Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Question without notice - Parliament House

11 September 2012

MELISSA PARK (MEMBER FOR FREMANTLE): Can the minister update the house on the latest information concerning the super trawler recently renamed FV Abel Tasman. How does the government intend to act to protect our marine life and fishing resources?

MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT TONY BURKE: Thanks very much Deputy Speaker. This government is very proud of its record in protecting our oceans. This government is very proud to make sure that we take a cautious approach in the management of our oceans. And I want to acknowledge the Member for Fremantle as one of the member members of the backbench across this chamber and members of the front bench who have taken an active interest in wanting to make sure that any fishing activity is sustainable and the scientific basis of any fishing activity is up to date.

One of the concerns that has taken place with the development of the super trawler previously called the Margiris, now renamed the Abel Tasman is the fact that unlike other vessels it is able to remain in the one location for an extended period of time which throws up some significant environmental issues which had not been contemplated previously within fisheries management.

To make sure that we are properly maintaining the protection of the ocean that we need, for the fish stocks, but also for the significant issues of by catch whether it be dolphins, whether it be seals, whether it be sea lions, whether it be sea birds. Making sure that the correct protections are put in place was the reason that some weeks ago I asked my department for advice to see what the limits of my legal powers were at the moment to be able to have a highly precautionary approach to this issue.

That advice came back last Monday and as members would be aware that I put some extra conditions in place but the legal power fell well short of where I had hoped it would be. That's why I have announced today that when the law falls short you change the law and we will be changing the law and moving legislation in this parliament today to be able to provide extended powers over this particular vessel.

There has been a huge outcry of public interest in this where people have seen the dangers if something goes wrong. Whether it be people with environmental concerns, whether it be the huge recreational fishing community that's been concerned at wanting to make sure that their fish stocks remain in place.

I hear people calling out risk, but you never hear them calling out environmental risk. And I don't know what their problem is with the oceans. Why is it that when we try to protect it in this case they are against it, when we put in national parks they are against it, when we fight with Campbell Newman over protecting the Great Barrier Reef they are against it.

You need to have a cautious approach, you need to adopt a precautionary principle in dealing with the oceans. We end up with positions, we end up with decisions that aren't science base. But we are not willing to rush decisions when the underpinning information is still not yet before us. In this way there will be a pause on different operations legally available while the expert work is done.