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Wednesday, 12 September 2012
Page: 10435

Mr BROADBENT (McMillan) (18:23): I say to the member for Dobell that a week ago there was no concern about the science. There was no confusion about the science on this issue. AFMA reaffirmed the science regarding the operations of the company on Monday. Minister Burke reaffirmed the science last week. Minister Ludwig reaffirmed the quota on 23 August, and Labor voted it in on Monday, 10 September. The quota is not reduced. Minister Burke called for the large factory freezer vessels in October 2009 when he was fisheries minister. So there was no question a week ago. Only a week ago the science was fine. I cannot understand a former minister like Simon Crean not standing up at least in his party room—I do not know whether he stood up in his party room or not—and saying: 'Look, you just can't do this. This is no way to run a country. This is no way to run the biggest business in Australia—to send a message around the world that you can't come in here and invest and do business.' But you do not want to hear from me, because I have some real, personal concerns about this, so I would like to go to somebody else.

Andrew Macintosh, Associate Director of the ANU Centre for Climate Law and Policy, writing in Crikey today—I admit that I am a subscriber, and I pay for it myself—wrote this:

One of the tragic things about environmental policy is that it tends to follow the principle of factor sparsity, or what is more generally known as the 80-20 rule—80% is for show, 20% for go. Put another way, 80% of policy is designed to do nothing more than send political signals to the electorate or make voters feel better about themselves. The remaining 20% is actually intended to change environmental outcomes.

There is no better example of the 80% in action than the government’s treatment of the Abel Tasman supertrawler issue.

I am using this piece out of Crikey because it gives a reasonable background of what we are on about here. It goes on:

Since the early 1990s, Commonwealth fisheries policy has largely been based on three simple principles. First, overfishing is addressed by placing caps (or quotas) on how many fish can be taken in each fishery. Second, government policy should encourage the caps to be filled at least cost—

or in the most efficient way—

that is, the fish should be caught in the cheapest way possible to free up resources for other uses. Third, the use of fishing gear is regulated in order to reduce by-catch, or the unintentional capture of non-commercial species.

People like me who have been around in this place since 1990 lived all these issues, especially through those years of the 90s, and that is why I mentioned Simon Crean before. The article continues:

Sitting above the fisheries regime are environmental protection laws. Under federal environmental law, all Commonwealth-managed fisheries are strategically assessed on a rolling basis. These assessments look at the environmental impacts of the management arrangements for each fishery and determine whether they are sustainable. After the completion of the assessment, if the environment minister is satisfied with the arrangements, the fishery is approved for the purpose of export and an exemption is granted to ensure individual fishers do not have to comply with project-based environmental approval requirements.

Despite the noise in the media, the proposed operations of the Abel Tasman tick all the boxes of the fisheries and environmental regime. The fishing will occur within the quota set for the Small Pelagic Fishery. The fisheries management arrangements for this fishery have been strategically assessed by the Environment Department on four occasions: 2003, 2007, 2009 and 2012. Moreover, the introduction of the larger vessel is in keeping with the desire to improve efficiency as it will lower unit costs, and Environment Minister Tony Burke had set stringent bycatch conditions on the operation of the vessel.

This is not to say that the general management arrangements for the Small Pelagics Fishery or any other Commonwealth-managed fishery are sustainable. Several of them are overfished—

the author says—

and subject to serious bycatch and environmental degradation issues (noting that the Small Pelagics Fishery is probably among the better-managed Commonwealth fisheries). However, the operator of the Abel Tasman, Seafish, has done everything—


according to the book. Its only crime was to run into a government in a tight political spot that is looking to attract votes on the back of a populist environmental campaign.

As if to highlight the absurdity of the situation, the government is rushing through legislation today in order to give it the power to stop the Abel Tasman from fishing pending an environmental assessment, even though it already possesses this power. There are provisions in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act that allow Burke to call in the Abel Tasman’s proposed activities and subject them to the project-based environmental assessment and approval process. It is unclear why the government thinks it needs to duplicate these existing powers.

Minister Burke might answer that question. The article continues:

Given the way the process has unfolded, at the very least, Seafish should be offered compensation for its treatment. If it isn’t, the company is justified in asking why its losses are any different from those incurred by the fossil-fuel generators and other emissions-intensive polluters, which have been so grossly overcompensated for the effects of the carbon pricing scheme.

This is important—I might not agree with this, but I have got to read the whole article:

Beyond that, this incident shines a light toward more serious policy questions, particularly the sustainability of the current fisheries management arrangements and efficacy of the Commonwealth’s strategic assessment process.

To date, there has been only one independent analysis of the fisheries strategic assessment process. It found that the strategic assessments rarely led to material changes in fisheries practices and that its environmental achievements were modest. If there is a need for change, it is in the way these assessments are conducted and the level of transparency in environmental and fisheries regulation.

As Seafish has pleaded today, fishers need certainty in the regulatory environment in which they operate. Equally, the community is entitled to ask that its marine resources are effectively and sustainably managed, and that it is provided with the data to make these judgments.

I said I would speak about what other people say. This has been known about for nine months. I will quote again, this time from an AAP article I have here:

Seafish Tasmania director Gerry Geen says his company's failed super-trawler venture has cost it millions, and he is embarrassed for his Dutch business partners.

The 142-metre Abel Tasman is set to be banished from Australian waters for at least two years by federal government legislation—

rushed in today—

while fisheries science is updated.

The decision comes with the boat already in Australia, having made the voyage from the Netherlands, after what Seafish says was years of negotiation with the Australian Fisheries Management Authority.

Asked what the venture had cost Seafish, a furious Mr Geen told ABC Radio in Tasmania: "Millions."

"This has been a long project," he said.

"We brought our Dutch partners over to meet with AFMA eight or nine months ago and we were assured if the vessel was an Australian vessel properly flagged it would be treated the same as every other vessel.

"We've been badly let down on that one."

Mr Geen said Tuesday's announcement by government ministers Tony Burke and Joe Ludwig had left him feeling red-faced.

"I'm responsible for bringing this Dutch company … to Australia on the basis that we had strong rules, we had laws which would be upheld and we had strong fisheries management based on science," he said.

"On that basis they and we have invested millions of dollars to do this venture and I'm bitterly disappointed and embarrassed at what the government has done."

Asked where the decision left Seafish financially, Mr Geen said: "That's something we're going to have to look at."

The company is exploring its options, which reportedly include seeking compensation, but Environment Minister Burke has said the government is on "strong ground" because the vessel had no fish quotas assigned to it.

The ban will mean the loss of 50 jobs, for which Mr Geen said he was "sorry".

I wonder if the minister is sorry.

He did not know when or where the boat would head next.

Mr Geen said he was hopeful of speaking to politicians in a last-ditch bid to stop them supporting the government's legislation.

Here we have a businessperson who has gone outside of Australia and found a model—I do not know a lot about the issues, but I have been told that this ship is environmentally better for the catch itself. It makes sure that the catch is for human consumption and not just belted into cat food. It allows for better protection of species that it does not want to catch. It actually has cameras in the nets and cameras all over the boat. There are a whole lot of conditions put on the boat by the Australian government. The government putting on those conditions suggests they knew it was coming, and they would all have been worked on for a long time before the boat was brought out here. The boat was brought out here in good faith.

The member for Dobell talked about all the people who do have a real concern about the size of this ship and the catch it takes. I absolutely respect those people in the Australian community who have a view about this boat and, at first blush, I had a similar view, being an occasional fisher myself. But when you actually invest some time and effort into seeing what the issues actually are, you can understand why the government brought this out—because there is only one quota and there are only so many fish to be taken and, having that one quota, if you can take those fish in a more efficient manner than you otherwise would have, that is the way you would be best to go about it from a business perspective. If the business did not think this was the best way to go about fulfilling the quota that they own, that the Australian government have given them, in this fishery, they would have said, 'We'll do it with our smaller trawlers here.' They would have found another way to go about it. But the best way to go about it, they felt, was to bring this trawler out, with the freezers in it, to make it a better business opportunity, better for Tasmania and better for those working on the ship. So they brought the ship out here. As the professor said, they ticked all the boxes. They jumped through every environmental hoop, until the government, in a political knee-jerk response said, 'But you can't go ahead and catch the fish that you have been brought out here to catch.' I just do not think you can run a country in that manner, and I do not think you can send the messages that we are sending nationally, locally, and overseas on this issue.

It might surprise you that I am standing up on an issue that could cause damage politically to me and others with people who do not understand my position. But some issues that are about the nation and how we do business are extremely important. This issue is extremely important to the nation and how we do business: how we do business with the people who do business in our country, and how they are able to do business, with confidence and in good faith, with those people that they invited here from another country with the blessing of a government that has just backflipped.