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Wednesday, 8 December 2004
Page: 70

Senator GREIG (2:47 PM) —My question is to Senator Ian Campbell, the Minister for the Environment and Heritage. Does the minister agree with a statement made in this chamber last Wednesday by his colleague Senator Ian Macdonald:

... this Christmas time Australians can tuck into Australia's fine, fresh, `clean and green' seafood, content in the knowledge ... that the Australian fish and fish products they are eating come from environmentally sustainable fisheries—some of the most environmentally sustainable fisheries in the world.

Can the minister confirm that in fact the southern bluefin tuna is recognised by the World Conservation Union's red list of endangered species as being critically endangered and that the New South Wales government recently recognised this species as being threatened with extinction due to unsustainable fishing practices? Minister, is it the case that stocks of southern bluefin tuna have fallen to just 10 per cent of their original population? Will the minister take the opportunity to correct his colleague's public statement and instead issue warnings to seafood consumers to be more selective in their habits and to assist for a more sustainable outcome?

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) —I thank Senator Greig for a very important question. The fact of the matter is that he is right and so is Senator Ian Macdonald. The practical reality is that Australian fisheries management of this southern bluefin tuna stock is world best practice. It has been certified as sustainable, and Australians can know that when they buy tuna caught by Australian registered and licensed fisheries they are buying tuna from a fishery that is certified and sustainable. Where Senator Greig is right is that internationally the tuna species is under severe threat—there is no doubt about that. The dilemma the government has—and it is a serious one to which Senator Greig draws attention—is that this is an international stock which roams the oceans of the world and is fished heavily by a number of nations. Through a range of international organisations and agreements, Australia seeks to regulate the stocks of this fish to see them recover well above the highly threatened levels to which Senator Greig has quite appropriately and accurately referred to get them back to a healthy and sustainable level. The dilemma we have is whether we stop fishing bluefin tuna and say to Australian consumers, `Let's not consume Australian caught tuna; let's walk away from those international agreements and see our quotas distributed among other nations and fished illegally,' or whether we stay engaged, ensure that our fisheries are sustainable domestically and work internationally to encourage other licensed fisheries to follow our lead and other good fisheries management nations, therefore using that leverage and our diplomatic efforts to achieve international sustainability.

I think the course we have chosen is the correct one. We recognise the threat to the stocks internationally and that Australia can play a positive leadership role to improve the international sustainability of this fish stock. We can do that by being open and honest with the Australian people. In this case both Senator Greig and Senator Ian Macdonald have been honest about the situation. There is a threat, but Australia can and will play a role in this, as we do through a number of organisations in relation to a number of fish stocks. The story of the patagonian toothfish is well known to Western Australians in particular because a WA based company is the primary licensed fishing operator in that fishery in the Heard and McDonald Islands. It is a great example of a win-win process through international conventions. It is recognised by the World Wide Fund for Nature as world leading and Australia's engagement in the fishery has seen illegal fishing severely curtailed. We are told by various intelligence sources that it may just about have been wiped out but for the vigilance and Australia's engagement in the fisheries. We have huge challenges in that tuna fishery. Australia is playing a positive role and will continue to do so.

Senator GREIG —Mr President, I thank the minister for his answer and ask a supplementary question. Can the minister say whether he will be making a determination on the public nominations submitted by Humane Society International to list southern bluefin tuna under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 or is it the case that the legislative time frame for that decision has now expired?

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) —I will be cautious in this answer because there are legislative processes afoot. My understanding is that there has been a six-month extension to the licence for the fishery and that means that the EPBC listing of the species as threatened process is delayed for that period, but I will get back to Senator Greig with specific details so he is fully informed and so is the public.