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Monday, 24 May 1999
Page: 5148

Senator BARTLETT —My question is to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage. The government has previously indicated its willingness to seriously consider using, if necessary, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES, to protect the Patagonian toothfish and the southern bluefin tuna.

Opposition senators interjecting


Senator BARTLETT —I am sorry that species extinction is not of concern to the ALP, but it is certainly of concern to the Democrats. Given the lack of progress through other channels in protecting these marine species, will the government now act to prevent the extinction of these species by proceeding with nominating them under CITES?

Senator HILL (Environment and Heritage) —I thank the honourable senator for the serious question, which is more than I get from the ALP.

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Faulkner, you and your colleagues should not be shouting across the chamber. There is a level of sledging going on during this question time which is totally out of order and unacceptable. You are denying the authority of the chair by shouting in that fashion.

Senator Faulkner —Madam President, on a point of order: I think you would have noted during the last question asked by Senator Bartlett that most of the noise in the chamber was opposition senators laughing at the Democrats and the government. It was not sledging.

The PRESIDENT —That is not correct, and there is no point of order.

Senator HILL —In response to the question, yes, we have said that we would consider a CITES listing for the two species mentioned by the honourable senator—the Patagonian toothfish and the southern bluefin tuna. That meeting of CITES is next year. But we have also said that we do not think that it is the best option for conservation of either species. In relation to the Patagonian toothfish, the honourable senator would be aware of the actions that we took at the CCAMLR meeting late last year in Hobart: basically to increase conservation measures with observers on vessels, vessel monitoring devices so that they can be followed by satellites and the like, and increasing surveillance as well.

Senator Murphy —And nothing happened. What have you done about it?

Senator HILL —The honourable senator says `Nothing happened.' I might remind him that, using surveillance this year, no vessel was found in Australian waters in breach of our jurisdiction.

In addition, we said that it would be wise to move towards a stock certification scheme and trading restrictions, and we said that we would take that to a special meeting—which we caused to be held—of CCAMLR in Brussels last month. That meeting was held and, in relation to putting in place such a scheme which would be a disincentive for the taking of illegal stock because it would be much more difficult to trade in that stock, I think it is fair to say we achieved about three-quarters of our objectives. We are currently considering what further action we should take before this year's meeting of CCAMLR because there is no doubt that an effective CCAMLR regime not only respected by all CCAMLR parties but also supported by an effective certification and trade scheme is the best way to conserve the Patagonian toothfish.

In relation to the southern bluefin tuna, the best option is of course to operate within the commission and to have it work effectively. I take the opportunity of commending Senator Parer for the work that he did in regard to the increased experimental take of the Japanese to which we have been, and continue to be, opposed. There are some slow but positive steps being taken. In particular, there are good vibes with additional countries coming within the commission which will make a significant difference. But the negotiation which is taking place at the moment continues to be difficult. If the commission can be made to work effectively, there is no doubt in my mind that that is a more effective way of conserving the stock than through CITES because, as the honourable senator will know, states can simply exempt themselves from the application of CITES and thus it becomes ineffective as far as they are concerned.

So what I can say to the honourable senator is: yes, we are looking at all options that will enable us to better conserve both these species which are under considerable pressure at the moment. CITES remains one option that is on the table but there are other options that may in fact be better, so we are not avoiding taking full opportunity of those options as well.

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT —Order! Labor senators will cease shouting.

Senator BARTLETT —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for his answer. I realise that bodies such as CCAMLR and CCSBT are considering this issue, but obviously they have not been effective enough in preventing ongoing damage and threat to the species despite the positive but, as you say yourself, slow progress. If the government waits until the next CCAMLR meeting in November, how much more time will you have to commit to a CITES nomination before the CITES meeting deadline? Surely if you make the decision now to announce you will seek to get CITES listing it would put more pressure on these other bodies to ensure they come to effective agreements that will make not only slow and positive progress but also concrete and firm progress in preventing the demise of these species.

Senator HILL (Environment and Heritage) —That is a judgment we have to make but, on the other hand, we have the concern that if we move towards CITES now it may well be interpreted as a signal that we are placing less reliance upon the other two methods, and in particular the need to strengthen and improve those methods. That is why we have been cautious about taking that step. But, as I said, the CITES possibility is on the table and we will continue to work down a path to achieve the best possible conservation outcomes.