First published February 15
Senator WHISH-WILSON (Tasmania) (21:22): Last week, Australia’s second largest salmon farming company, Huon Aquaculture, initiated legal proceedings against the Tasmanian government for failing to protect the environment in the World Heritage-listed area in Macquarie Harbour. These unprecedented legal actions were filed in the Federal Court and in Tasmania’s Supreme Court. Huon Aquaculture—and I will say it again: the second largest aquaculture company in this country that employs 600 Tasmanians—claims the industry regulator, the Environment Protection Authority and the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment—DPIPWE—have failed to manage and protect the environment in Macquarie Harbour, with the government allowing companies to intensively farm salmon in numbers far greater than the harbour can sustain.
This is extraordinary, and it is unprecedented—that a public company is actually launching legal action; for a government not doing its job; for a government not regulating the industry. How many companies go to the extent of asking for more regulation, let alone launching a legal proceedings against both the state and federal government for not doing their jobs? As I understand it, this is unprecedented; it has never happened in Tasmanian Supreme Court history before. So while that is novel, what is actually behind this, unfortunately, is a sad Tasmanian story. It is a story of history repeating itself—a story of cronyism and of governments getting too close to business and not doing their jobs of providing the checks and balances that are needed to protect the environment, communities and, ultimately, the future of workers and the reputation and brand of my state in Tasmania.
The forestry industry went down this road. My road to parliament was all about watching: a powerful CEO of a large corporation getting his way in Tasmania; the Tasmanian Premier and ministers being summoned at his beck and call; the government allowing a company to write its own legislation for a pulp mill. This has been very well documented. I recommend people read Professor Quentin Beresford’s book, The Rise and Fall of Gunns Ltd. And it is not just forestry; it is happened in other industries in the past—for example, around the power of hydro—and in mining in areas like the north-west of the Tarkine.
The question is: why? Why is the salmon industry, a successful industry in Tasmania that employs a lot of Tasmanians, now in open conflict and open warfare? The answer is simple: a government is not doing its job. The more important question is: why isn’t the government doing its job? And I will tell you what: I am frustrated and I am angry because, 18 months ago, I tabled some leaked documents at an adjournment speech in here and I stood up and said, ‘We need to have a Senate inquiry into this issue. The federal government needs to step in, the Senate needs to step in and sort this issue out for the sake of the industry, as well as the environment.’ We had a chance in the Senate to actually shine some light on what were emerging as serious problems based on the leaked information that was given to the Greens. But, unfortunately, history shows that a lot of that Senate inquiry was a whitewash. A lot of the evidence provided from a number of the expert witnesses turned out to be either ignorantly false or wilfully misleading and deceptive. And things have gotten worse. We had a chance to actually fix the situation, but, instead, what we got was a cover-up.
And what does the Tasmanian government do when they are in a situation when suddenly they are coming under attack—and, by the way, from not the Greens and the environment movement but within the industry itself? What do they do? They pass this off as competitive pressures. ‘These are competitive tensions between salmon companies.’ That is patently untrue. This is about special deals for special mates in Tasmania.
So I am going to name this up. This is about one CEO of Tassal, Mark Ryan, and his relationship with the Tasmanian government—his very close relationship with the Tasmanian government. These allegations are not just being made by me. Read the leaked documents that made their way to the media last week about accusations from other salmon companies that this industry has been regulated for Tassal—that this industry is being regulated for one company; that it is regulatory capture.
Why, for example, was Tassal given special stocking densities in Macquarie Harbour that other companies were not given? The letters exposed on Four Cornersquite showed that Tassal has been given the most favourable farming rates despite Tassal having the worst environment record in Macquarie Harbour. The letters exposed that Tassal was issued with 14 non-compliance notices in September 2016, up from three notices in May. The other companies had a couple of non-compliance notices over that period. And I keep in mind that Tassal’s lease is also located closest to the World Heritage Area. Why were they given stocking densities up to three times the other leases for the other companies in Macquarie Harbour? Why, when, finally, after 18 months of us talking about this issue to try to get some transparency from the government, were they given three months to de-stock their leases? Apparently, the EPA has came out and said, ‘It’s for commercial considerations. We let them de-stock that lease for three months for commercial considerations.’ Since when does an Environmental Protection Authority make their decisions based on commercial considerations?
I can understand the Hodgman government not caring about the environment and putting dollars before the environment. That make sense to me. But is the EPA in Tasmania ultimately independent? Is the EPA in Tasmania independent like it was supposed to be? This was a Greens recommendation—that the EPA be put in charge of regulating the Tasmanian salmon industry. That needs to be substantiated. Exactly what is independence, and how is this process working? I ask that because it is not working. We have an industry that is openly split. We have an industry participant who is suing both the state and federal governments for not doing their jobs. We have damage being done to the Tasmanian brand. We have workers’ jobs on the line here if we do not fix it.
The Tasmanian government needs to move beyond cronyism. It needs to move beyond giving big business whatever they want and to actually do its job. There are 600 workers working for Huon Aquaculture, a very important company that is making a stand because it actually wants its leases in Macquarie Harbour to be destocked to down below 10,000 tonnes. The government was previously running them at 21,000 tonnes. They are going to question a new consideration of 14,000 tonnes.
I raised this issue privately with Senator Ruston, who is in the chamber here—that this could have been avoided if the federal government had stepped in and actually tried to do its job under the EPBC Act and actually looked at the considerations around its responsibilities in Macquarie Harbour. The IMAS report, which has just been released in the last week, suggests that the science tells us that there are significant problems. I will be on the east coast of Tasmania next week and I will be meeting communities around Okehampton Bay where Tassal are planning to expand fish farms. Based on my experience as a Tasmanian senator trying to do my job—trying to get this situation sorted out—I will have to say to them: ‘I have no faith in the Tasmanian government to regulate this industry. I believe Tassal is too close to the Tasmanian government, and they you good reason to be concerned. You should be opposing the expansion of fish farms in Tasmania until we can actually get the Tasmanian government to do their job and properly regulate this industry.’ We need public confidence in this industry. This industry needs to have a future, and future sustainability. (Time expired)
*Peter Whish-Wilson is Senator for Tasmania and Greens’ spokesman for healthy oceans.
• Environment Tasmania, Misleading consumers: Tassal, ASC and WWF Today peak state environment group, Environment Tasmania, will release a damning report into the faulty auditing process which has allowed Australia’s largest salmon company to falsely market its salmon to consumers as ‘clean and green’. Tassal’s product has carried the Aquaculture Stewardship Council – or ASC – logo for its salmon from Macquarie Harbour, on Tasmania’s west coast, since 2014. Yet government data shows oxygen levels in Macquarie Harbour plummeted to worrying levels in 2013 and the latest report by the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies shows that all marine life is dead under Tassal’s largest lease in Macquarie Harbour. Tassal’s role in the crisis in Macquarie Harbour was the subject of a Four Corners investigation in October last year. Environment Tasmania has expanded its investigation into ASC processes and discovered even larger amounts of money changing hands between Tassal, WWF and the ASC, and false reporting within ASC audit reports …
• Rosalie Woodruff: Okehampton Bay Decision It’s no surprise the Minister’s hand-picked panel have agreed with Minister Rockliff and recommended approving Tassal’s operations at Okehampton Bay. The same company responsible for creating dead zones in the West has been given the go-ahead to expand into Tasmania’s East Coast …
• Environment Tasmania: Rubber stamp for Tassal’s east coast expansion as Macquarie Harbour suffocates On the day that ASC auditors and the Federal Government are reviewing dead zones in Macquarie harbour, the Hodgman Government’s rubber stamping, marine farm review panel has called Tasmania’s salmon regulations ‘world’s best-practice’ and approved Tassal’s expansion onto the east coast …