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Estimates Reply – Palmer

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 14 June 2022

Tags: Primary Industries, Fish Farms

Dr WOODRUFF - I sat through the Primary Industries and Water Estimates Committee to ask questions on behalf of people who are concerned about the state of Tasmania's waterways and the failed regulation of the large and growing salmon farm companies in Tasmania. I found the whole process incredibly dispiriting. I thought I had reached the bottom of the barrel when it came to Orwellian language from ministers responsible for the fin fish industry. Ms Palmer is the latest in a line of Labor and Liberal salmon industry supplicants. She was tightly scripted and reading talking points that looked as though they had been carefully read through by lawyers.

Ms Palmer is an intelligent woman and a woman with a kind heart but that is not enough in a portfolio which covers companies as large as JBS, the Brazilian butcher which has bought Huon Aquaculture and is on a massive growth trajectory. The whole salmon industry is on a massive growth trajectory. In another world we might welcome an industry on a growth trajectory, except this industry is effectively unregulated in the things that Tasmanians care about.

There are no effective regulations to govern the environmental harm that is occasioned on our waterways by the pollution of salmon waste and the plastic pollution as a result of the practices that are used at the moment. The industry is effectively unregulated when it comes to animal welfare. Seals are regularly shot to death or scared and have their hearing damaged with explosives which are thrown into the water. They are shot with bean bag fillings, a euphemism for lead-filled plastic shot which gets shot sometimes into their eyes, ears and the mouths. We have the footage and the evidence of photographs that have been obtained through Right To Information.

It is an appalling record. It was sad to see the missed opportunity when at the start of Estimates the Premier Mr Rockliff made a public statement about the commitment of the Government to transparency and then in committee after committee on the questions that really mattered regarding taxpayers' money there was a complete silence. There was silence from the Sport minister about the details of what was funded and which candidates for the 2020 21 election from the Liberal Party handed out money to which community groups.

In Ms Palmer's portfolio on salmon farming we had complete non-answers that did not go anywhere near the question that was asked. I could have asked any question and I would have got the same answer. When confronted with JBS's video-taped police confessions to bribery and fraud in Brazil, workplace safety negligence, crimes that they have committed and been charged for, environmental laws they have breached and the largest civil fine ever placed on a company in the United States, Ms Palmer completely disregarded them.

When I asked her whether she would refer the JBS to the Australian Federal Police so that they could investigate and make sure that this company, which has purchased one of Tasmania's largest salmon companies, was not using the proceeds of crime to purchase that company, she just went back in harder saying the Government was the strongest supporter of Tasmanian farmers and the investment of $50 million to accelerate the agricultural sector. General statements that had nothing to do with the question.

Support of the salmon industry is something that both the Liberal and Labor parties share. The only thing the Labor Party disagrees with is that the Government should be weakening regulations instead of pretending to strengthen them.

Ms Palmer's answers showed that it is a pretense to care about the effectiveness of our environmental regulations. The fin fish inquiry in the upper House made it clear that the current provisions for the disclosure of data and information in the salmon industry is inconsistent between newer and older leases. That they are not comprehensive. That information is not transparent or independent from the industry. That they are not presented on industry and government websites in a way that makes clear connections with the relevant regulatory requirements. The community and scientists have been talking about these things for over a decade - big issues laid out in the fin fish inquiry report from the Legislative Council.

I asked Ms Palmer whether the Government would support the recommendations to investigate better legislation and regulation to increase the transparency and data availability of the industry. It is a question that you would expect a minister to at least feign some interest on behalf of stakeholders to investigate, especially given the Premier's statements about purporting to have a Government that stands for more transparent practices, but no, she did not go anywhere near that. She said a huge body of work has been done and they will give it careful consideration.

Their careful consideration could take another 10 years. Meanwhile we have a salmon industry expansion plan that is coming out in September, just after. This is the time for the Government to be looking at this information, not some time down the track. Right now is the time to look at how we should be setting up a system that protects the environment, that protects the values for local coastal communities, that makes sure we have rich marine biodiversity into the future. However, despite the fact that we have a swag of measures that we can work on from the finfish inquiry, the minister showed no interest in taking any of them on board, expressing no interest to investigate.

The response was like an Orwellian supposed utopia, which has a reality that we know is terrible. It is terrible for marine creatures, and it has been very devastating for rivers like the Huon River, the D'entrecasteaux Channel, the Long Bay Channel and the Tasman Peninsula.

The so-called industry moratorium is false, because we uncovered the expansions in Nubeena that have been quietly taking place.