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Tuesday, 25 June 1996
Page: 2129

Senator MARGETTS(4.33 p.m.) —I, too, rise to speak to the Auditor-General's Commonwealth Fisheries Management reports. As Senate Baume has mentioned, serious concerns are expressed in the reports in relation to one of the objectives of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, that is, ecologically sustainable development. Today we have heard that there is not sufficient information regarding fish stocks in Australia. They are not just saying that we do not have full information; they are also saying we do not have accurate information on most species, most of which are commercially important species, with regard to most Commonwealth fisheries. Where fish are caught is known. This information can be obtained from figures supplied by the licensed fishing industry. However, although they generally know where fish breed, they do not necessarily know where juvenile fish live, nor do they know the movements of these fish.

This is important for a number of reasons. Obviously, with any major marine development it is very hard, if not impossible, to ascertain what the impact will be if the information is not there. I always feel a bit cynical when somebody makes a statement saying that there will be very little environmental or ecological impact on a particular coastal development when we know they do not know about the fish stocks or fish life cycles.

Very recently, the Minister for Resources and Energy, Senator Parer, mentioned that he had solved the problem regarding Japan's concerns about southern bluefin tuna. Why is this a problem? It is a problem because we know—and clearly these reports show this—that we do not have enough information about fish stocks to base any decisions upon. We may well have made Japan happy and in that sense perhaps solved a problem, but if we base our decisions on the monitoring of catches we will head into a situation where there are serious problems which it will be too late to deal with. It will be too late to solve the problem when the fish catch is seriously depleted.

So what do we do instead? We should concentrate on strategic research regarding stock before issuing permits to fish in Australian waters. Perhaps, if countries such as Japan wish to increase the take of certain fish species in Australian waters, they could be required to contribute to the cost of such research. The Australian Fisheries Management Authority may facilitate such research, but countries wishing to increase or even maintain their current levels of catch should participate in funding that research.

It is important to understand in terms of species around Australia that we have not pooled a lot of the information currently available. Often the bodies given the task of finding out about fishing do not have full details. Possibly, in terms of many species—fish, birds and terrestrial species—we should bring together all the people researching various species to share that information so we can establish a base line for the last part of the century and have a much better idea of implications for the future.

A cynical thought occurred to me regarding Senator Parer's response in relation to Australia's ineffective greenhouse responses when he said we could remove the word `sustainable' from the energy council and then say, `See, we have met our goals because we are no longer required to be sustainable'.

I hope that will not happen in this regard. One way to help the Australian Fisheries Management Authority might be to remove the words `ecologically sustainable development' and then say, `See? All we have to do is keep the industry happy.' The only problem is that it is very obvious that any decisions you make which will affect the ecological balance of our fisheries will have a very quick commercial impact on the industry itself. Often, when particular fishing companies have access to a closed system, they make sure they do not overfish, they make sure that the breeding areas are maintained and not polluted. If there is a problem, they are directly financially affected. In the case of greenhouse, the same sort of thing happens, but it is a long way down the track and the industry is not immediately affected by those decisions. So if the industry makes decisions in relation to ecological sustainability, it impacts on other people at other times, not immediately.

I argue that the principles that are beginning to be accepted in relation to sustainable fisheries should also be acceptable in other areas. We should realise that if we are talking about ecological sustainability, we are talking about the ability to survive. If we understand there is a need for our fishing industry to survive and not to overfish, not to destroy the resource, we should also transfer that understanding to other industries and take a precautionary approach so that we do not all end up paying and paying into the future.