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Wednesday, 13 September 2017
Page: 7212

Senator SCULLION (Northern TerritoryMinister for Indigenous Affairs and Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (18:20): First of all, I commend Senator Hinch for bringing on this important MPI discussion. It will be really interesting to hear from a number of people who I know are passionate about two things—people's native title right in connection with culture and the sustainable preservation of that culture. I want to make the point that there is no difference, Senator, because, in a cultural approach, the fundamental approach to take of the land is it has to be sustainable. In some circumstances, where we have new technology and all of those sorts of matters, we have the reason for this debate.

First of all, Senator Hinch started out by saying that you don't want kids of the future to say: 'What was a dugong? What was a turtle?' I know that these are the sorts of things that drive really decent people like you, Senator, and many other Australians. Let us look at the evidence around the environmental impacts of traditional hunting of these animals. We know about this from research done by the James Cook University and from some fantastic work that's been done by Helene Marsh and others. We had a bit of a hiccup in some of that data around 2014, but Helene Marsh and others acknowledged that some of the assumptions and inputs weren't quite right and now that's been changed. But it is safe to say that the overall impact of traditional hunting on turtle and dugong populations is small. The main impacts on populations are, in fact, from other areas.

One of the main areas is marine debris, particularly gillnets. Often demersal gillnets are in shallow water. When they pick themselves up they pick up a bit of coral and then they float. For the whole time they're at sea they are responsible for taking the lives of turtles. Some time ago I was a fisherman. I can remember a time when we knew we killed in trawl nets 400 or 500 turtles, which we recorded. We then introduced some turtle-excluding devices, and we now kill none. We know every single one. So through technology we've managed to ensure that those other things that happen are now reduced.

One of the big threats, of course, is in their habitat, particularly the nursing habitat. The olive ridley turtle and other turtles use the mainland of Australia around the gulf. There has been an explosion in the feral pig population. The pigs dig up the beach and eat all of the turtle eggs. We've invested some $7 million—it doesn't matter about the amount of money—in significant work to ensure that turtles have a level of protection when they lay their eggs.

It is useful to know that in communities that I know very well there is a turtle hunting season and there is a dugong hunting season. We do have a pretty well-established base of understanding. That needs to grow. I'm hoping that the Indigenous ranger program is part of that base. You can't manage what you can't measure. It is very important that we move to a higher level of amenity in that regard. We need to end up with community based management of both species and habitat, and that's about people. We have this huge investment in our marine ranger program, and that's going to expand. Quite clearly the vision of the future is community based, with the assistance of the Commonwealth ranger program, ensuring the management of the species and the habitats.

Senator, I have had the experience of hunting quite a few dugong and lots of turtle. There's a campaign on. All I can advise is that people will twist circumstances to suit their ends. The way you described it—I have heard it described in that way before myself, but I've never witnessed it, and I have been involved in the actual hunting of dugong.

This is a very important nexus we have. It is a native title right. People are currently exercising their native title right sustainably. All of the evidence says that is sustainable. From my perspective and from the government's perspective, it's important to continue to ensure that all of these issues are sustainable. That's why we're going to continue to invest in the ranger program and will do some further work. It's now emerging that we need to measure how many turtles and how many dugong are taken, the same as every other fisheries management plan, if we want to maintain sustainability.