Published: 15 October 2017

Legislative Council Tuesday 26 September 2017

Ms  FORREST (Murchison ) - Mr President, as members would know finfish farming is an important part of my electorate and has been for a very long time.  Macquarie Harbour has been a matter raised with me a number of times over the last 12 and a half years, since my election and being in this place.  What made me really stand up and take notice was when we started hearing from some of the old timers on the west coast.  I call them 'old timers' because they have lived there all their lives.  They were starting to express grave concern about the health of the harbour. 

These are not rabid Greenies.  They have lived in the area for a long time and probably are seen and known by many people as being conservative in their views.  This made me very aware of the need to be very careful about what we do in our natural environment.  These people raising genuine concerns were pro development, pro fish farming, pro expansion of opportunities for employment and other aspects in our state.  But they were raising legitimate concerns.  They have lived there all their lives and have seen things change in the harbour.

That has been an ongoing matter for some time.  Over that time, there has been an expansion of the fish farming in the harbour.  We have seen changes in practices, pressure put on the companies operating in the harbour to change their practices and a lot of disagreement about what is an appropriate stocking level.  Other factors come into play when looking at dissolved oxygen levels in the harbour and matters that impact on the health of the fish and the harbour.

It is important the framework is right to ensure what we do in our natural environment does not harm it.

We thought it was okay 100 plus years ago to spew all sorts of toxic stuff out of Mount Lyell copper mine and we can all see the legacy in the Queen River.  It will take hundreds of years for that horrible stain to disappear.  At the time, they may have had some indication it was not great to be letting all that stuff run down the river, but it was what was done at the time.  There was no regularity framework to make it otherwise.  Now we know it is a bad thing and do not allow it to happen now.  

We cannot be blind to the genuine concerns raised by fellow Tasmanians about potential harms that could have been done.  If we do we risk not only the brand of Tasmanian food and Tasmanian salmon, we risk the brand of Tasmania.  When you talk to people overseas they think Tasmania is about the size of a five cent piece and one rogue fish farmer who damages our natural environment and harms the salmon industry will damage the whole salmon industry and damage Tasmania.

Mr Valentine - The brand.

Ms FORREST - Yes, the brand; the brand of our salmon, the brand of our Tasmanian natural environment and food, and our clean, green image.  We cannot afford to be complacent in this area.

Many people have very little time for the Greens in Tasmania - but the Greens have helped to focus our attention on these matters.  I honestly do not agree with a lot of things the Greens say and do but they are also not the only custodians and people who care about our natural environment.  I believe we all do.  If we do not, we are in the wrong job.

It is important when we put legislation in place to look at environmental regulation, which is what this is, that we make sure we consider all the long-term implications as well as the short-term.

This legislation is difficult legislation to scrutinise.  It amends a number of acts in significant ways, for example, the Environmental Management and Pollution Control Act and the Marine Farming Planning Act.  Other acts get some smaller amendments, most inconsequential.  It does change acts.

When you have an amendment bill before you, you have to try to fit all these clauses into the principal act to understand what it is doing, which is the challenge here.  You cannot just pick it up and read it and think, that makes sense.  You have to go back to the principal act and make sure what it is seeking to do is what it does.

I have not been able to form an opinion that what this legislation says it is going to do, it will do.  I am reasonably confident the intention is right.  The work done to establish a framework removes the regulation and the operation of fish farming away from ministerial control into the Environment Protection Authority and is the right thing to do.  I do not have any question about that.  I am sure at other times we will be further amending bills to tidy up little things as they become apparent.  No doubt, once we start applying the provisions of this legislation, those teething and settling in problems will become apparent.

From the second reading speech, the information provided and reading through the legislation and clause notes, it provides a reasonable balance between the assessment processes and the appeal rights.  On both sides, and I hesitate to call it sides because it should not be about sides, it is about the proponents or operators of finfish farming operations.  They are the ones wanting to undertake activity which will become a level 2 activity which is another positive step in this legislation.  They need to have a right to appeal if the proponents on a development are being unreasonable, vexatious or frivolous.  Those people with genuine concerns also need to have process, an appeal right, to make sure their concerns can be raised in an appropriate form.

This strikes that balance.  It is never easy.  How far can you appeal and how many appeal rights should there be.  It is important that appeal rights exist and they seem to be fairly balanced.

I will speak on some of the other points raised by the Acting Leader in her second reading speech.  She said -

The bill does five main things … It amends the Environmental Management and Pollution Control Act 1994, the Marine Farming Planning Act 1995, the Living Marine Resources Act 1995, the Inland Fisheries Act 1995 and the Resource Management and Planning Appeal Tribunal Act 1993 in order to modernise relevant planning, regulatory and management processes associated with finfish farming that occur across a number of associated frameworks without causing duplication or inefficiencies.

It remains to be seen whether it does create those efficiencies.  Hopefully it will.  It does separate those roles of leaving the assessment and overarching assessment of proposals and other matters under this that fall within the scope of the bill to the board and the regulatory work and the day-to-day management of the industry to the director.

As other members have indicated, I also have a great degree of confidence in our current director.  Directors will be appointed in the future equally well skilled and equipped to manage this important role.  It is not just about finfish farming; it is a very large task and requires a lot of skill.

This bill also establishes an environmental licence as a new regulatory instrument that will apply to the environmental regulation of both marine and freshwater finfish farming activities, including hatcheries.  That hopefully will create some of that certainty and clarity for all businesses wanting to get involved or are already involved and wanting to expand or change their practices.  It is really a more comprehensive - maybe you could say 'one-stop shop' - to know where they have to go to get the relevant licences.  Hopefully that will make it more straightforward.  Maybe that is the bit of red tape being removed.  There are a lot more steps in it and there are still a number of requirements, as there should be, to be granted a licence and a lease to finfish-farm.

It also makes the Environmental Management and Pollution Control Act the primary legislation for managing the environmental regulations of the finfish industry.  That is entirely appropriate.  It is a primary industry.  It is growing food but it comes with inherent risks of creating pollution.  It is very important that it be environmentally managed to ensure that there is not harm to our natural environment that could damage it for the future or create problems for the fish themselves.  It comes back to an animal health aspect as well.  If there are issues with the health of the fish, then that is not appropriate either.

The bill also provides for the declaration and revocation of finfish marine farming exclusion zones or no grow zones, and a prohibition on the preparation of marine farming development plans for finfish farming in areas where there is a finfish marine farming exclusion zone or no grow zone.  I asked some questions in the briefing about the process for revocation or proclamation of these zones.  If it is a disallowable instrument, it requires the approval of the Governor after it has been approved by the Parliament, or not disallowed by the Parliament.  I am waiting on a few answers to questions about the process of that, to be sure it is only a five day sitting period.  Should there be a delay in debating the disallowance motion, for example, would that automatically deem it approved if it went beyond the five sitting days?  I am sure the Acting Leader will provide some information.  I have some feedback from the department on this but I appreciate her putting it on the record.

There is also the reality, as I understand it, that if it is not dealt with within three months, then it is deemed approved.  There are circumstances where parliament may not sit for three months.  When we break in December, if there is an election the following year, depending on when parliament is prorogued and everything falls off the Notice Paper, I assume everything will be reinstated again and that time would start again.  I am seeking clarity on that.  If there was a three month period before parliament was prorogued and we were not here to deal with it, for example, whether there would be a revocation or a proclamation, it could be deemed approved.  I would appreciate some feedback in the Acting Leader's response prior to the debate on that matter.

The fifth main thing this bill does is strengthen the role of the Director of the EPA in relation to the planning and development processes associated with finfish farming, while the overall planning and development process for marine finfish farming will remain substantially unchanged and will continue under existing legislation.  Many Tasmanians, not just environmentalists, have been calling for a strengthening of the role of the Director of the EPA to ensure they feel confident that genuine concerns raised have an appropriate forum and there is the capacity, rigour and power within the EPA to appropriately manage what is an important industry in the state but also one that, if mismanaged, can cause incredible harm.  It is that balance.  I am hopeful that it gives the greater clarity and certainty the industry is after, and that it also meets the needs of those with genuine concerns about activities that have the potential to harm the natural environment.

It is interesting that I have not had any major representations of concern on this bill.  It appears that the majority of those involved in the industry are supportive of this approach.  In many respects this is what some of them have been asking for, which is good.  You cannot expect this sort of legislation to be drawn up in a matter of a week or two; it does take time.  Even with the amendments that have been proposed, I am sure we will be back at a later time tidying up a few other things that have been overlooked along the way.  The complexity of the amendment to the bill just to fix what is essentially one problem, it seems, highlights how challenging this can be.

I look forward to the Leader's responses to those matters I have raised and other members' contributions.  This is an important step in the right direction.  It is an appropriate framework.  It should instil more confidence and certainty, not only for the industry but also for all Tasmanians who want to see a thriving industry but also want to see an industry that respects our natural environment.

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