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Tuesday, 25 March 2014
Page: 1954


Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (15:49): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum relating to the bill.

Leave granted.

Senator SIEWERT: I table the explanatory memorandum and I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

The recent decision by Minister Hunt to exempt the Western Australian shark cull from federal environment protection laws, in the "national interest", is an outrageous abuse of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

The Western Australian Government's controversial policy to catch and kill sharks to apparently protect public safety and tourism is recklessly cruel and needlessly destructive.

Section 158 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act is generally used for the purposes of defence, security or a national emergency. It is outrageous that Minister Hunt, with the support of the Prime Minister, is abusing this provision and making a loophole of a section that is there for genuine national emergencies.

In the past section 158 has been used to respond appropriately to devastating natural disasters: floods and bush fires, or as a response to human made disasters like the Montara oil spill. It has also been used to protect endangered species - like the Christmas Island bat emergency breeding program.

It is unconscionable to use this exemption provision to kill vulnerable and protected species. Section 158 in the past has been used in the interests of protecting endangered species and the environment or for emergencies where there was a risk to endangered species rather than an intent to kill them.

If the Minister for the Environment is failing in his duty to uphold the intent of the Act, then it is up to Parliament to hold the Government to account, and ensure that this exemption, and any similar exemption into the future, is not permitted.

The Save Our Sharks Bill seeks to void the Ministerial exemption granted on 10 January 2014 in relation to the 72 baited drum lines in Western Australia, and ensure that no similar declaration or exemption will have any effect.

To date the drum lines have caught 104 sharks, including 101 tiger sharks. 40 of these were either dead or have been destroyed, with 30 sharks caught over 3 metres. We do not know how many have died on release but anecdotal evidence suggests that many don't survive.

In less than two months at least two mako sharks - which are protected under the EPBC Act as a migratory species - have been killed by the drum lines.

The Government's program was supposedly targeted at 3 species of shark, with the focus largely being the great white shark. However, as acknowledged by the WA EPA, great white sharks are predominantly in Western Australian waters in September to December. It is not surprising therefore that the drum lines haven't caught a great white shark. They have however caught a lot of tiger sharks. Tiger sharks have been involved in very few attacks and none in recent history. This highlights the fact that this program was a knee-jerk public relations measure, not an emergency response in the national interest.

Having approved the WA Government's program and accepted the "conditions" the WA Government has set, the Federal Government has not enforced the conditions or in fact even monitored implementation.

Despite Minister Hunt announcing that he has requested a "full environmental assessment" of WA's mitigation strategy before deciding whether or not to extend the culling beyond 30 April, the damage that has already been caused by this senseless policy cannot be undone. What is needed is a foolproof guarantee that no similar exemption will be granted into the future and recognition that the intent of this failed policy was completely flawed and ignored all scientific research and alternative approaches.

Our oceans are under increasing pressures from a diverse and complex set of threats. We need a Minister FOR the Environment not a Minister AGAINST the Environment. We need a Minister that will protect our marine life, not circumvent the very legislation that is meant to protect it.

I commend this Bill to the Senate.

Senator SIEWERT: I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.