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Labor's Position on Fish Farms

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Tags: Fish Farms, Macquarie Harbour, Okehampton Bay, King Island, Storm Bay

Labor's Position on Fish Farms: Woodruff


Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin - Motion) - Madam Speaker, I move -

That the House -

(1) Acknowledges that the Hodgman Liberal Government has supported -

(a) current stocking levels of salmon in Macquarie Harbour; 

(b) expansion of fish farm operations into Okehampton Bay; 

(c) enlivening of a decade old fish farm lease in Norfolk Bay; 

(d) exploration of fish farm expansion off King Island; and 

(e) large scale expansion of salmon farming into Storm Bay. 

(2) Calls on the Labor Opposition, ahead of the Federal Election, to articulate their policy on, and support for, the aforementioned.

The Greens have stood here many times in private members' time over the years talking about how we stand for the community, how we stand for a vision for Tasmania which supports the clean green brand, which was originated by the great work and visionary thinking of Christine Milne, the previous Leader of the Greens.

The community wants to be able to live in their environment and fundamentally make decisions about the land they live on, the waters they live next to, and the marine environment they love so much. They want to have a say in what happens to the place they live in, the place their children will inherit and the place their children's children's children will live in and hopefully love living in because it is a functioning environment, a community which is full of harmony and a place which provides people with work which is sustainable and in harmony with both the community and the environment that nurtures the very basis of community and life on the planet.

We are here today because it is pretty clear to everyone in Tasmania that this Government has put the interests of big development by privately owned share-listed corporations first and foremost. Those corporations are required under Australian law to put the interests of their shareholders first, which they do very successfully. This Government has for the last five years been quite transparent in flying a flag and championing the interests of the salmon industry. 

The Greens have no truck with salmon farming. We have always courted sustainable salmon farming, just like we support sustainable pig farming, sustainable agriculture and sustainable industry of all sorts. The problem is that we have had, for five years, this Liberal Government championing the interests of three private share-listed companies and failing to protect the marine environment, failing to listen to the communities affected and failing to give a voice to the other commercial industries and businesses, the other livelihoods that are affected by their hell-bent support for the expansion of the salmon industry. 

The salmon industry in Tasmania has been in freefall and has suffered a series of catastrophic collapses. Let us go back to Macquarie Harbour because that was the crucible, I suppose, of what could have been a sustainable salmon industry and it shows where it went wrong. Where it went wrong was it decided to grow to double, and then double and double, and it is this idea that the Liberals brought to government when they came in in 2014 of doubling the salmon industry as though a notional figure of doubling is based on something that is possible without having unintended consequences. 

The problem for the community and other commercial interests and the problem fundamentally for the marine environment is that those unintended consequences have never been investigated properly and there is no process, legislative framework or opportunity for independent scientific assessment to make sure that the unintended consequences of the doubling and then doubling and now further doubling of the salmon farm industry are investigated and that the industry is checked to make sure that the resources, the publicly owned waterways that salmon farms have been exploiting around this state, can sustain the level of nutrients, the marine debris and all the other activities and outputs of marine farming in waterways.

The motion that we have before us today acknowledges that the Hodgman Liberal Government has supported -

(a) current stocking levels of salmon in Macquarie Harbour;

(b) the expansion of fish farm operations into Okehampton Bay;

(c) the enlivening of a decade-old fish farm lease in Norfolk Bay;

(d) the exploration of fish farm expansions off King Island; and

(e) the large-scale expansion of salmon farming into Storm Bay.

We do not have anything like a sustainable salmon industry in Tasmania. The problem is we have an industry that is promoted by the Government, the same Government that is responsible for protecting the marine environment, providing opportunities for consultation with communities and for allegedly providing scientific assessment. Instead we have a lot of money spent on expensive spin and marketing and it is a fairytale of a sustainable salmon industry. We know it is a fairytale because the chickens are coming home to roost and unfortunately this is going to have a devastating impact on people's livelihoods. We know it is already having a devastating impact on the marine environment.

Organisations such as the Australian Marine Conservation Society have now done a formal red-listing of the salmon industry which means they have effectively now told consumers through the Australian Sustainable Seafood Guide the truth about salmon farming in Tasmania. On the one hand we have Government spin that is talking about sustainable salmon farming, and on the other we have independent organisations telling the truth - independent from Tasmania because it is not possible in Tasmania to be able to access the information and have processes that are robust and free from the influence of an industry which is too close to government in the decisions it is making.

Sustained harm has been inflicted on the marine environment, including the dead zones in Macquarie Harbour and the damage to the World Heritage Area values in Macquarie Harbour from the intensive stocking from Tassal and its refusal to remove fish from pens, even when it was directed to do so by the EPA. We have a Government that would rather allow a company to set up on the east coast of Tasmania, one of the driest places in the state, and farm salmon in Okehampton Bay which has never had salmon farming there before. It is a beautiful place right next to the Mercury Passage. That farm was never supported by the community. On top of that, we hear today that the construction of the pipeline alone the Prosser River is going ahead. It will be drawing water in the first instance from Hobbs Lagoon and the water supply for east coast residents, part of which will be drawing through that pipeline to bathe fish for Tassal as part of their farming operations.

This is a Government that, at every step, puts the needs of the industry before the needs of the community and there is no opportunity for the community to have engagement in the process. 

People try to engage in good faith with the EPA, the marine farming branch and the Marine Farming Planning Review Panel on the massive expansion that is occurring in Storm Bay. That massive expansion is wrapping a plastic curtain of fish farms and the nutrients that come out of them around Storm Bay, from the east coast to Bruny to the south of Betsy Island, around Wedge Island and all the way around parts of the Tasman Peninsula. Even areas that have never had salmon farms have been opened up for salmon farming, without any community consultation.

Dr Broad - Come on.

Dr WOODRUFF - What do you mean, come on? That is exactly what happened in Norfolk Bay. There was no consultation in Norfolk Bay. Dr Broad says, yes, that is right. 

Do you remember Norfolk Bay? Do you remember all the residents at Carlton River, Dodges Ferry, Primrose Sands, all the people on the Tasmanian Peninsula who did not have their say about Norfolk Bay? There have never been salmon farms there, on top of an area known to have red hand fish. It is a beautiful marine sanctuary. It is an area that is restocking with fish naturally because they have been protecting the area to allow fish stocks to establish again. This is the place that had a massive community flotilla on the water, only last year, because Huon Aquaculture decided that would be a good spot for them to dump their diseased fish into. That was a biosecurity measure. 

That comment made by Dr Broad exactly articulates the problem. We have a Liberal Government that has given succour to the industry for the last five years and has facilitated their massive expansion into Storm Bay, up into King Island, to the east coast of Tasmania and back into areas that the industry, with their own spin, had promised they would be leaving. 

The very argument, the basis for the massive salmon expansion now starting in Storm Bay in southern Tasmania, was that the industry had recognised they would move out to deep ocean areas and leave inshore areas. However, we now have Tassal going back to Brabazon Point, right up into the upper reaches of the Huon River, a very shallow area and an area they promised to vacate. This is not an industry that is prepared to stop. This is not an industry that is prepared to listen and this is not a Government that is going to stand for the community. We have flabby, useless laws that do not protect the interests of the industry and they certainly do not protect the marine environment. 

The Marine Farming Planning Review Panel hearings for Storm Bay were a farce, which was cruelly shown to the community, the people who turned up and made an effort to present their views and their concerns, the impact on their livelihoods, the impact on their businesses, and their deep concern about that huge amount of marine debris that is all around the state, causing great damage to the marine environment with the amount of microplastic from fish farm detritus going into the marine environment every single day and washing up onto the beaches.

People are so concerned about all the plastic from marine farm equipment that is in the bottom of the waterways. That cannot all wash up. After the May storms last year, we had Huon Aquaculture's farms, so-called fortress farms in Storm Bay, break up. This is the equipment the industry tells us is designed for storm conditions. At the very first major storm they break up, hundreds of thousands of fish disappear and floating debris is left all around Bruny Island and Storm Bay. It is dangerous for boaters and people on the river.

This is an industry on steroids. It is a complete lie to say that this is about looking after the interests of workers in regional communities. It is a complete lie to say that the industry puts the interests of workers in regional communities first. We know, from the leaked document from Tassal Group Limited, from the CIO in April 2017, that they are looking at reduction in labour - and by that, they mean jobs. They are looking at calculated savings in labour, reducing labour costs through reducing the reduction in number of feeders required, to save money between 2017 and 2025. They are looking at saving $45 million. These are people's jobs. Industries are doing that, and this is the point. 

We have a Government backing a resource-extractive industry, which is what this is because it is using our public waterways for a private business that is not putting anything into communities and is not protecting the clean, green brand, which is the basis of sustainable seafood and our sustainable agriculture. 

If you have a government not doing that, we really want to understand whether the Labor Party supports that position as well. The Labor Party has done everything it can to make sure it ducks and weaves on this matter. Now we are getting to the pointy end of things. There is a federal election coming and we are sick of the Labor Party is running for cover on this issue. It was the Labor Party that brought in the change to the Living Marine Resources Management Act, that gutted the Marine Farming Planning Review Panel and made it impossible for scientific assessment to occur and independent science to be given weight.

We have scientists, like Ms Louise Cherry and Professor Barbara Novak, who were forced to resign in protest from the Marine Farming Planning Review Panel last year, in disgust and to maintain their professional integrity. They could no longer stand by and be used to prop up a sham panel. This panel has an internal loop; it is not possible for that panel to make a recommendation not to approve an expansion. It is not possible for that to happen. The only way the panel can come to a conclusion is when they agree with what is being proposed by the industry and supported by the minister.

The Marine Farming Planning Review Panel needs to be outed for what it is. It is a sham and a corrupted process. It has been designed to rubber-stamp the expansion of the industry, on the industry's terms. In 2004, the Labor minister, Bryan Green, changed the law because a woman scientist on the Marine Farming Planning Review Panel dared to reject a proposal by Tassal to go into Soldiers Point. The Labor Party understood they had a choice of supporting science, supporting community, supporting a sustainable marine environment or doing what the industry wanted, so they changed the law, gutted the panel and made sure that would never happen again. Ever since then, 15 years later here we are now with an industry on steroids, we clearly have a Liberal government that has jumped in and kept it all steamrolling ahead, but we want to hear where Labor stands on this now. Is Labor a party of opposition? Is Labor a party that stands up for the marine environment? Is Labor a party that stands up for the community?

This is a party that says it puts the community first, puts regional communities first and puts the welfare of people first. If the Labor Party supports the people and want to give them a voice then the people have spoken in Tasmania. The people think this stinks. Once people actually understand that there is no process that can be used to stop the expansion of the salmon farming industry wherever it wants to go, there is actually no proper process that is left. This Government has effectively killed it off. There is no way to hold industry to account for marine debris and there is essentially no enforcement. I think there has been $4000 in fines for companies that make $30 million, $40 million, $50 million a year profit. It is not even like having five cents in the bottom of your bag. It is just absolutely nothing. There is no pushback at all on the industry. That is the position of the Liberals. 

What is the position of Labor? Does Labor stand up for the community? Does Labor care about process? Does Labor care about corrupted processes? Does Labor want to give people a voice? Does Labor care about science? Does the scientist, Dr Broad, put science first? We would like to hear whether the Liberal Party and the Labor Party agree that the current stocking levels of salmon in Macquarie Harbour, the expansion of fish farming operations into Okehampton Bay, the enlivening of the decade-old fish farming lease in Norfolk Bay, the exploration of fish farm expansions off King Island and the large expansions of salmon farming into Storm Bay should be supported. Is this their position? We would like to hear it.