Australian Greens' Dissenting Report
This inquiry was initiated by the Australian Greens as result of
whistle-blower(s) bringing to light serious allegations from within the
Tasmanian salmonid industry.
A leaked email, dated September 2014, was tabled in the Tasmanian
Parliament in March 2015. This email was sent by the heads of two of the three
major Tasmanian salmon farming companies, Huon Aquaculture and Petuna; and was
addressed to the Premier, the Minister for Primary Industries and Water, and a
number of senior bureaucrats within the Tasmanian Government. Huon and Petuna
alleged that the third major salmon farming company in Tasmania, Tassal, was
about to breach the biomass cap in Macquarie Harbour; and that the Tasmanian
regulator was engaged in 'disingenuous and misleading' conduct and that this
was putting at risk both the health of waterways and the future of the
The leaked email also stated that Huon and Petuna were 'dismayed' by the
Tasmanian Government's handling of regulation under the Environment
Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) in respect of
the Federal Minister's decision on the expansion of salmon farming in Macquarie
Harbour. These companies alleged that a clear warning sign that the environment
we are growing the fish in is becoming compromised' was being ignored. Huon and
Petuna called on the Tasmanian Government to act to protect 'the future of the
industry and the Macquarie Harbour environment' as they were 'key drivers for
the Tasmania's economy and reputation'.
The serious allegations in this email, as well as the leaked report into
dissolved oxygen levels in Macquarie Harbor, were regarded by the Australian
Greens as prima facie evidence that serious problems existed with the current
environmental planning and regulatory mechanisms. In particular, they implied
the Tasmanian Government was failing in its duty as a regulator, and that
individual(s) involved felt the need to blow-the-whistle in order to remedy the
Unfortunately, the genesis of this inquiry and the exceptionality of the
allegations in the leaked email are not adequately conveyed in the report of
the Committee. The email is not mentioned until two-thirds of the way through
the Committee report, and only then in relation to the alleged breach of the
biomass cap, and not in relation to the alleged conduct of the Tasmanian
It is also extremely disappointing that the inquiry did not hear direct
evidence from the heads of the three Tasmanian salmon farming companies who
authored or were named in the leaked email; or from the senior bureaucrats who
were recipients of the leaked email and who were responsible for regulating the
salmon industry at the time.
The Committee report notes that the Tasmanian Salmonid Growers
Association (TSGA) characterised this email as 'point-in-time' communication
and stated that the salmon industry is very united. This evidence, along with
the absence of specific company representation at the inquiry, indicates that
the industry has closed ranks since September 2014. Whilst this apparent unity
has arisen from the scrutiny delivered by this inquiry, there is no way for the
committee to ascertain if it is likely to be the case into the future.
It was evident from submissions to this inquiry, and during the public
hearings, that the substantive issues raised in the leaked email, such as the
biomass cap in Macquarie Harbour, have not been fully addressed by the
Tasmanian government. This is a cause of concern, especially for federal
Unfortunately, while the Committee's report is expansive in its coverage
of the inquiry, only three recommendations for change are made and these
recommendations are weak. The Committee report's conclusions were firmly in
favour of the evidence provided by proponents of the salmon industry, including
the Tasmanian Government.
The Australian Greens are of the view that the weighing of evidence to
arrive at the conclusions and (lack of) recommendations of the final report was
political. As a result, the Committee report is a missed opportunity to provide
constructive advice on how to ensure confidence in the future of the salmon
industry in Tasmania. The Australian Greens have sought to remedy this by authoring
this dissenting report.
Comments on specific recommendations
Chapter 1: Introduction
The Australian Greens appreciate the range of issues and concerns raised
during this inquiry. The Australian Greens wish to thank the individuals and
businesses who invested their time to both make submissions and to provide
evidence in person.
In particular, the Australian Greens want to acknowledge the level of
professionalism and co-operation provided by the TSGA during the inquiry.
However, as noted above, the Australian Greens felt the absence of
representatives from the major Tasmanian salmon farmers detracted from the
evidence provided by industry.
The Australian Greens also wish to state for the record our strong
advocacy for community representatives to be afforded an opportunity to present
evidence at public hearings.
Finally, the Australian Greens wish to note a number of positive
developments that have already occurred as a result of this inquiry being
undertaken. These include the allocation of new resources for scientific
research; improvements in the Tasmanian Government's approach to regulations;
and improvements by companies in relation to communication.
Chapter 2: Overview of the fin-fish aquaculture industry in Tasmania
International certification of the
The Australian Greens do not believe that third-party certification of
the Tasmanian fin-fish industry is sufficiently independent or standardised to
be able to support the statement in the Committee report that it 'provides
additional confidence to stakeholders'.
Whilst we commend all attempts to improve management practices, there is
not a certification scheme that is accepted as the industry standard. As such,
certification is not as meaningful to government or the community as it could be
because it does not allow for comparison between operators which, for example,
Forest Stewardship Certification provides for timber related products.
Fin-fish farming licensees work together to use a single,
independent third-party certification scheme to enable better comparison of the
performance of different operators.
Two of the three aquaculture-specific certifications schemes subscribed
to by different members of the Tasmanian fin-fish industry—Best Aquaculture
Practices and the Global Salmonid Initiative—were established by and are
governed by industry. As such, the claim that these bodies are independent is
The third aquaculture-specific certification scheme subscribed to by
some in the Tasmanian fin-fish industry—the Aquaculture Stewardship Council
(ASC)—has an even split between industry and other parties on its board. The
Committee's report notes submissions that state that ASC is considered the most
credible certification scheme, including by WWF who are a founding member.
However, this inquiry did not examine the adequacy of existing
third-party certification schemes. This is despite the Australian Greens making
repeated requests that WWF appear at public hearings.
The Australian Greens wish to place on record that we are strongly in
favour of a sustainable salmon industry in Tasmania. This inquiry was initiated
by the Australian Greens, in part, to help ensure a sustainable future for the
salmon industry in Tasmania. The Australian Greens believe that this view—that
scrutiny is essential to long-term viability—reflects that of a large portion
of the community who appreciate that industry needs to be regulated in order to
avoid a 'tragedy of the commons'.
The Australian Greens understand that a more open and transparent
approach can be onerous for industry from a cost and compliance perspective,
but only in the short-term. A genuine commitment by industry to provide more
information to the community is likely to increase trust in the industry and,
in the long-run, make life less difficult for all concerned. The salmon
industry uses public waterways, and therefore scrutiny of the industry should
be of concern to all Tasmanians.
Chapter 3: Waterway health data
Issues raised in relation to
waterway health monitoring
As detailed in the Committee report, a number of submissions raised
specific concerns with the adequacy of monitoring of waterway health. However,
these concerns have not been translated into corresponding recommendations by
the Committee. As a result, the Committee report fails to satisfactorily
address the fundamental issue of waterway health monitoring; and fails to
reflect the importance of waterway health monitoring to the sustainability of
the environment that supports fin-fish farming.
The lack of baseline data was consistently raised by submitters as
preventing a proper analysis of the environmental impact of fin-fish farming.
However, the Australian Greens note that the Tasmanian Government has made
progress on this issue.
Comprehensive baseline data in respect of waterway health be
gathered and analysed before any fin-fish farming licenses are granted in new
The frequency and type of monitoring undertaken by fin-fish farmers was
also raised by many submitters. In response, the Committee notes that some
companies conduct monitoring more frequently than required, often in accord
with ASC accreditation requirements. As such, the minimum monitoring
requirements should be in accord with high standard accreditation requirements.
Fin-fish farming licenses require water quality sampling to be
conducted weekly at a minimum.
Fin-fish farming licenses require water quality sampling to
Fin-fish farming licenses require video monitoring to be
conducted quarterly at a minimum.
The lack of consistency of license requirements was also raised by
submitters. Coupled with the ad hoc approach to third-party accreditation, this
issue stands as a major impediment to proper evaluation of the conduct of any
particular fin-fish farmer.
That consistent waterway health monitoring requirements be
applied to all fin-fish farming licenses.
The Committee report also details the breadth of concerns in respect of
the public availability and reporting of waterway health monitoring data. The
Committee report makes one, non-specific recommendation in this respect. This
recommendation avoids the central issue in relation to the transparency of
data: waterway health data is information about the state of public waterways
and this data should be assumed to be public data unless there is good reason
that it should not be.
The recommendation of the Committee also fails to reflect contemporary
approaches to the public availability of data around monitoring and regulation.
Governments the world over are moving towards immediate and unfiltered release
of public data to facilitate community involvement.
The evidence provided by Birdlife Tasmania highlights the imbalance in
the current approach to waterway health data. Birdlife Tasmania shares their
data on the presence of threatened bird species with industry members and their
consultants. However, Birdlife Tasmania have to use Right To Information
requests to attempt to access—but not be guaranteed to access—birdlife data
collected by industry.
Fin-fish farming licenses require all waterway health monitoring
data in respect of public waterways to be publicly released as soon as is
Chapter 4: Impact of fin-fish aquaculture on waterway health
The impact of fin-fish farming on the environment is the central issue
of this inquiry. The sustainability of the Tasmanian salmon industry depends on
waterway health being protected. The profitability of salmon farmers, the
people employed in the salmon industry, and the flow-on economic benefits that
derive from salmon farming all depend on waterway health being understood and
being adequately responded to.
As noted in the Committee report, the conditions in which salmon is
farmed in Tasmania are relatively unusual, especially Macquarie Harbour. These
conditions appear to be more susceptible to impacts from fin-fish aquaculture
than other salmon farming areas in the world.
It has been made evident during this inquiry that the impact of fin-fish
aquaculture on waterway health has not been conclusively established.
Accordingly, the Australian Greens accept that it is difficult for the
Committee to make clear statements in relation to the impact of fin-fish
aquaculture, particularly given the highly technical nature of much impact
assessment. However, this underscores the need to address issues related to
waterway monitoring and regulatory oversight to ensure the sustainability of
salmon farming in Tasmania. This is particularly so in relation to Macquarie
Harbour where issues relating to the impact of salmon farming on endangered
species remain unaddressed.
That a Macquarie Harbour Taskforce be jointly established by the
state and federal government.
Membership of this taskforce should include representatives from
industry, community, all levels of government, regulators and academic
institutions. The taskforce would bring together the numerous and disparate
threads of scientific work being undertaken by industry and various agencies so
as to develop a better understanding of the ecological processes within
The taskforce would report to the state and federal governments, and
would: publish real time updates on work plans and an annual report on the
state of the environment of Macquarie Harbour; hold community forums to promote
the taskforce's work, advise on gaps in scientific understanding and monitoring
efforts; provide regular updates on the dissolved oxygen levels and benthic
impacts of the industry; and provide advice on potential improvements to
As is noted in the Committee report, marine debris collected from
salmonid operations has been found to be increasing, particularly plastic rope
Fin-fish farming licensees have identifiable rope so that sources
of waste can be clearly identified and monitored.
Fin-fish farming licensees are required to report on the amount
of marine debris collected, including that which is attributable to their
The federal government's threat abatement plan for the impacts of
marine debris on vertebrate marine life should be updated to include the
impacts from fin-fish aquaculture.
Chapter 5: Environmental planning and regulation of the fin-fish industry
Independence of decision making
The apparent failure of the Tasmanian regulator to properly respond to
indications of environmental impacts in Macquarie Harbour was the trigger for
two of the three major salmon farmers in Tasmania emailing the Tasmanian
Government. Commentary from state parliamentarians that this inquiry was a 'witch
hunt' indicates that scrutiny of the Tasmanian Government's actions was not
considered welcome or necessary. However, evidence gathered during this inquiry
confirms that there are significant shortcomings in the regulation of fin-fish
aquaculture in Tasmania.
The fundamental issue is that the responsible department has a conflict
of interest: DPIPWE is both the promoter of the salmon industry and the
regulator of the salmon industry. That a regulator has responsibility for such
obviously divergent objectives is untenable and at odds with contemporary
governance approaches. The risks associated with the real or perceived lack of
independence of the Tasmanian regulator, and conflicting management objectives,
were identified as far back as 2004 by the Productivity Commission in its
report into Assessing Environmental Regulatory Arrangements for Aquaculture.
Establishing a regulatory system that is independent from commercial
pressures is essential to ensuring that all relevant interests are given due
consideration. It is also essential to ensuring community confidence in the
long-term sustainability of the salmon industry.
That Environment Protection Authority (EPA) Tasmania is given
responsibility for the regulation of fin-fish aquaculture in Tasmania as
prescribed by the Marine Farming Planning Act and the Living Marine Resources
Marine Farming Planning Review
Panel; merit review mechanisms; and lack of integration of planning processes
As noted in the Committee report, marine aquaculture is managed in a
distinctly different manner to terrestrial and riparian land-use planning
matters in Tasmania. Decisions relating to the issuance of licenses and
conditions for marine aquaculture are not subject to public hearings; are made
by the Minister; and are not subject to appeal.
The inquiry heard evidence detailing the shortcomings with the process,
including that it does not provide adequate opportunity for evidence to be
presented; does not allow for evidence to be heard in an open forum; does not
encourage consistent and precedent-based decisions; and does not provide an
avenue for decisions at odds with legislation to be challenged.
The Marine Farming Planning Review Panel (MFPRP) is empowered to
issue marine aquaculture licenses and is required to conduct a public
decision-making process regarding the consideration of marine aquaculture
licenses in accordance with the Resource Management and Planning System.
Decisions of the MFPRP are appealable to the Resource Management
and Planning Appeal Tribunal.
The Tasmanian Planning Commission is empowered to make regional
plans and provide state-wide guidance for marine aquaculture activities.
Adequacy of resourcing
Submissions relating to inland waterway health and the impacts from
salmonid hatcheries raised serious concerns about the lack of capacity of the
Tasmanian EPA to adequately address pollution issues in areas where it
currently does have jurisdiction.
The Tasmanian EPA be adequately resourced to carry out all of its
regulatory responsibilities in respect of fin-fish farming.
While adequately resourced government departments are important to
ensuring regulations are properly enforced, the community can also play a role
in helping inform regulators of potential impacts from industry activity.
The WaterWatch community program is reinstated with specific
focus on aquaculture hotspots; and funded through the federal government's
National Landcare Programme.
Chapter 6: Interaction of state and federal laws and regulations
As noted in the Committee report, the Commonwealth does not have an
active role in the regulation of fin-fish aquaculture. Rather, the Commonwealth's
role is to protect environmental values identified under the EPBC Act.
Nevertheless, there are a number of reviews of federal activities that
could be undertaken to help ensure the quality of oversight of fin-fish
aquaculture in Tasmania.
That a review be undertaken into funding opportunities for
fin-fish farming provided by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation
and other federal research partnerships to ensure that adequate environment
protection requirements are included.
That a review be undertaken into the potential for the
development of National Environment Protection Measures specifically related to
fin-fish farming impacts on ambient marine, estuarine and fresh water quality.
That a review be undertaken into the development of Water Quality
Improvement Plans through the National Water Quality Management Strategy.
This last review should specifically address reducing nutrient and other
forms of pollution from aquaculture activities. Additionally, consideration
should be given to adding Tasmanian aquaculture zones as 'water quality
hotspots,' including Macquarie Harbour, and extending the Derwent Estuary zone
to include the D'Entrecasteaux Channel.
Expansion of farming in Macquarie
Harbour and application of the EPBC Act
The Australian Greens believe that the precautionary principle should be
the foremost consideration for the management of the Tasmanian marine
environment. The precautionary principle is central the Federal EPBC Act. There
is no better example of a marine environment in which the precautionary
principle should be applied than the unique Macquarie Harbour, with the
endangered Maugean Skate that resides exclusively in a handful of south-western
In relation to salmon farming in Macquarie Harbour, the inquiry heard
evidence regarding the impacts on water quality; impacts on the aquatic
ecosystem including the benthic environment; and matters of national
environmental significance including listed threatened species and world
The Committee report notes the evidence presented that indicates, prima
facie, a breach of conditions set by the Federal Environment Minister in his
referral decision on Marine Farming Expansion in Macquarie Harbour. It is
essential that this evidence be acted upon to ensure that license conditions
for fin-fish farming have not been breached.
That an independent investigation be undertaken into whether the
conduct of government and industry has been consistent with the referral
decision Marine Farming Expansion, Macquarie Harbour, Tasmania (EPBC 2012/6406)
as specified by the Environment Minister under section 77A of the EPBC Act.
That the referral decision Marine Farming Expansion, Macquarie
Harbour, Tasmania (EPBC 2012/6406) is reconsidered in accordance with section
78 of the EPBC Act on the basis of emerging evidence regarding dissolved oxygen
and nitrate limit levels over the range of depths for which the Maugean Skate
is known to inhabit.
Formal identification of Macquarie Harbour as a critical habitat for the
Maugean Skate and formal identification of salmon farming as a threat would
precipitate the development of a national threat abatement plan and would
further help improve management practices to protect biodiversity, listed
species, and other world heritage properties.
The registration and identification of critical habitat for the
Maugean Skate be made pursuant to section 207A of the EPBC Act.
The national listing of the environmental impacts of fin-fish
farming operations is listed as a key threatening process in the next
Senator for Tasmania
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