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Joint press conference on the super trawler and mining royalties

Rachel Siewert 11 Sep 2012


 Subjects: super trawler, mining royalties

CHRISTINE MILNE:  Well I just want to congratulate campaigners, communities, recreational fishers, environmentalists, my colleagues in the Green party around the country, who have been organising meetings, petitions, working online, in community halls to bring to the Government's attention the level of community anger about the decision to allow the super trawler into Australia's waters and the decision to double the fishing quota to enable the super trawler to operate here.

Right up until today we've had both Ministers Burke and Ludwig saying everything was fine, that the science had been done, that the fisheries management plan was adequate, and the communities and my colleagues here in the Parliament and I have been raising this issue over and over again in the Parliament, even at the highest level, I raised this with Prime Minister both in person and in writing. I am really delighted that the result of that combined effort across the country has meant that the super trawler has stalled. That's all you can say about how far we've got today because it has meant that the Government has effectively said the super trawler will be stalled until one year after the next federal election. That doesn't go far enough. The community wants the super trawler stopped. The community wants to make sure that we go back to the level of fishing that was allowable previously in terms of the quota and so for that reason the Greens will continue this campaign because we need to give Australians assurance that we're not going to have super trawlers in Australian waters acting as huge vacuum cleaners, sucking the fish out of the sea but more particularly hurting the bycatch, whether that's sea birds, whether that's turtles, whether that's seals, sea lions and the rest.

So we welcome this stalling of the super trawler but it doesn't go far enough, but we're really heartened by the level of community support and activism around the country and I really hope that this is the beginning of empowerment of communities to step up and really campaign on environment issues. But to the issue of the quota - Peter

PETER WHISH-WILSON: Thanks Christine. For three months now we've been going through a process of researching super trawlers and their quota allocation process put forward by AFMA that would allow a super trawler to operate in Australian waters. We've met with the fisheries minister's department, we've met with AFMA, a number of scientists and a lot of other stakeholders. It has become very obvious to us that wherever super trawlers have been around the world they've created controversy. It was interesting to see in the media release today the fisheries Minister in a self-congratulatory tone talking about cleaning up his own mess. Seven years they've been planning to bring this super trawler into Australian waters. Senator Abetz on record said that the Liberals have been planning to bring this here for three years. It's fascinating to see that the level of public reaction wasn't anticipated and today they finally admitted that they hadn't addressed the risks, there was significant uncertainty in the fisheries management plan that was in place, or the lack of fisheries management plan, especially in the area of localised depletion. We've concentrate very hard in the Senate firstly to reverse the quota, to go back to its default position, which is where it's been for a number of years, and we've also tried to have that quota disallowed. That still hasn't happened, we've seen no detail on that at all today from any media, over the media conference or the briefing we got from the Minister's department this morning so that's something we're going to be focusing very clearly on.

CHRISTINE MILNE: We're also going to move in relation to banning super trawlers.

RACHEL SIEWERT: I've got a motion in the Senate today basically to ban super trawlers and this goes to reversing the onus of proof. We believe we should be banning super trawlers and then if the science is there they could then reverse that and then effectively allowing them if the science allows it. But banning them would actually reverse the onus of proof and then put the onus on them to prove that they are not causing damage rather than the way the Government is doing it which is to allow them to proceed if the science shows that it's okay. We believe they should be only allowed to use the science to reverse that banning, in other words they need the best possible science if the super trawler was to proceed, but then the standard position would be no super trawlers in our waters which we believe clearly reflects what the community wants.

JOURNALIST: How would your amendment take? Couldn't that be you know several years, more than two years, up to five, up to ten to prove the science?

RACHEL SIEWERT: The problem of course that we have here is the fishing community, some members of the fishing community say that they want the science. For 25 years I've been involved in marine conservation and for 25 years certain members of the fishing industry have been saying there's no science to prove that marine reserves work. Well there is the science there, it's been there for a long time but they refuse to believe it so we believe we need to be reversing the onus of proof so that they have to rely on the science to prove that they can fish rather than the other way around.

PETER WHISH-WILSON: I think with the questions around the AFMA allocation process that have been raised and the investigation in the ombudsman's office and also given what we saw today which was a last-minute recognition that the risks hadn't been addressed, I think the community concern and public interest is of such a high extent that actually putting a ban in place now would probably be what the community wants because there is such a lack of trust out there that this is going to be done in the right way. So I think the onus of proof would probably get significant support from people.

JOURNALIST: The Government's also announced a broader review into fisheries management, what kind of, you obviously will make a submission to that, what's your wish list?

RACHEL SIEWERT: We believe that it's, we do support the review of the whole of AFMA and the whole approach because as I said the approach that's been taken at the moment is that it's okay to fish unless proven otherwise and we believe that the precautionary principle needs to underline proving fisheries management plans. This also goes to the assessment of ecological sustainability of fisheries which is included in the Environmental Protection Biodiversity and Conservation Act and we need to be looking at amendments there as well and the process for accreditation of fisheries, that they are ecologically sustainable. So I agree with the Minister for once, there does need to be a root and branch assessment of our approach to fisheries in this country.

JOURNALIST: Looking at your proposal, have you looked at what impact that might have on the fishing industry if the super trawlers were banned for a number of years?

PETER WHISH-WILSON: Yes I can answer that fairly directly. This fishery is not being utilised. The quota that was in place last year - 99.6 per cent of that quota wasn't fished. The quotas right across the border the last ten years haven't been fished, so we don't actually think there will be any direct impact on the small pelagic fisheries. We've heard this line that's a bit disingenuous that this boat's no different from 50 trawlers, well the answer to that is it is, because we don't have 50 trawlers operating in this fishery. This boat is very specifically being brought out -

JOURNALIST: is this line from Government or -

PETER WHISH-WILSON: No this is what's been really obvious to me as I've been researching this, we've been told that's one of the key arguments that's being used by the proponents for this -

JOURNALIST: Tony Burke -

PETER WHISH-WILSON: If I could just finish - the difference between this boat and 50 boats is this boat is a very efficient fish catching machine. It can go out there for weeks and months on end and follow very large schools of fish, and this is what actually what Minister Burke was focusing on today and what we have been focused on, that's what the wreck fishing groups have been focusing on. There's no plan in place to prevent depletion of fish stocks in a small area where people might for example have their fishing spot, or where you might have hot spots for ecology like seal colonies etc so this hasn't been addressed, and it is the issue that this trawler has been dogged with everywhere it's gone and other trawlers all around the world as well.

JOURNALIST: Do you think this is the case of Minister Burke having to clean up the mess with Joe Ludwig here and in your opinion when could this have been stopped? This ship has come I think all the way from Europe, Andrew Wilkie's called for it to go all the way back to Europe and so at what point do you think this could have been stopped?

CHRISTINE MILNE: This could have been stopped many times over the last six or seven as they've been planning for the super trawler to come to Australia. The Ministers have always had the power, it's incredible that Tony Burke should now talk about the precautionary principle. The precautionary principle is clearly there in the objectives of the EPBC Act. What has happened is that the ministers have been called to account for failing to use the opportunities they've got in their legislative frameworks to actually stop the super trawler. And what happened was a carefully manufactured strategy inside the Labor party to create the space for the ministers to be seen to respond to public opinion. This wasn't a revolt of the backbench, this was a carefully stage managed meeting this morning in order for the ministers to look as if they had done something good. All they've done is shown to Australians that actually they don't embrace the precautionary principle, they've never really embrace the science, they've never acknowledged that the size wasn't there for localised depletion factors. They have never acknowledged that the precautionary principle was not taken into account and so what we're now seeing is catching up after the community has spoken. And that's why this is so encouraging to see the community speak out in such numbers and with such strength that the Government has had to respond. Having said that though, all that has happened is the super trawler has stalled, it has been stalled until one year after the next federal election. The quota has been doubled and that double quota sits there and equally after the next election the next government can bring on the super trawler and say 'oh we've done the work now and it's allowed.' That's why it's important with the community wanting this to be stopped that we now ban the super trawler and in fact go back and halve that quota so that you don't have on the books their potential to come again 12 months after the election.

JOURNALIST: Do you think given that the super trawler proponents have put seven years work into this decision it's exposed the tax payer to compensating them?

CHRISTINE MILNE: It depends entirely on what discussions the proponents have had with the Government in this regard but I have to say super trawlers have depleted fish stocks from one end of the planet to the other, they have collapsed the fisheries in the Pacific, they've collapsed the fisheries off West Africa, they would know full well that the consequences are likely to be at some point in a developed country especially that people are not going to take to it in a way that they have been able to succeed in other parts of the world. So their directors should have been fully aware that once the community got engaged on this there was a big political risk to them, a sovereign risk to them associated with a democratic country like ours. So I don't know, I'm not privy to the discussions the ministers may have had with the proponents of the super trawler but I would say that this is a democratic country where the Parliament has to decide and the Parliament is going to speak.

JOURNALIST: The Coalition is adamant that this decision could create a sovereign risk and scare off other major fishers who want to operate in Australia.

CHRISTINE MILNE: It's clear first of all that the Coalition was very keen to have the super trawler and is still keen to have the super trawler, that was obvious from Senator Abetz and Senator Colbeck in the Senate when we spoke about the disallowance. They weren't prepared to disallow the quota, as far as they're concerned everything hunky-dory and it can go ahead. So I'm not in the least bit surprised that the Coalition would take view.

PETER WHISH-WILSON: Could I also add, very important in relation to this, I raised it in the Senate yesterday in question time, in 2005 a super trawler that was 36 metres smaller than this called the Veronica II was brought to Australia and two Liberal ministers sent it packing, didn't grant it a licence, and it's on Hansard if you want to read it, how the question was actually answered, but it's a bit hypocritical of the Liberals to be saying something like that when they actually did it themselves seven years ago,  so I think that's important to get that on record.

JOURNALIST: This new process that the ministers are going to establish through the legislation, do you think that that would give them the power to veto any sort of trawler operating in Australian waters?

CHRISTINE MILNE: We'll have to see the detail of the legislation, all we've heard is the press conference, we haven't seen the details of the legislation, until we do we couldn't answer that.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it's healthy for policy making though that these sorts of decisions can be made at the whim of ministers, particularly if they're sensitive to public campaigns?

CHRISTINE MILNE: It's clearly much better if we have appropriate and tough scientific processes that are transparent and that are comprehensive. What is being shown up is an inadequacy in the whole assessment process and that will be addressed but it is preferable clearly to have a proper process set out, but having said that, community values change, the community wants transparency, the community wants its views taken into account and that's what a democratic parliament is for.

JOURNALIST: Given the bungling Joe Ludwig has had with live animal exports and now with the fishing super trawler matter, should he keep his job?

CHRISTINE MILNE: That's entirely a matter for the Prime Minister.

JOURNALIST: Have you spoken to Seafish Tasmania about how this decision may affect them in the last few weeks, or today or -

PETER WHISH-WILSON: I met with Seafish a couple weeks ago had very good conversation with him, with Gerry, Gerry Geen, as I did meet with Coalition Senators to try and get support for my disallowance motion and as mentioned earlier we met with research scientists who support the trawler, a number of them, and we met with the fisheries people at AFMA, so we have tried to get all stakeholder information in our processes.

JOURNALIST: And Gerry Geen did he convey to you what the impact of this decision, or a ban might be on his -

PETER WHISH-WILSON: No, we didn't talk about that at all, he talked about the uncertainty of the disallowance motion, but it was nothing specific on this. Could I mention something that was raised a little bit earlier about potential changes to AFMA and probably the reason we're having this conversation today, and I think Senator Siewert would probably be able to add a lot to this too, it's a user pay system that is set up for AFMA. So the reason that a large number of the research is missing from the small pelagic fisheries is there's been no money to actually fund that research and Seafish themselves were going to have to go and fund that research while they were out fishing and this was one of the key issues that the community had significant concerns, we haven't had the funding in place to essentially provide the scientists with the liquid funding that they need to actually do that scientific work, and that's something I think will no doubt be addressed.

CHRISTINE MILNE: I just wanted to mention one other matter. This afternoon I'll be giving notice of a private member's bill to address the loophole in the Minerals Resource Rent Tax. Clearly Campbell Newman has foreshadowed in the budget today in Queensland that he intends to increase the coal royalties in that state. That will leave a big hole in the federal budget if he continues with that because under the negotiated changes that Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan made any increase in royalties from the state for coal would be repaid to the companies. We simply can't afford that.

Already both the Government and the Coalition talk about how they're going to spend money but not how they're going to raise money. The Greens have been saying all along we are prepared to raise money, we've said that, we've put up a number of ideas about how we would do that including of course getting rid of fossil fuel subsidies, but we cannot have a situation where the income coming into the Commonwealth is so compromised by having given the green light to the State Governments to increase their own royalties. So what this would do is plug that loophole, it would peg it to the 1 July 2011 so that any increase in royalties by state post that time would not be repaid to the companies. That will at least save around $10 billion projected out to 2020 and give us a chance of putting some of the money that I know the community really wants to go into the implementation of the Gonski review, more money into public education, more money into Denticare, more money into national disability, we really need to raise money, we're prepared to do it and the Greens have got a bill in, and I'll be giving notice of that this afternoon.


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