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Thursday, 13 September 2012
Page: 10532

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Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (10:26): I welcome the opportunity to contribute to a debate which enables us to shine a spotlight on fishing and the way we sustainably manage a precious resource in this island nation, a debate which enables us to talk about the ecology, ensuring that we get the right balance between the ecological management of the fishing stock, the commercial interests and the recreational interests in fishing in this country. Of course, Deputy Speaker, you would know very well that any time a government, local, state or federal, seeks to regulate in the area of fishing or the use of our oceans it excites the passions of this nation. That is so because Australians love the water and they love their fishing. It was so when the government moved, quite properly, to establish marine parks in this country. At that stage we saw many people entering the debate in defence of recreational fishers, raising, in our view, unfounded concerns about the impact that those marine parks would have on the enjoyment of recreational fishing. It is disappointing that some of those speakers have not come to this debate with the same passion.

I would like to say a few things about the Environment» Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Declared Fishing Activities) Bill 2012. The bill will provide for the Minister for Sustainability, «Environment» , Water, Population and Communities, jointly with the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, to declare a fishing activity where there is some uncertainty about the environmental, social or economic impacts of that fishing activity. Once the ministers jointly declare an activity, that activity may be prohibited for a period of up to 24 months. During that period the bill provides for the establishment of an expert panel and for consultation to occur regarding the economic, social or environmental concerns that led to the declaration of that activity. In short, it enables a process for further scientific, economic or social impact studies to be done on the specific activity which has excited the declaration and the concern of the minister and the community.

It is a good process. It has come about because we have discovered, through the recent events surrounding the Margiris, now the Abel Tasman, that there are gaps in the laws, gaps that do not empower the Commonwealth government to appropriately respond to community concern around the ecological impacts of large-scale factory ships such as the Margiris.

It is worth saying a little bit about the Margiris, because it is obvious that the appearance of this ship on our horizon is what has led to this debate before the parliament. It is unprecedented. There is no doubt that we have factory ships, or large-scale trawlers, operating in Australian waters at the moment. That is absolutely true. But there is nothing on the scale of the Margiris—the Abel Tasman—operating in Australian waters. It is a 140-metre long ship. As some recreational fishermen in my electorate have said to me, it is about 100 times the size of the trawlers we see in Wollongong Harbour and Port Kembla Harbour, trawlers which operate along the coast. So it is a giant. It has nets in excess of 600 metres. Just to put that in some perspective, a net that size would be big enough to more than surround the Sydney Cricket Ground. These are enormous enterprises. Its freezers have a holding capacity of over 6,000 tonnes. That is more than four times the holding capacity of any ship which currently operates in Australian waters.

Mr Schultz: Your minister approved it.

Mr STEPHEN JONES: I have significant concerns about the operation of these factory ships, these super-trawlers, not only in Australian waters but anywhere else. The sophistication of these operations really does take the chance out of the fishing exercise. They simply do not miss. The fact that the Margiris has freezers on board which, as I have said, hold up to 6,000 tonnes of fish at any one point in time enables it to concentrate its fishing activities in one particular area—effectively depleting the stock in that area. We are talking about a fishing or trawling capacity which has never before existed in this country's waters.

It is not just about the quotas. It has been argued that it should not make any difference whether the Margiris is a big ship or a small ship, that it is the quota—the Margiris's quota is 10 per cent of the total catch—we should focus on. There may be some merit to that argument, but I would make this point: when you have an operation as massive as the size of this ship permits, the bycatch is a major concern. Whilst the owners of the Margiris may have a licence which only permits them to take about 18,000 tonnes of mackerel and red bait, they have to throw a hell of a lot of other fish away in the process of obtaining that 18,000 tonnes. It is has been suggested to me that the bycatch can often exceed the amount the trawler extracts legally in filling its quota. It is not the same as when you or I go fishing. When we pull in a fish which is undersized, oversized or not what we are after—not edible—you can just throw it back and it swims off, maybe with a bit of a sore mouth or a scar. Once fish are caught up in the massive super-trawler nets, they are either drowned or crushed by the exercise. You can be throwing away as many dead fish as you are bringing in and sticking in your freezer. So there is a lot of legitimate scientific concern about the impact of a ship this size operating in our waters.

I have heard a number of objections and interjections during the course of this debate, most recently from my friend the member for Hume, who is in the chamber at the moment. I also heard the contributions of the member for Dawson and the member for Aston. I will go directly to some of the concerns they raised. I never thought I would agree with the member for Dawson on a major issue, but we heard him say that he actually opposes these super-trawlers, these factory ships. But he also opposes this bill. The reason he is going to oppose the bill is that he did not like the process by which the bill came before the House. That is the essence of his argument. He says he hates the fact that we are going to have a factory ship operating in our waters. And I believe him on this—he has form. I have heard him speak quite passionately on many occasions in defence of recreational fishing and small-scale commercial fishing. So I believe he is genuine when he stands in this place and raises concerns about the impact of a large ship like this on commercial and recreational fishing, particularly in relation to his electorate.

But, if he is right and there was some problem with the process by which the bill came before the House, doesn't opposing it just compound the problem? If he says, 'In spite of my objections, I am going to vote down this bill because I did not like the process by which it came before the House', doesn't that just compound the problem? This is a perfect example of how the opposition operate—they will put politics before principle every time. We heard it from the member for Dawson just now. We heard him stand up and say, 'I want to see this factory ship banned from our waters', but in the next breath we heard him say, 'I am going to vote against the only show in town which gives us an opportunity to do that.' We have seen no better example of how those opposite put politics before principle every time.

The reason for opposing this legislation given by the member for Aston, whose contribution was immediately before mine, was that he is a champion of the science. It is very refreshing, I have to say, to see members of the Liberal and National parties championing science. They do not have a lot of form in that regard. You will never see them championing the science when it comes to climate change and you will never see them championing the science when it comes to a whole heap of other environmental activities. But on this one they have stuck their hands up to champion the science. If that is their real objection, they should support this bill, because this bill provides for an expert scientific panel to be brought together to investigate and make recommendations about the specific activity which is the subject of the declaration.

So, if their objection truly is to making regulations or government decisions that are not based on science, they should support this bill, because that is exactly what the bill is designed to do—it is designed to empower the minister for the «environment and the minister for fisheries to put in train a process which enables us to marshal the most up-to-date and most specific scientific evidence available to see whether the existence of a factory ship such as the Abel Tasman will have the ecological impact that many of us in the community fear it will. If their objection is that we should not be making regulation or decisions that are not based on science—it is a novel objection from those opposite—then that is a reason they should support this bill.

Another issue that has been raised by members of the Liberal and the Nationals, sometimes in debate and sometimes outside the chamber, is that the owners of the Abel Tasman have invested in the ship and suspending their operations, however justified that suspension might be, is unfair. I have some sympathy for that argument, but I have done some research into it as well. I have learned that this ship does not operate exclusively in Australian waters. It operates here for a relatively short period, and it operates in many other countries as well. I note in passing that we are not the only country to have contemplated banning the ship from operating in coastal waters. Other countries have banned the operation of this and other ships from their coastal waters because of the fear, or the proof, of the devastating impact it can have on marine life in coastal waters. We are not the first country to contemplate this and I daresay we will not be the last, given the increasing awareness that countries around the world have about the impact of overfishing and intensive fishing practices on our marine resources.

I support the bill and welcome the fact that we have been able to have this debate. If we want to continue to enjoy our fishing industry, our wonderful marine ecology and our recreational fishing, we need to ensure that we are responsibly managing our coastal resources. This bill puts in place additional powers for the ministers to do that, and to do it in a way that is based on science, on economics and on an apprehension of the social impacts of these more intensive, large-scale fishing practices. For these reasons the bill should enjoy the support of all members of the House.