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Monday, 17 September 2012
Page: 7078


Senator CAROL BROWN (TasmaniaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (17:47): I rise today to add my contribution to the debate on the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Declared Commercial Fishing Activities) Bill 2012.

We are all aware that, while this bill will do a number of things, its main purpose is to ensure that the supertrawler, the Abel Tasman—formerly known as the FV Margiris—is not able to fish in Australian waters. It is a 140-metre trawler with an onboard-processing facility capable of storing over 6,000 tonnes. This has been a long-running issue that has generated great debate and high levels of community concern. The Gillard Labor government acted to stop the supertrawler because we believe that new environmental issues are raised by this ship that had not been contemplated when the science was last undertaken.

I believe that this legislative course of action is the only course of action that can stop the trawler. This is because only a long-term legislative outcome can deliver the result of stopping the supertrawler and that is what the Gillard Labor government has done. Last week the minister for the environment, Tony Burke MP, announced plans to legislate to extend his legal powers over the supertrawler to prevent the vessel from fishing in Australian waters. Minister Burke announced that he would make amendments to the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999—the EPBC—to prevent vessels like the supertrawler from fishing so that further assessment can be undertaken and the science can be reviewed.

As I have said, we have never seen a ship of this size operate in Australian waters so it raises a number of questions regarding the science. When the science was done, it did not take into account that a vessel of this size would be fishing the quota and, particularly, it did not take into account the large storage capacity which allows it to stay in the same area of the ocean for an extended period of time. Before the introduction of this legislation, Minister Burke had put in place an interim two-week period with conditions that would have imposed strict requirements on the fishing operations of the vessel. Minister Burke found that he did not have the legislative powers under the act to suspend the fishing activity because of the uncertainty around the potential impacts of the vessel. The only power available to Minister Burke was the power to place extra restrictions on the vessel and so Minister Burke, reflecting community concern, recognised that new legislation was required to ensure that we continue good management of our fisheries and the environment. That is why the Labor government has taken action to legislate for the minister for the environment, working with the minister for fisheries, to have the power to establish an expert panel to conduct an assessment of all the potential impacts before a vessel like the supertrawler can be given approval to fish in Commonwealth waters.

The minister for fisheries, Minister Ludwig, has also announced the first major review of Australian fisheries policy and legislation in over 20 years. The review of Australia's world-leading fisheries system will identify what, if any, improvements are needed to ensure community and industry expectations can be met into the future. The review will look at the entire fisheries management regime. Australia has some of the best and most well-managed fisheries in the world so it is important that we maintain responsible management of this resource, ensure that it is sustainable now and into the future and is meeting expectations.

While the announcements made by Minister Burke and Minister Ludwig last Tuesday were extremely positive and welcome, I would like to go back to where the campaign began and how we reached this position. A couple of months ago recreational fishers and the Tasmanian community began to object to proposals by Seafish Tasmania to bring the supertrawler to fish in Australian waters, and as part of this campaign rallies were held around Tasmania against the supertrawler. Those rallies were first held in July this year. I attended community rallies, as I know many other members of parliament did, and held meetings with key stakeholders raising numerous concerns about the impact the supertrawler would have on our fisheries and ecosystems. Together with the member for Franklin, Julie Collins, and Senator Lin Thorp, I raised these issues with the federal parliament, ministers, MPs and senators; and we were pleased to gain support from our caucus colleagues against this supertrawler. There was a lot of concern on the part of caucus members, because this is not just an issue that affects Tasmania; it affects the whole of Australia. The proposed area that the supertrawler would fish in would have extended all the way from the Western Australian coast across to Queensland.

The nationwide campaign played a key role in highlighting the high level of community concern, particularly in Tasmania where the campaign began. So I want to commend and congratulate a number of people from the Tasmanian recreational fishing community who played a key and active role in the excellent grassroots campaign to stop the supertrawler: Neil 'Nobby' Clarke, Kellie-Ann Brown, Martin Haley, Brett Cleary, Mark Nikolai and Tyson Clements—all who worked tirelessly to raise awareness and gain strong public support amongst the Tasmanian community to fight to stop the supertrawler from fishing in Australian waters.

However, as it appears, this concern has not reached the Liberal Party who have voted against this bill in the House of Representatives. The Liberal Party are not listening and are not hearing the community concern. As part of this community campaign, there have been petitions with over 78,000 signatures from around the nation tabled in this chamber and I have received many hundreds of emails, letters and representations. I was recently contacted by a Tasmanian constituent—one of many hundreds—a self-described life-long Liberal voter. In his correspondence he asks Tasmanian Liberal senators to support this legislation and oppose the supertrawler. I want to quote part of that correspondence. He said:

I am also a self confessed fishing nut and in the same breath conservationist. I have always exercised catch and release fishing, taught my children the same practices who all fish.

This week I sat and watch the federal Labor party introduce legislation to protect Australia's precious fish stocks from plunder from a foreign owned monster trawler. While passing this stage of the process I find it so disappointing that the party—

he means the Liberal Party—

cannot do the right thing for this generation and for generations to come by supporting the bill.

Now the legislation comes to the senate and an opportunity for you all to show some common sense. Pass the legislation and in doing so show the true value of our marine resources.

These sustainable assets and resource can then be with us long after the mineral resource boom is forgotten. That cannot be mined more than once, our fish stocks could be with us for generations.

Please pass the legislation.

He makes a good point, because we do have well-managed fishing stocks and they are a sustainable resource that can be very valuable to us, so it is our job to ensure that the appropriate protections are in place to ensure that our fishing stocks are around for generations to come. He simply asks the Liberal Party, his Tasmanian Liberal senators, to show some common sense, to understand and acknowledge the community concern, to understand and acknowledge the concerns of our recreational fishers, to understand and acknowledge the uncertainly that surrounds the impact of the supertrawler, and to protect our fisheries from uncertainty.

What we have seen is that the act currently does not have sufficient powers to suspend a fishing activity where there is uncertainty to the impacts and where those impacts need further assessment, and so legislation is required. As Minister Burke said:

Marine environments once wrecked take generations to recover, if they ever do. A precautionary approach is not only good policy; it is the only decent option.

It is because the Labor government took the action it did to protect Australian ecosystems and fishing stocks that we are here today debating this legislation. Whilst there continues to be uncertainty about the impacts of a fishing vessel of this size, it is only appropriate that we stop the supertrawler from fishing in Commonwealth waters while further assessment is undertaken. The bill before us allows that to happen. This is the only responsible course of action to ensure the future of Australia's fisheries. I commend the bill to the chamber and urge all senators to support it.