Legislative Council Tuesday 12 June, 2018
Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, I move -
That the House refers the following matters to Government Administration Committee B for inquiry and report -
The regulation and impact of the marine farming industry on the Tasmanian wild fishery and natural environment with particular regard to
(1) The adequacy and efficacy of the current legislative and regulatory framework to -
(a) enable the functions and powers of the Marine Farming Planning Review Panel to be fulfilled;
(b) support the sustainability of the fin-fish farming industry;
(c) apply rigorous scientific evidence to decision making;
(d) determine appropriate stocking levels;
(e) protect the natural environment;
(f) develop past and future Salmon Farming Management Plans; and
(g) establish salmon 'grow' and 'no grow' zones;
(2) Any current or future impacts of the expansion of the Salmon (Fin Fish) open net sea cage farming industry on the existing wild fisheries and wild fishing industries including crayfish, abalone, shark and scalefish in Tasmanian coastal waters.
(3) The effectiveness and appropriateness of the management systems within shared harbour and coastal waters environments for -
(a) wild caught fish; and
(b) farmed aquaculture.
(4) Any other matter incidental thereto.
The marine farming industry employs many Tasmanians and contributes significantly to the Tasmanian economy. Robust, independent, scientific, evidence based regulation of the industry is crucial for the long term sustainability of the industry and the jobs created through this industry. I believe such an inquiry is necessary and important to ensure the protection and sustainability of a marine farming industry, the wild fishery and the natural environment. I am sure all members who have marine farming in the waters of their electorate would know and appreciate the value of marine farming to these areas in terms of employment and contribution to the local economy. The employment provided by marine farming is significant, as many of these marine farmers are in rural and remote areas where employment opportunities are often limited.
The direct and indirect employment created is important to protect, maintain and grow, provided we can do so in a manner sustainable into the long term for marine farming, the wild fishery and the environment. If there is one lesson rural and regional Tasmania has learnt, it is the cry of jobs, jobs, jobs is of little long-term value unless they are in a long-term sustainable industry and part of an industry that does not harm other industries or our natural environment at the same time.
I will not list the failures of some of our great industries that have not fully considered the protection of the long-term interests of their industry, coexisting industries and environment. They are all too well known to Tasmanians.
It is also important to note many of these areas where marine farms exist are also very important to tourism and the employment this industry creates and the state brand. It is also important to balance the benefits in one area, such as employment, with the social and environmental benefits any particular industry brings. We also need to ensure the negative impacts that can and in many industries do occur, need to, and can be mitigated against. It simply cannot be a 'proceed at all costs' approach, without consideration of the social and environmental impacts, as well as the economic impacts of an activity. Marine farming can coexist with the wild fishery, but effective regulation of both is necessary.
Other industries, particularly tourism, also need to coexist as tourism is one of Tasmania's key economic drivers as discussed at a previous motion. Tourism has experienced significant recent growth and we need to plan for and manage this growth and ensure it is not harmed through the lack of effective and appropriate legislation in another activity that brings economic activity and employment to Tasmania and Tasmanians. Our brand is integral to our prosperity and way of life. Our brand reputation must always be considered and protected.
Members would also be aware of the significant interest in the regulation of marine farming, as shown by public interest in recent applications by marine farming companies to expand their operations. All stakeholders need certainty that the regulatory framework in which the industry operates is robust, scientific, evidence based and transparent. I have no doubt both industry and community representatives would welcome the opportunity to express their views and present relevant information to inform the regulatory process and dispel some of the misinformation that unfortunately surrounds this industry. Members of the public, particularly those who live in areas where marine farming is or could occur, want to have their voices heard. Many of these voices support the industry as I do and want to ensure the approach taken ensures the long-term sustainability of the industry and both the economic return, employment and protection of our natural environment.
Committee inquiries, an important aspect of our role in this place, provide this opportunity as we have seen on very many occasions, particularly in areas with often disparate and differing views from forestry to mining and from tourism to the delivery of health care. Furthermore, I understand the federal government is planning to delegate some of its monitoring approval powers to the states in this area where modelling of potential sites is close to or may be considered in Commonwealth waters. I understand this will require legislative change at a federal and state level so amendment will be needed to our current regulatory framework.
This inquiry would enable any other changes to be recommended and incorporated if necessary to ensure a thorough, rigorous and transparent approach, using independent scientific evidence that is utilised into the future. The future of the industry and the employment provided and a natural environment depend on this. It is important to all with an interest in our state's future, as much as to the industry and opponents of the industry. The opportunity for public engagement interest is welcome as we all have a stake in the brand and reputation of our state. One adverse outcome in a Tasmanian product can and will impact negatively and broadly in our local national and international market places.
Some time ago I had some discussions with industry representatives of the companies engaged in marine farming and there has been general support for an inquiry. In more recent days some industry representatives have changed their position and somewhat indicated they are not opposed to such an inquiry, but rather they have questioned the timing. In saying this they also indicated they respect the role of the Legislative Council and the parliament. I encouraged these companies in my consultation with them to contact members with their views. I am not sure if they have but I did encourage them.
Some have suggested such an inquiry be delayed as they are in the midst of change associated with the new Sustainable Industry Growth Plan for the Salmon Industry. We must remember the industry representatives are not the only stakeholders in this matter. We all have an interest as we all share in the benefits of a natural environment, the economic benefit, and the brand reputation of our state.
It is also interesting to note the actions taken since the implementation of the Sustainable Industry Growth Plan for the Salmon Industry. The plan has been underway and has resulted in reductions in stocking levels rather than growth with over 20 per cent reduction in stocking levels in Macquarie Harbour by the EPA to ensure the health and wellbeing of the harbour and the fish being farmed there. I have also had discussions with community members who generally see a more urgent need as no one wants to see the industry collapse or be harmed with a risk of loss of jobs that could occur. I note and recognise there are some who would like to see no marine farming offshore and suggest all marine farming in Tasmania should be on shore. These people are not in the majority, they are in the minority.
I had a call from the minister, Ms Courtney, the day the media reported this inquiry about a week ago. She raised concerns about the timing and offered a full briefing from the department and EPA which I accepted, as it is always welcome and I frequently avail myself of such opportunities and briefings, particularly if I am preparing for a debate on a motion. Some of those who just arrived and are new in the Chamber might not have got that. I did this and offered other members this opportunity by way of an email last week, which no one took up and two members indicated they did not need a briefing. It was made available and there was an opportunity I took up on Friday last week that any member could have phoned into had they required it or requested it.
Regarding the time of this inquiry, I am sure there will be some members who will promote the Government's position on this and seek a delay or oppose the inquiry. I suggest now is the right time as much has and should have been done to reflect the new plan and the Senate committee report recommendations. If the change is having a positive impact, the findings of the committee will reflect this. If we need to make a further change it is much better to act sooner rather than later especially as we have seen a number of significant adverse events.
Since the rollout and the implementation of the new plan, it is surely preferable to take a proactive rather than a reactive approach and not be here in three years time saying, 'I wish we had acted sooner'.
A concern raised with me in many parts of my electorate is the perception of secrecy around the regulation and events that occur within the industry. As we know, perception is reality for many and it is erosion of trust and credibility that results. This is an opportunity for the Government, the department and the industry to put the facts on the table and allow them to be tested, and for community concerns or commendations to be put forward and responded to in an open and transparent manner. The majority of people I speak to around the state support marine farming, provided it is regulated in such a way that the natural environment is not adversely impacted and the wild fishery, which we all rely on, is not harmed. I support this view.
The proposed terms of reference were provided some time ago to industry representatives and other key stakeholders, including recreational and commercial fishers who operate in our wild fisheries. Feedback was provided and the terms of reference I proposed were broadly supported at that time, with some suggested changes to the proposed terms of reference made by the industry and incorporated into the motion before us.
I also acknowledge and note the 2015 Senate select committee inquiry and report. This report strongly supported the Tasmanian salmon industry and made only three recommendations for minor improvements.
However, I share the concern with the majority of Tasmanians that the current regulatory framework needs review and possibly change. With such rapid growth in the industry over the last few years, including since the 2015 inquiry, the recent fish mortalities and the proposed expansion in other areas, we need to be on the front foot here. We cannot afford to sit back and say in two or three years' time, gosh, we really should have looked at that sooner.
There has been a lot happening in the last three years. There has been a rapid expansion in the industry, and more research and knowledge about the waterways where marine farming is occurring, which must be taken into consideration. We simply cannot take an approach of 'wait and see' regarding the proposed changes to management and the regulatory framework. We must take a much more proactive approach as serious harm that could be occurring in Macquarie Harbour, for example, is likely to take many years to remediate and recover from, if it ever does.
I commend the Government for taking some action following the Senate report. However, in light of recent events, including the Macquarie Harbour mortalities, the storm damage in Storm Bay, new marine farming leases, and proposed expansion of current marine farms, we must be sure these actions and the planned actions are in the long-term interests of the industry, the environment and the other economic drivers, such as tourism and the wild fishery that need to coexist. We need to be sure the regulatory framework is robust, transparent and enforceable. We need to understand the challenges and solutions to ensure the long-term future of this industry. If we wait another two or three years, harm may be irreversible and job losses across industry beyond the marine farming could result.
We must not let down the employees of the marine farming industry, the commercial wild fishers, tourism operators and their employees by not ensuring this important industry can be operated in a sustainable manner that coexists with these other industries. Other industries also contribute significantly to our economy. If change is needed, it should be backed by rigorous, independent, scientific evidence and research based on facts, and supported both in intent and application by all stakeholders.
The Senate inquiry was over three years ago and there have been many challenges and changes since then - changes in stocking levels, changes in the number of pens, and changes in fish health and welfare. We have recently seen mass mortalities in Macquarie Harbour predominantly caused by a viral infection contracted by the farmed fish from exposure to wild fish from the wild fishery. When fish are distressed due to other factors, the risk of contraction of this type of infection is more likely. Circumstances such as overstocking or low oxygen levels can cause farmed fish significant stress and make them more vulnerable to these types of infection.
The recent decisions of the Environment Protection Authority following these deaths would suggest that we have been slow to act and we need to know more about the rigour of current processes in light of this. The reality of this decision in Macquarie Harbour, and perhaps the tragedy of it, is that it was the environment that rang the bell well before the decision was made - not the regulator or the industry that has prime responsibility for this beautiful area.
I am well aware that the Government is currently implementing a range of changes that were proposed and developed under the previous minister. We would all agree this is important and very necessary. The call for me to delay this inquiry to enable all aspects to be fully implemented is not necessarily the best approach, in my view. As we know, there are serious issues facing the industry. If this motion is supported, the work of the committee will take some time to commence due to the nature of the process, and to take evidence and to prepare a report. I believe it is timely to review and check on the actions that have been taken, as well as those proposed, to ensure we protect the industry as well as the environment. It may well be the case that such an inquiry finds many positive aspects to the current framework. This would be a very positive outcome and hopefully will instill public confidence.
However, if further change is needed, this must be identified before the industry, coexisting industries and our natural environment suffer more harm. I am sure all members would be aware of the level of public interest in this issue. It has not been assisted by the secrecy surrounding the reporting of fish mortalities and other important indicators of the health and welfare of the fish, the industry and the environment.
The time is now to undertake such an important body of work. This inquiry would establish whether change is needed and if so, what change. I believe marine farming can coexist with wild fisheries; however, effective regulation of both is necessary. The majority of people recognise the employment opportunities and support marine farming provided it is regulated in such a way that the natural environment is not adversely impacted and the wild fisheries that we all rely upon is not harmed. As I said, this is a view I support.
I share the concern of the majority of Tasmanians who are concerned with the current regulatory framework and suggest it needs review. It may need to change to ensure the future of both the marine farming industry and the wild fishery. Both marine farming and the wild fishery contribute significantly to the Tasmanian economy and employment in this state. We must ensure a regulatory framework that is robust and backed by independent scientific research, and transparent, if both can continue to survive and thrive.
The need for quality protein increases as our population increases, the world population increases and more people are lifted out of poverty in developing nations. We see that happening all around the world. We need to do our part to provide fish as an important protein food to Australians, as well as to international customers. If we import fish from other countries, we risk literally taking this protein-rich food out of their mouths. We need to have an industry that is sustainable in Tasmania and that can support the need for protein in our world.
As far as the approach taken to refer this to Government Administration Committee B, I am well aware I am not on Government Administration Committee B, but this inquiry would fit entirely - both environment wise and with the department of Primary Industries and Water - with committee B. Not being a member, I thought this would be the most effective way to refer this matter to that committee. Should the motion be supported, I would seek substitute membership as marine farming occurs in many parts of my very large electorate which has significant coastline and Macquarie Harbour, the coast of which is mostly contained in the harbour. I know the members for Huon, Rosevears and Prosser will also have significant interest; however, that is a matter for another time.
An inquiry as proposed will ensure a thorough, rigorous and transparent approach using independent scientific evidence in current and future marine farming. The future of the industry and the economic benefit associated with the employment and the future of our nature environment rely on, and depend on, a robust, scientifically based, transparent regulatory process. I urge all honourable members to support the motion.
Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, I thank members for their contributions and will address some of the points raised.
About the timing, if we are heading down the wrong path, is it not better to identify that sooner rather than later? A number of things have been done. The member for Windermere read out some of the plan which, in my view, does not have a lot of detail. Things were done between 2014 and 2017. Now is the time to have a look at that.
I do not want to be standing here in 18 months' or two or three years' time, saying, 'I wish we had a look at this sooner because we are heading down the right path'.
Mrs Hiscutt - You might say it is a wonderful job and a review is not needed.
Ms FORREST - That is what I am going to say. There seems to be this perception, and I spoke to the minister about this, that the committee will come up with negative findings. It might not. It could say we are heading down the right track. Is it not better to know that and give the public some confidence in it?
Members who spoke against the motion referred to the industry's view. That is an important view, but other views have not been canvassed.
We have seen a whole new level here from the member for Windermere who quotes and supports the unions. He also talks about the 24 recommendations. They are the Greens' recommendations, not the committee's recommendations. They are the 24 recommendations made by the Greens. Not only is he standing by the unions, the member for Windermere is also standing by the Greens. We will see in theMercury tomorrow that the member for Windermere has suddenly joined the Greens and the union movement.
Mr Dean - I was a president of a union at one stage.
Ms FORREST - Concern from the industry's point of view is valid, and I do not dispute that, but it is important to remember there are other stakeholders. Every Tasmanian is a stakeholder in this. Every Tasmanian cares about our brand and cares about employment in the marine farming industry, but the wild fishery employment for the tourism industry and the flow on from all of that is important.
It is important we do give everyone the opportunity to have some input into this. I acknowledge that the Government is doing some good work.
The member for Hobart pointed out that the industry has received a lot of flak over time, but that it was not unwarranted.
The member for Huon talked about how he went to New Zealand and looked at the industry there. He said we are streets ahead, going in leaps and bounds. It must be from a pretty low base if you base Macquarie Harbour on that because some of us have been down to Macquarie Harbour and had a look. Have you talked to the locals down there? Have you seen that the EPA has had to make a significant reduction in stocking levels? Has the member seen the impact of those 1.35 million fish who died just recently? Small fish, not big ones, but they died, all of them 1.35 million fish. It is not insignificant stuff. If you look under some of the pens, and, yes they are going to be fallowed now as they need to be, but sometimes harm to our beautiful Macquarie Harbour will take centuries to correct. Not 18 months or a couple of years, but centuries.
We look at the mining legacy of the past from Mt Lyell and the King and Queen rivers. You look at that and see how damage can be done. To say we will wait a few more years and look at it then - if we are heading down the wrong path that could be too late for Macquarie Harbour.
I do not know for sure, but there is genuine concern among some of the old timers around Strahan who are not raving greenies. They do not even call themselves environmentalists. They call themselves shooters, fishers and hunters. That is where they come from. They are concerned and have raised concerns.
The harbour itself has raised concerns. The environment in the harbour is what rang the bell on this. The EPA has responded and some would argue better late than never. How much late is it?
The member for Hobart said the industry has been moving to clean up the industry. Yes, they have, but they needed to. When you look at Macquarie Harbour, they needed to. I am not disputing with you; I am agreeing with you.
The whole thing about the secrecy has been an issue. The secrecy about the mortalities, secrecy about what has gone on. The public want better than that. The portal that has been talked about, and the Leader mentioned that, is to be operated by the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies as an independent middle organisation to provide that portal of access to information, but that was agreed to ages ago. We still have not seen it implemented fully.
I understand it is going to be fairly soon and that is good. That is not part of the regulation. That is about some of the transparency about releasing information.
Is the legislative framework adequate? This harm can last a long time. We need to be sure we are on the front foot. A lot of change has happened in the last three years since the Senate inquiry. The Senate inquiry made only three recommendations and the Leader referred to those in her closing comments.
They do not go very far to the terms of reference I have proposed. I will read them for the benefit of the member for Windermere so he knows which ones we are talking about -
The committee recommends that the Tasmanian Government support the greater provision of environmental information and data relating to the fin-fish industry by the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment.
That is the portal that is being developed. This is three years and we still do not have it -
The committee recommends that the Tasmanian Government give consideration to amending the Marine Farming Planning Act 1995 to provide a statutory obligation for the Marine Farming Planning and Review Panel to hold public hearings.
They have done that. Is it working? Are people feeling satisfied that is okay? That is only one aspect. The Marine Farming Planning Review is to give people an opportunity to have a say. It is not very broad in terms of regulatory framework -
The committee recommends that the Tasmania Government ensure that the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment is provided with sufficient resources to undertake planning, monitoring and compliance of the primary industry sector.
We can ask all those questions in Estimates to see what is happening there. This is not about that. It is about the regulation of the industry into the future.
I am not going to read the 24 recommendations from the Greens because that was a dissenting report. The chair, Senator Anne Urquhart, also made additional comments in the report.
There have been many changes. I said earlier that there has been a rapid increase in the amount of marine farming, proposals from marine farming and the mortalities we saw, which we have trouble getting information on.
I am sure members may recall me asking a question last sitting about the number of mortalities. I was asking for the information about the total mortalities in Macquarie Harbour. Not individual businesses. I was told it was commercially sensitive. Within a few days, on ABC Radio, the director of the EPA told Leon Compton it was 1.35 million fish.
It was not commercially sensitive. It was not going to break down each individual business because that could create some issues for publicly listed companies. I was not asking for that.
That is what many of my constituents have told me they believe to be the number or thereabouts. Let us be honest and open, and let us not treat the people of Tasmania and my constituents with contempt. That is what the Government has been doing in my view, because I legitimately asked the question and I was given some furphy of an answer.
Hopefully the portal might help provide that. I am not sure we will receive more tallies reporting through the portal. We will see.
The union's comments about creating stress: if we do not get this right, there will be more stress because jobs will be lost, not just in the marine farming industry - it could be in the wild fishery or in tourism. Macquarie Harbour relies very much on tourism. The RACT just invested in a big new boat to travel the harbour and up the Gordon River, with electric motors to prevent noise and reduce the wake, which is fabulous. These businesses have made very significant financial commitments. We do not want to see their industry damaged either. We need to be sure we are on the right track.
The member for Derwent talked about the representations from industry and unions and they have their own interests. I expect you talk about the unions - that is what the Labor Party does. This is not a threat to the unions. It is not a threat to the industry. It is an opportunity to put all the good work on the record if there has been significant progress, in a timely manner, and make sure we are on the right track. If we are not, the sooner we know, the sooner we can make other recommendations and change the direction.
This is on the record now. If it happens, I will be able to come back and say that I told you so. Hopefully I will not have to. I absolutely do not want it to be the case. I do not want to look back and wish we had taken a closer look.
The member for McIntyre talked about the industry lifting its game. The EPA and the harbour forced them to do so, as did the people down there who had really genuine concerns.
The Leader talked about the expected growth in the industry continuing. We are seeing stock levels reduced in Macquarie Harbour, so it is not growing too quickly at the current time. There are other proposals for expansion but that is a few years off. We can say, 'Let us see what happens in the far north-west.' Petuna is monitoring that at the moment. It has a map with hatched areas on it indicating areas it will not consider because it is a shark nursery fishery, or a squid fishery, or where there is abalone, or where there are other issues with water temperature and currents. Even when they identify areas that may be suitable, they are going to have to have a full on, much more expensive monitoring process. That is going to be some time away. You cannot do that monitoring in a month because conditions change, the seasons change. It is an interesting body of water.
In terms of saying we need time to implement all these changes, there has been some time. According to the Sustainable Industry Growth Plan for the Salmon Industry - the member for Windermere quoted the whole section on page 3 - all these things were done some three or four years ago. I believe it is time. We have our own opinion on that and I respect the will of the House, but I encourage members to support the inquiry. It will not start next week. The committee still has to meet and decide what they will do. I would like the opportunity to sub onto the inquiry. It is not going to happen overnight and we have the budget session and all other work stops. It is not saying it is going to happen next week, even if it is supported. I urge members to support the motion so we do not find ourselves back here wishing we had.
The Council divided -
Mr Valentine (Teller)
Mr Finch (Teller)
Motion negatived.Go Back