Senate debates

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Regulations and Determinations

Small Pelagic Fishery (Closures Variation) Direction No. 1 2015; Disallowance

5:36 pm

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Small Pelagic Fishery (Closures Variation) Direction No. 1 2015, made under subsection 41A(3) of the Fisheries Management Act 1991, be disallowed [F2015L01450].

This motion I have moved is to disallow a set of regulations that were tabled on 12 October. Those of us in this place understand that all senators have the right and the privilege as parliamentarians to move to disallow regulations within 15 days of them being tabled in the Senate. This disallowance is quite simple. It is to stop a new set of regulations that remove an existing night ban on fishing by the supertrawler called the Geelong Star.

I want to make it very clear to those who may read this Hansard or who may be listening to this debate that this is a function of being a senator: having the right and the privilege to move a disallowance. But it is not something to be taken lightly. We are here as elected representatives for our voters, for our members and for those who share the same values as we do. On top of that, and most importantly, we are here to represent our state. In my case, that is the state of Tasmania. I know that this issue is not just something that people feel strongly about to the point where they may disagree in arguments. They actually go out of their way to tell you that they have significant concerns over the operation of large factory freezer vessels in Australian waters.

The next thing I want to point out is that the government have an existing ban in place for supertrawlers. The legislation was brought to parliament, to both houses, last year, and they implemented a ban on large factory freezer vessels over 130 metres in length. I have yet to receive an explanation at all from the government or from AFMA as to how that 130-metre limit was set. There has been no explanation about how a trawler that is slightly less than 100 metres is any less dangerous to marine life than a boat over 130 metres. Nevertheless, we still have acknowledgement from the government that these kinds of vessels should be banned, so they banned vessels longer than 130 metres.

Why have they banned these vessels? I can just guess that they have also received feedback from communities around the country, from fishing communities, from conservationists and from seaside communities, that they have grave concerns over very large factory freezer vessels operating in our waters, taking and targeting small pelagic fish. These fish are essentially in the base of our food chain in the ocean for a lot of other species of fish—target species of fish for recreational fishers—and of course for marine life such as dolphins, seals, penguins and seabirds. They all feed on these building-block fish, the small pelagics.

The government may also be concerned about the international reputation of these vessels. These are vessels that have helped break the ocean everywhere they have fished. They have plundered the seas all around the world. That could be a reason that the government do not want to see these kinds of vessels. But also they know that this is a slippery slope to seeing a lot more industrial fishing in this country, industrial fishing that may allow other supertrawlers to come here and that may increase the total allowable catch for small pelagic fish into the future. We have seen a lot of pressure and a lot of lobbying and an enormous amount of debate in the Senate and around the country about the arrival of the Margiris, or Abel Tasman, and the current supertrawler, the Geelong Star. We have seen an enormous amount of debate.

Clearly, the Liberal government have facilitated the arrival of both these boats. They have been champions of supertrawlers. It concerns a lot of people, given the public discomfort and in some cases even outrage over the arrival of these boats, that nothing is going to stop them, and we will see a lot more of them into the future.

For me, it really hit home to me last Christmas when I was lucky enough to sail on a boat in Sydney to Hobart race. I was on a yacht, and I was hundreds of kilometres off the coastline, off Tasmania. Acting Deputy President Bernardi, you have been there yourself. I remember seeing one of these bait balls—what fishermen call bait balls—where a lot of the small fish are schooling. You can spot them from a mile away because seabirds come from every direction. When you get close to one, and we sailed close to one, you see the dolphins. I even saw pilot whales. You see seals, and of course fairy penguins are another example. They feed on these fish, and it is amazing to watch.

You can imagine that a large factory freezer vessel out there catching these fish is going to have impacts on the marine life that also feeds on those fish. This was pointed out to us by the independent scientific panel that was set up by Labor on the arrival of the first supertrawler, when it looked at the potential impacts of this kind of fishing activity. It made it very clear that these were risks that needed to be addressed and that these kinds of marine life feeding on these small pelagic fish would be impacted by this kind of fishing activity.

To me, it really hit home. Where my family and I go for our summers and where I go surfing with my kids, every night when my kids were young we would go and watch the fairy penguins. They leave at sunset, and they go out. They catch these fish, and they come home, and they feed their young. Those are the same fish that are going to be targeted by this vessel. People think through these kinds of things, and they wonder what impact a future of industrial fishing in this fishery will have for marine life.

We then have to ask ourselves why, with the arrival of the Geelong Star, a smaller boat than the Abel Tasman, at slightly less than 100 metres, this boat was allowed to go fishing without the proper precautions being put in place to prevent the bycatch of seals, dolphins and other marine creatures. This is what we are debating here today. This is ultimately what this disallowance motion is about. The Greens feel very strongly that we should take the strongest possible precautions to protect especially cetaceans such as dolphins, and seals and other marine life—the strongest possible protections.

Why do we protect dolphins and seals? People may not be aware, even in this chamber, that dolphins and seals are protected under Australian law. They are protected. It is an offence to harm a dolphin. The maximum penalty is two years in jail or a $180,000 fine. Seals are also protected with similar clauses under a different section of EPBC. The fishing industry gets an exemption. They are allowed to kill dolphins and seals, but to do that they have to have a fisheries management plan in place—a vessel management plan.

In the case of the Geelong Star a vessel management plan was put in place but minister Hunt has to sign off on it. I will read how the minister may accredit plans, regimes or policies if the minister is satisfied:

(f) the plan, regime or policy requires persons engaged in fishing under the plan, regime or policy to take all reasonable steps to ensure that cetaceans are not killed or injured as a result of the fishing …

When the Geelong Star arrived here it went out on its first weeks of operations and killed nine dolphins, including four dolphins in one throw of its net, and 12 seals—not to mention 10 tonnes of other bycatch that was later discarded. The 'proverbial' hit the fan and a number of mitigation measures were put in place to protect protected species in this country—dolphins and seals.

Essentially, two things were done. A night ban on fishing was put in place because that is when there is most activity in the small pelagic fishery, especially closer to the surface. That is when the dolphins and seals are most active and it is also when it is harder to see these protected species around the nets. Another mitigation measure put in place was essentially a move-on clause—a sting in the tail—where if a dolphin was killed the supertrawler would have to leave that area for six months and fish somewhere else. So there were two mitigation measures in place, and I have to say I felt very glad they were put in place. I remember being outraged and speaking to the media, and it was not just me. Minister Hunt came out and spoke to the media and said very similar things. I have his quotes here in front of me. He said that 'dolphin bycatch is simply unacceptable'. I am glad our environment minister came out and made such statements. This is only part of his quote as it is too long for me to read, but he said:

I would hope that the position that myself and others have taken—

that is, the precautions I have just talked about—

has compelled AFMA to put in place a really tough restriction with some very final points that if there are any more failures then there will be big consequences. They’ve already imposed consequences but they’ll go further. The dolphin by-catch is simply unacceptable.

So we have an environment minister that is speaking out on behalf of protected species as I would expect him to.

The next question is: why was the night ban lifted? Let's make it very clear. There is no science behind the protection of dolphins and seals. It is not about them being endangered or critically endangered. We protect them under our laws because we value them. People love dolphins and they love seals. They have an affinity with them. They have a very strong affinity with highly intelligent, highly social marine creatures. That is why they are protected. That is why if I were to shoot one with a spear gun and drag it up on the beach I would hope there would be someone there to protect me, because I do not think people would be very happy. They are protected in this country for a good reason: basically, we love them. As a surfer I especially feel I have a very close affinity with dolphins and seals.

It is also worth pointing out that, in the reporting period we have seen already, the Geelong Star has accounted for nearly three-quarters of the dolphin mortalities by the fishing industry over the first reporting period—

Senator Ruston interjecting

That is correct, and I could give you that later, Senator Ruston. So this is a high-risk fishing activity, as is pointed out by the independent scientific panel. The Greens and others feel we need to take the strongest possible protections for cetaceans that are protected under our laws—for dolphins and seals. They are high-risk bycatch, and we need to do whatever we can.

I am concerned about the precedent of removing the night ban. I asked AFMA directly at estimates why the night ban was removed, and they were very open and honest with me. They were not trying to hide anything. We talked about how site was important and how at night-time you cannot see things such as dolphins and seals. We talked about the seal excluder device and for incentives to get the vessel to basically do whatever it takes to mitigate. We said:

Senator WHISH-WILSON: You implemented a night ban on fishing for the Geelong Star?

Dr Rayns: Yes.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Did that work?

Dr Rayns: It worked in the sense that it did not lead to any further dolphin mortalities. However, we also have to balance that with enabling the vessel to fish and bearing in mind that we are trying to balance a set of regulations to make sure we are protecting protected species and, at the same time, reasonably allowing the vessel to fish.

So AFMA made a decision, and I understand that they consulted other stakeholders. They made a decision that the economics of this boat, this supertrawler—I am not sure how many Australians it employs or how much tax it pays as a foreign vessel, but we know that it is planning to sell its fish to Africa—had to be balanced against the protection of protected species. Some people have different views from me on which is more important or where that balance should lie, and clearly my party's view is different from AFMA's. We feel we should take the strongest possible protections, including maintaining a night ban.

Let me wrap up in the next five minutes by saying AFMA's own media release from the time when the night ban was put in place was that it was a logical mitigation measure. But the companies lobbied have it removed; the supertrawlers lobbied to have it removed, and now it is no longer necessary because there are other measures in place, such as a move-on clause.

I am concerned that if we do not make a stand on this night fishing ban the next thing is going to be a dolphin move-on clause and that is going to be lobbied to be removed. AFMA have not confirmed—I would be happy for the minister to confirm today if she wishes to—that observers are even going to stay on this boat. It was only for 10 trips initially. We put pressure on them and AFMA said the observers would stay on the boat for 12 months. That is up soon; what happens after that? How much more lobbying is going to occur around these regulations? How can we have any certainty, and how can the public have any certainty around these regulations? The government themselves put these regulations in place. They put the night ban in place, and they said it was the right thing to do.

Senator Colbeck, on his own website, said that the night ban was an important measure to protect dolphins and seals. He said that on his own website. All we know is that it has been removed because of the economics of this operation, and that is a decision that has been made by AFMA. Even if it is in relation to consultation with other experts, it is the balance in the fishery between letting the boat fish and protecting protected species that AFMA has made this decision on.

What we are looking at here today is actually quite simple, and we have got a simple decision to make—a very important value judgement. Do we back the economics of what is, I think, a very divisive and unpopular fishing activity, being a large industrial factory freezer in our waters? I personally question the benefits of that fishing activity. Or do we look after our loved marine life?

I have, through freedom of information, copies of conversations between the AFMA observers who were on board the boat when the dolphins and seals were originally killed. I have copies of those. They are actually quite compelling. I felt sorry for the AFMA observer who, at one stage, actually said in exasperation, 'There really isn't anything further we can do to prevent the deaths of these dolphins and seals.' At that stage there were 42 seals around the net. But they made it very clear, and I am happy to give the minister copies of these conversations. It is a whole chain of emails around when the proverbial hit the fan and the boat's first few weeks of operations. There is even pressure shown in those first few weeks by the company to reduce the aperture on the seal-excluding device, because up to 30 per cent of their fish were actually swimming out of the nets because the seal-excluding device was too wide. Even with the device that wide, they were still killing dolphins and seals.

We will probably hear from the minister that since the night ban has been lifted there have been no more dolphins killed. I would like to know if there have been any more seals killed, because they only get reported every three months and we have not had an update for some time. But remember: this ban was only lifted seven weeks ago. Looking back and saying, 'There have been no dolphins killed since late June,' that is because there was a night ban in place. I do not think it is unreasonable for us, when we are representing the people who voted us in, and the constituencies in our state that have significant concerns around this, to raise these issues in parliament. I would like to see the strongest possible protections for dolphins and seals kept in place for this boat. I believe I speak on behalf of a lot of Tasmanians and no doubt other people around the country. We have protected species in this country for a reason, and I think the simple reason is: these sea creatures are valuable to us. They are valuable to each and every one of us. I welcome the debate from the minister and from other senators, and I look forward to the vote.

5:57 pm

Photo of Jacinta CollinsJacinta Collins (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

Labor will vote to reinstate the night-time fishing ban on the trawler the Geelong Star. We understand this will be very disappointing to the company involved; however, the Turnbull government has failed to act to put in place the proper rounds of public consultation and to respond to the expert panel's report to ensure that the broader community can be reassured that mid trawlers the size of the Geelong Star with refrigeration capacity can fish in our pelagic fisheries without threats to the sustainability of those fisheries and indeed threats to our marine environment more generally.

When the former Labor government banned the supertrawlers for two years, it put in place requirements that an expert panel review be undertaken to look at the future of the sector. That report was delivered to the new government in October 2014. Yet the government has been sitting on that report ever since. The panel said that there were still some unanswered questions involving the risks over sub trawlers and proper risk management programs would have to be put in place if they were to be fishing sustainably. The Turnbull government has failed to respond to the experts report.

Labor has tried other pathways to deal with this issue, including a private members/senators bill and the initiation of a Senate inquiry. So the fate of the Geelong Star is in the hands of the Turnbull government. There will be people disappointed but we stand with the overwhelming majority of Australians who are very concerned about the marine environment, very concerned about the sustainability of our fishing stock and our environment more generally. Labor will stand to protect the environment and we will continue to do so unless someone presents to the industry and to the broader community a risk management plan and capacity to allow the big mid trawlers to fish without any threats to our marine environment.

5:59 pm

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

Firstly, I want to put on the record that the Australian government supports a robust management system for our fisheries to ensure that our fisheries are sustainable and available for everyone who wants to share in this resource. I would like to emphasise the comment about it being a shared resource. This is not a resource for any one member of our community or one sector in our community. There are a number of people who have every right to have access to our fisheries, as long as they are sustainably managed and appropriately managed. We have recreational fishers who like to go and throw a line over the side. We have game fishers who have a commercial stake in the fishery. We have commercial fishers who catch fish. We also have the public, and I think it is my responsibility, as much as anything, to stand here and represent the public of Australia who would like to go into a shop at night and buy fish that they can serve their children for dinner. We need to ensure that everybody who has a stake in this fishery has the opportunity to participate.

Tonight, the debate is not about whether this boat should fish or not fish. The debate tonight is about the removal of a temporary ban that was put on the boat as a precautionary measure following a number of our sea mammals being caught by this boat when it first began to fish. I want to make sure that we are very clear about this: we are here tonight because there is a direction before this parliament to allow the lifting of the ban of night-time fishing on the Geelong Star.

I want to put some facts on the record without the spin and the misinterpretation and the emotion that have been put into it by one of the previous speakers. There was no doubt that there was an unacceptable catch of dolphins when the boat first began fishing in the Small Pelagic Fishery of Australia earlier this year. There were eight dolphins caught. It was considered by the government and considered by AFMA, the independent regulator, that that was an unacceptable level and that something needed to be done immediately.

As a precautionary measure, two things were put in place. Firstly, there was a ban put on night-time fishing because it was believed that it was more likely they would catch the dolphins at night. This was not based on science. This was a knee-jerk, precautionary action taken because we believed that the level of dolphins that were being caught was unacceptable. Subsequent to that, there was also a new condition placed on the boat that if it caught a dolphin in any of the fishing zones around Australia there would be an immediate six-month ban on the boat fishing within that fishery. It did not matter whether the dolphin was caught during the day or whether it was caught at night—exclusion from that zone would exist for a six-month period. Subsequent to this being put in place, one dolphin has been caught. That dolphin was caught and that triggered the immediate exclusion of the Geelong Star from that zone, and it has not been able to fish in that zone for six months. It will not be allowed to fish there again until the middle of December, when the six-month period is up.

At the time, because it was a quick-reaction, precautionary activity that was undertaken, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority sought to take some in-depth research and analysis into why these dolphins were being caught. Subsequent to that, the Geelong Star has had a number of other regulations, actions and requirements put onto it. We need to remember that this boat is the most heavily regulated boat in the Australian fishery. There is no other boat in the whole of the Australian fishery that has more regulation than this boat. At all times, it carries two observers from AFMA, and I can assure Senator Whish-Wilson that there is no intention for those observers to no longer be required to stay on the boat.

But I also should point out that the Geelong Star themselves have an observer. They also have cameras on the boat and on the nets. These are monitored at all times. There is absolutely no capacity for this boat to catch a dolphin and for no-one to know about it. That is just an unreasonable proposition. The other really good thing is that these observers are also undertaking scientific research while they are out on the boat so that we can make sure that we understand better, at firsthand and with close observation, what this fishery is doing. In addition, there was a requirement undertaken at great expense by the boat to increase the level of excluding devices that are on the nets—they have changed nets—to make sure that the boat has the least possible chance of being able to interact with a sea mammal.

As Senator Whish-Wilson rightly pointed out, since 17 September when the ban was lifted on the operation of the boat there has not been an interaction with a dolphin. So, quite clearly, the decision for the ban to be lifted has not resulted in any adverse reaction in relation to any dolphins being killed.

The overwhelming majority of the evidence that was gathered by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation and AFMA in analysing whether this ban was something that was necessary suggested that, because the boat fished largely at night, the interaction with the dolphins was likely to happen at night. It is a little hard to catch a dolphin during the day when you are not fishing during the day. But I do point out that the dolphin that was caught in June was caught during the day.

We believe that the exclusion from a zone and the punitive action put on this boat should it catch a dolphin in any fishery is very severe. It is probably the most severe punitive action you could possibly take on any fishing vessel. To say that if it had an interaction with but one of these mammals it cannot fish there for another six months is a very significant action. As I said, it is a massively regulated boat. It has observers. It has the most up-to-date, state-of-the-art devices on it to prevent these dolphins from being caught. I repeat again: this boat has not caught or had an interaction with a dolphin since it has been fishing at night again for the last couple of months.

The other thing I would also point out is that the length of the boat has nothing to do with how it catches fish. This obsession with how long a boat is seems a little silly, because whether a boat has a freezer is completely irrelevant to how it catches fish. The most important thing is the quotas that are put in place to make sure that we maintain the sustainability of our fishery. I point out that the quota that is allocated for the Small Pelagic Fishery is an extraordinarily conservative quota. It is believed that the quota allowed to be caught is somewhere between six and seven per cent of the biomass. It is a very small number.

This particular boat has a quota within the broader total allowable catch within this fishery. The boat cannot catch any more fish than its quota. If I sent out 17 little boats that caught 1/17th of the quota, as opposed to sending out one big boat that catches the quota, there would be no less fish caught by the little boats and there would be no more fish caught by the big boats. So it is not the size of the boat that matters; it is how the boat fishes and the conditions under which it fishes. I think we just have to get off the table any suggestion that the length of the boat has anything to do with it. It is the size of the nets, the method of the nets, where it fishes, what its quotas are and a whole heap of other things that go towards it.

We are very proud of having one of the world's best-managed fisheries. We are recognised around the world for how we manage our fisheries. If we now start attacking what is recognised as one of the most highly regulated, best-managed fisheries in the world, what sort of message are we sending to the rest of the world about our fisheries? We are sending this scaremongering message to the world, to say: 'It doesn't matter how good you are; we're quite happy not to worry about the science; we're not going to worry about whether the fishery is sustainable; we're just going to go on with an emotive argument.'

I take all of the issues that Senator Whish-Wilson has put on the table and accept that there is definitely a very strong public sentiment that the public out there do not want to see our dolphins harmed or killed. I do not think there is anyone amongst us who would not agree with that. But, if we can put in place conditions and regulations that almost entirely prevent any of these unfortunate deaths of dolphins occurring, then surely we should be seeking to maximise the opportunity for Australia and our wonderful fisheries so that we can feed not just ourselves but the world and we can have a fishing industry that is free from the sovereign risk that constantly gets placed on us as a country if we make decisions that are not based on science.

Obviously I am very keen for the directive that is before this place at the moment to be upheld and to allow the ongoing night fishing of the Geelong Star. I say so for a number of reasons but most particularly because I think that there is the opportunity for us to go forward and operate our fisheries in a collegiate way with all the people who have every right to participate in the shared resource which is our fisheries. They should be allowed to do so. If we take these sorts of actions without basing them on science, without looking at how the boat catches and how much the boat catches instead of worrying about how long the thing is, I think that we are actually making very bad policy decisions.

I am very keen to see this disallowance motion overturned so that we can get on with managing our fisheries in the best possible way and can continue to manage our fisheries based on science, sustainability and access for everybody who has a right to have part of this fishery. I would like to formally put on the record that the government will, obviously, be opposing this disallowance motion.

6:10 pm

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise proudly to support Senator Whish-Wilson and the rest of the Australian Greens. I want to say very, very clearly that I do not support lifting the ban on night fishing for the Geelong Star. There has been a lot of discussion in this place this evening about dolphins and seals. These are beautiful, magnificent creatures. They are top predators of our marine ecosystem. As Senator Whish-Wilson said, they are protected because the Australian people have a relationship with them, because we as a people love these beautiful, magnificent creatures. It is important that we all understand this and understand that actually parliaments exist, in significant part, to give expression to the will of the people that we represent in this place. That is what democracies are all about. Yes, it is important that we listen to advice from scientists. It is important that we listen to advice from bureaucrats, administrators and experts in the various fields of life that exist in Australia. However, the buck stops with us, and it is important that we listen to the views of the people we represent in this place. If we are not going to give effect to those views, we had better have a very good reason why we are not going to give effect to those views.

I want to put it very firmly on the record, in response to some of the minister's comments, that we are not talking here about food for Australian people. This is not about whether, when people open a fridge in Australia, they can get a bit of fish out of the fridge. The point has been made by Senator Whish-Wilson that the fish that are harvested by the Geelong Star from the Small Pelagic Fishery are exported from Australia. We do not know how many Australian jobs are created on the Geelong Star. We do not know how much tax the company that is operating the Geelong Star pays in Australia. There is arguably very little benefit, very little upside, to the Geelong Star fishing in Australia, but recent history shows us there has been quite a significant downside to the Geelong Star fishing in Australian waters, particularly the deaths of a significant number of dolphins.

I cannot avoid reflecting on the fact that the minister describes dolphin deaths as 'interactions'. Let us call spades spades in this place. Let us be honest about what we are talking about here. We are talking about dolphin deaths. It is true to say that not every interaction will result in death. However, the words 'dolphin deaths' or 'killing dolphins' did not pass the minister's mouth in her contribution. We need to be very clear here that we are talking about a vessel that was supposedly regulated according to the best science and the best regulatory advice, and it slaughtered its way through dolphins and seals. It carved a swathe through dolphins and seals. It got four dolphins in a single throw of its nets. That is what we are talking about here. This move-on condition, the exclusion from zone condition, is potentially doing nothing more than spreading out these deaths. That is what we are dealing with here.

Like Senator Whish-Wilson, I have been lucky enough to spend a fair bit of my time interacting with the ocean. I have done the Sydney to Hobart and spent a lot of time in waves around Tasmania's magnificent coastline. Like so many Australians, whether it be through sailing, surfing or fishing—which I have done a fair bit of as well—I feel a connection with our marine environment and our coastline. We should not devalue that connection in the conversation we are having about the way the Geelong Star fishes and whether or not it should be banned from fishing at night. That connection should not be devalued; it should be highly valued because, as human beings, our connection to place is one of the most important things that we have. That is why people will fight passionately to defend places they love against inappropriate developments. The people I represent, the Tasmanian people, are renowned for fighting passionately to protect the places they love, the places they have a relationship with, from what they consider to be inappropriate development. That relationship with place goes to the very heart of what it is to be a human being. Our relationship with the marine ecosystem—those places on the coastline that we love, the waterways that we love—should be highly valued, because just as our connections to places on land define in large part who we are as people so do our connections with the marine ecosystem.

Quite frankly, whilst we should consider advice from scientists and experts and factor all of those things into our decision making, they are not the only things that we should consider when we make these decisions. Otherwise, we could have a board of scientists or bureaucrats running the country; however, we do not because, as people, we have made the decision to have a democracy where people come from all walks of life—and I look around this chamber and I see people with myriad backgrounds and skill sets, and that is how it should be—in a parliament, because we should reflect the people who elect us to this place. So I accept the importance of science and expert advice but I reject any assertion that science and expert advice should be the only considerations as we go about our decision-making processes in this place.

I want to say something about ecosystems—in fact we heard the word ecosystem mentioned in the context of innovation this morning in the Senate by a couple of government members. They talked about the innovation ecosystem—and that is a very fine description and one I have used myself in this place in the innovation context. However, I can only hope that the government understands the innovation ecosystem better than they understand the environmental ecosystem. There are serried ranks of people in this country and the world who believe correctly that old-style political parties do not get ecosystems. They do not understand that ecosystems have a level of interconnectedness that we cannot hope to fully grasp. They do not understand that, when you interfere unduly with one part of an ecosystem, that can have significant ramifications around the whole ecosystem. Exhibit A in that case of course is global warming—how humans, by simply emitting large amounts of greenhouse gases, are now seeing feedback loops kick in around the planet that will result in ever-increasing problems; not only environmental problems but human problems. Humans are a part of the global ecosystem, and in fact we rely on the complex global ecosystem for our very survival, the health of our families, the health of our communities and, for that matter, for the health of our economy—and that is a simple fact that old-style political parties do not get.

While the science may offer some level of surety to some members in this place and they may come in and make their arguments on the basis of the science that they believe is in place, I am here today to say there is more to life. There is more to our deliberations in this place than simply science. I want to express my concerns—ongoing concerns, notwithstanding the comments of the minister—around localised depletion caused by these vessels, and to equate one massive super trawler with a fleet of smaller boats catching the same amount of fish does the minister no credit at all.

While the Greens are here, we will continue to stand up for our ecosystems. We will continue to stand up for sustainable management of a range of fisheries and other natural resources in this place. But we will take the long view, unlike many others in this place, that looks not only at the impact of our human actions in the next year, the next electoral cycle or the next decade: we will sit and ask ourselves—as we all should—what is the impact of our actions today going to be on people who are alive in 50 or 100 years? Intergenerational equity is something that drives us in the Greens. It drives me as a Greens member of parliament, because I often lie in bed at night wondering what sort of a world we are going to hand over to our children and their children and their children. And, unfortunately, if we keep going on the business-as-usual scenario with our climate and with our management of natural resources, we are going to hand over a world where our kids and their kids have far fewer opportunities than we have today. That, to use an Australianism, is simply not fair. It is not fair on them. That is why we need to make sure that the decisions we make in this place consider human life and the functioning of our ecosystem into the long-term future.

So I want to congratulate Senator Whish-Wilson for bringing this matter before the chamber today. I want to say to members that I will proudly stand with Senator Whish-Wilson and, I might add, proudly stand with the large number of Tasmanian people who have attended rallies and have campaigned against this vessel and previous iterations of the supertrawler and will no doubt continue to stand strong and continue to fight to ensure that the ecosystem functions in the long-term future and that, in the context of recreational fishing, their children and their grandchildren can still throw a line into the water in their childhood and have a reasonably similar expectation of catching a fish as we did in our childhood.

6:23 pm

Photo of Ricky MuirRicky Muir (Victoria, Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I understand that all fishing can present a potential risk to the marine environment and can sometimes lead to the unintentional harm of marine mammals, but I realise that it is unrealistic to cease all forms of fishing. In saying that, I hope the government and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority ensure that inclusive consultation with all relevant stakeholders is carried out and respond to the concerns across the board.

It is my understanding that a meeting between the recreational fishing sector, the Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation and the Game Fishing Association of Australia, the Australian Commercial Fishing Industry, the National Seafood Industry Alliance, the and the operators and owners of the Geelong Star has been arranged for Tuesday, 1 December, to negotiate a memorandum of understanding about the operation of the Geelong Star. These negotiations will include an agreement for the boat to avoid areas of high-recreational activity, as I understand it.

The outcome of this disallowance motion should not determine the direction of this meeting. In addition to this initial meeting, I believe the Senate inquiry into the environmental, social and economic impacts of large capacity fishing vessels—commonly known as supertrawlers—operating in Australia's marine jurisdiction is a valuable opportunity for all stakeholders to voice their opinions, and the report will be beneficial to the outcome of the memorandum of understanding.

I have listened to both sides of the debate and see the merit in both sides. I would particularly like to thank Senator Ruston and Senator Scullion for taking the time to sit down and speak to me about the government's point of view on this. However, it is important that I am representative of my Victorian constituents and their desires and, after a thorough consideration of both sides, I advise that I will be supporting this disallowance motion.

6:25 pm

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Ruston, I agree with you that the size of the boats is not the important factor in this. But I am a little bit confused, because it was your government that put the 130-metre length on your ban for supertrawlers. Your ban is actually based on the size of a boat, so I am not quite sure what you are getting at there. But, if you are saying that it is actually about the operations of the boats and how they operate, I totally agree with you. We certainly have that in common on this issue.

The independent scientific panel that looked at this fishing activity warned that there were risks around potential bycatch issues. Unfortunately, those risks were borne out in a very in-your-face way in the first few weeks after this vessel arrived in this country. This is a really important point: AFMA, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, signed off on the Geelong Star when it arrived in Western Australia. They checked the seal excluder device on the net and they gave it the okay to go fishing. We know that it immediately caught seals and dolphins and had to return to port. They then checked it again and allowed the boat to go fishing a second time, and the same thing happened—and it happened a third time. So the Australian Fisheries Management Authority oversaw those seal and dolphin deaths. And now you are asking us to put faith in the fact that you have got it right now and there will not be any more mortalities of protected species—dolphins and seals. That is what you are asking us to take into account here. Senator Ruston, you also mentioned that the night ban was a knee-jerk reaction. They were the words you used.

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

A precautionary measure.

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

You used those words as well but you also used the words 'knee-jerk reaction'. As I said, I thought it was absolutely necessary at the time, and I am not convinced—and I think a lot of people I represent are not convinced—that the night ban should be lifted. We know from the evidence that we have received, including from our FOI, that visual identification of dolphins and seals is critical to their protection. They are actually the words that were used by the AFMA observers in their conversations with other AFMA people—and it is something that I have confirmed with the AFMA management. But a decision was made around the economics of this boat and achieving a balance between allowing it to fish and make a buck and the protection of dolphins and seals. We have to make a judgement today about whether we have got that balance right. I think, and the Greens think—and I am glad that Labor and Senator Muir support this—that the ban should stay in place and that we should take all possible mitigation measures to protect dolphins and seals.

I would like to point out to Senator Collins and Labor that, yes, you may feel sorry for the owners of this boat, but let's remember that it was Seafish Tasmania that brought the first supertrawler here three and a bit years ago. That literally set this country on fire—it was literally like wildfire—in terms of the reaction. That was not the first supertrawler to come here. The Veronica came here in 2007, and it caused the same reaction. So Seafish Tasmania made the decision to bring a smaller vessel, the Geelong Starstill a very big trawler—knowing what public sentiment was in this country and knowing that the independent scientific panel had said that there would be risks to bycatch and localised depletion and the impacts that might have on seals, dolphins, seabirds and other marine life and other fish. The boat came without any consultation with the rec fishing groups and with environmentalists. Had they learnt the lessons of the Margiris and the Abel Tasman and actually sat down and talked to stakeholders, then this could have been avoided. But in the end, and I do not say this with any pride, we turned out to be right. The arrival of that boat was a catastrophe for marine life.

I am glad you, Senator Ruston, have acknowledged that it was unacceptable. I acknowledge you also made the point that you—and even the people on board the boat and in fisheries—do not like to see dolphins, whales or other cetaceans and seals killed. None of us do. I totally accept that. The question here is: have we got the balance right? I would like to see the night ban stay in place for longer, as a lot of people I represent would too.

Lastly, in relation to the videos that are on the boat, I have attempted through freedom of information to get copies of the videotape and so far, after repeated attempts, have not been successful. They are not open and available for people to view, and that is unfortunate. We are continuing to try and get copies of those, but they are not available to us at the moment even though we have made numerous FOI requests.

I hope that you are correct and that the observers do stay on board the vessel. I know it has fished at daytime for months. You have not told us how often it has been fishing at night-time. We do not even have that data in front of us to work out the likelihood of having caught and killed dolphins in the seven weeks that the night ban has been released. Perhaps when the Senate inquiry looks at these kind of things and more information comes to light, then we can get a lot more light shed on this.

I ask the Senate to disallow the removal of the night ban on the supertrawler Geelong Star in the Small Pelagic Fishery and take a stand to protect our marine life.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the disallowance motion moved by Senator Whish-Wilson be agreed to.