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Tuesday, 18 August 2009
Page: 5190

Senator SIEWERT (2:29 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Sherry. Is the government proposing to proceed with opening an additional 10,000 square kilometres of the Western Deepwater Trawl Fishery and the North West Slope Trawl Fishery, off the Western Australian coast, to bottom trawling? If so, why is this being opened?

Senator SHERRY (Assistant Treasurer) —Thank you, Senator Siewert, for your question and the notice you gave. We did anticipate that there would be a question on this, given your comments on the matter over the last few weeks. I am advised by the minister, Mr Burke, that he has been assured by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, known as AFMA, that it is working hard to resolve the issue with its Western Australian fishery colleagues. There is and has been a good working relationship on matters of seabed boundaries in respect of fisheries between the Commonwealth, through AFMA, and all states, and that includes Western Australia.

I am aware, Senator Siewert, of your recent comments regarding the Commonwealth’s so-called proposals to change fishing boundaries. Unfortunately, these comments do not reflect a full appreciation of the issues that are currently before AFMA and the Western Australian government. In 2007, as an interim measure, AFMA made a temporary closure to the North West Slope Trawl Fishery for two years while the boundary listed within the Offshore Constitutional Settlement, known as the OCS, was considered.

Senator Siewert —Maybe because they made a mistake.

Senator SHERRY —I will get to the so-called mistake in a moment. I am sure you will have a couple of supplementary questions. The intent of the OCS that I have just referred to, the offshore settlement, whilst the boundary issue is being considered, is for the Commonwealth to manage trawl fishing in waters deeper than 200 metres and for Western Australia to manage all other types of fishing in waters shallower than 200 metres. Since 2008, AFMA have pursued amendments to that— (Time expired)

Senator SIEWERT —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I ask the minister if the government is aware of opposition to this opening from the fishing industry? Is the government further aware that the North West Slope Trawl expansion would impact on coral reefs and sponge gardens, that it is in fact up to 1,500 metres, not 200 metres, that key species in the Western Deepwater Trawl have been identified as overfished and depleted and that the WA Department of Fisheries believes that the proposals carry significant risks to the sustainability of fish stocks and fisheries in WA? Has the government sought any environmental assessment of the proposal to expand these fisheries to allow bottom trawling?

Senator SHERRY (Assistant Treasurer) —The central issue here is the definition of the boundary, as determined by the 200-metre isobath, and, in effect, the waters inside the 200-metre isobath and those outside the 200-metre isobath. Those waters inside the 200-metre isobath are in the state jurisdiction. Those outside the 200-metre isobath are in the federal jurisdiction, as managed by AFMA. That is the central issue here. Geoscience Australia are the appropriate organisation to determine the boundary and what is inside and outside the 200-metre isobath. The issue revolves around where exactly that 200-metre isobath falls. (Time expired)

Senator SIEWERT —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I would like to note that the minister did not answer, at all, the question I just asked about whether there was going to be any assessment of the environmental impact this proposal will have on the sustainability of the fisheries and the sustainability of the environmental qualities of those particular areas. So I will ask it again.

Senator SHERRY (Assistant Treasurer) —With due respect to you, Senator, you are wrong again. The central issue here is that the definition of the boundary is determined by Geoscience Australia. What waters are inside and outside—

Senator Bob Brown —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. The senator is not wrong in asking a question. The question was whether an environmental assessment is being done. It is up to the minister to say yes or no, not to say that the question is wrong. It is right; he should answer it.

The PRESIDENT —The minister is answering the question.

Senator SHERRY —I am pointing out that the minister is wrong—

Honourable senators interjecting—

Senator SHERRY —I mean the senator. I would look forward to the senator settling this one. Perhaps she would undertake deep sea diving to determine where this 200-metre isobath is placed. But we rely on Geoscience Australia to give us the advice as to where the precise boundary should be drawn.

Senator Abetz —She’s usually out of her depth.

Senator SHERRY —I will acknowledge that interjection, Senator Abetz. It is one of your best in recent times.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Ignore interjections, Senator Sherry. Address the chair.

Senator SHERRY —That was a particularly good one. It should be on the record. The central issue here is the definition of the waters inside and outside the 200-metre isobath. That is the central issue, Senator Siewert, and when that issue—

Senator Bob Brown —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. The central issue of the question is: will there be a study on the sustainability of the fishery in the environment?

The PRESIDENT —Senator Bob Brown, that is arguing the question. The minister is addressing the issue. Minister, you have four seconds remaining to address the issue.

Senator SHERRY —There will be an isobath assessment.