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Monday, 17 September 2012
Page: 7067


Senator THORP (Tasmania) (17:00): I am pleased to be able to speak to this urgent legislation to toughen up environmental controls on vessels like the supertrawler, now known as the Abel Tasman, and to have been involved in its development. This legislation will give the minister for the environment, working with the minister for fisheries, the power to establish an expert panel to conduct an assessment of all the potential impacts of this supertrawler before it can be given approval to fish in Commonwealth waters. The amendments to the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 will provide the community and the industry with a process to establish the high level of certainty that is needed for vessels like the FV Abel Tasman to operate in Australian waters.

I do not believe that existing concerns around bycatch of other fish, birds and marine mammals, particularly dolphins and seals, have been adequately addressed. Indeed, the present legislative framework did not provide the necessary safeguards, and it is in this context that the EPBC is being amended and updated to allow the minister to deal with issues not envisioned when the act was created.

The community needs to be assured that the environmental controls in place are reflective of the expectations of the community and that the expert panel will be able to assess the science to answer those very important questions. Importantly, this process will be undertaken over a period of up to two years, during which this vessel will not be allowed to trawl in Commonwealth waters. This time frame is required in order to collect much of the seasonally-specific data necessary to ensure the science is fully robust.

The major concern with the operation of this vessel for recreational fishers in my home state of Tasmania—and right around Australia—has been the potential for localised depletion of fish stocks. On this matter I have not been convinced that the existing science has been as robust as some have claimed, with some of the research around localised depletion and on-flow consequences to other fish stocks being several years out of date. I am also pleased that, separate to this bill, the minister for fisheries has announced a major review into Australia's fisheries management. The review is the first of its kind in 20 years, and will be a root-and-branch assessment to maintain our fisheries' world-leading status.

I first attended a rally against the supertrawler at the Derwent Entertainment Centre in Hobart in late July. Over the last six to eight weeks I have been contacted by recreational fishers from all over Tasmania and have spoken with stakeholders and community members across the spectrum. It has been my role as a senator for Tasmania to convey the concerns of the Tasmanian community to our federal ministers and lobby on behalf of the people of my state in this place. I am very pleased that through the efforts of Labor members of parliament to approach this issue sensibly and to speak directly with our colleagues and responsible ministers we have been able to achieve this outcome.

In his contribution earlier, another senator from my home state of Tasmania, Senator Colbeck, actually berated many of the people who were supportive of lobbying the ministers to try to effect some change around this issue. I think Senator Colbeck really needs to rethink some of the comments he is making, given that he is a senator for Tasmania—it is quite important, and one of our primary roles, to make sure that we are representing the interests of our electorate. I am not on my own in thinking that, and wish to quote from an article that was printed in a newspaper from the northern part of the state, the Examiner, last Tuesday, in which the author Barry Prismall said under the headline, 'Liberals surrender field of battle to ALP':

The Tasmanian Liberal party is being outfoxed and toppled from its fortress comfort zone.

The party that once prided itself as the paragon of states' rights has surrendered its fortress to Labor.

The Liberals were warriors for their state but now they appear like soldiers of fortune, with no apparent purpose.

Mere flotsam, hoping to drift to shore with a king tide, given their federal party's current supremacy in the polls.

…   …   …

They don't oppose the super trawler. The rest of Australia does.

They won't take on Tony Abbott over the threat of population-based GST funding.

…   …   …

The GST, a successful Howard government reform, is a dream issue to run with in terms of the threat to our share, and yet federal Labor MPs are the ones making flawless baton changes.

The Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association is having a meltdown over the disease threat of New Zealand potato imports, but barely a peep out of the Libs.

…   …   …

Our Liberal senators are taking the luxury of a year's fact-finding tour to produce election policies based on feedback while federal Labor MPs, who should be on the defensive, are on the attack; …

…   …   …

Now is the time for these Liberal bravehearts to be seen standing up for their state, but, they have meekly squandered the battle ground to Labor.

I also congratulate the Tasmanian community members who lobbied so strongly and raised awareness around this issue. To them, I say, 'This victory belongs to you.'

Above all, this government wants to see a sustainable fishery with appropriate management to ensure that fish stocks remain robust for future generations and that our marine environment continues to thrive. I wholeheartedly support this legislation.