Select Committee on Marine Parks in South Australia

20 Mar 2013 archivespeech

This speech is regarding Marine Parks in South Australia.

Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. D.G.E. Hood:

That the interim report of the select committee be noted.

(Continued form 28 November 2012.)

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (20:53): I rise to make some remarks in favour of this motion. At the outset, I acknowledge all the people who have thus far put in evidence to this inquiry, both as groups and as individuals, and representing various organisations, and from the government of course, both in written form and appearing before the committee. I think a number of people probably did appear before a parliamentary committee for the first time in their lives and some were obviously quite nervous. I think it goes to show the level of concern that arose in relation to the draft sanctuary zones that were published, and the concern that it has caused in those communities. I would also like to acknowledge the staff of the committee, Guy Dickson, Leslie Guy and researcher Geraldine Sladden because there have been many hours of evidence and witnesses and it is clearly a large amount of work to have pulled this report together.

I will just make some brief remarks in relation to the marine parks process. There is overwhelming support for the concept of marine parks and for sanctuary zones, and that is something that we heard consistently from witnesses. Of course, the devil is always in the detail as to what the impact will be and where those zones should be located. The feeling was often that the draft sanctuary zones were an ambit plan on behalf of the department, and one has to wonder what on earth they were thinking to have caused such an uproar.

Local communities certainly felt disenfranchised, and I think that this committee has served to provide a voice to a lot of people who felt railroaded and fairly helpless, I think, at what they saw as a foregone conclusion. The revised zones will be the subject of our next round of inquiry, and we will be meeting to discuss those. The committee was established in May 2011, so that is getting close to two years ago, and we have made some recommendations which members can clearly read for themselves.

The evidence focused on a range of issues about the future of particular communities and, for those who make their livelihood from fishing, the effect that that will have on regional economies, the consultation process, the local advisory group process and the doctoring of minutes and so forth. Those were things that we heard quite consistently, and I think it is worth members and members of the public reflecting on those and having a look.

There are three sets of evidence that I would like to perhaps highlight a little, because I think they probably paint a fairly clear picture of the process that took place. One is from the D'Estrees Action Group located on Kangaroo Island, and the three people who came to give evidence to our committee were Greg and Sharon Simons and Cherie Tyley. I think they put the issues quite succinctly and probably summed up a lot of things that a lot of people felt. I will quote from their evidence, because I think it speaks for itself; this is Sharon Simons speaking:

Our group has raised concerns about the science being used when speaking with DENR staff. For example, I asked a DENR rep where the information for the data maps in the Marine Park 17 came from.This led me to discover that the map for 'benthic habitat and endangered macroalgae' was an exaggeration, as the macroalgae wasa little-known species andpotentially endangered. This was an example of our group losing faith in the accuracy of the maps being used.

One of the first claims made by proponents of sanctuary zones is that 90 per cent of our marine life can be found nowhere else in the world. Unfortunately this claim can be made in almost any other part of the world and highlights another problem with the science behind MPAs. Much of the supporting science is from everywhere else in the world with little scientific study done on our existing aquatic reserves [under the Fisheries Act] that are sanctuary zones to get an idea of how well they are working. The SA public wants to know this local science.

Much of the supporting science behind MPAs comes from other countries with no fisheries management in place at all so of course when we look at these studies there is a resounding success rate in the implementation of marine parks. The first thing done in such areas is to introduce fisheries management rules and regulations like we have in SA already. I won't say that our rules are perfect but they are amongst the world's best standard and ongoing monitoring needs to be kept up in order to ensure that select species are not overexploited.

Proponents of Sanctuary Zones refer to studies that point out that fishing catches peaked in the late 1980s. While this may be true, they fail to realise or mention that these fish stocks would have been in a state of maninduced inflation.This is due to the fact that ever since white man arrived in Australia we have systematically hunted the apex predators such as seals, sharks and whales. Commercial fishing as we know it today has really only flourished in the last 50 or 60 years. You don't need to be a scientist to realise that once the higher order predators are removed from the food chain prey species will breed up unabated. The point is that we have been drastically altering the ocean's food chain since white settlement, and claiming large areas as sanctuary zones isn't really going to solve any issues here.

I think that demonstrates that a lot of people were mystified and disenfranchised, and the science has caused a number of concerns. There has also been concern that sanctuary zones are going to displace effort into areas, which means that those areas which will be able to be fished will become depleted of stock, and that there is a difference between pelagic species—that is, those that move—and those which have a high site fidelity. So, in areas where pelagic species may be prevalent in one year and not in another. In this regard, in response to a question from me about declines in particular populations—referring to rock lobster in this case—Ms Tyley says:

I think it fluctuates from year to year because of things we have no control of; it is the way that the tide moves, the way that the currents come in. The fish are pelagic. There are upwellings in the sea that don't bring the baby crayfish through one year, and then another year there will be a brilliant take-up of them. There are lots at the moment of very small fish and provided other predators don't get them—and seals are a huge predator of crayfish. The seal population needs controlling more than anything else does—

I note that seal populations on Kangaroo Island are a concern for other species as well—

because they are eating each other out of house and home. There are all sorts of variables. It is like Greg says, you can go fishing one day and there are lots of fish about, and you can go another day and there is not, because they have things that control what they are doing, the same as crayfish do. Over the years, there probably have been crests and troughs with the way the catch has been going. At the moment, we are in an uprising.

A lot of these people have a lot of experience in these areas and a lot of common sense. For them, I think it was an insult to be told that things were a certain way and for them not to be able to feel like they were influencing that process. I will quote again Sharon Simons where she is referring to the science and the design principles. She says:

The way that the plans came out—the environmental goals for the marine parks are so high. There are 14 design principles and they are actually already being met by the outer boundaries of the parks and, to make a representative model of each park, like a mini park inside a park, you cannot tick all 14 design principles because half of them are environmental and half of them are social and economic. You can't please all of those design principles. Every time we are told it is okay, that there is going to be compensation, that makes me think that the fishermen are going to be compensated. This is going to happen.

One of the other witnesses I would like to refer to is a fellow by the name of Christian Pike, who was very involved in industry through the sardine association. He was a member of the Marine Parks Council, which was established under the Marine Parks Act, for its first three years. He was also on the Displaced Effort Working Group and was involved with the Eyre Regional Development Board and a fishery and aquaculture target team. That is going back to 2007, so not long after the act was gazetted.

In relation to the scientific evidence, he says that there has been a misuse of science and scientific principles throughout this process by DENR and the scientific working group. 'Where does it start and where does it stop? I will attempt to explain that.' He referred to a document that has been produced by DENR called, 'A Technical Report on the Outer Boundaries of South Australia's Marine Parks Network'. Anybody who has researched this issue would be quite familiar with that report. He refers to it as a 'key document for DENR', and he quotes, from under the heading, 'The benefits of marine protected areas', the following: places that are protected from extractive uses, the biomass of plants and animals within no-take areas typically increases by almost 450% globally, and by over 550% in temperate areas...Worldwide analyses...suggest that approximately 61% of fish species studied respond positively to protection, and that 39% of the species studied also became more abundant outside of protected places.

He then goes on to talk about what that reference is, that is, a document called 'PISCO, 2007', and PISCO (Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans) is a collaboration headed by author Lester, S. He stated that this was being misused in a South Australian setting. I will continue to quote Mr Pike:

The PISCO results from 2007 are drawn from the introduction of marine-protected areas in reef environments in Third World Asia, environments that have been heavily impacted by dynamite and cyanide fishing. Two examples of this are Apo Island in the Philippines and reefs in PNG. The omission of this key detail highlighted that examples being utilised to exemplify the benefits of marine parks in SA do not actually apply to SA. This point was made very clear at the release of this document to DENR, and it was a point that became very hotly contested in the public domain.

He then said that another reference—McCook et al (2010)—is used in DENR's paper where the science shows marine park benefits. Under the heading, 'Increases in abundance, size and diversity of overall biomass', this document states the following:

Monitoring of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park has revealed a two-fold increase in both numbers and size of fish, in particular coral trout, red emperor and redthroat emperor on many of the no-take reefs.

This, obviously, is referring to tropical waters. Mr Pike goes on to point out that the recreational species in South Australia that are targeted are mulloway, tuna, sardines, King George whiting, snapper, tommies, redfish and silver trevally, which are not like coral trout and emperor species, which he says have 'high site fidelity and can actually benefit from a closed area'. Mr Pike gave his evidence at Port Lincoln on 16 November 2011. He went on to talk about how DENR had leapfrogged to use the Lester evidence and said that one of DENR's papers:

...compared the effects of temperate and tropical marine sanctuaries and found that effects in temperate waters were at least as strong as in tropical waters.

Temperate waters being like those in South Australia.

In fact, they found a 446% mean increase in biomass within marine sanctuaries. However, this study incorporated some examples from countries with relatively poor fisheries management practices.

I think that might actually be what the Lester document itself was stating rather than the DENR document. Mr Pike talked about further references DENR referred to, including a paper authored by Fairweather et al (2009) which found: even stronger effect than Lester et al found, with a mean biomass increase of 975% in sanctuaries.

Mr Pike pointed out to us that this Fairweather reference relates to a report entitled 'Marine parks science in New South Wales, an independent review' and that the chair of the review was 'Professor Fairweather, who is employed or has been employed by DENR in SA and is a member of the scientific working group'. Further in his evidence, Mr Pike said:

Professor Fairweather clearly states that the work in appendix 3 of this report is purely his calculations and conclusions and is not the work of the collective review panel. The work in appendix 3 does not appear to be peer reviewed and the author states that the calculations are simplistic and in a spirit of empirical discovery.

Mr Pike concluded that a lot of this evidence was being used in a very deceptive way to overinflate the impact of sanctuary zones. He then talked about the process, and he said that if you were to grade the process on face time with the community you would give DENR 10 out of 10. He then says:

However, when it became apparent early in the process that the information being utilised by DENR was flawed, and people began to believe that DENR were presenting the facts in a skewed manner, a high level of dissatisfaction with this process started to be observed.

I think he is talking about the LAG process and people being outraged. He goes on:

From my vantage point as a member of the Marine Parks Council, I continually informed DENR that their misleading presentation of the facts was creating a lot of resentment in the community [re] this process...I was reminded on such occasions that it was beyond the charter of the Marine Parks Council to provide such advice and that advice went unheard. Also, it was very apparent that there was far greater weight given to outcomes of the Scientific Working Group than the Marine Parks Council, in my view. This would be okay if the results ofthe Scientific Working Group were balanced, but they always seemed to be in conflict with commitments made to the public by the minister, and this served to heighten levels of dissatisfaction.

It is my view that the Scientific Working Group is subjective in their analysis and findings. Almost anything from a community perspective that was put to them was howled down or discredited by the Scientific Working Group...and DENR would use this advice to push on against significant public concerns that have mounted without being addressed.

The other set of evidence that I would like to refer to is that of the final presentation by the government departments prior to us writing our interim report. As is customary, the government departments get the first word and the last word, so we first heard from the government on 20 July 2011. We subsequently heard from them on 10 May 2012. A lot of the subject of the second appearance was trying to find out from the government what the costs were, whether estimates had been done, and so forth. I think that the department deliberately obfuscated in giving us any information. We asked some fairly specific questions, trying to drill down to management costs, displacement effort and so forth, and we were never actually provided with any sort of detail.

One of the questions I asked of the CEO of the environment department, Mr Holmes, was about costs of monitoring and so forth, whether there was some sort of figure. His reply was:

We've not done any detailed analysis of the costs of managing the parks.

I find that somewhat extraordinary given that in an FOI document obtained by Stephen Marshall, the member for Norwood, now our parliamentary leader, found that there were documents relating to very specific information particularly about the displaced effort, and this information was available at the time of our committee and it was not made available to us.

There is a document which is dated and which must have been received in the minister's office on 1 November 2011, some six months before the department appeared before the committee. It is entitled 'Marine parks—cost reduction options related to management of displaced commercial fishing effect working document development of position for cabinet'. Essentially the document is about trying to find ways of reducing how much needs to be paid out to industry that has been displaced by the implementation of these marine parks. We should have been provided with this, and I think it is an absolute disgrace that the committee was not provided with that sort of information when clearly it was well within its terms of reference.

Another document that appeared through the member for Norwood's inquiry through freedom of information—which seems to be the only way you can get information on these sorts of issues at times—is what we all know now because we see all the bus packs and TV ads featuring areas like the Port Noarlunga jetty, where people cannot fish for crabs anyway, never mind the detail. The draft communication strategy is exhorting that the campaign should be 'to sell sanctuary zones...through a pathos heavy battle for hearts and minds'. This is in light of the postcards that had been sent out to householders last year saying mistruths that an agreement had been reached with the conservation, recreation and commercial fishing sectors on zoning, which was complete news to the commercial fishing industry at least.

The government has tried all sorts of tactics. We have just had a motion relating to cuts to community health, yet this government seems to be able to spend hard-earned taxpayers' money on its marine park advertising. It reminds me of one of those sayings: 'The people must be wrong so we must convince them through propaganda.'

I turn now to what our future inquiry will be. The new sanctuary zones, I believe, deserve examination. There are still a number of communities but they are fewer in number because I think politically it makes it easier for the government to try to sell it if there are not as many people who are outraged as there were two years ago. However, as recently as January this year, an article in The Advertiser reported on Kangaroo Island net fisherman, Michael Fooks. His conclusion (and it is not necessarily just his opinion) is that visitors and locals on Kangaroo Island will not have access to fresh seafood—which is somewhat incomprehensible based on the current sanctuary zones—and that if fish is to be consumed on the island it is going to have to be imported from elsewhere. How is that consistent with reducing our carbon footprint?

I look forward to further inquiries by the select committee. I think it has been a very worthwhile exercise. A lot of people did say to us when they appeared before the committee that this was the first time they had actually felt like people were listening to them, because they had been through the LAG process and they felt like it was a foregone conclusion, that the die was cast and they were going to be forced to put up with what the environment department had clearly determined for their fate. So, with those words I indicate support for the motion.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. T.J. Stephens.