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Monday, 29 November 2004
Page: 91

Senator GREIG (6:21 PM) —The coalition government has flagged quite a few times since the election the importance of natural resource management within its agenda under its new parliamentary term. The Australian Democrats consider that significant progress in this area has the potential to positively influence both the health of industry and associated environments. However, we do believe that much more can and should be done.

On the issue of fisheries management, which we deal with specifically here in the Fisheries (Validation of Plans of Management) Bill 2004, we remain concerned to see that the coalition has not yet ruled out permitting supertrawlers such as the Veronica to fish in Australian waters. What use will management plans and quota systems be if we allow industrial scale fishing to replace smaller, regionally based fleets throughout our domestic fisheries? What good will they do to regional communities and families reliant on small local fishing operations? We Democrats once again call on the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Ian Macdonald, to set a responsible precedent and rule out any chance the Veronica or a similar vessel might have of fishing in Australian waters—and not just for the short term.

We argue and urge that the government take strong and decisive action both nationally and internationally to ensure that Australia's fish stocks can continue their productive life well into the future. We commend the government for their recognition of the need for high seas biodiversity protection. We also commend the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, for his support for the United Nations move, agreed to last week, to protect areas of high biodiversity significance from destructive fishing practices where it was warranted in waters beyond national jurisdiction on the `high seas'. However, we believe that more can be done to ensure the future of Australia's domestic fish stocks and to achieve best practice in Australian fishing fleets.

In light of the lack of any mention of domestic management planning or environmental assessment in the government's 2004 election fisheries policy, we must remind the government of their 2001 election commitment to complete the environmental assessment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 of all export fisheries, including state managed fisheries, by the end of December 2003. We also urge the government to revisit their commitment to ensure that fisheries management arrangements guarantee that fishing is sustainable in terms of impacts on target species, by-catch species and the marine ecosystem.

We urge the government to consider how best to develop plans of management to assist species already recognised as overfished, such as southern bluefin tuna, orange roughy, school shark, eastern gemfish, beche-de-mer and even bigeye tuna stocks in the Indian Ocean. We Democrats are aware that community concern over the status of some of our more valuable fish stocks has resulted in the development of public nominations to list them as threatened species under the EPBC Act 1999.

We further urge the government to progress those nominations according to the rule of law. I do not believe that continuing declines in these species and in many others now recognised by the Bureau of Rural Sciences as overfished despite some years of management by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority will be of any benefit to industry or associated communities. Fisheries managers seek to identify and maximise the sustainable yield of the fisheries. However, at present it would seem they do so on the basis of incomplete information. We understand that stock levels in at least three dozen of our fisheries are currently considered unknown. Fisheries managers and governments are working blind and are therefore placing our natural heritage and dependent industries at significant risk.

There is little doubt that by-catch also remains a significant problem in several Commonwealth managed fisheries, particularly long-line and trawl fisheries. In by-catches, seals, seabirds, marine turtles, sharks and other protected species are still being killed in significant numbers. It may be of interest to the Senate that seven wandering albatross were recently hooked by pelagic long-line fishermen targeting swordfish, while two shy albatross and eight petrels have been killed by a method of fishing called autolong-lining used to target ling. These fatalities within our domestic fleets are not acceptable, and the Democrats would support any action to ensure by-catch mitigation is comprehensively and thoroughly implemented.

The Australian Democrats call on the federal government to do more to reduce the by-catch of these species and others, such as the deepwater dogfish, easily overlooked in the development of by-catch action plans, in environmental assessments and through fisheries management plans. Our marine biodiversity forms the bedrock of our fisheries industries. We must work to ensure we do not irreparably damage the marine ecosystem through mismanagement and overexploitation. This will require a greater commitment of resources for researching the impacts of fishing on the marine environment, a broader commitment to assessing resource condition and availability and a greater willingness to establish and enforce stringent by-catch management standards. Such things will not be achieved by keeping `a very light hand on the tiller to ensure that all responsibilities that relate to the management of Australia's fisheries resource are met', as the minister suggested might be appropriate earlier today.

The Democrats have no argument with the bill presented to the Senate and we support its passage. However, we do urge that greater attention be given to achieving sustainability in Commonwealth and state fisheries, both for the benefit of future Australians and for the benefit of the environment in which we live.