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Tuesday, 18 August 2009
Page: 5204


Senator SIEWERT (3:28 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Assistant Treasurer (Senator Sherry) to a question without notice asked by Senator Siewert today relating to fisheries and sea bottom trawling.

This proposed expansion of the Western Deepwater Trawl Fishery and the North West Slope Trawl Fishery amounts to just over 10,000 square kilometres. It is apparent from the minister’s answer that the government has paid no attention to what impact this may have on the environmental values of those two particular areas, on the sustainability of key fish targeted by the fishing industry and on the sustainability of the fisheries in general. I would note here that the Western Australian Department of Fisheries, as I commented on earlier, believe that the proposals carry significant risks to the sustainability of fish stocks and fisheries in WA.

That is a very significant issue. The only point we had from the minister is that this is about the 200-metre isobath and whether that line is correctly drawn. It did not seem to matter that it will have an adverse impact on the fisheries, that the fisheries department in Western Australia considers this to be unsustainable or that already there are fish species in the Western Deepwater Trawl Fishery that have been identified as being overfished, depleted or in immediate danger or are likely to be reported as such in the very near future.

The fishing industry in Western Australia is deeply concerned about the proposal to expand these two fisheries to include bottom trawling. We need to remember what impact bottom trawling has on the environment and on fish species. Bottom trawling is basically the bulldozer of the sea: it goes in and is very damaging to the marine environment, to benthic communities and to demersal fish species. This is recognised by line fishers in Western Australia, who are part of these fisheries and who are expressing very strong concerns.

What do we hear from the government? ‘It’s about the line. It’s about where the line’s drawn.’ It does not matter that, potentially, it will have an environmental impact in the North West Slope Trawl Fishery, in particular, where, even though the line is supposedly drawn on the 200-metre isobath, there are areas outside the line that are as shallow as 15 metres. If this proposal goes ahead, there are important coral reefs and sponge gardens that could be subject to bottom trawling. It could also have a significant environmental impact on the Western Deepwater Trawl Fishery. As I said earlier, there a number of species that will potentially be impacted by this proposal—species that are already overfished, depleted or in immediate danger in the near future.

What does the government say? ‘No, we’re not going to have a look at whether that is going to be significant. We’re not going to look at the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and see if in fact we should be revising our ecological sustainability assessments of those fisheries.’ The minister told me at the time that I had it wrong. Perhaps he should be looking at the fact that the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act has been used in the past. In fact, one of the key areas of that act looks at whether our Commonwealth fisheries are ecologically sustainable. It is one area that the EPBC Act review pointed out we should be looking at extending to other areas besides fisheries.

Here we have the Commonwealth fixated on a line on a map, rather than asking: ‘Is the decision we’re making sustainable? Will it have an adverse ecological impact?’ Bear in mind that fish stocks around the world are crashing. The government are not even thinking about whether the decision about where a line is on a map will have an impact. Clearly it will. Clearly the WA fisheries department is very concerned about it and has concerns about the sustainability of the fisheries. So why hasn’t the Commonwealth? Why is the Commonwealth not sitting down, looking at it and saying, ‘Perhaps we should be looking at broader issues than just where this line is.’ Why is the Commonwealth not asking, ‘Are we making a truly sustainable decision?’ The government is making this decision at a time when it is carrying out the regional marine planning process, which the Commonwealth and the state have invested in. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.