Act changes to prevent super trawler
PLANS to unleash a Dutch super trawler on Australian waters were put on ice for up to two years on Tuesday, with Environment Minister Tony Burke moving to tighten regulations governing trawling activity.
The move comes after a rising tide of public opposition to the trawler reached the Labor caucus in recent weeks, putting pressure on Mr Burke and Fisheries Minister Joe Ludwig to take action.
Recently re-named the Abel Tasman, the 142m trawler was originally approved to fish some 18,000 tonnes of small pelagic fish from the nation's waters.
The Australian Fisheries Management Authority approval was questioned by independent MP Andrew Wilkie, the Greens, and Labor MPs and was being investigated by the Commonwealth Ombudsman.
While Mr Burke said his department had found little could be done about the trawler under current regulations, so instead he would move to create new ministerial powers to ensure any effects of the trawler would be limited.
"When the law falls short, you change the law," Mr Burke told parliament on Tuesday.
He said he decided to pursue the changes after several Labor MPs had started lobbying him, including Queensland and New South Wales backbenchers Janelle Saffin and Yvette D'Ath.
Mr Burke said he would prevent the trawler from operating until an expert panel had completed scientific assessments of the environmental risks involved - which could take up to 24 months.
"If the amendment I am proposing is passed by the parliament I will be able to work with the Fisheries Minister to set up an expert panel to conduct an assessment of all of the potential impacts of the FV Abel Tasman before it can be given approval to fish in Commonwealth waters.
"Until this expert panel has reported to the parliament on their assessment, the declared fishing activity will be prohibited."
The proposed amendments would include a caveat that both the Environment Minister and Fisheries Minister agree on the approach to any super trawler proposals, relying on ministerial discretion.
While Mr Burke is responsible for the "by-catch", or unintended marine life caught in the trawler's path, Mr Ludwig is responsible the catch itself, and as such said he would order a complete review of fisheries regulations.
Senator Ludwig said while he had "complete confidence" in the AFMA, the regulatory framework the authority operated under was 20 years out of date.
Mr Ludwig said the review of fisheries policy and regulations would upgrade Commonwealth law to meet the challenges of the growing factory fishing industry, as well as the "challenges of the next 20 years".
Meanwhile, Mr Wilkie said while he welcomed the government's latest move, he would continue campaigning for a complete ban of all super trawlers.
Behind the scenes in a Coalition party room meeting on Tuesday, nine party members spoke about the trawler with three voicing their opposition to it, but could not secure party support to oppose the trawler.
In the Labor caucus meeting, 12 party members spoke about the proposal, with all voicing their opposition to it, while only a few did so in the party's last caucus meeting a month ago.
It is understood the AFMA-approved quota remains under investigation by the Commonwealth Ombudsman's office, which does not comment on ongoing investigations.