It seems as though Fremantle MP Melissa Parke’s private members’ bill proposal was the final push the federal government needed to create a legislative loophole to ban the Abel Tasman super-trawler from sifting 18,000 tonnes of fish from Australian waters.

In a press conference this afternoon, Environment Minister Tony Burke and Fisheries Minister Joe Ludwig announced legislation to amend the existing Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, which would see the Abel Tasman banned from fishing in Australian waters for two years while an expert panel would be set up to assess all possible impacts the vessel would have on Australian marine life.

When asked how he would respond to those who were unsure as to why the government couldn’t just ban the trawler from Australia’s waters when it first arrived, Burke confidently stated that “the law didn’t allow me to, so I’m changing the law”.

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Despite there being strong support amongst Labor MPs for Parke’s bill, which would have banned vessels capable of carrying more than 2000 tonnes, Burke raised the point that “the concern with that sort of approach is I think you need to keep a clear sight on what you’re trying to protect”.

Burke also told of how there was a “degree of uncertainty about how this vessel will have the capacity to stay in one place for an extended period of time”, which had prompted Labor to opt for this approach as opposed to Parke’s proposal.

Questions were also raised with the Environment Minister over the shift in Labor’s focus from protecting the by-catch of the vessel, to protecting the actual species the vessel would fish, at which point he highlighted that he and Ludwig had different roles in this situation and were working together to protect their respective portfolio interests.

Several Coalition MPs also expressed rather colourful views condemning the super-trawler, with one MP highlighting that “many of our small fishing families have gone out of business, yet it’s OK to introduce a Woolworths of the sea”.

If this bill is successful, it looks like the IGAs of the sea will live to fish another day (or another two years at least).

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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