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Monday, 14 August 2006
Page: 40

Senator SIEWERT (3:32 PM) —I rise to speak on southern bluefin tuna and its piracy. I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for the Environment and Heritage (Senator Ian Campbell) to a question without notice asked by Senator Siewert today relating to illegal fishing and southern bluefin tuna.

The Minister for the Environment and Heritage said today in the chamber that he was working on a ‘win-win situation’. I would like to know just who is winning. Is it like the whales are winning? This year, unless action is taken, we will see 1,000 whales die. Last year we saw, I think, 846 die. At the moment we are seeing southern bluefin tuna going down the gurgler. They are well and truly facing extinction.

At the beginning of this year, IUCN listed southern bluefin tuna on their Red List of Threatened Species, yet Australia did not. The minister also admitted that the current situation is not ideal. Talk about master of the understatement! He does not want to take any action at the moment to list the species as threatened because apparently it will make conservation more difficult. I have a message for the minister: if the species is extinct, it will be very difficult for the industry to survive. Therefore, I advocate that action be taken now. A little bit of pain worn by the industry now is far better than an industry ceasing to exist when the species ceases to exist.

The minister also answered a dorothy dixer in the chamber today about science underpinning decision making. Here we have a classic example of where science is available to underpin decision making. Every year since 1992 we have had assessments from the Bureau of Rural Sciences telling us that the species is being overfished. Yet last year, in September 2005, the minister for the environment ignored this information and also ignored information and assessment advice from his department’s own Threatened Species Scientific Committee to list this species as threatened under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. Where is he using the science? How much science does he need to show that this species is at risk? Why wasn’t it listed?

I believe that most Australians would have been disgusted when they saw the reports this weekend on the overfishing that is going on and the estimate of between 12,000 and 20,000 tonnes of southern bluefin tuna turning up in Japanese fish markets. I believe that they want our government to take action in the same way that they want our government to take more action on, not just talk about, whales. There is overwhelming public sentiment about what the Australian government should be doing about whales—that is, more than just talk. I believe they want more than just talk on southern bluefin tuna.

If we needed more evidence that the current system of regulating international fisheries is actively contributing to the destruction of fish, here it is. We are informed that the levels of this species are hovering between three per cent and 14 per cent of their prefishing level. So, again, there is the science for you, Minister. The Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna has a scientific committee that has acknowledged that even the current allowable catch is too high. Negotiations are apparently under way to reduce this quota by half, yet the minister still takes no action.

There are three simple things that this government and this minister can do now. Firstly, the minister can reconsider his decision not to list this species as threatened under the EPBC Act. Surely this evidence of large-scale piracy is the final straw for the minister. It must tip his decision over to listing this species. Secondly, the government can revoke the Declaration of Wildlife Trade Operation under the EPBC Act that the fishery is ecologically sustainable. The evidence of sustainability of this fishery was flimsy before and is now simply non-existent. It is not sustainable and the government needs to take action. In taking this action the minister is effectively setting aside the current Australian quota and setting the species aside for conservation until such time as international action is taken against illegal fishing. The minister would be taking a precautionary action to protect this species before it becomes extinct. I repeat: there will be no industry if this fish is not protected. Thirdly, in recognition of the fact that the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna has been unable to prevent this situation, the minister can nominate this species for listing on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, CITES. This is a convention with the kind of teeth that are needed to make a difference for this species. This species is staring down the barrel. This government cannot ignore this situation any longer. These are three things that the minister can do immediately to protect this species. This government has failed—(Time expired)

Question agreed to.