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September 11 2012

The Independent Member for Denison, Andrew Wilkie, will detail concerns the Federal Government is misleading the community on conditions imposed on the super trawler Abel Tasman, nee Margiris, and call on the ALP Caucus to decide today to ban the factory ship.

Earlier this month the Environment Minister, Tony Burke, announced conditions on the super trawler including the requirement for an independent ``onboard observer at all times’’.

But Mr Wilkie has found the Federal Government is moving to replace fishing observers with electronic monitoring to save money with The Fisheries Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2012. The Bill passed the House of Representatives in August and is now before the Senate.

``The Government variously described the conditions imposed on the super trawler as `tough’, `stringent’ and `best practice’, but the reality is that the key condition of an onboard observer is nothing more than a façade,’’ Mr Wilkie said.

``That the Government would apparently mislead the community like this surely raises questions over all of the other promises.

``It’s no wonder the proponent for the super trawler has welcomed these conditions because it turns out that at least one of them is just a cynical PR exercise to lull the community into thinking the Government is getting tough.’’

Introducing the Bill, Parliamentary Secretary Sid Sidebottom told Parliament ``trials and cost-benefit analyses have shown that the more data that is required for a fishery, the cheaper it will become to use e-monitoring systems, rather than observers.’’

Mr Wilkie said on the one hand the Government was planning on doing away with onboard observers while on the other hand promising an observer onboard the super trawler at all times.

``This apparent deception is surely the final nail in the coffin of the super trawler,’’ Mr Wilkie said.

``The ALP Caucus must respond to the overwhelming public opposition to the vessel when it meets this morning and move to ban this super trawler, and factory ships in Australian waters more generally.

``This is another big test for the Government - is it an environmentally and economically-competent government mindful of the strong concerns in the community with the super trawler, or just another bunch of political hacks beholden to commercial interests?’’

To progress this issue Mr Wilkie will ask the Acting Prime Minister, Wayne Swan, the following question in Question Time today.

``Acting Prime Minister, how do you reconcile the promise that an observer will be on the super trawler to ensure compliance with the Government’s so-called safeguards, with the fact the Government has a bill before the Senate which would replace observers with remote sensors?  In other words, isn’t it the case the promise of an observer on the factory ship is simply misleading?’’

More broadly Mr Wilkie is yet to be advised of the results of the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s enquiry into the apparent misconduct of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority when it set the quota relevant to the super trawler. The Ombudsman is conducting the enquiry in response to concerns raised by Mr Wilkie in recent months.

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