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Wednesday, 12 September 2012
Page: 10331

Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (11:21): I speak in support of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Declared Fishing Activities) Bill 2012. Unlike the previous speaker, I commend the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry not only for working together through this issue but for noting the very legitimate concerns of Australians around the country and responding with this legislation. I also commend the member for Fremantle for bringing this issue forward with her intent to bring in a private member's bill. Of course, that is no longer necessary.

I note that the opposition will not be supporting this bill, which I have to say not only disappoints me but surprises me, given that this is in fact good legislation, legislation that takes a cautious approach to fisheries management in this country and an approach that at this point in time is appropriate. I note that in opposing this legislation the opposition have moved an amendment. The amendment effectively calls for reasons as to why this legislation has been brought into the House. Can I say to members opposite: if you want to know the reasons why this legislation has been brought into the House, simply read the minister's second reading speech. It is all explained there if you care to read it. It is outlined in a very clear way why this legislation is necessary and why it is responsible legislation.

Australia does indeed have a very good fisheries management record and a very good regime in place and has had so for many years. The reality is that circumstances change, and when circumstances change governments have a responsibility to respond to those changes. It has become clear that under existing legislation there is insufficient scope to deal with current fishing practices that we are seeing, including but not restricted to the use of supertrawlers such as the Margiris, now badged as the Abel Tasman. We have also seen in recent years the action taken by state and federal governments around the country to designate specific areas as marine reserves. They have done that again in recognition that changes are taking place and that, if we want to manage our fisheries properly, we need to ensure that they remain sustainable. The only way to do that is by continuous intervention, having assessed the impacts to date of what is currently happening.

Whilst the legislation is not specific to the size of fishing vessels, it does empower the minister to declare a fishing activity, which triggers a 24-month prohibition of fishing whilst an expert panel carries out a scientific investigation of the impacts of the particular fishing activity. Whilst some have argued that section 91 of the Fisheries Management Act provides the minister with additional powers under exceptional circumstances, I accept the minister's advice that that section does not provide sufficient scope to deal with issues such as that of the Margiris.

There has also been considerable debate about the scientific evidence which underpins sustainable fishing policy, and I will make some comments in respect of all of that. Firstly, there is the question about quotas. The issue of quotas has been discussed at length by several of the speakers thus far. That is one of the issues and perhaps the issue that most people focus on. It is the issue that immediately comes to mind. It is, however, not the only issue under consideration with respect to this legislation, and I will talk a little bit more about that in a moment.

The second and equally important issue is how the fish are caught and what impact the activity itself has on the marine environment. The impact of the activity needs to be managed just as much as the quota needs to be managed. For example, the impact of a very large vessel which has the ability to remain in one location for extended periods of time would likely be very different to the impact of several smaller vessels fishing in the area for short periods. These are issues which the expert panel will be asked to report on.

I will turn for a moment to the question of the Margiris, because this legislation has indeed arisen because of the application by the Margiris to fish in Australian waters. The Margiris is a 142-metre vessel weighing 9,500 tonnes. It can process over 250 tonnes of fish each day and has a cargo capacity of 6,200 tonnes. I understand it was brought to Australia by Seafish Tasmania, which has secured an 18,000-tonne quota for jack mackerel and red bait. I also understand that the Margiris will tow a net some 300 metres in length. The 18,000-tonne quota is half of the entire allowable catch for the area of coastline which extends from south-western Western Australia to Queensland—roughly from Perth to Brisbane.

The use of supertrawlers is not new to fishing. What is interesting is that today the experience has led to trawlers being banned in several other parts of the world. I understand that that has previously been the case also with the Abel Tasman. In 1999 the Abel Tasman, then named the Atlantic Star, lost its right to fish in US waters after trading its US flag for a Dutch flag. Indeed, the vessel has an interesting history. Let me just take you through that history. Between 1991 and 1995 I understand that the vessel was named the Apollo Two. Between 1998 and 2002 the vessel was named the Siberian Enterprise. Between 1999 and 2008 it was also named the Atlantic Star, and from 2006 onwards it was named the Annelies Ilena. It then comes to Australia as the Margiris and again changes its name to the Abel Tasman.

The interesting thing about all those name changes is: why would you need to continuously change the name of the vessel if it is not to perhaps run away from a reputation that you do not want attached to the vessel? I would have thought that if the vessel was proud of its history it would retain its original name and wherever it went it would use that name—but not so. The vessel seems to change its name whenever it moves from one location to another. I have to ask the question: why does it need to do that?

Can I return to the issue of quotas. I pointed out earlier on that the area that the vessel was seeking a licence for extends roughly from Perth to Brisbane.

If most of the catch—the 18,000-tonne limit that it is seeking a licence for—were to come from one specific location, that would have a significantly different impact on the fishing stocks than if the catch came from an area evenly spread right across from Brisbane to Perth. Those are the kinds of questions and issues that the scientific panel needs to respond to before a licence should be granted. Those are the kinds of concerns that I believe are properly being raised by people across the community and by this government.

Likewise, if the vessel were to remain in one location for extended periods of time, what would it do to fishing stocks in that particular location—including the bycatch, which others have talked about—not to mention the other environmental impacts of having a large vessel like that operating from one specific point? What environmental impacts would result from all that? Again, we do not have answers to those questions. We do not have answers to those questions because we have never had in Australia a vessel of this type. There is no history to go by. There is no precedent to use in order to try and find answers to these questions, so therefore we rely on speculative assessments as to what might or might not happen if we allowed the vessel to fish under the current licence. Frankly, estimates are not good enough. We need to have more reliable information.

Interestingly, on that very issue, I understand that not long ago in New Zealand a similar experience was had in respect of a Korean supertrawler that was allowed into New Zealand waters. It turned out that, even with the very strict conditions that New Zealand applied to their licence, those conditions proved ineffective and that trawler exceeded its quota. I am unable to say what other breaches occurred, but, if the quota itself could not be monitored, then I have to question how well you can monitor each of the other conditions that are attached when a licence is issued to such a vessel.

But it is not just about quotas. Regrettably, too many of the speakers opposite have just focused on the issue of quotas. On the issue of quotas, I accept the science that has been put together by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority. My concerns are not with respect to the quotas. I understand the 18,000-tonne quota that has been sought by this vessel in Australia represents half of the total catch of that particular type of fish, and that that in turn only represents about 7½ per cent of the total fish stocks in our waters. So that is not my concern. My concern is about the impact that a single vessel of this type will have on the environment.

Speakers opposite have also talked about the 50 or so jobs that might be lost if this licence is not approved. If this ship does not catch the fish that are in the waters, other ships will. If that means that we have to license several smaller vessels, I suspect the total number of jobs created by doing that will far exceed the 50 it is suggested will be lost if we refuse the licence to this operator. In fact, it is because of its efficiencies that this large trawler is being brought in. It is in effect to save costs, and in my view that means it will reduce the number of jobs that will be created.

Recreational fishers have also raised their concerns, certainly in my state of South Australia, with respect to the intrusion of a large vessel of this type into our waters. The South Australian government and the Tasmanian government have both expressed their opposition to this vessel fishing in waters within their jurisdictions. Certainly Minister Paul Caica from South Australia has made it absolutely clear that he does not want this vessel in South Australian waters.

There are a number of other matters that are of concern with respect to this issue. The experience of large trawlers around the world leads me to be very concerned about the impact that such trawlers have. I understand that several countries have already, after having large trawlers in their waters, banned those trawlers from re-entering their waters. It is true they may not have the same fishing management guidelines and regulations in place as Australia does, but nevertheless the fact that these types of vessels are being banned in several parts of the world raises the question as to why. It is clear that we have not had a vessel like this in our waters and therefore the impacts of such a vessel are indeterminable. The scientific panel that will be put together hopefully will be able to address many of the questions that have arisen in the course of the discussion on this issue over the last few weeks and enable the government, if it decides that a licence will be issued, to at least issue the licence with appropriate conditions, which may be stricter and more enforceable than those that are being sought right now.

It is also the case, as we have seen on many other occasions, that it does not matter how good and how tight you think your regulations are; breaches of the regulations are always a possibility. It is always a possibility, even with the best of intentions, that issues such as the bycatch will also prove to be much more serious than the operators of this vessel claim they will be. This legislation simply puts into place a precautionary approach to managing an event that we have never had to manage in the past. It makes more sense to be cautious than to regret the decision after the event, when perhaps the damage has been done and cannot be undone. I commend the legislation to the House.