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Estimates Reply - Minister Barnett


Rosalie Woodruff MP

Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Tags: Fish Farms, Marine Environment, Native Forest Logging

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - I want to raise some issues that I spoke to the minister about, and a number of matters raised by the Leader of the Greens, Cassy O'Connor, in relation to my portfolios, particularly the marine environment, and the management of fish farming and fish farming expansion in Tasmania, and the damage that is occurring in the marine environment as a result of improperly managed fish farm expansion and fish farm operations.

Ms O'Connor asked the minister about the Storm Bay expansion and the lease approval process for Petuna for their site near Betsy Island. It is clear, from the minister's response, that the concerns that were expressed by the community at the time, and by marine scientists and other people with marine expertise, are founded in reality. Indeed, the process for making the decision to approve Petuna's lease next to Betsy Island was totally flawed, and was not based on anything like an adequate scientific assessment.

It was premised on the construction of a marine farming review panel. The membership of the marine farming review panel was so debased by the time the panel had reached its end point of making that decision that it was technically quorate. The minister makes it clear, from his answers to Ms O'Connor, that he continues to use weasel words, to pretend that the final recommendation provided to him as minister by that supposedly independently scientific panel was credible advice.

In fact, it was rubbish advice. It is very clear that there was nobody with any scientific competence and credentials sitting on the marine farming review panel at the time. Despite the fact that a position was required for a person with biosecurity expertise, only five of the nine members of that panel remained at the end of the process. The two scientists who had the most credentials, the most length of service in their respective fields, and importantly the person who had the biosecurity expertise, Dr Barbara Novak, and Ms Cherry, who is herself a marine expert, both resigned because they were disgusted with the process, and had no confidence in the outcome they would be able to achieve as a panel. The scientists with the scientific expertise in biosecurity resigned.

The panel that remained had five people on it, among them people with incredibly conflicted interests in relation to the industry.

Ms O'Connor managed, through persistent questioning, to extract from the minister, and from Mr Shepherd who was at the table providing answers, the expert advice that was sought by marine farming review panel constituted the advice of the Chief Veterinary Officer. What qualifications does the Chief Veterinary Officer have in marine science, and in marine biosecurity science? It is obvious that they are not qualified to sit in that position, otherwise they would have been listed as one of the people who should be sitting on the panel in the first place.

We have a Chief Veterinary Officer. They are paid by the Crown to do work in areas of expertise clearly not related to marine ecology, not related to the matters that would be germane to the decision-making of the marine farming review panel. That is not the appropriate person to seek advice. What happened?

The two credentialled expert scientists who gave authority to the decision of the panel resigned in disgust, and left the Government with an unpleasant conundrum. They had to push this approval through for Petuna. They scratched around to find anyone who could possibly be called something to do with animals, and found the Chief Veterinary Officer, and said there you go. There was also an overseas epidemiologist. Who knows what their expertise was in. Plants, people, animals, trees, whatever. We have no idea what their expertise was, but apparently that gave a tick to the box. Mr Barnett said the panel determined it did have the necessary expertise and experience required under the act.

That is because they were technically quorate - five out of nine. Four of the people on the panel had left, two of whom had left in disgust. The experts left. The women members of the panel voted with their feet, gave it a red hot shot for months and months, and were disgusted at the process.

I hope the Labor Party is listening to this as well as the minister, because the Labor Party puts their hands over their ears when it comes to the processes surrounding the fish farm industry.

The responses of the minister show that, despite the devastation in Macquarie Harbour, despite the fact it is well known from the experience there that when you let fish farm companies put as many pens as they possibly can into a controlled environment, you increase biosecurity risks. What happens is you increase the likelihood of death - not only to the salmon in the pens, but ultimately to everything else in the environment. We had dead zones in Macquarie Harbour. We had biosecurity outbreaks all over the place. You would have thought that the Liberals, in Government, would have learned from that experience, but no, they have done it all over again. The Liberals and the Labor Party would take exactly the same laws and they have done it all again

Now we have Storm Bay. The panel, when the expert scientists were on there, the reason they knocked it back in the first place was because it was going to put too many pens, with too many different companies of fish, in the same locked controlled environment, Storm Bay. There is just not enough room for them all to be there.

Sometimes it is just not possible to get everything you want when you are in business. That is the way the market works - unless you get a special handout, like you do in Tasmania, and you get to do whatever you want, regardless of the biosecurity risks, regardless of the impacts on the environment.

Petuna got their tick. They might have been happy to get that tick, because it meant they can go ahead, but it will be a stain on their company's reputation if they put fish there. This information is on the public record. It is known that it is a risk to biosecurity. It is a risk to the marine environment if they operate there. It will affect their brand, and it affects all of us. It affects our clean green brand as a state.

I also want to turn to the importance of retaining our carbon sinks, which Ms O'Connor raised with the minister responsible for forestry. The Premier made a number of statements, and has a very strong understanding that our carbon sink, quote, 'Does provide a significant net benefit to the state'. He used the words 'carbon sink' four times when he was talking in the Climate Change session. The minister needs to internalise and understand what that means for his responsibilities and for native forests in Tasmania.

The swift parrot is now more critically endangered than it was last time we talked about this. There are now only 300 birds remaining in the world at the moment. The ANU has provided this information and it is devastating news. There is nothing that this Government can do to protect those birds except to stop native forest logging and destroying their habitat.