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Environment and Communications References Committee
Shark mitigation and deterrent measures

CAPPELLUTI, Mr Tony, Regional Manager, Metropolitan, Department of Fisheries, Western Australia

FLETCHER, Dr Warrick, Executive Director, Science and Research Assessment, Department of Fisheries, Western Australia

KELLY, the Hon. David, Minister for Water; Minister for Fisheries and Minister for Forestry, Western Australian Parliament


CHAIR: Welcome. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you. I remind senators that the Senate has resolved that an officer of a department of the Commonwealth or of a state should not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy and should be given reasonable opportunity to refer questions asked of the officer to superior officers or to a minister. This resolution prohibits only questions asking for opinions on matters of policy and does not preclude questions asking for explanations of policies or factual questions about when and how policies were adopted.

Mr Kelly : Thank you very much for the opportunity to be here today.

CHAIR: I invite you to make a brief opening statement. You know the drum pretty well. In my time in the Senate—it has only been five years—I think you are the first government minister and department that has actually presented to the Senate, in my understanding. So thank you for appearing here today.

Mr Kelly : If we had known that, I may not have shown up!

CHAIR: That is why we did not tell you!

Mr Kelly : Obviously, it is an important issue, so I am happy to be here and hopefully we can clear up some of the confusion or misunderstandings around this issue. Before I do, I want to put on the record the state government's deepest sympathies to the Brouwer family, who tragically lost their daughter on the weekend. It was a terrible incident and we just want to extend our sympathies to her family and friends. I also want to put on the record my appreciation for the efforts of the first responders, whether they be the police, the ambulance officers or the marine rescue group down there. They do an incredible job in trying circumstances and, not just in these circumstances but in a lot of the work they do, they do not get the recognition that they deserve. So I want to put on the record my appreciation for their efforts.

Obviously, we are here because we have had 15 fatal shark attacks in this state since 2000 and these attacks generate a wide degree of interest. They are obviously tragic for the people involved but there is a great interest in the broader community. It is widely accepted that great white sharks have been responsible for virtually all of those attacks. While the previous government had a policy of showing an interest in bull sharks and tiger sharks, certainly in Western Australia, it has only been white sharks that have been responsible for the fatal attacks.

In respect of general swimmers at the beach, there have been a number of measures put in place: aerial patrols and beach patrols, and there have been a number of beach enclosures put in place. They are all things that we have supported both in opposition and now in government. Of those 15 fatal shark attacks, there are only two where the individual could have been described as someone who was just going to the beach for a swim. While only two out of the 15 have been general swimmers, most of the protection that has been put in place has actually been directed at the general beachgoer. We support that and we supported it in opposition because for the general public there is an amenity, a peace of mind, issue that needs to be addressed, but the risk to general beach swimmers is actually very low. Clearly in Western Australia at least the people who are most at risk are surfers and divers. If you are just going down to the beach for a swim, whether it be at your local beach or anywhere else, and you are going only 20 metres out, on the statistics it is extremely remote that you are going to get into trouble. Clearly it is surfers and divers who are most at risk.

In response to the situation that we have had here in Western Australia, the previous government did have a drum line trial. It was spectacularly unsuccessful. They had static drum lines in the metropolitan area and in the south-west. On whatever measure you want, it was spectacularly unsuccessful. They did not catch a single great white shark, and, as I said, they are the shark species that have been responsible for the fatal attacks here. So not one great white shark was caught.

It was expensive. Something like $1.2 million was spent on it. In the metropolitan area the drum lines were managed by fisheries officers but in the south-west they had an independent contractor doing that work, who was being paid $5,000 a day. He was paid $5,000 a day and did not catch a single great white shark. There were quite a few tiger sharks caught, but again they are not the species that has been responsible for fatal attacks. If you actually want to make a difference, catching tiger sharks on the evidence is not going to reduce fatal attacks. So the drum line policy that the previous government put in place—even if you supported reducing the number of great white sharks; even if that was your point of view—was unsuccessful because they caught none.

That drum line policy was abandoned by the previous government. There was a recommendation from the EPA that it not continue. That was only a recommendation. The government could have decided to go ahead regardless, but even the previous government abandoned that practice. They then fell back on what they refer to as the serious threat policy, which basically allowed them to deploy drum lines either pre-emptively—where a shark was detected through the shark-monitoring system or through visual sightings on multiple occasions and was deemed to be a serious threat—or immediately after an attack, whether it be fatal or otherwise. It was virtually automatic that they would deploy drum lines.

Again we would say that that policy for the several years it was in place was largely ineffectual. They deployed drum lines on five occasions pre-emptively and they did not catch a single great white shark. They did not catch a tiger shark either. So as a pre-emptive measure it was of no use whatsoever. Post an attack they were deployed eight times and on only two occasions they actually caught great white sharks. So again the vast majority of the time they did not catch anything. So overall 85 per cent of the times drum lines were deployed they did not catch anything. Again, while it might sound great if you are the sort of person who wants to reduce great white shark numbers, the previous government's policy, which stretched over a number of years, actually had virtually no effect on great white shark numbers.

Coming into office we looked at the statistics. We looked at: who is the group most at risk? Clearly that is surfers and divers. What can we do as a new government to make that group in the community safer when they go into the water? The previous government did research into a number of emerging technologies. One technology that seems promising is individual shark deterrents. They have come a long way. People thought it was fanciful that you could have some sort of deterrent for sharks. The previous government funded research around a product called Shark Shield. I do not like to promote individual products, but it was widely reported by the previous government that that product repelled sharks on 90 per cent of occasions.

It seems to me, and it seems to the new government: if the people who are most at risk are surfers and divers, what can we do for them? What can we do for the emerging technologies like Shark Shield and a number of other products, if we can establish that they actually do work, to get them out into the marketplace? I have to say that there are a lot of people out there who are probably still of the view that none of these products—like magnets on your wrist or whatever—work. People are very sceptical about them.

What we are looking at doing is offering a subsidy for products which are suitable for surfers and/or divers, if they are independently verified as doing what they say they are going to do—that is, repel white sharks. If the condition of the subsidy that it has been market tested and independently verified is met, it would enable the consumers to identify, out of the array of products out there, that that one is getting a subsidy because it has been independently verified that it works. The second thing is a price reduction, hopefully, will mean more people take it up. If more people take it up then hopefully the prices will come down. That is generally how these things work.

It seems to us that if state governments—and we have done it in this state—can subsidise waterwise washing machines to encourage people to save water, why can't we subsidise individual shark deterrents to save lives? It seems to us to be a bit of a no-brainer that we should give this a go, because the people who are most at risk in Western Australia are surfers and divers.

We have supported beach enclosures and aerial patrols to give comfort to the general beachgoer. But if you actually want to make a difference to the people who are most at risk and you just do not want to be seen to be doing something—the general public hate politicians who are just doing something because it panders to their base or they seem to be doing something for a problem that they cannot resolve—in my view the general public much prefer politicians who are prepared to have a go at doing something, even if it is something new, if it will actually make a difference. That is what we are trying to.

We are getting a lot of stick for it. I have to say that I am just a little bit disappointed that some people, especially in the federal sphere and in the opposition here, have come out and been so critical of what is going on, especially so close to the incident last weekend. Certainly, when I was in opposition, I never commented on this sort of stuff so close to an individual incident because it is a time when the family is going through something incredibly difficult. I always took the view that it is not the time, so close to the incident, to be debating this sort of stuff. But, for whatever reason, we are in this position the day after the most recent attack.

We are trying to do something to help those people most at risk. After the federal minister made his comments I managed to have a conversation with him. I have written to him today. I have said, 'If you really want to help, you can assist us with funding for more research', because most of the research around great white behaviour has been done on the east coast, not the west coast. We now understand that there are two different populations. So, if the federal minister really wanted to help, he could give us some funding for that.

He could assist us with funding to fast-track the research and development and assessment of some of these individual shark deterrents. If he really wants to help, he could do that, because a lot of these companies are small. They are at the cutting edge as far as technology goes and they struggle sometimes to get the cash in order to develop their products. If the federal government really wants to be helpful, they could at least help us with those two aspects.

That probably covers the most topical points, but I will just say one other thing. There are a couple of myths: one of them is that there has been an explosion of great white sharks in recent times. All the research, including the research that was done by the previous Liberal government, shows that you cannot actually tell. There is not enough research to understand exactly what the population of great whites is. What we do know about great whites is that they do not breed rapidly. It is biologically impossible for there to be, for example, a doubling of the great white shark population in a short period of time. They have to be 10 to 15 years old before they can actually breed, and even that is a bit dicey. Biologically, it is impossible for there to be an overnight explosion in their population.

Sometimes these days we live in an environment where science does not matter anymore. I hope, on this debate, people who have a view on this at least listen to the science. We have only been in government for four weeks. The science that I am relying on is the science that was done by the previous Liberal government. That science tells us that claims that the great white shark population has exploded just do not stack up scientifically.

There is also a bit of a myth that there was a shark fishery closed in Western Australia and that that somehow contributed to this issue. There has never been a great white shark fishery. We have just never fished specifically for great white sharks for human consumption. There is a shark fishery still here in Western Australia in the southwest. It actually targets other species. My understanding is that most of the attacks have actually occurred where that shark fishery operates. There is a bit of confusion around: 'There's been a closure of a shark fishery.' People assume that that must have been a shark fishery where they were targeting great whites. There has never been a great white shark fishery as such, here in Western Australia. I will leave it at that. As I have my colleagues here from the department, they may be able to answer any questions that I cannot.

CHAIR: Thank you. Very shortly I will go to one of your ex-colleagues, Senator Lines. I just have a couple of quick questions. In relation to the drum lines that were set post incidents, was there any evidence that the white sharks that were caught were the culprits?

Mr Kelly : I should have brought that out. Fisheries will say that, of the sharks that were caught, there is absolutely no way of determining whether or not they were the sharks that were involved in the attack.

CHAIR: Could you tell us where those sharks were caught?

Mr Kelly : One was caught off Mandurah, I think, and the other was off the beach at Esperance.

CHAIR: Was that the same beach where we saw an incident three days ago?

Mr Kelly : A similar location.

CHAIR: So we have seen a shark cull, effectively off that beach, following an incident, and we have had another tragic incident a couple of years later.

Mr Kelly : That is right. You could not say that catching sharks at a beach prevented a future attack at that beach.

Senator LINES: You mentioned that you have written to the federal minister, Frydenberg. Have you also had a conversation with him or has it just been—

Mr Kelly : I managed—I think it was this morning—to speak to him.

Senator LINES: What is it that you are asking for?

Mr Kelly : He was out in the press saying that we should do more and that he was open to any suggestions. When I spoke to him, I basically said, 'There are a couple of things you can help us with.' I outlined them in the letter. The things I specifically spoke to him about on the phone were more funding for research and more funding to assist us with fast-tracking the individual shark repellents. I do not want to go into too much detail, but he seemed more interested in only pursuing the idea of drum lines, nets and culls. I had the discussion with him that the evidence is that the people who are most at risk here are surfers and divers—13 out of the 15—and, with the emerging technology, why wouldn't we be trying to give those people maximum protection if that is now available? That was not available 10 years ago. Realistically, even if you believe in drum lines, you are never going to have a drum line at every beach around Western Australia. But, if these devices are proved to be successful, every diver and every surfer at least would have the option of using one if they chose.

Senator LINES: When you said 'research', what is the research that you think should be undertaken?

Mr Kelly : One of the issues is: what is the population? Where are they? Where do they reproduce?

Senator LINES: Is this great whites we are talking about?

Mr Kelly : I am talking about great whites for all those questions. My understanding is that most of the research on those issues was done in the eastern states, when it was believed that there was just one population of great whites. There are now believed to be two: an east coast population and a west coast population. A lot of the research was based on that. Getting a clearer picture would certainly help. The more information we have on this issue, clearly, the better.

Senator LINES: Did Minister Frydenberg give you any indication he was willing to look at funding?

Mr Kelly : I do not want to quote his exact words, but he was not immediately encouraging. He seemed more interested in us pursuing nets, drum lines or a cull. They were the three things he seemed most interested in, and I said, 'If these new technologies have the ability to assist the people who are most at risk, why don't we try and do something in that regard as well?'

Senator LINES: From the other evidence that we have had today, we have heard from expert after expert that there is a lack of research. It seems to me that that is, amongst other things, something we need to do.

Senator URQUHART: A theme of my questions through most of the hearings is education. We hear a lot about education for beachgoers, people who are using beaches, surfers et cetera. In the process moving forward, is there anything that you are looking at in terms of education for the general public?

Mr Kelly : When we were in opposition, we supported the things that the previous government put in place around that. There is the Sharksmart website, for example, which has a whole range of information. Members of the general public are encouraged to go to the website or the app and get information about whether there have been sightings in the area and those sorts of things. We think all of that was good. In opposition, we were never critical of the government for spending money on that. You can always do better, but the question is: how much do you spend?

At this point in time, when you look at who is most at risk, if we want to do something better than we are currently doing, it is time to do something for the people who are most at risk: surfers and divers. Having done a reasonable amount on education and having done a good amount on protecting people who are the general beach swimmers, the absolute crying need is something that will directly give assistance to the people who are most at need, who are surfers and divers.

In respect of divers, I have spoken to a number of commercial divers whose companies will not let them go in the water without one of these devices on their legs and hanging off the back of the boat as well. That has been the case for years. If the technology can get to the point where it is suitable for divers, and there are surfboard models that do similar things, why wouldn't we be encouraging surfboard users to use them as well?

Senator URQUHART: We heard just a moment ago from Mr Rick Gerring, who lost his brother about six months ago due to a shark incident. He has been advocating quite strongly for education and a whole range of things. I understand he is meeting you tomorrow.

Mr Kelly : That is right.

Senator URQUHART: You are obviously open to any sort of feedback from people who have been or want to be involved in this sort of thing. Is that something that you would open your arms to?

Mr Kelly : Absolutely. We met with Mr Gerring last year. One of the things he put to us after the incident that sadly took his brother was that he believed that getting knowledge out there—amongst surfers, in particular—about these devices was really important. He told us he was really passionate about that. He also strongly felt that one of the issues that may have contributed to his brother's death was the emergency services not being able to quickly identify the exact location of his brother on the beach. Some of the local governments have been working on what was Mr Gerring's idea, and that is basically to number beaches in Western Australia so you can quickly advise emergency services what the location is. That is something we are happy to talk to him and local governments about as well.

Senator REYNOLDS: I want to pick up a couple of issues that you raised. You talked about the new government's position on drum lines and the research that the previous government funded until about April 2014. That was $1.28 million, I think, which you acknowledged, but that is only four per cent of the total amount of money that the previous government invested in a whole range of other shark mitigation research projects and measures. I want to go through some of the others measures and get your thoughts on whether they were effective measures that you will be keeping or expanding. Obviously, there is no silver bullet.

Mr Kelly : While made some public comment following the incident that took place on the weekend—because people wanted to know, for example, we were going to deploy drum lines or not, and we had made a decision at that stage that we were not—I am not in a position today to go through the range of other measures that we might put in place, because we are looking at that as we speak.

Senator REYNOLDS: I would like you to comment, or you officials might be able to, on what has happened not on what your policy—

Mr Kelly : If the object of the question is to run through everything and to ask me to answer, 'Is this in or this is out?' on what our strategy will be,' I am not in a position to answer that question. I am telling you that is what our position will be.

Senator REYNOLDS: Thank you. I appreciate that. I understand the political point there. I certainly will not be asking you what your future policy is going to be. A number of the programs that the previous government implemented here are things that other witnesses have mentioned, in their written statements and today. If we, as a committee, are going to look for some comprehensive solutions—short, medium and long-term—it would be very helpful to get feedback on what measures have worked here in the West. For example, the state government had funded five beach enclosures. We heard from Joondalup today about the success of that particular program. With that funding, what was the experience at that other four enclosures across the state? How effective has that been? Are there lessons learnt that you could share with everybody?

Mr Kelly : I have already said that in opposition we supported, and our view has not changed, things like beach enclosures, which play a role in giving people confidence that when they go to the beach things will be fine. There have been different experiences based on the different designs. The previous government did not just choose one model of beach enclosures. I think there are a least three. Other than that, I probably cannot give you much more other than, yes, beach enclosures are helpful. That is probably as best I can—

Senator REYNOLDS: In terms of the lessons learnt and the comprehensiveness, for example, there was $1½ million into different beach safety trial programs and 12 jet skis for the Surf Life Saving Western Australia, were those successful? Are those programs that could be rolled out further? You have $3 million to serious threat policy, drone trials, Clever Buoy trials, Shark Response Unit, three different projects and a number of science—if you listened to some of the testimony today you would think that the previous government had not funded any research, but there are a number of research projects that are ongoing. Rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater, clearly there is a lot of work underway that is state government funded—perhaps if you or the officials here can answer—where are we up to with all of that research? It is not about where you are going, but what are the lessons learnt from the money that has been invested so far?

Mr Kelly : I can make some general comments for you. In opposition we supported virtually everything the state government did. I think I said that in opposition, probably, numerous times. I suppose where we parted company was on the use of drum lines. That is one of the reasons I found it quite surprising that some of your federal colleagues have been so quick in the last week to attack the WA state government for what we have done in this area. We have only been in government for four weeks. The previous Liberal state government had been in office for eight years and had not been able to solve this problem. We have been in office for four weeks, and somehow we are supposed to have solved it.

Having said that, to get to your specific question, some of the initiatives we have taken is the government have funded a trial of Clever Buoy and they have funded a trial of drones. Both those trials have now concluded, but I have not yet been presented with a report to evaluate. So, while I understand the general principle of what those trials were supposed to do, I cannot really give you an opinion as to whether they were successful or not because the trials have only just been concluded. I have not yet got the report. I think I have dealt with the serious threat policy. Were there other questions that I missed?

Senator REYNOLDS: There is a range of questions, and we can put them on notice—again, in that spirit of bipartisanship. You said that there was agreement with a lot of these measures. I think it would be very interesting for the committee, when we are putting our report together, to actually take the politics out of it and say: 'These are the things that have been done. These are the results. These worked; these didn't. As part of a suite of measures, these are things that we could recommend to others in Western Australia, the rest of the country and maybe even internationally. These are some of the best practices. These are the things that worked and these are the things that haven't worked. These are the reasons why.' Drum lines aside, I think there are a lot of good things that have been done across the state. It would be really good if we could, on a bipartisan basis, capture the lessons learnt.

Mr Kelly : I am happy, in the spirit of bipartisanship, to give the committee some further feedback about some of the measures.

CHAIR: We prefer to use the word 'tripartisan'!

Senator LINES: We are comfortable with 'bipartisan'!

Mr Kelly : I am not sure that tripartisanship covers the Senate!

CHAIR: It is multipartisan!

Mr Kelly : But, if you could take back to your colleagues the view that I have expressed today—

Senator REYNOLDS: I suspect that is—

Mr Kelly : It is blindingly obvious in Western Australia that the people who are most at risk are divers and surfers. Putting in place more drum lines, or anything of that nature, is not going to give protection to the people who are most at risk. If you are diving at a reef a kilometre off the coast, you are not going to be protected by a drum line placed at a beach. So if you could convince your federal colleagues and your state colleagues to take the politics out of it and recognise that what we are trying to do is actually prevent attacks and not have an argument about what you do after an attack I would appreciate it.

Senator REYNOLDS: I will certainly take that back. If I can find a single one of my federal colleagues who have said that that is the only measure that we need to look at—that they are not actually for advocating for a suite of measures to mitigate—I will certainly pass that on to them.

CHAIR: I thought we decided to take the politics out of this! That is a very good recommendation, so I am glad you made it.

Senator SIEWERT: Can I follow-up on the two points you raised about the research that has been funded that you are just getting the results back on, which is the Clever Buoy and the drones? First of all, my question is: were fisheries involved in that research?

Mr Cappelluti : We were involved because we linked detections from Clever Buoy into our Sharksmart activity system. We worked with the Clever Buoy contractors because all shark sightings and all shark detections from our shark-monitoring network are automatically uploaded onto the Sharksmart website. There is an activity map that you can look at and get all the information about sightings, positions, dates and times from. Our IT developers worked with Clever Buoy's developers, and we got a situation where, when the Clever Buoy system picked up a shark, it posted the shark's mark like a normal detection, but it was clearly identified as a Clever Buoy trial detection.

Senator SIEWERT: One of the comments—I do not know if you heard—

CHAIR: From Surf Life Saving.

Senator SIEWERT: Yes—from Surf Life Saving Western Australia this morning. They had quite a bit of criticism on the beach itself because there were repeated alerts and they did not know if there was actually a shark there or not. There was not a verification process—

Senator REYNOLDS: Like crying wolf or something?

Senator SIEWERT: Yes. So they were saying, 'It might have gone off, but we actually do not know if a shark was there.' And fair enough. You would know if there was a tagged shark. But if it was not a tagged shark, they would not know. Are you aware of any verification process that was put in place for that?

Mr Cappelluti : My understanding is—and maybe Surf Life Saving can correct me if I am wrong—they do fly their drone over some of those detections. Now, I am not sure—

Senator SIEWERT: My understanding from this morning—and I can only go from what I was told this morning—is that in some instances they were not able to get the drone there in time; it was elsewhere. I am trying to confirm whether there was a verification process put in place when that trial was undertaken. I appreciate the point that you have just made about how sometimes there would have been. But it seems to me that there should have been, if there was not, a verification process put in place to see if it actually was detecting sharks or whether there were false positives.

Mr Cappelluti : I suppose that will come out in the evaluation. Put it this way, the Department of Fisheries was not doing any verification. We were just facilitating information back through our system.

Senator SIEWERT: That is where I wanted to go to next—you were not involved in the design; it was in terms of cooperation to ensure they got the information that they needed. Is that correct?

Mr Cappelluti : The information that the public needed. What we had was a system that was detecting sharks but, possibly, was not going to notify the public through our pretty wonderful notification system. So we approached them and we had this facet of it built into the system.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay. I misunderstood what you said originally. So you approached them when you saw that it was happening. With the drone research, were you involved in the same way with that?

Mr Cappelluti : No. That was some money that was given to Surf Life Saving to run a trial drone program for beach safety purposes.

Senator SIEWERT: Can I ask—and I am not sure who the best person is to ask—

Mr Kelly : Well, ask me and I will—

Senator SIEWERT: We were told today that the shark research or the shark unit—I will call it that but I do not think that was the proper title for the unit within Fisheries—had been wound up. Is that true?

Mr Kelly : I am not familiar with what you call the unit.

Senator SIEWERT: I do not know the proper—

Dr Fletcher : We still have a shark scientist. It might be a different one because people move around and move onto different things. But there is still a shark scientist and technical assistants. What has happened is that the dedicated people who were associated with maintaining the VR4 satellite acoustic receivers are now located down at the Marine Operation Centre at Fremantle, because it is now an operational system; it is no longer primarily a research system. So the two people associated with maintaining those buoys are now in the operation centre.

Senator SIEWERT: With all due respect—and cutting through that process—you now do not have the research part of the unit going. That is what you have just said—you have moved from a research process to an operational process and you have one shark scientist.

Dr Fletcher : We always had only one shark scientist.

Senator SIEWERT: Did you have a group of people beyond the one scientist doing the research who were—

Dr Fletcher : We had a number of technical officers and we still have a number of technical officers. The only thing that has happened is instead of—in fact, they have actually been down at the Marine Operations Centre for some years because it is the most effective place for them to be at.

Senator SIEWERT: Who is interpreting the data that comes through this process?

Dr Fletcher : As I said, primarily the data coming through it now is for safety purposes. It is not primarily about being collected for research purposes because that project finished.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay. Sorry, I am finding this a little bit difficult to get the information that I want. The project finished—

Dr Fletcher : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: and was wound up. Why?

Dr Fletcher : Because that was the end of the project.

Senator SIEWERT: Did you apply for more funding?

Dr Fletcher : At the end of the project we actually looked at the data to see whether there was sufficient information coming through that suggested by having it being extended would actually help. The information we found is that the movements of the white sharks were not of a nature that was actually repeated, so there was a high degree of randomness in what was going on. There were no repeatable patterns that would suggest that by extending it any further we were going to get any more information out of it than what we actually got in the first four years. The law of diminishing returns suggests that it was not worth actually applying for more, because all we would get is more of the same information.

Senator SIEWERT: Are you continuing to put tags on sharks?

Dr Fletcher : Yes, on an opportunistic basis. There is not a dedicated project, so we do it on an opportunistic basis now.

Senator SIEWERT: So that means when you happen to have an interaction with a shark. Is that what you mean? Or there is a shark around that you can get easy access to. I understand it is a complicated process.

Dr Fletcher : Yes. We have a couple of times of the year when we know there are more likely to be sharks concentrated in an area and that shark unit that is sitting down at Fremantle is the one that goes out and actually does the tagging.

Senator SIEWERT: And where does the funding come from for that?

Dr Fletcher : That is part of the Shark Monitoring Network's ongoing funding.

Senator SIEWERT: How much ongoing funding have you got for that?

Dr Fletcher : It is about $400,000 or $500,000?

Mr Cappelluti : No, it would be less than that. It is about $350,000.

Senator SIEWERT: Is that the same amount you have always had, more or less?

Dr Fletcher : Again, over the last couple of years it has been about the same. It was not as much as when we had the initial major research project, but a lot of that was for capital costs. So the capital cost is there and it is now largely on an ongoing basis for maintenance of the system and keeping it underway.

Senator SIEWERT: And for when you do come across and can opportunistically tag some sharks.

Dr Fletcher : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Do you continue to share that information nationally?

Dr Fletcher : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: So that same process is undertaken nationally?

Dr Fletcher : Yes. In fact, it is part of a collective collaborative project with us, South Australia and CSIRO. A lot of the receivers were actually placed in there by other parties as well, so the whole system is probably one of the most expansive acoustic arrays in the world.

CHAIR: Can you let the committee know a little bit about the extent of cooperation with the federal government? I know CSIRO plays a big role in tagging sharks, and it has a couple of other specific programs, but has there been much else delivered by the federal government in terms of research funding or cooperative work around issues to do with shark mitigation?

Mr Kelly : I think the answer to that is no. Some cooperation through the CSIRO, but as far as anything else goes my understanding is there has not been. I suppose the level of cooperation in last week has been pretty poor.

CHAIR: It seems to me, from having had one hearing in Sydney already and we are going to New South Wales to have a second hearing shortly, there is a lot of work going on over there around the same issue. You guys have kind of led in a lot of ways over here, because this has been an issue here for nearly a decade, but I cannot see any coordinated federal approach. The federal government wait for an EPBC referral before they do anything. Is there a COAG process?

Mr Kelly : As I indicated to the federal minister today in my letter, we would welcome some assistance, both research and practical, on this issue here in Western Australia.

CHAIR: Is it the kind of thing that COAG could look at in terms of a coordinated approach to research funding?

Mr Kelly : Whether it is a COAG process or not, I am probably not in a position to make a comment on at this point. We would just like a bit of our GST back for this purpose.

Senator SIEWERT: I knew that would get into this conversation somehow!

Senator REYNOLDS: Well done on leaving it to the very end.

CHAIR: That is smart.

Senator SIEWERT: You heard the evidence we had earlier around Australian standards for personal devices. You may not have been here then.

Mr Kelly : I was not here, no.

Senator SIEWERT: The point that Mr Gerring made was about the need for—in fact, he recommended that we recommend that there be an Australian standard developed around personal devices, because there are some snake-oil salespeople in this area. In terms of the process you are going to undertake around the subsidy, you are talking about independent testing. Would you support that sort of process, a much more formal process, for devices meeting Australian standards?

Mr Kelly : I am not completely familiar with the process that is required in order to get an Australian standard in place, so I do not know whether that is a quick or a long process. I certainly agree with Mr Gerring that consumers need to know whether what they are being offered actually works. At the moment, in the absence of a standard, it will have to be an assessment that fisheries make, so we will have to make that on a case by case basis. It may well be that if there is a standard that can be identified, that would be useful, but I am not personally aware of whether that is a long or a short process. We have obviously got an immediate issue that we would like to deal with.

Senator SIEWERT: So start an interim process perhaps while an Australian standard is developed, or something like that?

Mr Kelly : At the moment, I am quite comfortable that experts in Fisheries can make an assessment on a product by product basis. If there is some way of coming up with a simpler process that involves some sort of Australian standard, I am sure that would be helpful. But I probably cannot assist you greatly at this point in time on the pros and cons of that.

CHAIR: Certainly it is something the committee will look at. As there are no further questions, I would like to thank you for appearing here today. This is obviously a very important and a very emotional issue. I hope, through some informed debate in taking evidence, we can help inform that debate. I thank all of our witnesses for their informative presentations, and I thank the Hansard staff and the Senate staff, and I thank the audience for coming along.

Committee adjourned at 16:51