Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 21 June 2010
Page: 3804

Senator COLBECK (5:32 PM) —It is pleasing to at last be able to debate the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Recreational Fishing for Mako and Porbeagle Sharks) Bill 2010 because the government indicated to the recreational fishing sector back in January that this was going to be a priority for them. I can assure the government that there are a lot of recreational fishers around the coastline and in the cities of Australia who are very keen to see this matter finally resolved. I note that the government have, through some of their representatives, been trying to blame the opposition for the delay in this legislation coming forward. I would like to put that completely to rest at the outset. The opposition have been only too happy to debate the legislation as soon as possible. We have been aware of concerns relating to the decision that the government took to ban the taking of mako and porbeagle sharks, which was based on a decision made in Rome in 2008 under an international convention to list these migratory species as endangered. On that decision making process and what has occurred since then, I think it is important to put on the record that this decision was made at that international forum with the agreement of the Australian government and that it was based on information and data from the Northern Hemisphere and the Mediterranean.

It is of significant concern that the Australian government would support such a decision. I might add that that decision did have the support of some of the states, including unfortunately my home state of Tasmania—though some of the states were much more reticent about the decision when the consultation occurred in the lead-up to that meeting in Rome in 2008. The really disturbing thing is that, although the states were consulted and were part of the decision-making process that the government undertook, those who were impacted by this decision unfortunately were not consulted. When you look at the delegation that went to Rome to make the decision, you will find that the delegation had at their side representatives from the Humane Society International. I recognise that they have an interest in this issue and they obviously had made representations to the government on this issue.

What really disturbs me is that, particularly on the part of Minister Garrett, decisions are made following consultation with environmental groups but not with other stakeholders who are part of the overall process. We have seen Minister Garrett do this on a number of occasions. He put an emergency listing over the Coral Sea after consultation with the Pew foundation but with nobody else. He put an emergency listing over a region of north-west Tasmania after consultation with a small group in that region but with nobody else. And, of course, consultation over this decision concerning the fishing of mako and porbeagle sharks was made with the Humane Society International at the government’s side and nobody else.

The really concerning element is that there is no evidence to suggest that these species are actually endangered in Australian waters. I recognise that some will say that that is because there is a lack of data in relation to these species. I think those who make these claims also demonstrate that they are very remote from people who interact with sharks, particularly makos and porbeagles, on a regular basis. I have had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people involved particularly in recreational fishing for mako sharks and they tell me there is no shortage of those sharks in Australian waters, and in fact it is not difficult to find them. The numbers recorded from the various recreational fishing competitions and from information held by the New South Wales fisheries department clearly demonstrate that there is a large number of these fish in Australian waters, and that needs to be considered as part of this process. I am not saying that there should not be some more research. I note the Greens have a motion seeking further research in relation to makos and porbeagles. I indicate at this stage in proceedings that the opposition will be supporting that motion in relation to further funding for research.

There seems to be a lack of recognition of the fact that there is already a lot of work being done in relation to these particular species. I think that again demonstrates that those who are opposing this are not necessarily close enough to those who are interacting with the sharks. In fact it is quite clear that the recreational fishing sector—and the commercial fishing sector for that matter—plays a very significant role in data collection and research into these particular species. A very strong tag and release program is conducted particularly by game fishing clubs around the country and, as I said before, that data is held in New South Wales through the fisheries department.

The commercial fishers and also some of the recreational fishers have been involved in a program of catching and releasing mako sharks that are tagged for satellite tracking. There are four sharks currently swimming around the Australian coastline—quite happily, I presume—that have been tagged for a period of between 200 and 450 days. There were six sharks, but the tags have dropped off some of those, although they are designed to stay there for about 12 months. Scrappy, who is a juvenile shortfin mako that was tagged and released on 30 March 2009, is currently off the mid-Western Australian coast. He has been mooching around the Great Australian Bight for some period of time and he is currently heading up the Western Australian coast.

Senator Siewert —He knows where the good state is!

Senator COLBECK —Perhaps you are right, Senator. There is Lucky, who is down in the Southern Ocean at this point in time and has spent a lot of time in the Great Australian Bight—bearing in mind, all these sharks were tagged around Port Lincoln.

If anyone is really interested in following this, I would recommend the site You can see where these guys have been working their way around the Australian coastline. Scrappy has been tagged and transmitting for 441 days so far; Lucky, who I indicated is down off the Bight at the moment, has been tagged for 240 days; Zura, who seems to be perhaps a little bit more adventurous than most, is about 3,000 kilometres off the south-west of Western Australian and has spent a lot of time way out in the Indian Ocean—and obviously there is something going on out there keeping Zura busy; and Sanji, who is currently just off the south-east of Tasmania, having travelled right up the Australian east coast into the Coral Sea almost as far as Papua New Guinea, has made his way back down to Tasmania.

It was interesting to note that a week after a major shark fishing competition in Bass Strait off Devonport earlier in the year, Lucky, I think it was, turned up to check that location out a week later, which gives a demonstration of the range of these fish and what sorts of things attract them. Obviously, a lot of berley was placed in the water at that time, and I suspect that that may have been a bit of an attraction. Anyway, he has headed up the Western Australian coast, as I have previously indicated. So there is already a lot of research going on in relation to these fish, but I think it is commonly agreed that there would well be more done, and so we are more than happy to welcome the Greens amendment to provide more R&D.

One thing that needs to be recognised is that the culture of recreational fishing has changed significantly over the last 25 years. It used to be the case that you would go and catch whatever fish you would bring into the boat or take ashore and that would be the catch. The culture of catch and release has seen a significant change in the recreational fishing sector over the last 25 years or so. You only have to watch any of the fishing shows on television to see that that is part of the culture that has progressed. There seem to be those in the community who think that it is all about taking and taking. Certainly, all of the recreational fishers that I have spoken to recognise that, if they want to continue to fish and go fishing with their children as they went fishing with their parents, there needs to be a culture that protects and looks after the species over a period of time. There is no question but that they want that to occur. There is no question but that they passionately enjoy their fishing and want there to be a recreational fishing sector available to them and their families for a long time. When you consider that one in four Australians participates in recreational fishing you see how deeply into the community this particular recreation extends.

I think it is also demonstrated by the reaction to the government’s decision to ban the taking of mako and porbeagle sharks. It was quite a revelation to see the reaction of the fishers over the summer. The first meeting that I was aware of occurred at Shellharbour in New South Wales, and there were about 200 fishermen there—or fishers there; I should not place a gender on it because I know there are a lot of families who enjoy fishing together. At Hastings there were about 350 and at Torquay, which was a meeting that I attended towards the end of January, there were 400 or 500 people. I make particular note of the meeting at Torquay.

The local candidate, Sarah Henderson, did a sensational job of advising the community that the meeting would be on. The intention was to conduct the meeting in the fishing club at Torquay, but it became very evident quite quickly that we were not going to fit. The response and the concern about the ban were such that we had to move the meeting out into the car park, set up on the back of a ute and address the assembled crowd from there. The attitude of the local member, the member for Corangamite, was most disappointing. His staff tried to convince the media that there were only about 100 people at the meeting and that they were all there for political purposes. I can assure any of those people listening and, of course, the member for Corangamite that they were there for a purpose. I think the stark realisation that set in following the meeting that, given that he is sitting on a margin of about 1,500 votes, about 30 per cent of his margin was standing in the car park at the Torquay fishing club and was very angry and unhappy with the decision being made might have been a moment of revelation.

I am aware that, along with a junior minister in the Victorian government, who within a couple of days said the decision would not be supported by the Victorian government, the member for Corangamite also said that he did not think it was a good idea, despite the fact that he had earlier been blaming everybody else for the decision, including the opposition—it was all their fault. The default position is to blame the opposition, I suppose, but it was the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Mr Garrett, who made the decision. Regardless of anything else, it was Peter Garrett who decided, with the support of Humane Society International, to put this ban in place without consultation with anyone else. So there is only one place where the blame can lie.

The other thing that was quite clear was the reaction of the recreational fishing sector. Within four weeks they had signed petitions with nearly 9,000 names—8,800 signatures were gathered in about four weeks. They were also quite active in making contact with the offices of Minister Garrett, of the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Mr Burke, and of the Prime Minister to the extent that they were in no doubt about the anger that was being felt in the community.

The impact on some small businesses, particularly in the charter sector, has been most disappointing. I have spoken to some charter operators out of St Helens in Tasmania whose businesses have been absolutely devastated by this decision—as I say, without consultation—including one young family who had only recently bought their business. They bought it in August last year and were confronted with this decision over the summer and they basically lost a summer’s business. It has had a really devastating impact on their business and it is very difficult to garner back support for a business when a decision is made like this. I really do welcome the fact that we are at last getting to the point where we can support this legislation, which will at least put in a temporary fix. We recognise that the government is considering a review of the EPBC Act—the Hawke review. That will also help to resolve some of the issues on this matter, particularly the categorisation of listings. This is a temporary fix, but at least it starts to move things forward.

I acknowledge a few people who played a fairly significant part in the campaign to reverse this decision. They are Ben Scullin, Christopher Collins, Greg Barea, Mark Nikolai, Trevor Buck, John Willis, Dale McLelland, John McGiveron, Grahame Williams, Dean Logan, Frank Prokop, Peter Simpson, Tim Anderson, Bob Danckert, Ashley Dance, Garry Kerr, Ted O’Rourke and Len Oylott. I have already mentioned the fact that Sarah Henderson, whom I hope will soon be the member for Corangamite, was very well organised in this process, but strong representations were also made to me by the member for Gilmore, Jo Gash; the member for Patterson, Bob Baldwin, and also the shadow minister and member for Flinders, Greg Hunt.

The second amendment proposed by the Greens will effectively call for a management plan to be put in place to be managed by AFMA. The opposition will not be supporting that amendment. AFMA is not the body that should be managing recreational fishers. Recreational fishermen do not have a problem with having a management plan in place to oversight this fishery. If you actually talk to them, you will find that where there are state protocols in place they exceed them in many ways. I have had some very encouraging conversations, particularly with charter boat operators. They say they might have a boat limit of two fish per person on a boat, but once the boat has caught one fish they go off to catch a different species. I think that we can be very much comforted by the fact that recreational fishers, as I indicated earlier, want to see a sustainable fishery going on. They are more than happy to have a strong management plan in place to oversight this fishery.

So, from that perspective, this legislation—this particular fix—warrants support and I indicate that the opposition will be supporting the bill. I commend what was a real victory for common sense and grassroots campaigning by those involved in the recreational fishing sector when they were making their representations to both the government and the opposition to get this overturned. Although it has been a long wait to get to the stage of debating the legislation in parliament, I am pleased that we are at that point and I am pleased to indicate that the opposition will support the legislation.

Debate (on motion by Senator Faulkner) adjourned.