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Monday, 9 December 2013
Page: 1893

Mr ENTSCH (Leichhardt) (11:54): I certainly welcome the opportunity to speak on this bill today. There are two key elements of this bill, and I will only briefly mention the first. I disagree with the previous speaker in that it seeks to make a technical amendment to the EPBC Act to ensure that past decisions cannot be exposed to legal challenges. I was pleased to hear that despite media reports to the contrary the amendment does not reduce the level of protection provided for threatened species and ecological communities under the act. Australia has incredibly diverse native species, many of which are under threat as a result of human activities, and relevant conservation advice must always be considered.

I intend to focus on the second key element, and part of that is the increasing of penalties under the EPBC Act and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Act for killing and injuring turtles and dugongs. On 15 August I was proud to stand next to the then shadow minister for climate action, environment and heritage, Greg Hunt, and local conservation legend Jennie Gilbert of the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre when we launched our $5 million plan to provide greater protection for dugongs and turtles along the Great Barrier Reef. It came as a result of ongoing community concern about illegal poaching and the need for greater care for our dugong and turtle population. The plan included a commitment to treble the financial penalties for poaching and illegal trafficking of turtle and dugong meat, and these are certainly significant increases. Under the EPBC Act 1999 the maximum fine will increase from $170,000 to $510,000 for the offences of killing, injuring, taking, trading, keeping or moving a dugong or a turtle in a Commonwealth area. Where these penalties relate to strict liability offences—for example, used to deter potential offenders rather than to impose punishment—the maximum financial penalty will increase from $85,000 to $255,000. Maximum financial penalties for injuring or taking turtles or dugongs in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park under the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 will increase from $340,000 for aggravated criminal offences to $1,020,000 and for strict liability offences from $10,200 to $30,600. These increases will be a significant deterrent to those individuals who are doing the wrong thing. We certainly must get the message out that we will be imposing criminal convictions and larger fines. This is not mere rhetoric. These animals are too important for that.

Getting back to our $5 million plan, in addition to the focus on the threats of poaching and illegal hunting, it also has other key elements, including    $2 million for specialised Indigenous Ranger Programs for marine conservation along the Far North Queensland Coast and into the Torres Strait and for strengthened enforcement and compliance. This will be done through supporting additional officers on the water and on land to crack down on dugong and turtle poaching and the illegal trade in dugong and turtle meat. We will certainly be working with the Queensland government on the potential for extending the authority of select Indigenous rangers to take action to stop illegal poaching. This is a very important element of this, because while we do have ranger programs in place, in many cases they have absolutely no authority whatsoever. For example, I have known of a ranger standing on a beach with a large number of turtles that had been turned on their backs while they were being butchered, and he did not even have the authority to ask the names of those involved. We need to change that. That badge cannot just be a mickey mouse badge; it actually has to mean something. The rangers have to have the authority to take evidence, to take names, to confiscate equipment that is used in relation to these types of activities and to provide that evidence in a court of law that will see those individuals prosecuted for these illegal activities.

We have an added challenge up there that also needs to be addressed, and this is in the shared zone between Australia and Papua New Guinea, where we need to be working in collaboration with the villages, particularly those in the Western Province area of Papua New Guinea, so that we can work together, because it is as critically important for those villages as it is for the Torres Strait that these turtle and dugong populations are preserved. We are also looking at places like Raine Island, where the turtle breeding area is seriously under threat. It is collaborative work that could be done by the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre, which is headed by Sheriden Morris in Cairns. She has a wonderful relationship with the villagers in Papua New Guinea and also works well with the Torres Strait community. She would be a great way of bringing both of these together. This would make sure that we are able to get the necessary enforcement and education to make it happen. But it is not going to work unless the Indigenous rangers themselves have the authority to identify and challenge any activities.

The $2 million for the Australian Crime and Misconduct Commission to investigate the practice of illegal killing, poaching and transportation of turtle and dugong meat is another very important initiative. I know that the other side have accused us of being high-handed, but, as they rightfully said, there has never been a prosecution in this area. There is a good reason for that: there are just too many jurisdictions involved, and nobody wants to take responsibility. You have Queensland Fisheries, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the Queensland Police and the Federal Police. It just goes around from one to the other. It is little wonder that these activities continue without being punished, because no jurisdiction takes full responsibility for them. By putting them through to the crime commission, at least you have a chance of starting to get some prosecutions.

The $700,000 towards cleaning up marine debris along the Far North Queensland coast, the Torres Strait Islands and the Coral Sea is a very important initiative, particularly in relation to ghost nets, which pose a huge risk for turtles and dugongs as well as other marine species. There are a couple of great organisations that deal with this. Heidi Taylor is the co-founder and director of the Tangaroa Blue Foundation, which carries out a program of beach clean-ups all along the Far North Queensland coast, as do the Mapoon Land and Sea Rangers, who do great work collecting ghost nets on Western Cape York. During a beach clean-up at Mapoon in July, members of the Mapoon Land and Sea Rangers, a team from Conservation Volunteers Australia, and volunteers from GhostNets Australia and Tangaroa Blue covered 11 kilometres of beach and removed just under 3,700 kilograms of debris, including 7,154 rubber thongs, 877 cigarette lighters and 2,663 gill net floats. So you can see the extent of the problem, and that is on just 11 kilometres of beach. It is a critical initiative.

There has also been $300,000 set aside to support the Cairns and Fitzroy Island turtle rehabilitation centres. This will certainly help with capital works and help the hospital achieve a permanent and sustainable future. The Cairns and Fitzroy Island rehabilitation centres do some fantastic work with a large group of volunteers. Doug Gamble, who is the owner of the Fitzroy Island Resort, generously donated the land for the Fitzroy Island centre earlier this year, and Jennie Gilbert, who I mentioned earlier, works tirelessly on behalf of these creatures. The funding will be well-utilised in rehabilitating turtles and returning them to the sea.

There are other issues that also need to be addressed. I have been speaking with the minister on these, and I am very keen that we continue to pursue these if we are going to deal with looking after the turtles and dugongs in the longer term. I certainly have major concerns with the illegal trading of meat. I know that it does happen in my electorate. Unfortunately, this turtle and dugong meat is cryovaced, frozen and transported through airports. In my view, there should be a prohibition on the transport of this meat. I am in absolute, total support of native title and of ensuring that native title rights for traditional hunting are protected. However, I am very much of the opinion that it is not in the spirit of native title for individuals to go out there and slaughter large numbers of turtles and dugongs, cryovac them up into plastic, freeze them and then send them all around Australia. At the moment they can do that quite legally if they claim it is for domestic use. It is my view that these creatures, if they are going to be slaughtered in traditional ways for cultural purposes and ceremonies, should be consumed and used in the area in which they were taken, because a very important part of the cultural use of these animals is respect for the animal. Quite frankly, I see no respect in having them sent in cryovac bags around Australia just so somebody can enjoy a little bit of turtle and dugong in Canberra or Sydney or Melbourne. That is an area that I think we need to address.

Another area that concerns me immensely is to see the images on Facebook of individuals going out there boasting of their slaughter of juvenile animals and what have you, and making all sorts of inappropriate comments. Again, it gets back to respect for the animal and blatant abuse of it. These activities are certainly ramping up public support for a total ban on the right to hunt endangered and vulnerable species. Around the country there is very serious momentum for a proposal that would see the total banning of hunting of these creatures for any reason. I would like to congratulate Colin Riddell from Save Australian Dugongs and Turtles, in conjunction with Bob Irwin, for his outstanding and passionate efforts. They have certainly rallied organisations, such as Animals Australia, and others too, such as the RSPCA, to call for an urgent change to the Native Title Act.

This is understandable and, unfortunately, this decision will not be made in our area, but rather it will be made in the metropolitan areas of Sydney or Melbourne. Make no mistake, if it continues, particularly with the Facebook images, there is a high probability that these guys will be successful. While I admire the work that Bob Irwin and Colin Riddell are doing, they know that I have a real issue with the extinguishment of native title rights. I urge the Indigenous communities to take control of this so that we do not lose this opportunity. That means that we have to deal with those individuals who are blatantly abusing the rules and posting on Facebook et cetera. While I disagree totally with Colin and Bob in this area, I can understand why they continue to pursue it. If we do not get something done there and in regard to the transporting of the meat, I do believe it just opens things up for abuse. It certainly is not in the spirit of native title.

Another area that I have great concern about is the activities of a few individuals who are getting involved in taking creatures from green zones in our region.

I have many examples there. One family in particular is going to a place in Green Island and, in front of horrified visitors, slaughtering turtles—which are seen as being like pets—and large fish. These animals have lost all fear of humans. These individuals weave amongst tourists swimming at Green Island and spear fish and turtles. They drag the turtles onto the beach, rip them open, pull the eggs out of them and cut them up, with maybe 50 or 60 absolutely horrified overseas tourists standing there watching them. They take what they want from the turtles and leave the mess for the national park rangers to clean up, and the rangers have absolutely no authority to stop this from happening. Michaelmas Cay is an area that has been protecting sea birds. The same group goes out there and, in front of horrified tourists, clubs to death large numbers of sea birds and takes them away, and nothing is done.

You can see why people are asking the question, 'Why on earth aren't we doing something about that, when we are making such a noise about the whales?' It would be better to make green zones, particularly those where there is human interaction with these creatures, no-go areas rather than having this senseless slaughter. It is no different to walking into somebody's house and beating their pet kitten to death, quite frankly, because these creatures have no fear of people. I congratulate Steve Davies, who has been very involved in trying to stop this, for raising the issue.

I think where we are going is a good start. I certainly support the initiatives that we see here today. As I said, I urge the minister to consider further claims on this. At the end of the day, the only way we are going to be able to comprehensively deal with this is to give the authority to the Indigenous rangers, to the Indigenous elders—who know what is traditional and know what is and is not appropriate—to deal with this. I commend this bill to the House.