You are here

Primary Industries and Water – Fish Farm Regulation

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 7 June 2023

Tags: Fish Farms, State Budget

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you. Minister, in connection to the question asked by Mr Tucker - and I'm sure Dr Woodruff will have a whole line of questions on this matter also - not that long ago in the paper, one of the Batista brothers who owns JBS, a massively corrupt global corporation, was calling for the Tasmanian Government to weaken the rules and regulations around fin-fish farming here. That is directly connected to the question Mr Tucker just asked, because there's a legitimate concern in the broader Tasmanian community about regulatory capture.

Will you rule out here, today, a rewrite of the rules and regulations around fin-fish farming to make it easier for a company like JBS to further expand into pristine waters?

Ms PALMER - I will rule that out.

Dr WOODRUFF - Now that the three Tasmanian salmon companies are foreign owned and ASIC reporting is no longer required, Tasmanians don't have access to regular transparent information about current plan production, jobs and a range of other things that are not available online as it used to be, on the salmon portal. It seems to have been removed from the salmon portal.

I have a bunch of questions that I am hoping that you can answer on the salmon industry including the tonnage produced by each company and by region in 2021-22 and 2022-23; the overall value of the product and profits that were made; the direct jobs by company and region; and a summary of the costs and the subsidiaries that were borne by the state compared to the fees and levies that were received.

CHAIR - Minister, can I ask you may provide this later on so we can continue with our questioning on something like this?

Ms PALMER - No, I am happy to answer. It is at your discretion, Chair, but we would like to provide the answers.

CHAIR - Do you them close at hand?

Ms PALMER - We have Dr Dutton at the table to do that. I will make a couple of comments first. The plan does make it clear that we will deliver greater transparency and improved communication to the community. A key action under the plan is to review the salmon farming data portal to expand the information that is available, including public reporting aligned to implementing the new aquaculture standards as they enacted. Recent amendments progressed by this Government clarified the independence of the EPA and provide the Director of the EPA with powers to make monitoring information available to the public. A revision of the portal will be supported by an international comparison of publicly available information as in other jurisdictions.

With your specific questions around tonnage et cetera, I will pass that to Dr Dutton.

Dr DUTTON - The portal is being maintained, to be clear. We have had to recalibrate the timing of presentation of data from each of the companies just because of the different financial years and the issues associated with reporting. We are in the process. There will be, I understand, an update very shortly and I am more than happy to come back to you if I can take those questions on notice, with details of the tonnages.

Dr WOODRUFF - I can put those questions on notice? Is that what you are saying?

Dr DUTTON - If that is okay.

Ms PALMER - You don't have that information here?

Dr DUTTON - Not to the most recent report. We have literally just received them from one of the companies.

Ms PALMER - I am happy to take that on notice.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you. When, minister, will you release the independent review of fee and levy structures for finfish farming that was undertaken by Treasury? Do you anticipate what fees will be levied on the salmon industry in 2023-24 to cover management costs?

Ms PALMER - Are you talking about cost recovery?

Dr WOODRUFF - There was an independent review undertaken of fee and levy structures for finfish farming undertaken by Treasury. What will be the fees and levies to cover management costs in 2023-24?

Ms PALMER - We touched on this briefly before, but I'll try to summarise it. The Government provides a range of services that directly support the regulation of the salmon industry. The cost of these services is already partially recovered from the industry through fees and charges. One of the principles underpinning the Government's new salmon plan is a review of fees and charges to ensure full cost recovery and an appropriate return to the Tasmanian community. The cost of government services will be fully recovered from the industry from the 1 July 2023.

The specific way that full cost recovery will be achieved is through a levy on fin-fish marine farming licences. The industry currently pays annual environment and planning levies. They are in the order of $2.5 million per annum, together with other transaction fees, and I can advise that when full cost recovery is applied, the levy amount will be more than doubled.

I'll refer the other part of your question to the deputy secretary.

Ms WILSON - Through you, minister, I'm not sure what report the member was referring to. The cost of management that we are looking to deliver through cost of recovery covers services that provide a benefit to the salmon industry, solely or principally in the service of the salmon industry, or result in a cost of burden to government which arises because of, or principally because of, the salmon industry within Tasmania. They're the principles upon which we're undertaking our cost-recovery process.

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, are we also looking at a resource rent tax? You mentioned before that the salmon industry is a world-class industry. We used to refer to it as 'world's best practice' - but world's best practice would look like what Norway is doing. Norway has a resource rent tax that redistributes, to the whole of the society, wealth that's generated by private companies working and using public resources. Is there any consideration of a resource rent tax for the salmon industry?

Ms PALMER - Thank you. The salmon plan clearly sets out two elements here. The first being what we've just addressed with full cost recovery. That work is nearing completion now, in consultation with industry, and will be in place on 1 July this year. The other matter you're referring to could perhaps be termed as a return to the community.

Dr WOODRUFF - Sure, we could call it that. That's right.

Ms PALMER - That preliminary work has started in this space. That is a policy under the salmon plan. We will organise full cost recovery first, and while preliminary work has started on return to the community, more work needs to be done there, and that will be done in consultation with the industry.

Dr WOODRUFF - Great. It is worth looking at Norway. They introduced a bill about this matter earlier this year. That's definitely world-class practice.

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, there is an imminent expiration of environmental licences in the state later this year. According to information on the LIST, most are due to expire in November. This is fish farm licences. If these are rolled over without modification, will the EPA director commit to a very limited extension of those licences until the necessary regulatory scientific and reporting frameworks have been completed, in the context of the salmon plan.

Ms PALMER - It's not really a matter for me as the minister because environmental licenses are the responsibility of the EPA, which as we all know, is independent of Government.

Dr WOODRUFF - Okay. Are there going to be any reviews or adjustments of current operations that are occurring in Macquarie Harbour, Long Bay and the D'Entrecasteaux Channel and the Huon Estuary of salmon farming with the planned production for 2023 24 and ongoing? You'd understand the widespread community concerns and the need to gain a social license and those particular areas I've said are highly controversial for salmon farming operations.

Ms PALMER - Again, my apologies. It's not a matter for me as the minister, this is a matter for the EPA, if I'm understanding your question correctly.

Dr WOODRUFF - The salmon plan had designated areas and areas for expansion and so on. You don't have a view about whether those areas would continue to be suitable for fish farm operating?

Ms PALMER - We would respect existing rights and ongoing compliance with environmental licenses but again, the license side of it is a matter for the EPA.

Dr WOODRUFF - So there's no policy directions at all to the EPA? That sounds to me as though that's just leaving it up to companies to continue to make their own determinations about where they want to operate. Aren't you looking at giving direction to the industry? The plan talks about leaving areas and moving into other areas. I'm trying to get some information about where the Government's position is, or what the direction for the industry is in terms of places to operate or not, or is it just really up to them to make the decisions?

Ms PALMER - I think what I can say is the Government does not support mandating the relocation of sustainably operated inshore finfish sites that are compliant with regulation, to areas further offshore. We have made it really clear and it has been set out quite clearly in the salmon plan that we will be respecting the existing rights of marine farming leaseholders but we will look at policy settings to incentivise the relocation of existing operational or dormant finfish leases to areas further offshore, particularly leases that maybe constrained for social, economic or environmental reasons.

Dr WOODRUFF - That's what I'm talking about.

Ms PALMER - If they are respecting and complying with the rules and the regulations, then we will certainly not be supporting mandating the relocation of those.

Dr WOODRUFF - Even if they don't have a social licence? You've seen the pictures of Long Bay, you understand that's a very controversial place, the director of the EPA himself is on record for saying that he was surprised that fish farming ever started in Long Bay. We've got a situation, we could call it legacy, but you just talked about policy settings, what are the policy settings to move fish farms out into more distant waters, out of the estuary areas?

Ms PALMER - I think the plan clearly sets out that we would like to see, as a Government, any further growth in the salmon industry, with a focus of either further offshore or on land, but we will be respectful of any current inshore finfish sites that are compliant and that are respecting the existing sites and that are complying with the rules and the regulations. I think that clearly is set out in the plan.