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Proposed speech on the Agriculture and Fisheries and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2023

On 18 April 2024, Queensland Parliament passed the Agriculture and Fisheries and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2023. Due to the Government setting limits on debate, I didn't get an opportunity to speak on the Bill. The speech I would have delivered, if allowed time, is below. 

I’d like to first flag our support for the changes to the Fisheries Act and then turn to address some issues around the proposed Animal Management Act changes. 

We know the outlook for our oceans is grim, with rising ocean temperatures, acidification, lower oxygen levels, marine heatwaves and widespread coral bleaching. And all of this is compounded by the impacts of illegal and unsustainable fishing practices. 

Queensland’s coastlines are absolutely iconic. At Burleigh Beach in just the last month, locals and visitors could swim out from the beach and see whole schools of hammerhead shark pups - a species that faces an existential threat from illegal fishing and unsustainable fishing practices.

The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef system in the world. It supports approximately 64,000 full-time jobs for Queenslanders, generates over $6 billion in tourism revenue and is home to around 9,000 known species. But unsustainable and illegal fishing continues to threaten the health and resilience of this incredible ecosystem. The sheer scale of the reef, stretching around 2,300km along the Queensland coast, it’s not surprising that surveillance and monitoring of commercial fishing operations has been difficult. 

So we are pleased to see the introduction of a framework for independent onboard monitoring on commercial fishing vessels.

The Bill provides a mechanism for the chief executive to impose video monitoring conditions if satisfied the condition is necessary to monitor whether the purpose of the Act is being achieved and how commercial fishing activities are being carried out. This provides broad scope to impose the condition and I hope that discretion is exercised to the greatest extent. 

It is accompanied by a framework for installation and use of video monitoring equipment. In addition, the Bill provides for imposition of conditions requiring an official observer to be placed in a boat. This has the added benefit of enabling specific species identification and collection of samples for scientific purposes. 

As the Australian Marine Conservation Society and WWF note in their joint submission - despite mandatory reporting requirements, the scale of interactions with Threatened, Endangered and Protected species is likely far higher than is actually reported. They, like us, are strongly supportive of independent onboard monitoring programs to collect accurate information on catch and bycatch, and provide for the independent validation of logbook data.

The Committee made recommendations around ensuring data collected is subject to appropriate privacy safeguards. While personal information collected as part of those monitoring programs should be safeguarded, data associated with the practices and impacts of commercial fishing operations should be made publicly available in the interests of transparency, and not be subject to commercial in confidence protections that are so often used to limit accountability. 

Consumers are increasingly voting with their dollars. The AMCS good fish guide is a fantastic resource that makes it easier for consumers to choose seafood products based on their environmental sustainability. This kind of transparency therefore also contributes to better commercial practices.

Finally, for the new monitoring system to have the deterrent effect that it desperately must have, it must be accompanied by the genuine threat of enforcement - which requires the backing of a properly resourced, independent Environmental Protection Agency. 

It has been almost two years since consultation closed on the “possible establishment of an independent EPA” and we haven’t heard peep from this government about the outcome and plans to progress this much needed agency.

Animal Management Act changes

Our position on the proposed changes to regulation of dogs is less straightforward. The Bill is highlighting a real problem but it seems the government just wants to be seen to be doing something and I question whether the apparent solutions put forward in this Bill will create a meaningful difference.

There’s no doubt that deliberately encouraging a dog to attack or cause fear is utterly unacceptable. So we are not opposed to the introduction of higher penalties for the worst kinds of offending but we are deeply sceptical that if not accompanied by a comprehensive education program and support for training at a cost that is not prohibitive, then the penalties alone will not prevent this kind of offending and other accidental attacks and injuries. 

I also want to take a moment to recognise that while this kind of behaviour is illegal for most people, the deployment of police dogs for crowd control and as use of reasonable force is still considered appropriate. 

The Bill would make it so that permits for current restricted dog breeds - which as the name suggests are already subject to restrictions - would no longer be issued. In principle, we are not opposed to the proposed ban but echo many of the submissions that raise serious concerns about how it would be implemented where it can be difficult to determine a dog’s breed. 

There is a lot of support among animal welfare advocates for the ban on specific dog breeds. Submissions note that the listed breeds are already heavily restricted, that there is no consensus that certain breeds are inherently aggressive and organisations such as the RSPCA say that identifying breeds accurately is difficult (particularly for pitbulls). These difficulties were recognised by the Committee with a recommendation to develop a comprehensive set of guidelines for identification of prohibited breeds.

The Bill also introduces offences relating to effective control of dogs in public places. It goes without saying that people should be responsible dog owners, however, there is a likelihood that these new offences will disproportionately impact the most vulnerable people in our communities without actually solving the problem. 

The recommendation of the Animal Defenders Office for free education and dog training for concession card holders is sensible and would do more to prevent harm than criminalisation alone. Telling people they need to be responsible dog owners is all well and good, but the realities of this can be difficult for people who do not have access to financial resources for training programs. 

So while it’s good to see this Bill accompanied by commitments to general educational and advertising programs, it appears this would not extend to support for specific dog training, which would especially assist people who are financially disadvantaged. 

Again, we support the introduction of independent onboard monitoring but have real concerns that the provisions around dangerous dogs, particularly the ban on specific breeds, are not evidence-based. It sounds nice and simple for a media release, sure, but it’s an oversimplified approach that will likely be difficult to implement and fall most heavily on poor and other vulnerable Queenslanders. 

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