A couple of weekends ago it was a terrific privilege to stand side by side with thousands and thousands of Australians—in particular, West Australians—at Perth's Cottesloe Beach to protest against the Western Australian shark kill policy. This is an appalling policy of Premier Barnett. The majority of Western Australians understand that the ocean is the natural habitat of sharks, yet Premier Colin Barnett and minister Greg Hunt are mutually complicit in this bad policy. Greg Hunt has approved it with absolutely no evidence that it will prevent any deaths. He signed an exemption to the relevant act on 10 January, but he waited 10 days before making it public. I am not sure about the reason for this secrecy. Maybe it is another example of the general veil of secrecy which we are used to with the Abbott government, but I suspect that he felt that, without the delay, he would have been exposed for having made the decision in a rush without any evidential basis for having done so.
Under the relevant act, our national environment minister may only allow exemptions in the national interest—in the interests of defence, security or national emergency—so it is clear that Minister Hunt is vastly overreaching. I believe that he has made the exemption against the national interest. There is no evidence that the shark cull will in any way guarantee the safety of people in the ocean. The making of the exemption damages our conservation values and international commitments. Also, the WA fisheries department has said that the cull is unlikely to be effective. In fact, in their document Likely effectiveness of netting or other capture programs as a shark hazard mitigation strategy,they make the following points:
Shark Control Programs result in the capture of a wide range of by-catch species including marine mammals, marine turtles, and sharks and rays not implicated in unprovoked attacks on humans. Shark control activities would pose a risk to dolphins …
Furthermore, drum lines, due to their environmental impact, are not recommended. Labor would not have approved this exemption. Colin Barnett and Greg Hunt are equally culpable for this appalling policy. It requires a proper environmental impact assessment—and, if one were undertaken, it is doubtful whether the policy would stack up.
Sharks caught on drum lines can, in fact, attract other sharks—as reported by Fisheries crews. Is it any wonder that organisers of the Rottnest Island swim said: 'Please take the drum lines away before we swim to Rottnest. We do not want these drum lines here because we consider them a potential hazard.' The environment seems to come last in everything the Liberals do at the moment. Whether it is marine conservation or forests, there is carte blanche to operate without recognition and consideration of our significant natural heritage. Shark attacks, while rare, are indeed terrible tragedies. But the money being spent on this shark control program could save more lives if it were targeted at our hospitals, our mental health system, road safety or learn-to-swim programs. Many more people drown every year than will ever be killed by sharks. We really need to think about whether this is an efficient thing to do.
We also need to think about the biodiversity impacts of this policy. Sharks are absolutely vital to the ecosystems of our oceans. Dead sharks equals dead oceans equals a dead planet. So we really need to respect this species. Shark fishers are concerned about the potential loss of breeding stock. I think there is a good direction here for WA to go with the shark barrier off Coogee. In closing, I stand by those who are taking a stand against this terrible policy.