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Wednesday, 25 November 2015
Page: 9029


Senator WHISH-WILSON (Tasmania) (18:25): Senator Ruston, I agree with you that the size of the boats is not the important factor in this. But I am a little bit confused, because it was your government that put the 130-metre length on your ban for supertrawlers. Your ban is actually based on the size of a boat, so I am not quite sure what you are getting at there. But, if you are saying that it is actually about the operations of the boats and how they operate, I totally agree with you. We certainly have that in common on this issue.

The independent scientific panel that looked at this fishing activity warned that there were risks around potential bycatch issues. Unfortunately, those risks were borne out in a very in-your-face way in the first few weeks after this vessel arrived in this country. This is a really important point: AFMA, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, signed off on the Geelong Star when it arrived in Western Australia. They checked the seal excluder device on the net and they gave it the okay to go fishing. We know that it immediately caught seals and dolphins and had to return to port. They then checked it again and allowed the boat to go fishing a second time, and the same thing happened—and it happened a third time. So the Australian Fisheries Management Authority oversaw those seal and dolphin deaths. And now you are asking us to put faith in the fact that you have got it right now and there will not be any more mortalities of protected species—dolphins and seals. That is what you are asking us to take into account here. Senator Ruston, you also mentioned that the night ban was a knee-jerk reaction. They were the words you used.

Senator Ruston: A precautionary measure.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: You used those words as well but you also used the words 'knee-jerk reaction'. As I said, I thought it was absolutely necessary at the time, and I am not convinced—and I think a lot of people I represent are not convinced—that the night ban should be lifted. We know from the evidence that we have received, including from our FOI, that visual identification of dolphins and seals is critical to their protection. They are actually the words that were used by the AFMA observers in their conversations with other AFMA people—and it is something that I have confirmed with the AFMA management. But a decision was made around the economics of this boat and achieving a balance between allowing it to fish and make a buck and the protection of dolphins and seals. We have to make a judgement today about whether we have got that balance right. I think, and the Greens think—and I am glad that Labor and Senator Muir support this—that the ban should stay in place and that we should take all possible mitigation measures to protect dolphins and seals.

I would like to point out to Senator Collins and Labor that, yes, you may feel sorry for the owners of this boat, but let's remember that it was Seafish Tasmania that brought the first supertrawler here three and a bit years ago. That literally set this country on fire—it was literally like wildfire—in terms of the reaction. That was not the first supertrawler to come here. The Veronica came here in 2007, and it caused the same reaction. So Seafish Tasmania made the decision to bring a smaller vessel, the Geelong Star—still a very big trawler—knowing what public sentiment was in this country and knowing that the independent scientific panel had said that there would be risks to bycatch and localised depletion and the impacts that might have on seals, dolphins, seabirds and other marine life and other fish. The boat came without any consultation with the rec fishing groups and with environmentalists. Had they learnt the lessons of the Margiris and the Abel Tasman and actually sat down and talked to stakeholders, then this could have been avoided. But in the end, and I do not say this with any pride, we turned out to be right. The arrival of that boat was a catastrophe for marine life.

I am glad you, Senator Ruston, have acknowledged that it was unacceptable. I acknowledge you also made the point that you—and even the people on board the boat and in fisheries—do not like to see dolphins, whales or other cetaceans and seals killed. None of us do. I totally accept that. The question here is: have we got the balance right? I would like to see the night ban stay in place for longer, as a lot of people I represent would too.

Lastly, in relation to the videos that are on the boat, I have attempted through freedom of information to get copies of the videotape and so far, after repeated attempts, have not been successful. They are not open and available for people to view, and that is unfortunate. We are continuing to try and get copies of those, but they are not available to us at the moment even though we have made numerous FOI requests.

I hope that you are correct and that the observers do stay on board the vessel. I know it has fished at daytime for months. You have not told us how often it has been fishing at night-time. We do not even have that data in front of us to work out the likelihood of having caught and killed dolphins in the seven weeks that the night ban has been released. Perhaps when the Senate inquiry looks at these kind of things and more information comes to light, then we can get a lot more light shed on this.

I ask the Senate to disallow the removal of the night ban on the supertrawler Geelong Star in the Small Pelagic Fishery and take a stand to protect our marine life.

The PRESIDENT: The question is that the disallowance motion moved by Senator Whish-Wilson be agreed to.