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Wednesday, 12 September 2012
Page: 10352

Ms PARKE (Fremantle) (13:06): Fremantle has long been a fishing community and it has long been a leader in environmental protection and sustainability. My community has been thrilled with the federal government's recent announcement that Australia will establish the world's largest network of marine sanctuaries in Commonwealth waters. That is why, from the moment I heard that a supertrawler was en route to Australia and was seeking to operate in those same Commonwealth waters, serious alarm bells began to ring about what this might mean for local fishers and for marine biodiversity.

When one considers the scale and indiscriminate nature of this kind of operation—with its potential to exact damaging localised depletion of fish species for which we have imperfect or non-existent data; with its potential to wreak havoc on the existing food chain and marine ecosystems; and its potential to kill large numbers of animals like seals, dolphins, sea lions and seabirds as the bycatch victims of its enormous drag nets—there can be no question but that the precautionary principle must apply.

And, when one looks into the history and practice methods of supertrawler operations elsewhere and considers the impacts they are likely to have on the distinctive features of Australia's marine environment, there could be no option but to address the legislative inadequacy that has until now prevented the ministers responsible from acting to protect Australia's oceans and fisheries. I am glad that, through the galvanising events of recent weeks, the government has found a way to give the environment minister that power.

For me, the urgency and clarity of taking action—of proposing a private member's bill, together with a number of my Labor colleagues, as part of that galvanising process—was further reinforced by a number of considerations. First, I represent an electorate, and I come from a state, that is within the proposed area of operation for this veritable Godzilla of the sea. The fishing community I represent was quick to make its concerns known about the nature and scale of a supertrawler operation. Commercial fishers in Fremantle, and in WA more widely, are only too conscious of the preciousness and fragility of our fisheries, and they have undergone a series of complex and difficult adjustments over at least the last 10 to 15 years in recognition of the changes required to ensure that our fisheries and our oceans are sustainable into the future. This process has certainly not been without a fierce and frank debate involving fishers, scientists, regulators and conservationists, and it has not been without some economic and social consequences for a number of long-time fishing families in Fremantle, and yet, through that process and the advocacy of marine scientists, there is no doubt that both the recreational and the commercial fishing communities have become acutely aware that our oceans deserve and require stewardship of the highest quality.

A supertrawler fails that standard with its onboard fish-processing and storage capacity of 6,200 tonnes, which means that the vessel can stay in a particular area of the sea for extended periods and trawl it dry. A supertrawler represents the very antithesis of the approach that sustainable Australian fishery management requires and that maritime conservation demands. It is the marine equivalent of strip mining or clear-felling, depleting the oceans of life with industrial scale and efficiency.

My Labor colleagues and I have received the message loud and clear from our communities. This has been one of those issues where a strong public consensus has formed instinctively and decisively around the common-sense view—which is also, I might add, the scientific view—of marine scientists like Professor Jessica Meeuwig; namely, that a supertrawler operation like the one presented by the MV Margiris is unsustainable and presents unacceptable risks to marine ecosystems and local fisheries.

I want to acknowledge the input of literally thousands of people, from experts to ordinary people from all walks of life, in Fremantle and around the country. I thank those who have sent me emails and letters, those who have phoned my office or visited my office to express their concerns and those who have attended rallies and written to newspapers. I recognise with gratitude, too, the support and advice I received from a number of people and organisations, including the team at Greenpeace; the Wilderness Society; Sea Shepherd; Environment Tasmania; the Save Our Marine Life coalition, especially David Mackenzie, Michelle Grady, Tim Nicol, Paul Gamblin and Chris Smyth; Perth barrister Greg Mcintyre SC; ANU professor Andrew Macintosh; and dozens of local fishing organisations that have written to me on this issue. I also want to thank my Labor caucus colleagues with whom I have worked very closely on this issue, particularly my Tasmanian colleagues the member for Franklin and senators Carol Brown and Lin Thorp. I also want to mention the member for Wills, who was going to second my private member's bill if we had gone ahead with it.

Finally, I want to acknowledge Professor Jessica Meeuwig, the Director of the Centre for Marine Futures at the Oceans Institute, University of Western Australia, and a Conservation Fellow of the Zoological Society of London. Professor Meeuwig provided invaluable and clear-sighted advice on this matter, as she has done in the past, and I want to quote from the letter that she provided to the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities on 27 August. It says:

Increasing the total allowable catch to 18,000 tonnes represents an unsupported 10-fold increase over previous landings. This is a significant increase from one year to the next. The calculation of this new quota assumes that the estimates of biomass are reliable. It is notable that the estimates are generally based on old information (blue mackerel in the East 2004), inferred from other species (jack mackerel—East), or actually entirely absent (jack mackerel—West, Peruvian jack mackerel, redbait—West). It is thus likely that biomass estimates (and associated quotas) are much more uncertain than is currently reported.


This proposal for a super trawler is clearly an example where significant uncertainty exists in biological knowledge, both in terms of the species themselves and their unfished biomass. The entry of the Margiris is appropriately considered a new fishery from an ecological perspective given it represents effectively a new gear and the Western region is largely unfished and as such, should not be initiated. Moreover, precautionary spatial closures are not yet in place. As such, the Forage Fish Taskforce recommendations do not appear to support entry of a super trawler into Australian waters.

Professor Meeuwig ends her letter to the minister as follows:

In closing, I had the privilege of introducing the documentary "The End of the Line" for a showing at Parliament's theatre in 2011. At the time, I was asked "how is this relevant to Australia? We don't have this kind of highly industrialized supertrawling here." I answered that the film provided a salutary lesson in terms of the negative impacts that such fishing can have on ocean health and how important it is to protect Australia's oceans because they are still relatively healthy. At a time when Australia is leading the world in marine conservation by establishing a legacy network of reserves, it seems incredibly counterproductive and short sighted to introduce more unnecessary opportunities for the overexploitation of our oceans.

I think that makes the argument as well as it can be made, and I know that the minister himself, who, along with his staff and department, deserves enormous credit for the painstaking work that went into the creation of the historic marine protection in the south-west marine bioregional area, has been seriously exercised by the need to prevent the supertrawler from undermining that achievement.

I have no doubt that it was a great relief to hundreds of thousands of concerned Australians to hear yesterday that the government will create the additional powers under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to allow the minister for the environment to stop the supertrawler operating for up to two years while the environmental, social and economic impacts are assessed by an expert panel. This length of time is needed because of the present lack of scientific evidence and data regarding the target species and their unfished biomass as well as bycatch impact. The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry has also initiated a root-and-branch review of Australia's fisheries management system to put in place the appropriate processes to deal with issues such as new fishing methods, technologies and vessel types and sizes as they arise.

Among those who will be celebrating this outcome are the students of Fremantle primary school who last week, on a blustery morning at South Beach Cafe, presented the Prime Minister with a card that said, 'Thank you for introducing the world's largest network of marine sanctuaries.' That achievement, which will resonate far into our future, is one of the most significant achievements of this Labor government. It was partly by seeing the importance of our oceans through the prism of that reform process and its outcome that I and many others welcomed the precautionary approach that will prevent the operation of the wandering, plundering MV Margiris—or the FV Abel Tasman, as it has now renamed itself, for what I understand is the fifth time—until environmental, social and economic assessments have been carried out.

There is often a kind of cynicism and doom and gloom when it comes to the political process and its capacity to address problems when they arise, so I would like to finish by recognising that we do have, by and large, a healthy and responsive system of decision making in Australia and that this has been one of those cases where representatives and the people they represent have worked together to find a solution.