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Living Marine Miscellaneous Amendments (Digital Processes) Bill 2021

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 24 August 2021

Tags: Marine Environment, Legislation

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, first, I ask the Government to be a little bit more thoughtful about planning out Government business for the day because we have all been caught on the hop a bit, about 15 to 20 minutes ago, by the sudden notice that this bill was coming on today. The Government needs to get its house in order out of respect to particularly non-government members in this place. I have had to refresh myself on a bill that I had not looked at for some time.

We will not be opposing the Living Marine Miscellaneous Amendments (Digital Processes) Bill 2021 and understand that it relates to a $5 million Government commitment to introduce digital licensing and reporting tools for the Tasmanian commercial wild capture fishing industry under what is described as the Fisheries Digital Transition Project.

My understanding is that the Tasmanian wild abalone fishery is the largest abalone fishery in the world and that we produce about 25 per cent of the global catch of abalone. There have been increasing concerns raised by experienced divers with in some cases, decades of abalone fishing, that the resource in Tasmania is being over-exploited. If a new digital system improves the capacity of the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and the Environment to ensure they have the capacity to monitor and to ensure compliance, that is a positive.

Going right back to when my colleague, the former member for Bass, Andrea Dawkins, was in this place, we had abalone fishers or licence-holders approaching us on a regular basis, saying that the fishery is in deep trouble. I just found an article from the ABC that is now five years old and I am absolutely certain under this minister, who is all about growth, growth, growth, growth, growth and 'don't listen to the scientists' and 'don't make any sudden changes that affect an industry', that the state of the fishery has not substantially improved in the last five years.

The ABC report quotes one long-time diver who wanted to remain anonymous because of their concern about ramifications for them. Quote: '… to put your face to a complaint is cutting your own throat in the industry', but fishers and licence-holders wanted to sound the alarm about the state of the world's largest wild abalone fishery. Quote: '… said one long-time diver, "The abalone stock on the bottom is just depleting flat-out. We have had downturns before but never this bad, it is the worst I have seen it."' And the quote continues: '"Over the last 12 months it has really fell off a cliff, especially around the west coast", said another diver.'

To illustrate, the ABC reports said in some places where divers could land 250 kilograms in an hour a few years ago, they can now only hope to get around 40 kilograms. In some cases, according to people with deep experience and long-time experience of this industry, abalone grounds have not just been thinned out, they have been wiped out. Here is a quote from a diver: 'I am going into gulches that used to have good fish in them that have got none. We have fished those gulches out.' [TBC quotes]

I also note that this issue of the depleted state of the abalone resource and the over-fishing became topical again in Tasmania a couple of years ago when there was quite heated debate at senior levels of the abalone industry about the state of the resource and why it was in so much trouble. I had spoken very recently to representatives of the recreational fishing sector who are extremely worried about the state of the abalone fishery. There has been mass, as we understand it, buy-up of licences, so we have a problem here, and a minister who is always gung-ho for growth with one of the most important living marine resources on our island.

Perhaps the minister could explain to the House how the new digital system will assist fisheries officers to ensure there is compliance with licensing conditions. Will there be extra resources put into DPIPWE for monitoring of abalone take? We know that this is an industry that has been subject to illegal fishing, the theft of abalone, arrests here and interstate. We would like to hear from this minister what is being done to ensure the long-term sustainability of a resource which its own people, who have been working in the industry for decades, say is under enormous stress, firsthand accounts from divers that whole gulches have been fished out.

We have heard the concerns of people working in the abalone sector. Has the minister heard those concerns? Was he paying attention a couple of years ago when this issue became very topical and there was heated debate amongst people with prolonged experience of the abalone sector?

This is a minister who has ramped up native forest logging, wants mines all through the Tarkine, has approved duck-shooting against his own agency's advice, has made promises to leatherwood beekeepers, that he is just not keeping. I hope members understand our level of worry about this minister's capacity to keep an eye on this fishery, to have a look at what is happening with the sale of licences. As we understand it, a significant number of licences are now being sold to foreign interests. What is the benefit of this to Tasmania? What is the long-term outlook for the abalone fishery?

We would like the minister to back up any statement he makes on the state of the fishery with some evidence, with some material from his own agency or from IMAS or UTAS, or any other scientific body here that may be doing some of this work. In every area of this minister's portfolio, there are significant and worrying problems. We have talked about some of them. Another problem is the state of our surface and ground water. The minister wants the agricultural sector to be 10 times its size by 2050, when only the week before last Dr Coughanowr - who for many years headed up the Derwent Estuary program - produced a report, based in part on a report this minister tried to hide. The report showed that in every major river system in Tasmania there are enormous pressures, and a number of our important river systems - from the Derwent [TBC inaudible 5.41.54] to the South Esk up to the Leven - are in a serious state of decline.

When you are the Minister for Resources, it is not simply about clichés and desk thumping, 'wood is good', 'water is liquid gold' - all of that rubbish that comes out of Mr Barnett's mouth. You have a unique responsibility in that portfolio to make sure that you are not opening it up to unchecked plunder that leaves our children far poorer; that is, poorer not only economically, but also poorer in terms of our health and wellbeing and our food security, and our access to clean, fresh, potable water.

This is another area of Mr Barnett's portfolio where we believe there are red flags going up. We would like him to address the concern which has been expressed to us by abalone divers, and aired publicly in the media, on ABC radio, and which, no doubt, the minister's own agency is raising with him, in terms of the sustainability of the abalone fishery right now, more than five years after there was a serious ringing of alarm bells by the industry, and10 years after the first noises of real concern started to be heard from within the abalone fishery locally.

It is a very unique responsibility to be the Minister for Resources, and your role should not be seen as enabling over-exploitation of resources that belong to all the people of Tasmania. They belong - not to the government of the day, not to licence holders, not to foreign interests - but to the people of Tasmania. Most Tasmanians cannot buy abalone; it is not available or they cannot afford it. It is in the broader interest of the community to know that there is some sustainability around this fishery, because all the signs are there right now that there is not.