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Primary Industries – Fish Farming

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 26 November 2020

Tags: Fish Farms, Primary Industries

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, I want to move on to another subject that is of significant interest and concern, particularly to coastal communities all around Tasmania. Your Government has a plan to increase the size of the salmon industry to $2 billion a year by the year 2030. That involves a massive expansion of industrial fish farming into coastal waterways. I now want to talk about the proposed expansion in Storm Bay which, as you know, would ensure basically a plastic curtain from North Bruny to Nubeena. I particularly want to talk about the process around some of the lease site approvals. Are you able to tell the committee why Petuna's Storm Bay lease site approval was delayed?

Mr BARNETT - I welcome to the table Ian Dutton, director for Water and Marine who is representing the department. Welcome, Ian.

Mr BAKER - I apologise. We had some staff moving as you asked the final part of your question so if you wouldn't mind repeating it.

Ms O'CONNOR - Okay, this is my first question being repeated. Why was Petuna's Storm Bay lease site approval delayed? Can the minister confirm or otherwise that the delay was due to biosecurity concerns?

CHAIR - Minister, while you are looking for the information, for Hansard, can we restate the names and positions of the two people who have just sat at the table?

Mr BARNETT - I welcome to the table Ian Dutton, director for Water and Marine, and likewise, Colin Shepherd, Aquaculture Coordinator, who is on my right, together with the deputy secretary and the secretary.

As a Government, we very much support our salmon industry and sustainable growth of the salmon industry. We acknowledge their importance to our economy, particularly in rural and regional parts of Tasmania, employing thousands of jobs and providing a sustainable future and opportunity for not just those involved in the industry but their families and the communities which they support.

Ms O'CONNOR - It is a pity you don't understand what 'sustainable' is but carry on.

Mr BARNETT - Thank you for the interjection. I am happy to take the interjection because we do support sustainable growth in the salmon sector and will continue to do so. There is no greater supporter of the salmon industry than our Government.

With respect to the part of your question you referred to Petuna. My advice is that in September 2017 Petuna applied to the then-minister for approval to prepare the draft Storm Bay North plan. The approval was granted and the draft came, together with a detailed environmental impact statement. It was considered by the panel in November 2017. The panel was not satisfied and rejected the draft plan which was subsequently modified and later found to be acceptable to the panel and capable of being recommended for approval by me as minister.

Ms O'CONNOR - Is it not the case that two of the leases were initially signed off by the Marine Farming Planning Review Panel but having a third lease site in Storm Bay - that is the Petuna site - was considered a biosecurity risk? Effectively, what the panel said is that these pens would be too close together.

Mr BARNETT - We have our aquaculture coordinator with us at the table. I will refer the specific matter to Colin Shepherd.

Mr SHEPHERD - Thank you, minister, through you, the answer to the question is, as the minister has already indicated, there is a statutory process for approvals that was followed.

Ms O'CONNOR - That is not the answer to the question, Mr Shepherd, with respect. The question was, isn't it the case that two of the leases were signed off and a third was not recommended to go ahead by the panel and clearly that has later been overturned. The question was: was the recommendation made in that way because it was considered a biosecurity risk to have three sets of new pens so close together?

Mr BARNETT - If I can provide an answer, then I will refer to the aquaculture coordinator. To make it very clear, there is a set of processes in place for marine farm planning and marine farm leases. The application for those leases, there is a process that must be gone through; I have made that clear. It is a very important process.

Ms O'CONNOR - We are trying to understand what happened here.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, you have already asked three questions.

Ms O'CONNOR - With respect, point of order, Chair, I basically asked one question; I did not get a straight answer on that. I asked the second question.

CHAIR - The same rules apply to the other members at the table. I ask you to allow the minister to respond, please.

Ms O'CONNOR - I ask you to urge the minister to answer the question clearly and directly, thank you.

CHAIR - Allow the minister to finish.

Mr BARNETT - Thanks very much, Chair. I dispute the baseless allegations made by the Leader for the Greens. I made it very clear there are important processes. We do follow that process. We need a balanced approach and we need to follow those processes. I will refer now to the aquaculture coordinator to add to that answer.

Mr SHEPHERD - As I have indicated, Ms O'Connor, the marine farming review panel considers the application and the request, which I think you are referring to in relation to Petuna, which was to develop a draft plan. They then had their deliberations. On the basis of concerns that they raised around a number of issues that were brought forward through the statutory process, they made a series of modifications. One of those related to biosecurity, but there were other modifications that they requested that related to other matters. Once they were satisfied that they had reached a consensus view around what was required to satisfy them, that they could then make a recommendation to the minister for approval. They then did that.


Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, we are trying to establish the decision-making process around the expansion of industrial fish farming in Storm Bay, which is impacting on communities from D'Entrecasteaux to Bruny to White Beach and Long Bay. In response to my previous question about the advice from the Marine Farming Planning Review Panel on the three pens near Bruny and the Petuna pen, which was, I understand now from listening to Mr Shepherd's answer, initially not recommended for approval by the panel because of biosecurity concerns, can we have some information about how those biosecurity concerns were addressed and what advice the department gave to the panel on those biosecurity issues and how they needed to be addressed before Petuna's pen expansion was approved?

Mr BARNETT - The Government supports the sustainable growth of the salmon industry. There is no stronger supporter. We have a responsible and very clear process for the expansion into Storm Bay and anywhere in and around Tasmania -

Ms O'CONNOR - Tell that to the communities you are irking from one point of the compass to the next.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, I ask that you allow the minister to finish his response. You will have another question.

Ms O'CONNOR - This is the same preliminary propaganda that we had with the previous set of questions.

CHAIR - Thank you, that is a statement.

Mr BARNETT - It is a statement. It is a clear differential between the Greens and the Liberal Government in Tasmania that supports the sustainable salmon industry.

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes, just one of them, there are many.

Mr BARNETT - The Greens want to tear it down. That seems to be their objective.

Ms O'CONNOR - Okay, could you answer the question?

Mr BARNETT - If they want to deny that, that is a matter for them. I have made it clear where there are clear processes in place we follow responsible expansion of the salmon marine farming industry. Regarding the biosecurity plans that you have asked about, I am happy to refer to the aquaculture -

Ms O'CONNOR - Specific to the Petuna lease?

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, allow the minister to finish please.

Mr BARNETT - I am trying to answer the question. In response to the claims, there is no Government endorsed biosecurity plan. I am advised that a draft biosecurity plan was in development while these planning proposals were under consideration by the panel. That is the advice I have received. I understand the panel was aware of this and sought expert advice from the Chief Veterinary Officer, industry veterinarians and an overseas epidemiologist.

The Storm Bay plans include specific controls to allow for appropriate, contemporary and future biosecurity arrangements to be imposed by government. These were inserted into the plans by the panel. For example, they require an operator to submit a satisfactory biosecurity plan every year before their licence is renewed.

I believe the aquaculture coordinator, might wish to add to that answer.

Mr SHEPHERD - As the minister has indicated, there are specific management controls contained in the Marine Farming Development Plan for that particular area. Those controls, as the minister has pointed out, one of them involves the requirement to submit an annual biosecurity plan. They also have controls in there that talk about separation distances for fish. Off the top of my head I can't recall all of them but I can take that on notice and we can find that information for you.

In relation to your other question about how advice on biosecurity was considered by the panel, one of the members of the panel is a person with biosecurity expertise. As I have said earlier, the panel goes through a deliberative process as part of the statutory arrangements where they consider a range of issues that are raised through the representations that are made. All of those issues, we believe, including biosecurity, were considered by the panel and dealt with in a manner where they were then satisfied to make a recommendation to the minister that the plan could be approved.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Mr Shepherd. Can we confirm, from what I heard from the answer from the minister and Mr Shepherd, there was no overarching biosecurity plan in place when the decision was made to approve the three lease sites. Then when I asked about what information was given by Biosecurity Tasmania, the department, to the panel in relation to the application for the expansion, no specific advice was given by the department to the panel. Is that correct?

Mr BARNETT - In answer to the question I will refer to the aquaculture coordinator but I have made it clear, the advice I have received is that a draft biosecurity plan was in development while these planning proposals were under consideration by the panel.

Ms O'CONNOR - It was approved anyway.

Mr BARNETT - I am trying to answer the question. I am also advised the panel was aware of this. They sought expert advice. As I indicated earlier, the chief veterinarian, industry veterinarians, overseas epidemiologist, and then the Storm Bay plans include specific controls to allow for appropriate contemporary and future biosecurity arrangements to be imposed by government. That is the process. I have outlined the importance of a responsible and comprehensive process. That is what we have in place and I will ask the aquaculture coordinator to add to that answer.

Mr SHEPHERD - There has been a biosecurity program in place. It was a voluntary program. It was adopted in 2014. It is the Tasmanian Salmonid Growers Association Biosecurity Program and all of the major companies are signatories to the program. In addition, individual companies all have biosecurity plans which are approved by the Chief Veterinary Officer. They have been in operation.

Ms O'CONNOR - Can I please have a third question. I have waited patiently. This is a line of questioning which is a real concern to communities around the coast.

CHAIR - It has to be a quick question because we are due for a break.

Ms O'CONNOR - A quick question, thank you Chair. Minister, Professor Barbara Nowak was the biosecurity expert on the panel, as we understand it, at the time that these leases were being considered. Professor Nowak resigned before the Petuna approval went through. We have now established that there was no specific biosecurity advice given to the panel by DPIPWE. Can you explain where the Biosecurity advice came from that led to the approval of the Petuna lease site after the panel's initial recommendation was that it should not be approved for biosecurity reasons?

Mr BARNETT - Of course, I am aware of the resignations of both Professor Nowak and Ms Cherrie, and I respect their decisions. I have had communication with them in that regard, and I am also advised that all of the issues raised by Professor Nowak and Ms Cherrie were considered by the panel -

Ms O'CONNOR - And dismissed.

Mr BARNETT - Through a deliberative process consistent with the provisions of the Marine Farming Planning Act. Following the resignation of Professor Nowak and Ms Cherrie, I believe that, in making a final recommendation to me to approve Petuna's application, the panel determined it did have the necessary expertise and experience required under the act to make such a recommendation.

Ms O'CONNOR - Where from?

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, we will have to end -

Mr BARNETT - Moreover I was advised by the secretary of the department, at the time, that the panel was properly constituted, at the time, of making its determination to recommend that I approve the draft plan.

Ms O'CONNOR - So the biosecurity expert on the panel resigns and no advice comes from DPIPWE?

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, you will be able to ask another question on the next round, around the table. I will ask the minister to wrap up so that we can have a short break.

Mr BARNETT - In short, due process was followed, and I would like to refer to the aquaculture coordinator to add to that answer.

Ms O'CONNOR - Where did the biosecurity advice come from?

Mr SHEPHERD - I don't think I have ever said that DPIPWE did not provide advice.

Ms O'CONNOR - To the panel.

Mr BARNETT - I would like to take a point of order, Chair. These incessant interruptions from the Leader of the Greens makes it really difficult, not just for me to respond, but to an officer at the table. I seek your support to cease those interjections.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, I ask you to cease your interjections. Let Mr Shepherd finish his response so that we can have a break.

Mr SHEPHERD - The Chief Veterinary Officer provided advice to the panel.