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Monday, 15 March 2010
Page: 2380

Mr TURNOUR (12:22 PM) —I rise today to support the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Recreational Fishing for Mako and Porbeagle Sharks) Bill 2010—which amends the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Bill 1999—to allow recreational fishing of longfin mako, shortfin mako and porbeagle sharks in Commonwealth areas. In December 2008 longfin mako, shortfin mako and porbeagle sharks were listed on appendix II of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, the CMS. The CMS is an intergovernmental treaty, which is concerned with the conservation of wildlife and habitat on a global scale. The December 2008 listing was made because of concerns about population of these three species in the Northern Hemisphere—and I want to emphasise that it was in the Northern Hemisphere.

Australia has been a party to the convention since 1991. Under the EPBC Act it is a legal requirement that both appendix I and appendix II CMS species be listed as migratory. The Australian government is committed to its international obligations and, accordingly, these species were listed as migratory species under the EPBC Act on 29 January 2010. The effect of the listing of these species under the EPBC Act is that it is an offence to kill, injure, trade, take, keep or move a longfin mako, shortfin mako and porbeagle shark in Commonwealth areas. Mako sharks are highly prized sport fish and are targeted by some recreational fishers. Porbeagles, while not targeted, are difficult to distinguish from makos and are occasionally taken by recreational fishers and in many cases identified as makos. Therefore, the listing of these species has significant implications for recreational fishing.

Because of these implications, an independent review of the EPBC Act was undertaken. I want to stress again that the listings were basically made around concerns in relation to the Northern Hemisphere, and we are in the Southern Hemisphere. The Hawke review specifically examined the provisions of the EPBC Act relating to migratory species and found that the clear intention of the CMS was to differentiate between appendix I and appendix II species and the level of protection required. The Hawke review recommended changes to the provisions in part 13 of the EPBC Act. This bill is an interim response to the issues identified by the Hawke review as they apply to mako and porbeagle sharks while the government develops and implements its formal response to the Hawke review. The government believes that the current situation does give rise to unnecessarily restrictive measures and 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.

I have a large number of recreational fishers in my electorate of Leichhardt—based in Cairns, stretching up through Cape York Peninsula to the Torres Strait. Recreational fishing is an important part of the fabric of our community and is a very important part of not only people’s recreational time but the businesses that flow from that in terms of recreational fishing shops, charter operators and the boat industry in general. A number of locals contacted me in relation to concerns about the listing of these species, particularly in the lead-up to the end of January. They had real concerns that, if we did not introduce this legislation, if they were even to accidentally catch one of these species, then they would see this listing impact on them. I and other members of the Labor side, including the member for Corangamite, the member for Braddon, the member for Flynn and the member for Hindmarsh, who are making contributions in this debate, took those issues up with the minister for the environment. I was pleased to see him respond to the real concerns that we were sharing with him from our constituents.

As I said earlier, the listing of mako and porbeagle sharks was driven by concerns for the Northern Hemisphere populations of these species where their plight due to overfishing is well understood. With no evidence to suggest that mako or porbeagle populations in Australian waters were similarly threatened and while still having regard to our international obligation, the government believes this legislation should provide flexibility to take into account our domestic circumstances.

The amendment to this bill will grant an exemption to recreational fishers to continue to fish for these iconic game fish. In other words, the amendment will address disproportionate impacts on recreational fishers, providing a narrow exemption for recreational fishing of longfin mako, shortfin mako and porbeagle sharks to the offence provisions of part 13, division 2 of the EPBC Act. This 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. It is important to understand that this bill does relate to recreational fishing. I am a strong supporter of the recreational fishing industry. This bill will not apply to commercial fisheries.

As I said, I am a strong supporter of recreational fishing industry in my electorate of Leichhardt. I know that many people enjoy getting out onto the Great Barrier Reef or onto the Coral Sea, and taking the opportunity to wet a line and catch a few fish. It would be inappropriate if people who were going about their everyday business and accidentally caught one of these fish were to suffer the impacts of that listing. Similarly, the game-fishing industry is a very important part of my electorate. There is no scientific evidence to support the listing of these species given that the reasons for their listing were based around decisions that needed to be made for the Northern Hemisphere.

I want to make a few further comments in relation to the support for the fishing industry locally in Cairns and also down the east coast of Australia. There has been much debate and concern in the fishing industry around a proposal brought forward by the PEW environment group, which wants to establish a no-take zone in the Coral Sea, effectively banning fishing in an area bounded by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and our maritime border with PNG, Solomon Islands and New Caledonia, an area of more than one million square kilometres of sea.

During the course of the last year I have met with the recreational fishing industry, the commercial fishing industry, marine tourism operators, Super Yacht Group and the Cairns and Far North Environment Centre. I have told them all the same thing—I do not support the PEW proposal and have made my views clear to the minister for the environment, Peter Garrett. The PEW proposal is not endorsed by the Rudd government. It actually sought to pre-empt, effectively, the marine bioregional planning process that was started by the former Howard government and has been continued by our government to establish well-balanced, scientifically based planning frameworks for our marine environments around Australia. They sought to pre-empt the East Marine bioregional planning process by lobbying for and campaigning for a no-take zone in the Coral Sea.

Under Australia’s marine bioregional planning program, the Coral Sea Conservation Zone was established in May 2009 to provide interim protection to the area while it is being assessed for possible inclusion in one or more Commonwealth marine reserves. So, in May last year Minister Garrett established an interim conservation zone around the Coral Sea. There has been some confusion around that and the proposal put forward by PEW, and I have said very clearly—I know the member for Flynn, the member for Dawson and the member for Capricornia have all made this clear—that we do not support the PEW proposal. In many ways the PEW organisation sought to verbal the government on this issue. There has been some confusion about the PEW proposal and the Coral Sea Conservation Zone, established by Minister Garrett last year. I can assure you that they are quite different—the conservation zone established by Minister Garrett as an interim measure as part of the bioregional planning process had no impact on existing users, whether they were recreational fishing, commercial fishing or tourism operators. I worked hard to ensure that particularly recreational fishing and tourism interests and commercial fishing interests were considered as part of the process. The bioregional planning process is about developing a plan that ensures that resources are managed sustainably into the future and that we protect these very important environmental icons that exists in places like the Coral Sea.

The different interests with a stake in the Coral Sea, whether they be economic, recreational, heritage or conservation, should be able to work together with government to develop a plan for the region without a small group, the PEW organisation, hijacking the agenda, as they have sought to do. I do not believe that the evidence put forward by PEW makes sense. The arguments from the conservation groups in support of their proposal are quite confusing. On the one hand they say that the region is in pristine condition because there is not a lot of fishing activity, yet on the other hand they argue that the region is under threat and needs a total ban on fishing. I find that a very confusing argument. The Battle of the Coral Sea is also put forward as a reason for protection. It is a significant wartime event worth commemorating, but you do not need to create a marine park of one million square kilometres to commemorate this event.

I will continue to do all I can to ensure that common sense prevails when it comes to the management of the Coral Sea. I have asked the minister for the environment to clear up the confusion and to rule out the PEW proposal. I understand that there is some confusion on the ground, and there are some interests that choose to confuse the two issues. The reality is that the PEW proposal is an independent campaign being run by the PEW conservation organisation and it is not supported by the government. As I said, I am a strong supporter of the recreational fishing industry and the commercial fishing industry, and I want to see areas protected and preserved for future generations. I am committed to working with all stakeholders in the Coral Sea, including recreational, commercial and environmental interests, to ensure that we can protect this pristine sea environment for future generations. I do not believe, though, that that requires a ban on fishing. Human beings are and will continue to be part of the environment