvest Strategy. He actually invited large trawlers to fish in Australian waters. He said that there were considerable economies of scale to be had in the fishery and the most efficient way to fish may include large-scale factory freezer vessels.

That strategy was accepted in 2009 and since 2009 Seafish Tasmania has been working with the Australian Fisheries Management Authority to form a management plan to fish in Australia waters. The negotiations have been going on for seven years. Seafish Tasmania has agreed with every process and complied with every condition put on it by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority. Seafish Tasmania was given a quota of 18,000 tonnes, which was approved in May. Sixty per cent of that quota is owned by Seafish Tasmania and 40 per cent was to be leased from the individual fishermen that had quota to spare. I do not know what happens to them. They don't get anything. The quota that Seafish Tasmania have is not going to be worth anything. It is just one of those unbelievable situations.

On Monday, 10 September I asked Senator Ludwig a question on the supertrawler and he was absolutely fulsome in his praise of Seafish Tasmania. He said that output controls such as total allowable catch, particularly in individual transferable quotas, are to be the preferred approach to fisheries management and that small pelagic fish species depletion, including localised depletion, was unlikely. He supported the AFMA as an independent authority for sustainable management and said that its decisions were made on the best available science. That was on Monday and he was being supported by the minister for the environment. But on Tuesday the whole scene had changed. The Australian Fisheries Management Authority had stated that there were considerable economies of scale in fisheries and the most efficient way to fish may include large-scale freezer vessels. The AFMA board was 100 per cent appointed by Tony Burke when he was fishing minister. They recently confirmed that there was no evidence that boats such as the Abel Tasman posed any great risk to the target species of the ecosystem. AFMA approved Seafish Tasmania's 18,000-tonne fishing catch quota following the research conducted by independent scientists, CSIRO. All that research and science was peer reviewed. There were about seven people involved in it. Then, all of a sudden, overnight—and it was overnight—both ministers came out and completely changed their views.

It is obvious what has happened. Through pictures and advertisements of the huge supertrawler, with dolphins and other by-catch caught in the net, a very effective campaign was run that turned the Labor Party around and turned the minister around. An 18,000-tonne quota is an 18,000-tonne quota. It doesn't matter whether you catch it in a 12-foot rowing boat or 142-metre factory ship, the quota does not get extended no matter how big the boat is. As Senator Scullion said, even the nets on the supertrawler are smaller than some of the nets used on smaller boats.

I cannot for the life of me see where the damage is. Smaller boats go out from Tasmania and catch a product that could only be turned into an inferior product of fish meal. Once this supertrawler came out it had the ability to move on. It had the ability not to stay in one place and therefore would not cause depletion of local stocks. It could travel around; it could move on. It had very sophisticated dolphin exclusion gear. It had underwater cameras. It had everything that was sophisticated that would prevent by-catch. It was by far superior to going out and fishing in small boats; it was by far superior in protecting by-catch; it was by far superior in producing a better product and processing that product into a superior fishmeal that could be sent out into the African nations which are protein starved. It had everything going for it.

This is the thing that I find difficult to understand with the Greens. Surely we have a responsibility to serve some of our less fortunate countries, and we were doing this. We were producing a protein product that had a market in protein starved countries. Based on every reason, on every circumstance, this should have been a goer. But, no. Firstly, we had the science right. Then we had the ministers right. Senator Ludwig was very happy in what he said in defeating the Greens' motion and in reply to a question from me. And then all of a sudden that is turned around by the pressure applied by the green groups of Greenpeace—


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