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Estimates Reply – Palmer

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 21 June 2023

Tags: Fish Farms, Primary Industries, State Budget

Dr WOODRUFF - Mr Chair, Ms O'Connor and I both asked questions of minister Palmer relevant to our portfolio areas. It is not surprising that I want to talk about salmon. The Tasmanian fish farm industry's social licence is trashed in many quarters. It has been a concern for the industry and it has filtered down through the murky waters they have created that it is a problem.

In May there was an ABC story which talked about the concerns of different tourism operators and restaurants. They are just reflecting their customers with the way the salmon farm industry is operating and is being allowed to operate under this Government.

The head chef of Mona was quoted as saying, 'Some people refer to those concerns as being voices of the "vocal minority"'. He said that the vocal minority is a lot bigger than everyone thinks. There is actually a large majority of people who do not want to eat Tasmanian salmon for environmental reasons and increasingly for health concerns.

It is extraordinary that the Government is not taking more leadership in this area. I asked minister Palmer directly about this. The salmon plan could have been an opportunity for the government to get a little more directive about what happens on public waters. This is our space we own and are custodians of the richness of marine diversity in our public waterways and also in our inland and estuarine waterways.

We expected that the minister would take the opportunity to be more directive with the policy settings. I spent quite a lot of time chasing Ms Palmer around. This happens to the Greens at every Estimates. We get kicked between the minister for Primary Industries and the minister for Environment and back to the minister for Primary Industries and over to the EPA trying to get answers to questions. It is why we have enormous concerns in the community about the escalating pace of species moving from threatened to vulnerable to endangered to critically endangered and close to extinction. That is where the Maugean skate is. Maugean skate is at that point because of salmon farming in Macquarie Harbour.

We do not need to reach very far into history to see a very large report from the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies that shows, as one did this year, that the level of oxygen in the lower parts of Macquarie Harbour has been in part substantially caused by salmon farming and the over-production of salmon biomass in Macquarie Harbour beyond the holding capacity of that basin. They say those levels have dropped and it is having a catastrophic impact on the new populations of juvenile Maugean skates. Population surveys that they did show that there has been a step decline in the juvenile breeding of Maugean skate that they have seen in their surveys.

As I said you do not have to go far back. If you go to the report before that and the one before that, there have been successive reports from the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies pointing to the degradation of the Macquarie Harbour because of intensive salmon farming.

The minister for Environment chirped up and is happy to talk by interjection to my comments now about what is happening in Macquarie Harbour. When I asked him a question about this directly in Estimates, he would point to the EPA or he would point to Primary Industries, anyone else except to him as the minister for Environment, the minister responsible for protecting a critically endangered species and preventing it from ending up on the extinction list.

The minister for Environment is not doing his job and the minister for Primary Industries is also not doing her job. She made it clear that there would be no direction to fish farm companies to move out of inshore waters to deeper waters. This is being a chimera that has been dangled in front of Tasmanians for years. Tassal CEO Mark Ryan in 2017 promised that they would be moving out of inshore waters. Instead, they have doubled down. They have gone back into Barbazon Point in the upper parts of the Huon River. They have set up shop recently off Garden Island Creek, where they had not been before, filling a zombie lease that had not had fish farming in it previously just near Huon Island.

They have gone hard into Long Bay on the Tasman Peninsula. That bay is now void of reef communities and is covered most of the warm weather months with green slime and brown algae. This is what happens when you have salmon farming companies working at intensive, enormous scale in delicate and fragile marine eco-systems that are really vulnerable with heating waters. This is what happens when you do not have policy settings and when you have a minister who said she will not be supporting mandating the relocation of these fish farms. We will look instead, she said, at policy settings to incentivise the relocation of existing operational or dormant fin fish leases to areas further offshore. Particularly, leases that maybe constrained for socio-economic or environmental reasons.

I call her hog wash. This Government pays no attention to social concerns. They pay no attention to environmental concerns. They never have. If they did, then minister Jaensch, who is sitting behind me now, would call out the salmon farm companies from Macquarie Harbour. He would do the single thing that could have the most effect at preventing Maugean skate from becoming extinct. Instead of monitoring it to extinction, he could act and prevent its pathway towards extinction.

What minister Palmer seems to be signalling to was that not only are they not going to prevent salmon farm companies from farming in inappropriate and delicate and fragile inshore waters but it looks like they will be open to paying them to move. It is not good enough to do the right thing on our public waters by the environment and communities. If salmon farm companies want to trade, as I read it, their dormant leases that they are not using for somewhere else they can be incentivised. They get paid to move their leases at the public expense.

Despite the claims of the Liberals and the Labor Party at different times about the vast number of people who are employed in the salmon industry, it is actually very small. It is around 2000 people. That is not 2000 people who should be without employment. That is 2000 people who should be employed in a sustainable industry. What we have is a Government that is doing nothing to get it heading in that direction.