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Thursday, 27 November 2014
Page: 9465


Senator CAROL BROWN (Tasmania) (09:48): I rise today to speak in support of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill 2014. The debate about supertrawlers is an ongoing issue of concern, particularly in my home state of Tasmania, but I do know that many senators have received emails on this issue regardless of which state or territory they represent. There is concern throughout Australia about the operation of supertrawlers in our waters.

Only this week, the Mercury newspaper, based in the southern part of Tasmania, reported on the findings of the report from the Expert Panel on a Declared Commercial Fishing Activity, the Final (Small Pelagic Fishery) Declaration 2012. Now that the government has been given the expert panel's report, it must make a decision and end uncertainty for Tasmanian fishers.

Senator Whish-Wilson: They have been very silent on that point too, Senator Brown.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Absolutely, but that is not something that we would be surprised about, Senator Whish-Wilson. On page 302, the report concludes:

… direct interactions with protected species and localised depletion, as defined by the panel, will occur under the DCFA—

declared commercial fishing activity—

The panel’s assessment has confirmed that there are considerable uncertainties relating to the extent of those impacts and the level of impact that would create adverse environmental outcomes.

As in other fisheries facing similar uncertainties, a precautionary and adaptive, risk-based approach to management of the potential impacts of the DCFA is required.

It is clear that Tasmania's fisheries, including protected species, will be depleted if supertrawlers are allowed to operate. Dolphin and seal numbers may also be affected.

We know that the Final (Small Pelagic Fishery) Declaration 2012 ended at midnight on 18 November this year. The Final (Small Pelagic Fishery) Declaration (No.2) 2013 will end at midnight on 24 April next year. We must act now to protect our environment and our fisheries. The factory fishing boat Meridian 1 has had approval to trawl Tasmanian waters. It will be the largest freezer trawler to fish in Australia. The Meridian 1 is expected to operate for only a few months to catch its quota of blue grenadier.

In Tasmania, news of the return of a large factory freezer trawler a few months ago put the issue of supertrawlers firmly back in the news and raised fears among the fishing industry. I want to refer to an editorial on 6 June in Hobart's Mercury newspaper on this Ukrainian owned trawler. The editorial states:

The operators of these types of trawlers that can stay at sea for long periods of time, catch enormous amounts of fish, and process their catch while at sea would do well to keep the community properly informed. Fear of the unknown brings an instant and predictable reaction.

The Mercury editorial goes on to suggest that the operators of the Meridian 1 should tell the public of their plans. It is possible that this trawler will not pose a possible risk. However, it is obvious that Tasmanian waters are attractive to large trawlers, and I believe we need to be always on our guard. It also is apparent that we need legislative protections against these supertrawlers.

At the heart of this bill is the government's inaction. In the face of the government's failure to act to protect our fisheries, stand up for recreation fishers or provide the community and industry with certainty, Labor is again taking action. Federal Labor is committed to the sustainable management of Australia's marine resources and, when in government, we were strong defenders and managers of our oceans and those who use them.

Australia's fisheries are among the most sustainable and best managed in the world. Labor is committed to ensure that this remains the case. This bill restores a power to the environment and fisheries ministers to declare particular fishing activities that have not previously been used in Australian waters and require up to two years of additional scientific review where uncertainty exists. This will enable the government of the day to review fishing methods and vessels such as supertrawlers that have not been used in Australia before.

When these powers were introduced by Labor, we put in a sunset clause of 12 months to allow a fisheries review to be implemented. To ensure that Australia's waters were adequately protected from the risks associated with the use of supertrawlers, the Labor government amended the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act in September 2012 to include these powers. The power was used once by Labor in government to declare a type of fishing activity that matched the specifications of a supertrawler. At the time this picked up the vessel the FV Abel Tasman, which was formerly known as the Margiris. In April 2013, we extended these restrictions, which means that these supertrawlers cannot operate in Australian waters until at least April 2015. At that time we also established an independent expert panel, which I referred to earlier, to provide an objective impact assessment of the environmental impacts of this activity.

The use of supertrawlers in Australian waters has been a long-running issue that has generated passionate debate and high levels of concern within the community around the country. It has seen Tasmanians take to the street in large numbers to protest about supertrawlers. Tasmanians who would not normally attend public meetings have taken part in protest action. It is an issue that a large number of constituents regularly raise with me and many others, I am sure. Concerns have been raised about the bycatch of other fish, birds and marine mammals, particularly dolphins and seals. Communities need confidence that the environmental controls in place are reflective of their expectations. Re-establishing the power of the minister to establish an expert panel that will be able to assess the science is important in ensuring that communities can have this confidence.

Another concern often raised by my constituents in Tasmania, particularly those who are recreational fishers, has been the potential for localised depletion of fishing stock. In fact, Tasmanians were the first to raise their concerns about the impact of supertrawlers in our waters, at rallies and public meetings across the state. That is why I, along with my colleagues—and, I know, many others in the Senate—the member for Franklin, Julie Collins MP, and former Labor senator, Lin Thorp, lobbied the former Labor government to stop the supertrawler FV Abel Tasman from operating in Tasmanian waters in 2012.

Labor listened to the concerns and amended the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to ensure Australia's waters were adequately protected from risks associated with the use of supertrawlers. It was Labor that put a stop to the Abel Tasman, with a ban which turned the supertrawler around before it had started trawling Australia's oceans. However, the threat of other supertrawlers has not gone away and it is up to Labor, again, to take action.

In September 2012 when the powers were originally introduced, the Liberal and National parties opposed the amendments. Then opposition members used every reason under the sun to oppose the bill, but none of those reasons were very convincing. Senator Abetz said it was a 'very dangerous precedent that it sets'. And Senator Scullion stated, 'science of the specific fishery in question didn't require additional reviews'.

In September 2013, when asked whether the new government would lift the ban, Senator Colbeck said that the government would 'consider it, based on the science'. This statement contrasts with Senator Colbeck's previously definitive position on the ban. In September 2012, Senator Colbeck called banning the supertrawler a 'serious embarrassment'. Then in June 2013 he said actions against the trawler were a 'dishonest campaign'.

However, when the now Prime Minister, Mr Abbott, was questioned on March 4 2014 about the supertrawler he said:

It was banned with the support of members on this side of the House. It was banned; it will stay banned.

I welcome those statements and I welcome the support of the Prime Minister, albeit belatedly. I would suggest that the Prime Minister and Senator Abetz, who supported the Prime Minister's statement when asked about it in this place, refresh their memories by reviewing the Hansard records.

For the record I can quote from the Hansard of 6 March 2014, when Senator Abetz said:

The answer the Prime Minister gave was very clear. The supertrawler was banned, it remains banned and, as I understand it, the company involved has no interest in bringing its supertrawler back to Australia.

But then, of course, we know that the Liberal and National parties voted against the ban in both houses of parliament. They did not think that any more science or research was needed and they did not want to stop the supertrawler. We have to be very clear here, because the Prime Minister appears to be rewriting history: they did not want any more science or research and they did not want to stop the supertrawler. The Liberals voted against banning supertrawlers when they were in opposition, and now they are in government they have failed to take any action to protect our environment and our fisheries.

This bill will force the government to choose whether to honour the Prime Minister's own words and the actions of the government when in opposition. This bill will make the government put their money where their mouth is. The government is yet to do even the most basic work required to implement sensible root-and-branch reform of fisheries management, as recommended by the Borthwick review and responded to by Labor in March 2013.

As the government refuses to act to protect our fisheries, stand up for recreational fishers or provide industry with any certainty, it is up to Labor to act. In government Labor supported strong powers to protect the environment, to respect the rights of recreational fishers and to provide certainty to business. Under the bill we consider here today, new supertrawlers will have to face the same tough response faced by the original supertrawler. The amendments give the government of the day the power to declare a particular type of fishing activity prohibited. This declaration will be made where the activity has not been used in Australia and some uncertainty exists around it. The prohibition will allow proper and thorough expert scientific work to be conducted.

The bill restores the powers to enable the environment minister, with the agreement of the Commonwealth fisheries minister, to make an interim declaration that a fishing activity is a prohibited 'declared commercial fishing activity' while an expert panel assesses the potential environmental impacts of the activity. The bill also restores the power of the environment minister—again with the agreement of the Commonwealth fisheries minister—to make a final declaration, for a period no longer than 24 months, that a fishing activity is a prohibited 'declared commercial fishing activity'. Further to this, the bill provides for the establishment of an expert panel in the case of the making of a final declaration. The bill also specifies the terms of reference of the panel and arrangements for reporting, with a requirement that a copy of the panel report be made publicly available.

The former Labor government has a strong record when it comes to supporting our fisheries and making them healthier, sustainable and more resilient. Labor understands that Australia's fisheries are a valuable natural resource and that we all have a role in ensuring the future of an industry that contributes more than $2 billion to our economy each year. It was the previous Labor government that announced the first major review of Australian fisheries policy and legislation in over 20 years. In fact, it was Senator Ludwig, whose bill we discuss here today, who as Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, commissioned an independent review of the policy and legislation governing the Commonwealth's fisheries management system in September 2012. The fisheries management review examined a range of issues to identify any improvements needed to ensure community and industry expectations of the Australian fisheries management regime can be met into the future.

In March last year the previous government released the report Review of Commonwealth fisheries: legislation, policy and management, also known as the Borthwick review. The findings of the review highlighted current management strengths and identified potential improvements to make Commonwealth fisheries more sustainable and to meet industry and community expectations into the future. On releasing the report, then Minister Ludwig stated:

The Borthwick Review concluded that greater transparency, a broader policy framework, and the clarification of objectives and roles could build on what is already a very effective system.

Senator Ludwig also indicated that the government's response to this report was to accept the direction of all 15 recommendations. The Labor government committed to engage with industry, recreational fishers, supply chain participants, environmental organisations, consumers and the general public on how best to implement the findings of the review.

Since coming to government, those opposite have done nothing to act on the findings of this review—nothing. The government is yet to do even the most basic work required to implement sensible root-and-branch reform of fisheries management Those opposite, under the leadership of Mr Abbott, have had over 12 months to do something to stop future supertrawlers and protect our oceans—but they have failed; they have failed to do anything. It should come as no surprise to anyone on this side of the chamber that they have not acted; in fact, it should not come as a surprise to anyone in the community who may be listening to this debate.

We know that those opposite have no interest in protecting our fisheries and oceans. They proved this when they rolled back marine protection around the country. We on this side are proud to have delivered the world's largest marine reserve network. In government we added 2.3 million square kilometres to the system of Commonwealth marine reserves, expanding the overall size of the Commonwealth marine reserve estate to some 3.1 million square kilometres. Under Labor the number of marine reserves expanded from 27 to 60, covering more than a third of Commonwealth waters. However, the Abbott government has scrapped the comprehensive management plans that would have secured the long-term conservation and sustainable use of Australia's precious oceans. It scrapped them without parliamentary scrutiny, against expert scientific advice and in spite of extensive public consultation and the accumulation of more than 20 years of work which began under the Keating government. However, Labor will continue to take action to ensure that we protect Australia's ecosystems and fishing stock.

Our decisions must be based on evidence. As there is uncertainty about the impacts of fishing vessels and the size of super trawlers, it is appropriate that we pass this bill to ensure that appropriate restrictions and assessments are undertaken. We must also act today to ensure that we have viable fishing for tomorrow's generations. The Abbott government have shown no care about our fisheries and our oceans but Labor have. Today I stand by the comments I made when I spoke on the 2012 bill in this place, and I repeat those words: marine environments once wrecked take generations to recover, if they ever do. A precautionary approach is not only good policy but also the only decent option.

As the government refuses to act to protect our oceans and our fisheries, to stand up for recreational fishers or to provide local businesses with any certainty, it is again up to Labor to act. We know that only Labor will ensure that sustainable action is taken for the ongoing health and integrity of Australia's marine areas. I will end with a quote from Senator Ludwig's speech:

Australia has some of the best managed fisheries in the world. There is, however, a gap in the system in considering the powers of the environment and fisheries ministers to consider new commercial fishing vessels before they arrive and begin to fish. Given the government has failed to act, it is sensible for these powers to be restored. Labor is standing up for the oceans, recreational fishers and local businesses.

I commend this bill to the chamber. I urge all senators to support it, and I urge the government senators to support the Prime Minister's statement that super trawlers are banned and will remain banned. This will determine whether you are supporting your Prime Minister—or will you turn your backs on the statements he makes? We know that he tends to shoot from the hip, but it is now up to you to say whether or not you support your Prime Minister's words. (Time expired)