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Thursday, 24 March 1994
Page: 2200

Senator SHERRY (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy) (1.42 p.m.) —Firstly, one of the concerns the government had with this amendment is that it is not treated at the moment as a transport matter within the Department of Transport. In fact, it is coincidental that I, as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy, have been delegated responsibilities for some matters to do with quarantine and the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service, including this issue.

  Having said that, however, I appreciate Senator Coulter's concerns about this matter. It was certainly a new issue to me when I was briefed on and, in fact, launched a discussion paper on the matter late last year. That was at the same time that the problems in Tasmania with the northern starfish, as Senator Coulter referred to, became evident. We believe that the starfish was brought into Tasmanian waters by an unknown vessel. It would be wrong to say it was a Japanese vessel even though the starfish come from Japanese waters.

  This is a very critical issue because, unfortunately, of all the various plants and organisms that have been transferred from one part of the world to another—whether in the marine environment or on land—we have not been successful in eradicating one in this country. We have been successful in reducing and containing their numbers but we have not been able to eliminate one species of plant or animal totally. I think I referred to this starfish at the time as a marine rabbit. That is exactly what it is. We all know the problems we have had with rabbits in this country. This starfish has spread up the coast of Tasmania and quite possibly into Victorian waters. We believe that it will be limited by the warmer waters. The starfish are unlikely to spread further than Adelaide or the New South Wales border because the waters there are warmer.

  The starfish represents a significant problem, not just to commercial fisheries—whether fish farms or whatever the type of operation—but also to the marine environment itself. It is a particularly avaricious eater of everything in its path. I can see that Senator Kemp wants me to wind my speech up. It is an interesting switch, is it not, Senator Kemp? I am not speaking for the sake of speaking. It is an issue with which I have some familiarity.

  I want to touch on just two more points. Senator Panizza raised the issue of whether ports, states or the Commonwealth should have jurisdiction in this area. I only wish the Commonwealth did have sole jurisdiction but, unfortunately, the Fraser government, in its dying days, gave jurisdiction of the waters of Australia to the three-mile limit back to the states without finalising details of these sorts of issues. Today, we are still trying to finalise the management of fisheries in the three-mile limit. It is unfortunate that these sorts of matters were not resolved in terms of the jurisdictional issues.

  With regard to the other points that Senator Coulter and Senator Panizza have touched on, it would certainly be desirable to develop effective mechanisms for processing the ballast water on board the vessels. There are a significant range of problems—Senator Coulter has touched on some of them—in processing this water in port. Because of time, I will not go into that today.

  It is a very critical issue; it is a major environmental issue. It will only grow as a problem because of the increasing world trade. I personally treat it as a significant problem. I have responsibility in the area, and I see it as particularly urgent—not just because I have responsibility in the area, but because I have seen first-hand the devastating effects of this starfish in Tasmania. The government accepts the amendment.

  Amendment agreed to.

  Original question, as amended, agreed to.