Marine and Fisheries Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 Second Reading

11 Sep 2019

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I rise to speak on the Marine and Fisheries Legislation Amendment Bill 2019. This is a bit of a curious hybrid bill that has two distinct parts: one in terms of the cancellation of commercial fishing licences in Gippsland Lakes and the other in regard to marine safety and the licensing of ship pilots. It is a bit strange. We are a bit cynical about this, really. You have got a minister dedicated to fishing and boating; surely you can give each a bill for themselves. One part is about the Gippsland Lakes, which has got some issues around it, and then you have got the marine safety, which I think is important. It is very strange to see these two parts stuck together in one bill. I just question why that is.

On the Gippsland Lakes part of the bill, this is amending the Fisheries Act 1995 to phase out the 10 Gippsland Lakes fishery access licences over a two-year period until 1 April 2021. This will remove all commercial fishing in the Gippsland Lakes region and sets up a compensation scheme for businesses whose licences are removed. Now, this decision is part of the government’s wider plan for Target One Million around recreational fishers and adds on their action to phase out commercial fishing from Port Phillip Bay. This was announced on a TV fishing show on Channel 31. On one hand, I think we should be doing more stuff on Channel 31—more announcements on Channel 31—but I think perhaps, rather than a fishing show, the first people to know should have perhaps been the people who were actually holding those commercial licences. I also note the interesting contrasts. Often we, the Greens, get criticised for our approach to jobs and industries and wanting to phase out, for example, native forest logging or coal-fired power stations, yet here we have a government phasing out an industry—commercial fishing—first in Port Phillip Bay, now in Gippsland Lakes and potentially in other places. I would just point out that on one hand you can give us flak for wanting to phase out one industry, but their record is that they are actually actively phasing out certain industries in Victoria.

Back to the bill, this is part of Target One Million and the government’s objective to grow and preference recreational fishers over the commercial industry. We raised these issues in our concerns about this previous bill, which we did not support, to phase out commercial fishing from Port Phillip Bay. Much commercial fishing in Victoria is actually sustainable. Many of the fish stocks are listed on, for example, sustainable seafood websites and what have you, and Victorians do like to source sustainable seafood. It is a highly regulated industry, and what you are doing is phasing out one highly regulated industry to increase recreational fishing, where there is limited regulation. So we are concerned about the increase in recreational fishing without a plan to ensure that our overall fish populations remain strong and healthy. Whether it is commercial fishing or recreational fishing, a good government in this area would have a policy and a monitoring framework to ensure that our fish populations are secured into the future.

There are stocks in Gippsland Lakes that are under pressure, as outlined by other members, but then there are a range of causes for this, whether it is commercial and recreational fishing, water quality or drought—they are all responsible. The Greens will also be putting forward a reasoned amendment, and what we will be doing is circulating an amendment to the reasoned amendment circulated by the member for Gippsland East. So I move: That after ‘1995’ the following words be inserted ‘; and (3) putting in place a scientifically robust monitoring framework that can ensure recreational fishing in the Gippsland Lakes is environmentally sustainable’. We have had concerns raised with us that recreational fishing is not adequately monitored in Victoria, and we simply do not know the extent of how sustainable it is.

Obviously if the government stirs the pot with a clear policy of phasing out commercial fishing and increasing recreational fishing, you want to make sure that you have something in place to ensure the environmental sustainability of recreational fishing. This has been raised by the Victorian National Parks Association in their recent submission on Victoria’s marine and coastal policy. They have indicated that there is no sound estimate of recreational catches and that they are concerned that there are no policies relating to sustainable management of fisheries in particular throughout the draft policies, where in fact some policies that were in the previous Victorian coastal strategy have actually disappeared and should be retained. One of them is: Commercial and recreational fisheries are managed within an ecosystem-based marine planning framework and are ecologically sustainable The strategy also states: Safe and ecologically sustainable recreational fishing is supported.

This may be through the provision of facilities, enforcement of regulations, monitoring, behaviour change initiatives … and the inclusion of information in the Victorian Recreational Fishing Guide. These concerns were also raised in a report. The report was done some years ago, so I will leave it to the government members to indicate if any action has been taken since then, but it recommended that large-scale quantitative surveys of recreational fishing be undertaken, that the recreational fishing licence database be expanded and that the angler diary program be expanded to more diarists. It also lists the Gippsland Lakes as where it could be expanded. There are actions that have already been listed as things to do. I will leave it to government members to respond to those points, but we are concerned about the impact that the government’s decisions will have on Victorian consumers’ access to local and sustainable seafood through both the Port Phillip buyout and the Gippsland Lakes buyout.

You just have to go down to Prahran Market or any local market and have a chat to the traders there, and they will tell you that consumers will actively seek out sustainable fish. We have already got sustainable fish here in Victoria, so it is concerning to see that the government is moving ahead with this—continuing to buy out commercial fishing licences—and that consumers will lose access to those fish. Also, concerns have been raised with us, as the member for Gippsland East has already stated, around the buyout as to whether the businesses have been offered adequate compensation and about the extent of consultation. Because of that, we will be supporting the reasoned amendment put forward by the member for Gippsland East. In terms of the Marine Safety Act 2010, there are a number of improvements made to marine safety—in fact issues that I have actually previously raised before by way of questions on notice to the minister.

It empowers the director of transport safety to suspend or cancel a pilot licence if the person has not acted as a pilot for a period of at least 12 months or does not intend to act as a pilot. This will ensure that the skills of the pilots are current and that active pilots will be required to go through re‑familiarisation. Obviously it is worth going through a bit of history with what is happening in terms of sea pilots in Port Phillip and the port of Melbourne. It is Australia’s busiest port, and you need to ensure that safety. You need licensed pilots to guide all ships over 35 metres transiting port of Melbourne waters. Historically, for a very long time, this has been provided solely by the Port Phillip Sea Pilots. Previously I think for about 20 years the act has allowed for competition, but it is only now that we are seeing a second pilotage operator commence. There have been concerns raised about how this has actually occurred. There was a well-reported near miss.

We know that Port Phillip Bay, in particular the rip, is recognised as a very hazardous stretch of water, so obviously ensuring that you have got adequate regulation and adequate laws in place to ensure the safety of ships out in the port of Melbourne is absolutely critical. So after this mess we have seen a review undertaken of the regulatory settings for pilotage, and now we have got these laws coming into place. We have had one very serious incident that did not result in a collision, but had that collision occurred it would have been absolutely catastrophic. So it is important that we maintain a very robust regulatory framework and laws for sea pilots using the port of Melbourne. With that we would urge members to support our reasoned amendment to ensure the environmental sustainability of recreational fishing in Gippsland Lakes.

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