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Inland Fisheries Amendment (Royalties) Bill 2019

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Tags: Legislation, Wild Fisheries

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on behalf of the Greens as our primary industry spokesperson to speak on the Inland fisheries Amendment (Royalties) Bill 2019 and to indicate that we will not be opposing this legislation. We recognise it is an important legislative fix that will enable the Inland Fisheries Service to garner legal licence fees but particularly royalties in relation to wild eel catches, and it will also apply to water used by fish farms.

In many ways I guess it is not a doubts-removal bill, minister, because the Government must have at some point acknowledged it was unlawfully collecting fees and therefore returned the money, so this is not doubts-removal legislation, it is making sure that going forward -

Mr Barnett - It is validating.

Ms O'CONNOR - It is validating the head of power of the Inland Fisheries Service to apply licence fees and to secure royalties from industries that come under its aegis.

Dr Broad - They returned 12 months' worth of royalties, not 10 or 14 years' worth. Just one year.

Ms O'CONNOR - Interesting, isn't it? Perhaps then, given what Dr Broad has just said - and I was unaware of that information and thank Dr Broad for bringing it to the debate - the minister could explain why, if this situation has been in place since the shake-up of the legislative framework in 1996, was it that 22 years later, only one year of royalty payments or levies have been returned to the sector.

We recognise these are important amendments. I have a number of questions for the minister. The first one is about the return of only one year's payments. On balance, was it the Inland Fisheries Service that benefited, or was it industry? Can the minister give the House some indication of the level of royalties it collects from the wild harvest eel fishery? Irrespective of what Dr Broad assumes about the health of the population, on behalf of the Greens I am interested to know whether there is any quantitative data or population monitoring that looks at the real biomass or has a stab at understanding what the biomass is for the wild-caught eel fishery, because I have never seen any and Dr Broad could not furnish any.

We know that DPIPWE is under-resourced and the Inland Fisheries Service would probably like to be better resourced to undertake some of this population monitoring. It is a valid question. If we want to support an export industry that has been around for a long time, if Dr Broad is serious about growing this industry, we need to understand at some baseline level what is happening with the eel fishery. I would have thought that was a basic to understand the health of the fishery. On the numbers, while Dr Broad has pointed the finger at Government -

Dr Broad - They're not my words. I said that's what the industry was saying.

Ms O'CONNOR - That is what some people in the industry who have come to see you are saying. I take it that that is what some people who have come to see you about their concerns from the industry are saying, but the decline in the catch nonetheless requires further investigation.

We have a population of wild-caught eel which in the space of eight years is less than half of what it was in 2011-12. According to the information that Dr Broad brought to the table, which I have no reason to think is not accurate because you said it was DPIPWE data, 75 tonnes were caught in 2011-12 and this year only 32.5 tonnes, so something is happening with the fishery and the minister might take the opportunity to inform the House what has happened there.

We have seen what has happened when we make assumptions about the sustainability of practices in fisheries. We have seen the scallop fishery on the east coast absolutely collapse about 25 to 30 years ago, as did the orange roughy fishery. I remember being a journalist and doing a number of stories on the orange roughy harvest, the fisher people and then ultimately on the collapse of the orange roughy fishery. It happens over and over again where in this age of late-stage capitalism we think we can keep fishing, taking, killing and selling natural resources. Whether they be living marine resources or aquatic animals or resources that are in the earth, there is this assumption that it is all justifiable in an age of late-stage capitalism where you just suck the living daylights out of every ecosystem you can, all in the name of the mighty dollar.

I have six questions and then I will get on to another related matter. Was there any lobbying from Tassal, Huon Aquaculture, and/or any other aquaculture industries in relation to the fees that are charged or the royalties that are paid for the use of water? I have heard some somewhat concerning language from the minister now, where in the second reading speech he says:

Historically, fish farm fees included a component that reflected water usage. This was based on flow-through technology, with larger water users paying higher fees, reflecting their higher production. With the change in the salmon industry to recirculating technology, water use is no longer an accurate measure of the size or complexity of a fish farm. The government is considering alternative approaches in the remaking of the Inland Fisheries regs this year.

What we do not want to see is industry given another free ride under this Government and I urge the minister to be as transparent as possible about any changes that would benefit the major aquaculture companies in Tasmania. Has this proposed change to regulations come from the industry itself? Although the minister is not listening to a single question I ask, hopefully someone who is near him is. We are also interested to know the total value of licence fees to the Inland Fisheries Service in relation to wild-caught eel each year, it fluctuates each year but the licences themselves are static, and the total value of royalties over the past five years from the wild-caught fishery?

The Inland Fishery Service looks after our trout fisheries and it has been a longtime, highlyvalued service for fly fishers in Tasmania. The outstanding work Inland Fisheries has done in managing the trout fishery and in helping to eradicate European carp from our lakes is something fly fishers are deeply appreciative of, as are most Tasmanians who are aware of the work that has gone into that.

I will raise in this place that the Federal Court has handed down its decision in relation to the proposed Lake Malbena privatisation of Halls Island in the Walls of Jerusalem National Park and it is, again, another slap in the face to this Government's expressions of interest process. Initially, we had the Central Highlands Council reject the Lake Malbena proposal. It was taken to the Federal Court by the Wilderness Society and the core of the question was that the federal government had erred under the EPBC Act in its assessment and approval of the Lake Malbena project. I quote now from the Mercury newspaper, which is hot off the press, reporting on the Lake Malbena decision and it is this -

The future of Lake Malbena tourism project is uncertain following a Federal Court judgment. The judgment handed down a short time ago has been claimed as a win by the Wilderness Society as it essentially sets aside the federal Environment minister's approval of the project. Wilderness Society campaign manager, Tom Allen, said the judgment, which upheld two of the society's three grounds for appeal, was a positive result.

The Wilderness Society is going to go away and have a look at the judgment because it is complex but the guts of it is that the federal government was taken to court over its approval of the Lake Malbena proposal and that was a flawed approval.

In all likelihood, this proposal, which has divided the community, which has brought together a very passionate alliance of fly fisherpeople, bushwalkers, conservationists and everyday Tasmanians who recognise that this is a threat to wilderness values, a threat to their enjoyment of the high country in Tasmania and this Government stands condemned for not listening to fly fisherpeople, bushwalkers and everyday conservationists who are outraged at the process that began back in 2014, with a Government that has been deaf to their concerns every step of the way and with a Government has written to rules to enable this development.

I am certain that every Liberal member in this place is getting letters of deep concern from a constituency that they once might have regarded as their own; everyday Tasmanians who are livid about the Lake Malbena proposal, the impact on wilderness, on their enjoyment of that beautiful place in the Walls of Jerusalem National Park and the privatisation of an area of public protected area. All these concerns have been raised again and again with the minister and with other Liberal members and they have been ignored. There has been a steam-rolling of community concern about the Lake Malbena proposal and the whole expressions of interest process.

Time and again, we are seeing this corrupted process challenged. It has been challenged by the Central Highlands Council and now it has been challenged by the Federal Court and found to be deeply wanting. You had a proponent, which had the World Heritage Area Management Plan rewritten to fit in this development, a reserve activity assessment that was set at level 3, so there was no requirement for public consultation, a reserve activity assessment that was written by the proponent himself, and - now validated by the federal court - a deeply flawed decision made by the federal government to approve this project. The federal government approved this project despite the fact it would have a profound impact on wilderness values and that is the capacity of fly fishers to enjoy the high country in Tasmania.

I strongly encourage the Government members and the relevant minister who, regrettably, is now Mr Gutwein, to go back to the drawing board, ditch your corrupted expressions of interest process because it does not have broad community support. It has delivered a lack of trust in government; it has made people, fly fishers and bushwalkers, who are not activists by nature, angry and prepared to stand up. I encourage the Government to go back to the drawing board because this will happen again. There will be another court challenge to your corrupted process from everyday Tasmanians who have been shut out of decision-making. The best thing for the Government to do right now in relation to the expressions of interest process is to walk away from it. It is a corrupted privatisation agenda that will degrade wilderness values and alienate everyday Tasmanians from their own public protected areas. It has been condemned by a local government, a Federal Court and thousands of Tasmanians who see it for what it is; a nasty, secretive privatisation agenda that alienates them from their own public lands.

I want to talk briefly about water. In this age of climate emergency we need to, as a parliament and as Tasmanians, be extremely mindful of water usage and have a better understanding than we do now of where the water supply is in the landscape, what the threats are to our water supplies, how we can make sure that there is enough water to fight bushfires in a longer fire season and, critically, to support farmers and to rural and regional communities who depend on those water supplies as well as urban communities.

What you are seeing in places like New South Wales is that corporations are taking the water. It is the same on the Murray-Darling. Big cotton corporations are taking the water. In New South Wales, big coal companies are taking the water. What is happening in towns like Dubbo and on farms along the Murray River? They are dying because, in this era of late-stage capitalism, corporate interests have absolutely trumped the interests of everyday Australians, people who do not have a loud voice; farmers, small farmers, people who live in towns like Dubbo and Stanthorpe, near where I grew up in South-East Queensland. Stanthorpe used to be one of the only places you could go in Queensland where it snowed and they grew the best apples I ever tasted. They are trucking water into Stanthorpe every day. Stanthorpe is running out of water and this is happening to towns right along the eastern seaboard. Yes, some of it is related to climate impacts and global heating but it is profoundly exacerbated by the theft of water, which is a public resource taken by corporations and governments that have been bought by those corporations.

We have an opportunity here as Tasmanians, as the custodians of this beautiful little island where we have some parts of the island that have plentiful rainfall and good water reservoirs and other parts which are drier and more at risk in a bushfire season, to think really strategically about water, to do proper analysis of where our water is and what is the best way to use it sustainably, so that we are not robbing our children and grandchildren of the water they will need to live a good life in a time of climate emergency.

When you have big salmon moving more into riverine environments and taking hatcheries and the like on land, which is where we know there needs to be more of the fish farming industry, we understand that and I accept that water usage by the industry on land has dramatically improved, but we cannot again let industry write the rules. That is why I want to know from Mr Barnett whether these proposed changes to the regulatory framework around water that is used by the fish farming industry inland have been put forward by the industry themselves, because that is the kind of approach that led to Stanthorpe losing its water, Dubbo losing its water and mass fish kills on the Menindee Lakes. Big industry has been writing the rules in this country for far too long and they have been shafting the little guy. We have small farmers in rural and regional Australia who are walking off their land because they have no water. Without water there is no life. Water is life.

I encourage the minister, when he is thinking about water and the water that is used by industry, to make sure he prioritises existing users, small towns, regional centres and farmers. This water belongs to all of us. It does not belong to Tassal or Huon or any big agricultural company. It belongs to the people of Tasmania and we need a proper water audit, we need a proper strategy around the use of water in Tasmania and there should be a transparent community conversation about that as well. With those few words, I will leave it at that and we will be supporting the amendment bill.