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Thursday, 25 February 2010
Page: 1841

Mr GARRETT (Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts) (9:07 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

On 25 January this year I announced that the government would be acting to address the disproportionate impacts on recreational fishers that have resulted from the inflexible relationship between our national environmental law—the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act)—and the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals. This bill specifically addresses those impacts. The government takes its international obligations seriously; however, it is important that our domestic legislation appropriately reflects and implements our international obligations, while also providing the flexibility to properly take into account our particular domestic circumstances.

The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals is an intergovernmental treaty that is concerned with the conservation of wildlife and habitats on a global scale. Australia has been a party to the convention since 1991 and contributes actively and constructively to international conservation efforts under its auspices.

The convention includes two appendices, which list migratory species identified as requiring conservation action. Appendix I includes migratory species which are in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant proportion of their range. Parties must provide immediate protection for migratory species included in appendix I.

While animals listed on appendix I should receive a very high level of protection under our national environmental law, commensurate with the significant threats that they face, animals listed on appendix II do not require the same level of protection. Appendix II lists migratory species that are not endangered but have an ‘unfavourable conservation status’, and which require international agreements for their management, as well as species with a conservation status that would benefit from international cooperation. Parties are required to endeavour to conclude agreements covering the conservation and management of migratory species included in appendix II.

On 8 December 2008, at the ninth conference of the parties to the convention, a number of species were added to these appendices. This included the addition to appendix II of three species of migratory sharks that occur in Australian waters: longfin mako; shortfin mako; and porbeagle sharks.

The Australian government is committed to, and is actively implementing, its international obligations under the convention that stem from these listings. We recognise that, by virtue of their inclusion in appendix II, these species require collaborative international efforts to aid their conservation.

Earlier this month the government sent a delegation to negotiations in Manila, the Philippines to pursue a global Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation of Migratory Sharks. We successfully argued that this global MOU should cover all species of sharks currently included in the convention appendices—including makos and porbeagles. This MOU is one example of Australia’s commitment to shark conservation, and is a welcome step towards enhanced international cooperation and collaboration on the conservation of these species, in keeping with our obligations under the convention.

The EPBC Act does not distinguish between appendix I and appendix II species. Any species that occurs in Australia and is included in either of the convention appendices must be included in the list of migratory species established under the EPBC Act. Once a species is listed, it becomes prohibited to kill, injure, take, trade, keep or move a listed migratory species in Commonwealth areas; and to trade, keep or move a listed migratory species that has been taken in a Commonwealth area.

As required by the legislation as it currently stands, I listed shortfin mako, longfin mako and porbeagle sharks as migratory species under the EPBC Act. This listing became effective on 29 January 2010.

The government is aware that the domestic listing of mako and porbeagle sharks has significant implications for recreational fishers in Australia. Makos are a highly prized sport fish, and in some parts of Australia, are a primary target species for game fishers. The porbeagle is also taken by recreational fishers in southern Australian waters. The government recognises the social and cultural importance of recreational fishing to many Australians, and its economic benefit to some coastal communities. We also appreciate that much recreational fishing activity is carried out in a sustainable manner, for example using catch and release methods.

The EPBC Act currently does not allow for any flexibility on either the question of listing, or on the subsequent offence provisions related to migratory species. As the legislation stands, recreational fishers stand to be disproportionately and unfairly impacted by the listing. These implications cannot be addressed effectively either administratively or by regulation.

The recently completed independent review of the EPBC Act, which was commissioned by the government, examined the provisions of the EPBC Act relating to migratory species. It found that the clear intention of the convention is to differentiate between appendix I and appendix II species and the level of protection required. The review reported that the automatic listing of appendix II species as migratory species under the EPBC Act ‘goes beyond the extent of Australia’s international obligations, affording a higher level of protection to appendix II species than is otherwise required’. It found that in some cases this may give rise to unnecessarily restrictive measures in relation to species that do not have an unfavourable conservation status. The review recommends changes to the provisions in part 13 of the EPBC Act to address these issues.

The government believes that the current situation is one where the current provisions of the EPBC Act do give rise to unnecessarily restrictive measures. The government is currently considering the findings of the independent review. We will provide a comprehensive response in due course. In the interim, the government has decided to act as a priority to address the disproportionate impacts on recreational fishers that stem from the mandatory listing of mako and porbeagle sharks.

In this regard, I would like to acknowledge the work of the member for Corangamite, Darren Cheeseman, and the member for Braddon, Sid Sidebottom, both of whom have large numbers of recreational fishers in their electorates and who worked with those groups and my office to bring this legislative change forward on behalf of their constituents.

The listing of mako and porbeagle sharks on appendix II of the convention was driven primarily by concerns for Northern Hemisphere populations of these species, where the plight of the species due to overfishing is well understood. There is no evidence to suggest that mako or porbeagle populations in Australian waters are similarly threatened.

The government takes its international responsibilities seriously. However, we also believe that our own legislation should fully implement our international responsibilities while providing flexibility to properly take into account our domestic circumstances.

This bill will address those disproportionate impacts on recreational fishers by providing a narrow exception for recreational fishing of longfin mako, shortfin mako and porbeagle sharks to the offence provisions of part 13, division 2 of the EPBC Act. That means it will not be an offence to kill, injure, take, trade, keep or move mako or porbeagle sharks in or from Commonwealth waters, where that action is taken in the course of recreational fishing. This bill will not affect state regulation of recreational fishing of these species.

The bill will not apply to commercial fisheries, which will continue to be subject to the ongoing accreditation processes under part 13 of the EPBC Act. The bill will not affect the offences under part 3 of the EPBC Act, which prohibit actions that have, will have or are likely to have a significant impact on listed migratory species, nor will it affect prohibitions under division 1 of part 13 of the EPBC Act relating to listed threatened species, should mako or porbeagle sharks be listed as a threatened species at any time in the future.

The changes to the EPBC Act proposed by this bill will ensure that international changes to the status of mako and porbeagle sharks and the consequent listing of these species under the act will not affect recreational fishing activities in Australia. These changes reflect the fact that, as the EPBC Act currently stands, the requirement to list mako and porbeagle sharks as migratory species will have a disproportionate and unfair impact on recreational fishers—impacts that extend beyond what the government currently considers is warranted for the protection of mako and porbeagle sharks in Commonwealth waters. This bill is consistent with our international obligations in relation to these species. The government remains committed to shark conservation measures both domestically and internationally, and will continue its active engagement in efforts under the convention on migratory species and in other fora.

Debate (on motion by Mr Coulton) adjourned.