Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Senator the Hon Joe Ludwig MP

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

Press Conference: Supertrawler – Murray Darling Basin reform - Tasmanian Forestry - Wheat Export Marketing Bill – live animal exports

11 September 2012
E&OE only

TONY BURKE: Thank you very much. Some weeks ago I first announced I was seeking advice from my department on the extent of the legal powers that I would have as Environment Minister concerning the Margiris or now more recently renamed the Abel Tasman or more commonly referred to as a super trawler.

JOE LUDWIG: Thanks very much. Of course this is a sensible step taken by the Government to ensure that we continue to have sustainable managed fisheries in Australia. While Minister Burke – was looking at his powers I also had an opportunity to go through the management powers that are available to me.

QUESTION:  Can I ask you Minister – how could you possibly be uncertain given that your fisheries management team has been working on the science of this for years and continues to do that – what are you uncertain about? Is it the size of the boat or the size of the quota?

JOE LUDWIG: Let's be clear. In travelling through various stakeholders' groups, Rec Fishing groups, they've raised concerns around the environment. They've raised concerns around social impacts. They've raised concerns around the economics of the boat. All of those matters have led me to conclude that there is uncertainty around the environmental science.

QUESTION:  Is the size of the boat or the size of the quota?

TONY BURKE: It's the capacity of the boat to stay in the same location for an extended period of time. You see the quota that you talk about stretches all the way from South Australia up to Queensland. If you have a large number of vessels taking different parts of the quota from different areas then you're not going to have any risk of a localised major by–catch issue. But when you have a vessel with a large freezer capacity that therefore is able to remain for extended periods of time in the same part of our oceans there are a different set of environmental considerations and that's the difference.

QUESTION:  The stay is also regulated isn't it Minister?

TONY BURKE: I beg your pardon?

QUESTION:  The length of time it can stay anywhere is also regulated by your Department isn't it?

TONY BURKE: In terms of the science that we're talking about with this the information on which you would rely on for those environmental issues has never had to be done in any level of detail before because we've had small vessels going in and out of port.

QUESTION:  So is your main concern about conservatives to do with the by–catch or to do with the fish catch?

TONY BURKE: As Environment Minister I'm only concerned with the by–catch. On the issue of the quota I'll leave it to the Fisheries Minister.

JOE LUDWIG: Thanks very much. I think Minister Burke makes a very good point is that there is in this fishery – the small pelagic fishery which stretches right from Cairns effectively and dissected between the east and west all the way around to Western Australia. It's a small pelagic fishery. The total allowable catch within the framework that AFMA managers all means that if you look at that particular issue in isolation from the environment, from the by–catch, from the harvest strategy it does mean that you would conclude that they could be managed.

QUESTION:  Do you think there's a problem with the catch proposed, that...

JOE LUDWIG: Well, that's the uncertainty. We do need science to ensure that we have certainty.

QUESTION:  [inaudible] will fill, considering they've spent years negotiating this, and it's only now that the boat's been brought out there and you're about to start fishing [inaudible].

TONY BURKE: In terms of negotiating – and as I say, I had thought that I may have been able to trigger something of this magnitude a week ago. It was the lack of information – the uncertainty – that actually caused me to not be able to have the precautionary approach that I would have liked.

QUESTION:  How much of the public on pressure on this and the pressure from – like the Greens – Andrew Wilkie and others?

TONY BURKE: There's been no doubt that there has been a massive public focus on this. And the key relevance of that has been the extent to which it has undermined confidence in our management. There's no doubt about it. Confidence in our management of fisheries and by–catch issues has been undermined.

QUESTION:  Is compensation now due to the operator?

TONY BURKE: Any issue like that would be a matter for the courts but, certainly, this vessel currently has no quota assigned to it.

QUESTION:  How long will it take to do the assessments and determine whether the vessel can [inaudible]? What's the time frame?

TONY BURKE: The maximum proposed under the amendment is twenty–four months. My intentions – once the legislation is proclaimed – would be that I would activate it straight away.

QUESTION:  But after that the super trawlers could operate here, depending on what that [inaudible]?

TONY BURKE: Depending on the evidence, that's correct.

QUESTION:  What precise scientific work do you want undertaken? And what results would make you – what kind of results would make you confident that super trawling could go ahead?

TONY BURKE: There's a fair bit of pre–judging in the question. I can give you some headline concepts. I won't go species by species but, obviously, there's a series of targeted species that, as Environment Minister, I've got a legal responsibility to look out for – dolphins, seals, sea lions are ones that are often referred to.

QUESTION:  Do you have the [inaudible] through Parliament? And have you spoken to the independents about it?

TONY BURKE: The independents were briefed on the issue this morning, but I was in a caucus meeting so I'm not able to give you an update on that. We'll make a briefing available to the Opposition this afternoon.

QUESTION:  Mr Ludwig, can I ask do you have confidence in the Australian Fisheries Management Authority? When did your confidence start to wane in them? And how long has that been?

JOE LUDWIG: Now, let's be clear. That's what I said at the beginning. I've continued to have confidence in the Australian Fisheries Management Authority. They do a job within the legislative framework. What we discovered when I looked at the powers that I had – the legislative framework does not deal with the circumstances which we're now faced. That's where the level of uncertainty has come from.

QUESTION:  Have the authorities been dealing with this boat for a long time? When did you first become concerned that it wasn't doing its job properly?

JOE LUDWIG: As I said, the AFMA continues to do its job very well. We have one of the best managed fisheries in the world. They continue to work within the legislative framework. What I've said, and continue to say, is the legislative framework does not meet the circumstances that are now faced – that we now face. And that's why – both with Minister Burke and I came to a conclusion that we do need to act.

QUESTION:  But you can't be confident that it's doing a good job. [Inaudible] not confidence in doing a good job. You're at cross–purposes here.

JOE LUDWIG: No, no. I think you missed – between a legislative framework – they're doing a good job within the legislative framework that Parliament set for them. That legislative framework is now twenty years old. I don't think it meets community expectations any longer, that legislation. So what you're now talking about is the legislation, not the Authority. The Authority has been acting appropriately and well within that legislative authority.

QUESTION:  What, when?

JOE LUDWIG: When the vessel first came across the horizon I asked the Department to look at what powers I had in relation to this vessel; what circumstances we should be confronted with. I also then had a stakeholder consultation. I spoke at the Rec Fishers' Conference, met with the Rec Fishers' Round Table. I spoke with industry about this; spoke with the community about this – about the types of circumstances that this vessel would pose in this pelagic fishery. I also met with environmental groups as well who came, I think, three times now to meet with me across – both with rec fishers on this issue.

TONY BURKE: Can I say until last Monday we didn't know whether the legal powers that we had were going to be sufficient for the sort of precautionary approach we wanted. And our departments weren't sure.

QUESTION:  Minister Burke, isn't it a fact that the issues you raise – environmental issues for the by–catch – are, in fact, part and parcel of the risks that trawling does anyway? In other words, is the issue here the size of the boat, because there are other trawlers and other species get caught in their nets that they're not fishing?

TONY BURKE: The risk posed by this particular vessel is that it can remain in the one location for a very long period of time. So if you have by–catch of a protected species, effectively, it's one of the trade–offs that the environment deals with, that there will be some level of by–catch.

QUESTION:  Can you say why Melissa Parke's suggestion for a capacity limit on the trawlers isn't the way to proceed? Or is that something you might do based on the advice of the expert panel?

TONY BURKE: We can both have a go.

JOE LUDWIG: All right. You go first.

TONY BURKE: The concern with that sort of approach is I think you need to keep a clear sight on what you're trying to protect. And what you're trying to protect here is the sustainability of the ocean and, in particular, the species that are most at risk.

JOE LUDWIG: So the only thing I wanted to add to that is that, originally, back in, say, 2004 and before, vessels were managed by their gear size. In other words, input controls. From 2005 onwards, with encouragement of stakeholders, environmental groups, everyone considered moving to output controls was a more sensible place to land. So with the reasons Minister Burke outlined, plus I think that background provides that answer.

QUESTION:  Minister Ludwig, did your department keep you informed about the negotiations that they were having for approvals for this ships for many years – you know, long before it came across the horizon?

JOE LUDWIG: Well, the information that I've got from the Department – and I'll go back and check – usually advises me – AFMA is an independent authority – they advise me when the issue becomes relevant to me for consideration. So that's only just come to its surface.

QUESTION:  So you didn't know about the negotiations between AFMA and the people who – running the trawler until…

JOE LUDWIG: As I said, the information that's provided to me is usually only provided from an independent authority such as AFMA. When it becomes a matter that I either ask for or, secondly, it requires input from me.

QUESTION:  So when was that in this case?

JOE LUDWIG: About the same time that the vessel appeared.

QUESTION:  Over the horizon?


QUESTION:  Can you explain how this will be applied? Is it just specific to this vessel alone? Or [unclear]?

TONY BURKE: No, fishing activity, Mark. So it's the...

QUESTION:  What's the threshold?

TONY BURKE: Well, the threshold is of sufficient concern that the two ministers agree, and they want to actually conduct the declaration. But understandably, the concepts today are focused on a particular vessel, and the concern with this vessel is best described by the storage capacity on it, because that defines how long it can remain in the same part of the ocean.

QUESTION:  So no other vessel operating today will be affected?

TONY BURKE: Correct.

QUESTION:  Minister Burke, just on that Murray–Darling Basin plan is it true that you're moving an amendment this week to give the authority the power to adjust the STL's or down without having to refer to Parliament and also where are you at with your negotiations with the states because they're likely to be pretty upset by a move like that?

TONY BURKE: Okay. Well, in the first instance the states have requested a move like that and are fully supportive of a move like that. The reason for what's being proposed – and there will be legislation introduced to the Parliament on this – is the authority will arrive at a recommended figure. At the moment, their recommended figure is 2750.

QUESTION:  Are you expecting any backlash from the states? In particular South Australia?

TONY BURKE: No, no, absolutely not. All state ministers and the South Australian Premier are aware of this path.

QUESTION:  Back on the trawler, Minister, when this issue first came up the principle concern – and I think the concern of rec fishers particularly – is about localised depletion of fish stocks rather than by–catching them, and at some point it became an issue of by–catch.

TONY BURKE: The depletion of fish stocks argument goes to two things, one the target catch themselves but also the other species that then rely on the target catch. I don't think there's a whole lot of rec fishers who actually go out fishing for these particular small pelagic species. I think you'd find very few on that.

QUESTION:  They're after the…

TONY BURKE: Yeah, they're after the ones that eat them. So the knock–on impact on other species, my legal powers as environment minister go quite squarely to very specific species. They go to the Commonwealth marine environment generally but the targeted approach here and what I've referenced is very much – because that's where my legal powers lie, that's the ones that are activated by international conventions and therefore form part of national environmental law.

JOE LUDWIG: I think also to be fair, the original groups that came and lobbied and brought their submissions to me included both the Rec Fishing, particularly TARFish and others, but also included a range of ENGOs that had an interest in both by–catch, interest in particular local area depletion, right through to a range of other matters. I'm sure you could obtain their press releases from the time.

QUESTION:  Mr Ludwig, after Four Corners you suspended the live cattle export, changed the rules for people that affected a lot of businesses. What you're doing today is going to affect a business which has been in negotiation with your department now, as I understand it, for some years. Do you think that it's reasonable that people see you as a sovereign risk when they're doing business with this government?

JOE LUDWIG: I'm confident that people will continue to invest in fisheries. We have one of the best managed fisheries in the world. We'll continue to have that. I think you look at the live animal export issue, one of the things we were missing from that is that self–regulation failed to work. There was no regulator regulating the area. What I did there was make sure we did put a regulator in place.

TONY BURKE: In terms of the sovereign issue, can I just also flag there have been many countries around the world that wanted to take a highly precautionary approach to this particular vessel. Australia is not alone in this. We found out a week ago that we weren't able to be as cautious under current law as we wanted to be.

QUESTION:  Can you give us an actual size that this will apply to, to the next vessel, or will it be just you two ministers deciding that this is a risk?

TONY BURKE: When you have uncertainty – you rarely have uncertainty because you rarely have a fishing vessel of a particular type that is fundamentally different in its operation to what you've dealt with before. It's unusual to have uncertainty. Fisheries Management goes through a fair bit of detail and you'll find neither of us being critical of the general principles of Fisheries Management.

QUESTION:  There'll be nothing in what you're doing that will designate a size of the kind of the boat? It will be decided between the two of you as to whether or not it's a threat? Is that correct?

TONY BURKE: That's correct.

JOE LUDWIG: That's why I've also announced a review of the legislation, to go through and have a look at both community expectations, how the Fisheries Management Authority operates to look at all of those issues which have – for the last 20 years we've relied on but we do need to continue that, have another look at it to make sure that we continue to operate one of the best managed fisheries in the world.

TONY BURKE: But I should just add before Chris goes down this path of saying just two people, any declaration of this nature would be disallowable within the Parliament. So there's a parliamentary oversight of it as well.

QUESTION:  Unless something hoves over the horizon in the future, you two ministers or two other ministers like you will make the choice about whether or not it's acceptable? There'll be no limit, there'll be size limit, there'll be nothing that business will be able to say, well, that's exactly what fits in within the rules and that's what doesn't.

TONY BURKE: Oh look, that's the case under Part 10 already. The difference is that you can't use uncertainty, you need to actually have the information about how much damage you're sure will be caused.

QUESTION:  Minister, on forests in Tasmania, the forestry industry associations are expected to walk away from the talks today for a number of weeks. Is that the end of the road or can the talks proceed?

TONY BURKE: There are different views within industry as to what they should do and they are working that out now but there are a number of players, in a number of significant industry bodies within Tasmania that have very different views as to what they should do at the moment.

QUESTION:  With the super trawler, do you think – is the Labor Party completely, totally united on this issue or are there going to be people concerned with the decision you've made today?

TONY BURKE: Well, after a Caucus meeting we're always completely united. You'd be well aware of that. Look, I'm – certainly there were a lot of questions asked during the Caucus committee this morning but there were no speeches against it in Caucus today. So you know – and I don't want that to be a dare for someone to come up and say, oh I'm not incredibly happy. Can I answer that every Caucus member would have done this the exact same way? I've got no evidence to be able to tell you that everybody would but in terms of a deeply divisive issue within the Caucus I think you'd have to go looking elsewhere.

QUESTION:  Given cattle producers are now taking legal action against what you – the ban last year, are, have you contemplated legal action in this plan?

TONY BURKE: Well as I said, in the question to Paul there is no quota currently assigned to this vessel.

QUESTION:  Minster Ludwig, the Wheat Export Marketing Bill is listed and it can potentially be put to a vote in the House of Representatives at any time and potentially split the Coalition, given that WA wheat growers have expressed a pretty clear view on their agreement with the Bill and the Nats are opposing and the Coalition position apparently is to oppose it, while industry seeks amendments to take care of their concerns.

JOE LUDWIG: I think that was a good summary of the circumstances which we face. I leave it to [unclear] to manage the arrangements in the House. The Wheat Export Marketing Bill is one which clearly Labor supports. We want it passed. There is industry concern, I recognise that. It is high time we moved past and allow the wheat industry to be deregulated. We've come a long way since the AWB and I'd expect the industry to continue that path of deregulation. It certainly provided good outcomes for them.

QUESTION:  You spoke more about the AWB scandal yesterday, in the House yesterday, than you actually did about industry concerns. Is that where your focus is at this point in time?

JOE LUDWIG: I'm in the Senate, by the way, but I didn't speak yesterday about the AWB but – or the Wheat Exporting Marketing Bill. What I can say, and what I continue to say, is that it is important that industry recognise the need to move away from a regulated environment to a deregulated environment. They've recognise that domestically since the 1980s and they're now I think ready to embrace a deregulated environment.

QUESTION:  But are you hearing similar concerns or that division within the Coalition around wheat marketing that it's similar to what's going on with foreign investment and the approval for the conditions of the sale of Cubbie Station?

JOE LUDWIG: It would be nice to have a clear picture from the Opposition in relation to this Bill, the Wheat Export Marketing Bill. They haven't to date been very clear. You've got Mr Cobb saying one thing, you've got those in the Senate saying other things. I think it would be nice if they joined at least on this issue about deregulation. One would have expected them to be clear about supporting a deregulated wheat market.

QUESTION:  Minister Ludwig, just on live animal exports, can I ask why you rushed through the supply chain assurance accreditation for Pakistan after a boatload of sheep got stranded?

JOE LUDWIG: There was no rush at all. We have a tranche system. There's been tranche one, tranche two. We've been rolling out what's called ESCAS, to use an acronym, which is supply chain assurance. That's where the exporter has control of the animals as they move through the supply chains.

QUESTION:  But isn't your system failing, given that there was a second investigation into a breach which was discovered by a third party, not by the system, it wasn't picked up by that?

JOE LUDWIG: And what…

QUESTION:  Picked up by video footage of it.

JOE LUDWIG: And what I said right at the beginning when I first implemented the supply chain assurance, I said there would be mistakes that would be issues that arise. There would be compliance problems. I said that right upfront because this system by and large has demonstrated over thousands of thousands of animals have been – and we know and we can see how they move through the system and that the animal welfare issue was put right at the very heart of the trade, that we ensure that the exporters have full control of the supply chain right up to the point of slaughter and that it's independently audited.

QUESTION:  Minister, rather than demonising Australia's treatment of animals do you think that moves like ESCAS and the live export trade actually demonstrates that we're world leaders in terms of animal welfare and it helps to improve the standards? And that ending the live trade is a contradiction around animal welfare?

JOE LUDWIG: I support the live animal export industry. That's why we moved from a system where there was no regulation so you did not know what the fate of individual animals were. That left me with little confidence from overseas markets in what happens with animal welfare, little confidence with the community. What I said to them at the time they lost their social licence. It was very important that they rebuild that.

QUESTION:  Are we world leaders, though, or are we just demonising our own people who support…


QUESTION:  Activists who want to close it down?

JOE LUDWIG: My view is it is a system that was long overdue.

TONY BURKE: Okay, thank you very much.