15 August 2012 

Andrew express the opposition of a great many Australians to the imminent operation in Australian waters of the super trawler Margiris.

Mr WILKIE (Denison) (19:55): I rise tonight to express again the opposition of a great many Australians to the imminent operation in Australian waters of the supertrawler Margiris. Just today, a petition with some 35,000 signatures was brought to Parliament House to highlight the widespread concern in the Australian community about the supertrawler currently on its way here. Remarkably, the names and postcodes of the signatories were printed on 35,000 jack mackerel cardboard cut-outs, as a powerful reminder that, far from being simply a figure on a piece of paper, the 18,000-tonne quota relevant to the supertrawler is enormous by any measure and will have a devastating effect on the waters around its home port of Devonport, Tasmania.

This 18,000-tonne quota, for a single vessel operating time and time again out of the same port, is fraught with problems, not the least of which is the very real risk of localised fish stock depletion. After all, the operator of the vessel, Seafish Tasmania, is a commercial venture and it is not as though it will spend one dollar more than it needs to on fuel to travel to distant fisheries when it can stay close to home and hammer the rich Tasmanian waters. Making matters even worse is the fact that even 18,000 tonnes a year is almost certainly not enough to keep the Margiris profitable over the long term. Yes, that is right—the factory ship has been allocated a whopping 18,000 tonnes, but that is still not going to be enough, so a bigger quota is quite likely in the future, or at least those of many smaller fishing operations will need to be bought up. And all of it is quite likely to be harvested from relatively close to Tasmania.

Central to the matter is the question over just how many fish there are in the area, and again we have a most alarming situation, because the data being relied on to determine the quota is 10 years or so out of date. Without a more accurate, up-to-date figure for the population of jack mackerel and other fish, there is simply no way of knowing whether the quota is actually sustainable and whether or not it will have an unacceptable effect on other species.

As if these problems with the supertrawler Margiris were not bad enough, there is also now a question mark over the very competency and lawfulness of the govern­ment agency charged with managing our fisheries, the Australian Fisheries Manage­ment Authority. This is not an issue I raise lightly, but the case is compelling that AFMA failed to comply with the Fisheries Administration Act when its South East Management Advisory Committee convened a teleconference on 26 March to finalise the recommendation for the catch for the small pelagic fishery. The act required any member with a conflict of interest to absent them­selves from the meeting and for the committee to specifically authorise that member to remain if that should be the wish of the committee. But, at that March teleconference, the man with the biggest conflict of interest imaginable—the propon­ent of the supertrawler, Mr Gerry Geen from Seafish Tasmania—not only remained in the meeting but did so without the committee specifically authorising him to do so.

My gripe is not with Mr Geen, because he declared his conflict that day. My concern is with AFMA, which in correspondence with me has stated that it does not take the Fisheries Administration Act literally, because that would be impractical, and instead has developed some kind of in-house workaround arrangement. Dear, oh dear. If that were not bad enough, AFMA have gone even further, admitting to me yesterday that, yes, there are defects in their processes and, yes, there is a need to improve things. No wonder the Commonwealth Ombudsman is now investigating these matters.

In closing, I would just like to acknowledge what this whole sorry super­trawler saga says about the state of our democracy right now. Frankly, it does not matter where you go in Tasmania; you are sure to find someone, and often everyone, who thinks the Margiris is a really bad idea. Some distrust the science and fear at least the localised depletion of the fish stocks. Others are just as strident in their opposition but less sure of the reason. Fair enough. Sometimes the wrong in something is so obvious it does not need explaining.

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