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Richard Flanagan - Tribute

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 23 June 2021

Tags: Fish Farms

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Speaker, Richard Flanagan is a Tasmanian writer who has been described by the Washington Post as one of our greatest living novelists. He has written numerous books of fiction attracting major prize awards and honours. He is definitely one of Tasmania's great treasures. He has also had a career as an investigative journalist in Australia and overseas.

Richard has never hidden from telling the truth no matter how controversial the topic. His latest gift to Australian conversation is Toxic: The Rotting Underbelly of the Tasmanian Salmon Industry. It was released in late April and has been a sell out success ever since. The last time I heard it was into its fourth print run. Toxic is a chilling expose of a salmon industry that is secretive, polluting, destructive and produces a product that is questionable from a health point of view. It is especially an indictment of gross and culpable government mismanagement of this industry.

Richard documents his own experience living on North Bruny when salmon companies shifted gears and became ASX share market corporations. From that point, governments were no longer interested in listening to community concerns about environmental impacts or social impacts. I quote from his book when in 2005 he spoke to a senior bureaucrat at the marine farming branch who was very clear:

‘Tassal,’ he said, ‘was a nightmare. I can’t do anything,’ he said, leaning back in his chair and folding his hands behind his head. ‘If I do something Tassal rings the minister’s office and the minister’s office rings me so I can’t help.’

Richard has thought about that strange day since.

Governments no longer seem to be Governments, regulators no longer were burdened by the need to regulate, rule breakers had been through an incomprehensible metamorphous become rule makers and the new rules seem to be made not by parliament but by a profit and loss ledger. By, in other words, greed.

The senior bureaucrat advised him that the only hope was to deal directly with Tassal and for 15 years our community tried to find an honourable compromise with Tassal. None of us wanted a fight. We didn’t like the salmon farm but we felt compelled to accept it in a live and let live spirit. But while we let Tassal live, things began to die.

Every promise made by Tassal to the community, they finally broke. Every agreement they made, they ultimately dishonoured. Tassal would argue the farm was within regulations, though there were very few regulations, and what regulations existed were weak and never enforced.

We were condemned to live amid the immense damage done when government abrogates its responsibilities and the only legislator is greed.

As well as noise, algae and slime kept increasing. As they increased other things mysteriously disappeared. The penguins vanished, then the cod, then the tiny marina shells - the same shells that Truganini and her people once gathered at the north end of Langfords Beach to make their necklaces.

The water lost its clarity as more and more fish shit poured into the Channel. More algae, more of the strange bubbly brown broth on the once-clear waters. No one saw dolphins anymore. We did not see seahorses. The weedy sea dragons disappeared, the seagrass started vanishing and then the flathead were gone.

We were being played as fools by Tassal. We were tricked into colluding in the slow death of everything we loved. They have stolen our water, our serenity and our beauty. They are killing our Channel, one of Tasmania’s most beloved and iconic waterways, and worse, its creatures.

Unless checked, they will destroy so much more of what is unique and offers Tasmania a future in the 21st century.

Flanagan also details in his book Toxic the corrupted Orwellian scientific process for new farming developments, which has the marine farming panel incapable of rejecting a development and only referring it to the minister for approval - something the expert scientist who resigned from the panel described as ‘soul destroying’.

He also describes the extreme levels of nutrient discharge from salmon smolt hatcheries flowing into Hobart’s drinking water supply, equivalent to a sewage plant from a town of 5000 10 000 people, which the EPA has never investigated.

He describes the epic fail of the EPA to protect the maugean skate and the World Heritage values of Macquarie Harbour. An EPA that stopped using dorval worms for salmon farm monitoring indicators in the harbour because they kept indicating that severe oxygen levels were being depleted in the water.

The same EPA deaf to the clarion warnings of scientists about the need to cut salmon stocking levels in the harbour before it was too late - and it was too late. All the marine animals within 500 metres of Tassal’s lease were declared dead.

Flanagan also describes the Tasmanian salmon feed, which comes from factory farm chickens, and he outlines the equivalent of ten times Tasmania’s sewage effluent that is pouring into, and will pour into, the wild beauty of Storm Bay.

The floating debris littering once-pristine beaches and threatening boaters’ lives, the micro plastic pollution that may be re-entering the food chains of recreational and commercial fisheries. The shooting, killing and dumping and relocating of seals on a large scale.

Mr Speaker, this book makes a lie of the Liberal and Labor parties’ pretence that we have a salmon industry that is being regulated by any meaningful environmental protection standard, let alone the sham of pretending that it is world’s best practice.

I strongly commend this book to the House. It is required reading for all members of parliament. I would like to table a copy in the House tonight. I have provided a copy to Mr Jaensch, and he has informed me he already has his own copy, but he is happy from the Government members for it to be tabled. I have also provided a copy to Dr Broad, who has also indicated the Labor Party is happy for it to be tabled.

We have to heed the warnings of this book, and understand that consumers will vote with their wallets. As a state, it is an extremely dangerous position for us to continue to ignore the realities of this essentially unregulated salmon farming industry.

We want to have a future for Tasmanian salmon farmers. We want to have a future for our marine environment, so we must have regulations that are strong. We must have an independent EPA. We must transition onto land based, closed cycle loop processors.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I table this copy. I commend it to the House and encourage members to read it.