Senate debates

Wednesday, 5 March 2014


Great White Shark; Tabling

6:26 pm

Photo of Sue BoyceSue Boyce (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I present a response from the Minister for the Environment, Mr Hunt, to a resolution of the Senate of the of 12 February 2014 concerning the great white shark and move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

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

by leave—I am extremely disappointed with the minister's response to the resolution of the Senate, which called on him to review the exemption of the shark cull from the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act with a view to terminating it. This is having a huge impact on sharks in Western Australia.

The Minister for the Environment has a responsibility to look after the great white shark because it is listed as a vulnerable species under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. He also has a broader responsibility to protect the environment in Australia. He made an extremely political decision to exempt the shark cull, trying to imply that it was an emergency because exemptions under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act are used for emergencies. They are not used for political purposes so that they can give Premier Barnett a leave pass to put in drum lines that are indiscriminately taking sharks off the Western Australian coast. The decision was not based on science. It was based on the fact that the Premier wanted to get a bit of a bounce in the popularity polls. He made a mistake, of course, because he misread Western Australians' love for the marine environment and, in fact, their love for sharks.

When you get over 7,000 people on a beach in the middle of summer in Cottesloe showing the Premier just how much they think of sharks and how much they deplore his approach to killing sharks, maybe the Premier should rethink and look at his responsibility to protect our marine environment and listen to West Australians who say they love their marine environment. These are the West Australians who show unwavering support for marine protected areas and who, through their public pressure, managed to ensure that the beautiful Ningaloo marine area was not desecrated by a resort all those years ago. They have time and time again demonstrated their love for the marine environment, and once again they are saying to the Premier, 'Do not destroy our sharks.'

The letter that we got from the Minister for the Environment basically said that the Western Australia government had not broken the conditions on which the exemption was granted. It is quite plain that they did not assess the conditions at all before they granted the exemption—they just rubber-stamped the exemption and sent it through.

It is quite plain that the program is breaching those conditions because, for a start, the program is not minimising the impact on undersized sharks. The hooks they are using are indiscriminately catching various sized sharks. When we finally did get information tabled, in a letter from the Western Australian government relayed to the federal government, we found that 66 sharks had been taken. We know that 49 were undersized. This information is now nearly two weeks old and we know very well—from the tweets that come from Surf Life Saving WA when sharks are released—that many more sharks have been taken since then. The public of Western Australia do not know how many sharks have been taken. We do not know how many of those undersized sharks that have eventually been released—40 reported sharks—have survived. We do not know how many are dying.

We have to go to the anecdotal evidence, because there is no monitoring by independent observers of this flawed policy. The anecdotal evidence suggests that many of the sharks are dying because of the hooks that the federal government chose to agree to. Instead of going with the hooks that are really safe for sharks—the circular hooks—they went for the barbaric hooks that get caught and cause an enormous amount of damage to the sharks. It is unlikely that many of the sharks will survive the injuries that are inflicted by those hooks.

The government is clearly unwilling to look at those conditions, or to acknowledge that there have been environmental impacts from this policy. In fact, you would think that the government is acknowledging the environmental damage because—lo and behold!—today the federal Minister for the Environment has said that if the Western Australian government does apply to extend this policy beyond the current exemption of 30 April—it is a bit unclear whether they have yet applied for an extension of this barbaric policy—he will subject it to a full environmental assessment.

That is an acknowledgement that this program does and will have an environmental impact. The minister should never have agreed to allow this exemption. It is having an environmental impact—it always was going to have an environmental impact—on the species that he is supposed to be protecting: great white sharks. The information that he has tabled has noted that at least two mako sharks have been taken. Those mako sharks are covered by the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, because they are a migratory species. In a further response from the Minister for the Environment to the EDO solicitor in New South Wales, the minister tries to write off his obligation to protect the mako sharks by saying, essentially, that he does not have that many obligations under the Convention for Migratory Species, and that Australia has met its international obligations with regard to the mako sharks 'as it participated in negotiations for, and in 2011 become a signatory to, the Memorandum of Understanding on the conservation of migratory species, developed under the convention.' He says that therefore, by participating in those negotiations, he has very little responsibility for those mako sharks.

He is the Minister for the Environment. He is charged with protecting the marine environment.

Yesterday, we also had Prime Minister Abbott saying that he supports the cull and that, in fact, he wants to go and surf in Western Australia. That is an absolutely appalling approach to our marine environment. He is supporting a program that is killing sharks—a program that is breaching the conditions that his Minister for the Environment has signed off on. His minister said that the program was supposed to minimise the impact on the these sharks. I will repeat what the Minister for the Environment wrote to me in a letter. He said, 'Any breach of conditions will result in the exemption being terminated.' It appears that he never envisaged assessing those conditions. When I asked the Department of the Environment about that, they said that, no, they had no responsibility for assessing whether those conditions had been met. They do not even require the Western Australian government to regularly and properly report to them—other than in a few phone calls—what they are catching. For two weeks now, we have not had a report or an update on the sharks that have been taken: the number of sharks that have been killed; what number of undersized sharks have been taken; what species they are; and what the bycatch is.

Last week, an animal was taken on board one of the fisheries vessels and was covered with a tarpaulin. There have been a lot of suggestions that it was a juvenile dolphin that was caught on the drum lines and taken on board that fisheries vessels. Because there are no independent observers on those vessels, we do not know. Quite frankly, I do not now believe the government when they say, 'It's all okay here; there's nothing to show.' If that is the case, why did they bother covering it with a tarpaulin? Why did they hide it from the vessels with the activists, who are trying to do the public service of reporting back on what is being taken? Of course, the media was following as well. They could not tell what was under that tarpaulin. If there was nothing to hide, they should have shown us what was under the tarpaulin.

The contractor who is taking the sharks in south-west WA is not measuring the sharks that are taken. Thanks to the work of community activists, we have seen, unfortunately, the most distressing video coverage and photos which came out last week of how tiger sharks that were too damaged to release were treated—they were stabbed in the head. That is just appalling. It is having an impact on the marine environment. It is slaughtering sharks. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.