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Wednesday, 12 September 2012
Page: 10359

Mr KELVIN THOMSON (Wills) (13:31): Last week, I participated in a debate at the University of Melbourne where the Institute of Public Affairs spokesman attacked the Labor government as being elitist, out of touch with ordinary people, out of touch with their supporters. But today I heard Liberal Senator Abetz on the radio, attacking the bill before the House as 'populist' and a 'knee-jerk reaction' to public opinion. Well, make up your mind, guys. You cannot have it both ways. Either Labor are out of touch with what people want or we are doing what people want. In this case, it is blindingly obvious that we are indeed doing what the public wants—and what, Senator Abetz, is wrong with that?

What is wrong with doing what fishermen want us to do? What is wrong, Senator Abetz, with us listening to Colin Stephenson of Spreyton, in your home state of Tasmania, who says that stocks of Australian salmon in Bass Strait were overfished by trawlers in the 1960s and took decades to recover? What is wrong, Senator Abetz, with us listening to Burnie fishing store owner Rodney Howard, also in your home state, who said that he and other commercial operators feared for their livelihoods if the supertrawler was permitted to operate, saying, 'There will be a huge decline in game fishing because if bait isn't there, the big fish won't be either'? What is wrong, Senator Abetz, with the government listening to the 350 recreational fishermen who towed 100 boats from Devonport to Burnie in July, or the 200 cars which drove through Hobart or the 150 cars with boats attached which travelled by convoy through Launceston on the same day? Senator Abetz might not be interested in listening to the views of his Tasmanian constituents, but we are. And what is wrong with listening to the recreational anglers of Warrnambool in western Victoria, or the Warrnambool city councillors, who said there was potential for the supertrawler to take most of the food supply for fish targeted by recreational anglers in western Victoria?

In the same vein, I was intrigued to hear some of the media questioning of the government ministers yesterday along the lines of, 'Aren't you caving in to public pressure?' Are the questioners suggesting that there is something noble and honourable about thumbing your nose at public opinion? They imply and suggest that we should overlook or ignore public opinion, yet they are the first to accuse us of being out of touch and to foster cynicism about the political process and its failure to deliver what people want from it. That is fundamentally undemocratic and elitist. Frankly, governments should make a habit of caving in to public opinion. They would get elected and re-elected more often if they did.

To listen to those opposite spitting the dummy over this bill, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Declared Fishing Activities) Bill 2012, is very revealing. They cannot bear the idea of a win for people power. For them, it is a revolutionary threat to business's cosy, predictable domination of political discourse. For them it is unbearable, quite intolerable.

I want to quote at some length Tim Winton's speech to MPs here in Canberra back on 9 May, because, try as I might, I cannot improve on his words:

Think of your happiest moments, your most vivid memories. A holiday. Summer. It's always summer, isn't it?

…   …   …

In mine I'm always standing on a beach, beside an estuary, on a jetty. Holding a fishing rod. Or a net, a mask and snorkel. Hunting and gathering is in my blood. As a boy I loved the freedom, the direct engagement with the physical world, the feeling of competence. Now, I didn't know it at the time but I'd inherited two great treasures: a cultural tradition and the living ocean that sustains it.

…   …   …

Australians are islanders. Coastal people. Almost all of us live on the edge of the world's biggest island. On the veranda of the continent. … This is what we tap into when we go on holiday now. … That yearning is deeply embedded. We still want to engage with our physical surroundings. And the thing is we can. In the developed world that's rare.

…   …   …

During my own lifetime the world's oceans have suffered a terrible decline. I've read about it. And I've seen it up close and ugly. When I lived in Greece I saw the results of oil spills, dynamite fishing, lax regulation. I've surfed in raw sewage in Indonesia and putrid medical waste in Brazil. And I've wondered: am I swimming in the future? Will my grandkids inherit a sea of … plastic? The global trends aren't great. Collapsing fisheries, dying corals, gyres of plastic the size of entire countries, catastrophic oil spills that ruin the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of fishing families and poison the food chain for decades.

He went on to say:

We all know we're pushing the ocean too hard. And the pressure to relegate marine protection—to defer it—that pressure is intense. And the balance is not in the ocean's favour. Taking a loss has become business as usual. …

We have to stop spending beyond our means. Robbing Peter to pay Paul. Otherwise we'll be the generation—the richest, most mobile and well-educated generation in Australia's history—that passes on a dud inheritance, and leaves the estate in arrears. Bequeathing a loss to a family, a community, a nation, that's a despicable thing to do. 'Kids, all this … plastic is yours. Don't spend it all at once.'

It is being claimed that this bill represents a repudiation of the science and a repudiation of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, the experts. I want to draw the attention of the House to a letter from Professor Jessica Meeuwig, Conservation Fellow of the Zoological Society of London and Director of the Centre for Marine Futures, Oceans Institute, University of Western Australia, in which she makes the following points:

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 —W est, Peruvian jack mackerel, redbait— West). It is l ikely that biomass estimates … are much more uncertain than is currently reported ... such assessments do not allow us to infer that the populations will remain sustainably fished with a sudden 10-fold increase in landings as would be allowed under the new quotas.

To address concerns around localized depletion and hyperdepletion that may occur when super trawlers are active, we need to understand population structure (how do young fish recruit across the region?) and adult movements (will adults replenish depleted areas?). Yet again, our information is uncertain. Of the four species considered for exploitation, the population structure of blue mackerel is uncertain, whilst jack mackerel and redbait are believed to have eastern and western subpopulations . In addition no dedicated studies have been conducted on redbait, and no stock structure information is available for Peruvian jack mackerel, a species that is often assumed to behave like its cousin, the jack mackerel, despite having very different life history characteristics.

N othing is known about adult movements in any of these species except that larger jack mackerel are found in deeper waters. In the event of localized depletions by the super trawler, we therefore have no evidence that these regions will be replenished by eith er mobile adults or recruits—

M any forage fish have been or are being overexploited; their rapid growth rates and high reproductive output are not sufficient to protect them against the sustained rates of harvest of super trawlers ... the species available to the super trawler (blue mackerel, jack mackerel, Peruvian jack mackerel and redbait) are larger, live longer, and feed higher up the food chain than do species typically classed as forage fish ... the species potentially allocated to the super trawler show great similarity with cool water, reef-associated species already recognized as vulnerable to overexploitation ... in Western Australia.

Bycatch is a concern. In a study fur seals, interacted—

which is a polite word for ' killed '

with over 50% of all mid-water trawl shots ... most fishing activity occurred on the shelf ... within the animals diving range... It is unclear... how fur seals would respond to a much larger net in terms of their ability to maintain orientation and exit the net, particularly given its substantially larger size.

We have a set of species that we know little about that are relatively vulnerable to overfishing based on their life history... We do know from global experience that super trawlers are incredibly efficient and can cause local depletions, from which these species may not recover quickly. We also know that super trawlers have been problematic globally in terms of their sustainability. Opening Australian waters to a super trawler at a time when our knowledge base for this species is uncertain is risky and inconsistent with the precautionary principle.

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.

She says she had the privilege of introducing the documentary The End of the Line for a showing at Parliament's theatre in 2011. At the time, she was asked : 'H ow is this relevant to Australia? We don't have this kind of highly industrialized super trawling here. ' She concludes by saying:

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.

There have been claims made that banning the super trawler will lead to job losses. However , I have been advised by the Australian Maritim e Officers Union, Jan Thompson— no relation that the super trawler is crewed by about 50 Croatian nationals. Sea Fish has shown no interest in a collective agreement with the union, save fo r last week saying it wanted a m aster and chief engineer for approximately one month. Sea Fish has said the workers on the vessel are tec hnically sub contractors who do not work for wages but for a percentage of the catch. This raises questions about the applicable 'market salary rate' in the event that such workers were to apply for 457 visas, not that there i s any sign that they have. If t he Liberal Party genuinely want to help these Croatian workers, they should start advocating that , while the vessel works in international waters , the workers should be paid the minimum rates as per the International Transport Workers' Federation a greement.

I want to pay tribute to some of my colleagues who have spoken previously in this debate. I was first contacted about this issue by the m ember for Corangamite, Darren Cheeseman, who explained to me the super trawler proposal and the level of opposition to it coming from both environmental groups and fishermen. I was subsequently contacted by environmental groups about the issue, and wrote to Minister Ludwig about it in July. At the invitation of Julianne Bell of Protectors of Public Lands, I attended a protest rally at St Kilda Beach on what was described as Stop the Super Trawler National Day of Action , on 11 August.

I also want to pay tribute to the m ember for Fremantle, Melissa Parke, who prepared a private member ' s bill to stop the super trawler, which has been a wonderful catalyst for government action. In their five years here both Darren and Melissa have proved to be courageous and articulate advocates for the environment and animal welfare— quite outstanding. I should also acknowledge the other g overnment speakers the m ember for Hindmarsh, Steve Georganas, the m ember for Makin, Tony Zappia, and the m ember for Shortland, Jill Hall. I want their constituents and people right around Australia with a concern for the environment or animal welfare to know that they have committed and courageous representatives who stand up on these issues, both when it is fashionable and when it is not.

When you stand up and advocate the cause of ot her living things like seals, dolphins or sea birds, these other living things are blissfully ignorant that you a re doing it, so the political reward for your actions is often unclear and the political cost is often very clear. But , in acknowledging the work both of the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities and of the m ember for Fremantle, the m ember for Corangamite, the m ember for Hindmarsh, the m ember for Makin and the m ember for Shortland, these colleagues who have helped bring about this b ill, I want to return to some words from Tim Winton:

When your grandkids ask you what you did as a member of parliament some of them, I'll admit, will be entranced by your stories of tax reform. Stands to reason. They'll love the story about that parliamentary committee. But think of the day when you help your granddaughter reel in her first flathead, the day you take your nephew to the aquarium, the morning you take your grandkids snorkelling in a marine sanctuary and their eyes are out on sticks. There's always that quiet moment you get on the way home. After they've seen that turtle, those dolphins, the rockpool full of life. That'll be when you let it slip. Offhand. You know, real casual, about what you did when you were in parliament. You helped save Australia's oceans.

With marine parks and with this b ill, these members have helped save Australia's o ceans, and whatever else they do in their p arliamentary careers, their children and grand children will be very much indebted to them and Australia will be a better place for their contribution to it.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): Order! The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour.