Senate debates

Tuesday, 4 March 2014



7:08 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

People will hardly find it surprising that I rise tonight to talk about the ongoing shark slaughter in Western Australia. This is reckless, it is cruel, and it is needlessly destructive of sharks off the coast of Western Australia. It is being perpetrated by the Western Australian government, but—just so we are really clear here—the Abbott government is also directly responsible for this foolish policy. Were it not for the exemption from the application of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act that has been granted, this cull would not have gone ahead in this manner—and it certainly would have been assessed. We do not believe this is appropriate policy. We also do not believe that the Premier of Western Australia or the Abbott government should be excused and be able to hide behind the excuses that the environment minister made for allowing this exemption to go ahead.

As late as yesterday, the Prime Minister again voiced his support for this cull. In fact, he said he might try surfing when he is in Western Australia during the election debate. His government has allowed this cull to take place by granting an exemption under section 158 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. The Howard government brought in this legislation in the first place. This exemption is for exceptional circumstances. Examples would be emergencies—things like defence or security emergencies or a national emergency like a disaster—or if urgent action needs to be taken to protect an endangered species. I use the word 'protect'—it is not for culling a vulnerable species, which is what is happening with this particular piece of legislation. The government has essentially looked for what it could use under the act to exempt this cull. If you look at the exemptions that have been made in the past, they have been in relation to devastating natural disasters, such as floods or bush fires, or responses to human made disasters—the Montara oil spill, for example.

Imagine if the environment minister had actually used the environment protection act to protect the species that he has responsibility for protecting—the great white shark and the mako shark. The mako shark is listed as a migratory species. The federal government has a responsibility to look after such species, not only under the environment protection act but also under conventions we have signed. This exemption was granted to the WA government on the basis of a series of conditions, including, in particular, that they would use hooks that would minimise the environmental impact on smaller sharks. They did not use the circular hooks that are used in other countries. They have used hooks that are having a devastating impact. The calculation is that over 70 sharks have been caught and that most of those have been undersized sharks. Two of those were mako sharks that, as I have said, are protected the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

In estimates, the official I asked about the need for assessing those conditions said they would not be assessed because an exemption had been granted. I have a letter from the minister about the shark cull where he said, amongst other things, 'any breach of conditions will result in the exemption being terminated.' Why is that exemption not being terminated when quite clearly those conditions are being breached? They have also caught two mako sharks, a protected species under the environment protection act. In estimates I was told that the department could only act if a species covered by the act was caught. Two animals covered by the act have been caught and killed. Why, therefore, is the minister not ensuring that these conditions are assessed and the exemption terminated? The WA government has breached the conditions of the exemption—an exemption that should never have been granted in the first place. The Minister for the Environment needs to carry out his job and needs to terminate this destructive, cruel, barbaric policy.