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Tuesday, 27 November 2012
Page: 9848


Senator CONROY (VictoriaMinister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (15:02): Mr Deputy President, on 22 November 2012 during question time, Senator Whish-Wilson asked me several questions as Minister representing the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Minister Bourke has provided the following answers to the Senate as questions, and I seek to leave to incorporate.

Leave granted.

The answer read as follows—

Question

1. My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Senator Conroy. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water! Is the minister aware of media reports that Seafish Tasmania is allegedly looking at options to fish the small pelagic fishery quota with a large, 90-metre factory freezer trawler? Has the minister or his department met with Seafish Tasmania Pty Ltd in regard to a new trawler with different specifications to the FV Abel Tasman operating in the Australian small pelagic fishery?

Response

1. The Minister and officers from the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities have met with Seafish Tasmania representatives on two occasions — 21 August 2012 and 11 October 2012. At the second of those meetings, Seafish Tasmania sought to raise alternative proposals and the Minister asked them to put any alternative proposals in writing.

The Minister is aware of the media reports and can confirm that the company has written to the Minister seeking guidance on two proposals; one to modify the Abel Tasman; the second to use a smaller factory trawler.

The Minister has written to the company seeking further information about its proposals as they may raise uncertainty about the environmental impacts.

Question

2. Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Thank you, Minister. Are you aware that the definition of a 'specific vessel' in the final declaration of 2012 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, section 390SF, provides a conspicuous loophole for operators to execute commercial fishing activities with the same or potentially even greater uncertainty about the environmental impacts as the supertrawler FV Abe/ Tasman? Was this loophole your intention?

Response

2. The final declaration relied upon each of the elements specified in the new laws passed by the Parliament.

In order to make the final declaration, the Environment and Fisheries ministers had to agree that:

1. there was uncertainty about the environmental impacts of the commercial fishing activity

2. that it was appropriate to establish an expert panel to conduct an assessment of the environmental impacts of the commercial fishing activity, and

3. that the commercial fishing activity should be prohibited while the expert panel conducts the assessment.

The final declaration was made because there is uncertainty about the environmental impacts of large mid-water trawlers operating in the Small Pelagic Fishery that are greater than 130 metres in length, have on-board processing facilities and have storage capacity for fish or fish products of over 2000 tonnes.

It was not the Minister's intention to ban all new commercial fishing in Australian waters.

If there is uncertainty about other new commercial fishing activities, then these too may be subject to a declaration and therefore prohibited while an assessment is undertaken. It was the Minister who initiated the legislation because of concern about the potential environmental impacts.

Question

3. Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Thank you again, Minister. Can the minister indicate whether the expert panel to conduct an assessment of the commercial fishing activity in question and report on the matter will be appointed? Will the minister ensure that the expert panel will contain genuinely independent members who are not receiving a pecuniary benefit from the commercial fishing industry and consult with all stakeholders, including recreational fishers and conservationists, before reporting on the matter?

Response

3. The Minister has asked his Department for advice about membership of the expert panel. The expert panel will be independent. The Minister has asked his Department to prepare draft terms of reference in consultation with Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry before he formally consults the Fisheries Minister on the terms of reference, as required under the legislation. The terms of reference will set out the matters to be assessed by the panel and provide guidance on how the assessment should be undertaken. Its role is to provide expert advice on the potential environmental impacts of the declared commercial fishing activity.

There will be transparency in this process of scientific assessment about environmental impacts.

The views of stakeholders informed the Government's decision to initiate the legislation.