Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise tonight to detail to the House material that was released under right to information, an RTI request that was made by a member of the public for correspondence between the director of the EPA, Wes Ford, and the CEO of Tassal, Mr Mark Ryan. These letters that were made available were between the EPA and just one salmon farming company over a short period of time in October and November 2019 for a six-week period.
In that time, there were five deeply concerning examples of an industry that is way too close to our environmental regulator that operates under government policies and government directives that is required under those directives to put industry productivity before the environment. That cosy relationship and priority of industry productivity over the environment is writ large in every one of these letters.
The first one I will speak to is in relation to the baseline environment survey required for the marine farming lease at the west of Wedge Island, the new lease off the Tasman Peninsula. Mr Ryan asks on behalf of Tassal whether he can introduce fish into the marine farming lease at west of Wedge before his company has undertaken the inshore reef survey. That survey was specified by the EPA as a component of the baseline environmental monitoring and was supposed to be included in the final monitoring report. However, the director says it is okay if Tassal puts fish in the water in January and only has to provide a report to him by 30 April, four months later. That would be against the environmental licence, so just to make it legal he will write a new environmental licence to make sure that everything is totally by the book.
The purpose of baseline monitoring is to make sure the area gets looked at and looks at the environmental state before fish are farmed there so there can be a true measure of the impact of the fish, but that is not what happened at west of Wedge under this Government's misregulation of the fish farm industry.
On 1 November the report on the annual video surveys at Soldiers Point came to the director of the EPA. He wrote to Mark Ryan and found that marine debris was present under five of the six pen bays but had no check of that. He was concerned about the history of marine farming debris and that every survey undertaken for that lease between 2016 and 2019 had identified debris and that Tassal was meant to have taken the debris away, but the EPA has no checks on that.
He cautioned that the debris should be removed. He said it is a continuing problem and if Tassal did not do that he 'may' require follow-up surveys of key pens to show that they have been successfully removed. This is despite the fact that we have had serious incidents of marine farm debris causing hazards to boaters and other people on the water for years. That is hardly a scary and strong response from the environmental regulator.
Regarding Hamilton and the recirculatory aquaculture approval application that was made there to pump water from a Tassal hatchery onto farmland nearby, it was also pointed out by the director of the EPA in his letter to Mr Ryan that the approval application for the Hamilton hatchery had essentially overcooked substantially the amount of pasture land and the growth of pasture in that area. There were concerns, he says, that it was insufficient to adequately demonstrate that irrigation will not result in unacceptable accumulation in nutrients in the soil and will not prevent surface runoff and leaching.
It is extremely concerning that the EPA director noted it was likely that additional treatment would be needed to reduce salinity or nutrients. These are exactly the issues the community were concerned about. Salinity in pasture land areas and nutrients are flowing off into the Hamilton water supply and from the Meadowbank hatchery, but the EPA did nothing strong about that. Correspondence that was tabled as part of these text messages between Mr Ryan and Mr Ford show the cosy relationship, another example of mates talking to mates in this Government.
Why does the CEO of a major company have the personal phone number of the director of the EPA? Why does he send persistent messages, tens of messages over a one-day period demanding that the director get back to him? Why does the director get back to him at one point and say, quite helpfully, that the EPA board expects to complete its assessment of the Hamilton hatchery by the end of the week, meaning the council can deal with it at its 3 December meeting? I suggest he said to Mr Ryan, 'You get Fraser to talk to the council to get it on their agenda'.
How is that appropriate? Why are we having this relationship between the director of the EPA, who is meant to be there and Tasmanians expect him to be there first and foremost to be regulated to look after the environment first. Instead we have this Government under-regulating the EPA so we have in a short six-week period five serious examples of breaches of licences and what the director of the EPA does to promote industry productivity is just write them another one, just make sure it all looks legal on the books, but there is nothing good about what is happening in the state of salmon farming in Tasmania.