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Shark cull: Greg Hunt exempts WA from laws protecting species at risk

Great White Shark

A great white shark. Photograph: ScreenWest/AAP


Powered by article titled “Shark cull: Greg Hunt exempts WA from laws protecting species at risk” was written by Oliver Milman, for on Tuesday 21st January 2014 04.39 UTC

Greg Hunt, the environment minister, has helped clear the way for a controversial shark cull in Western Australia by exempting it from federal legislation designed to protect threatened species.

Hunt has agreed to the WA government’s request to have the cull exempt from assessment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, citing a “national interest” in allowing the trapping and killing of the sharks.

The WA government plans to string 72 baited hooks 1km from the shoreline of eight popular beaches around Perth and the south-west. Boat patrols will shoot any sharks measuring over 3m caught by the hooks.

Hunt’s approval, which was dated 9 January but only made public now, points to “substantial public concern” about the safety of water-based activities in Western Australia, after an increasing trend of shark attacks since 1995.

The exemption states that WA’s $8.5bn tourism industry could be hit by continual shark attacks and that the cull should be allowed subject to conditions aimed at reducing harm to seabirds and whales.

In a letter to the WA premier, Colin Barnett, Hunt said Australians understood the risk to swimming, surfing and boating in the open sea and that government “cannot take away that risk at the general level.”

Despite this, Hunt said a series of shark attacks – there have been seven fatalities in WA waters in the past three years – were “well above the historic norm” and that exemption from the conservation act was appropriate.

Hunt said that other marine species or sharks measuring under 3m should be released from the hooks alive, unless they were too badly injured, and that the exemption would only run until 30 April.

“One does not have to agree with a policy to accept that a national interest exemption is warranted to protect against imminent threat to life, economic damage and public safety more generally,” Hunt wrote.

The act requires that the federal government assess any action deemed to threaten an at-risk species in Australia. The great white shark is listed as a vulnerable, migratory species, while the grey nurse shark is considered threatened.

The act states the environment minister can exempt such an action from assessment in the national interest, which includes Australia’s defence or security or a “national emergency”. However, the minister is not limited to these definitions.

Hunt’s approval clears one obstacle from the path of the WA government, which is facing legal action from a coalition of conservation groups that claims the cull is contrary to state, federal and international obligations.

The Barnett government has announced it will be carrying out the cull itself, after claiming that the business that won a tender for the work backed out of the project following death threats. Opponents of the cull claim it is pointless and barbaric.

Humane Society International said Hunt’s decision to exempt the cull from assessment was a “complete disgrace.”

Alexia Wellbelove, senior program manager at the conservation group, said: “The proposed policy and consideration by the federal environment minister lacks any real scientific approach, and fails to sufficiently consider the wider marine implications of the program.

“This exemption demonstrates the complete failure of the federal government to protect our most precious species and fulfill our international environmental obligations, for the price of a policy which we do not believe will have the desired impact of reducing risk for people, which is its stated purpose.

“HSI reiterates its calls on both Premier Barnett and Minister Hunt to end this farce of a program and instead invest in research to help better educate the public on how to reduce the risk of shark bites.”

Mark Butler, Labor’s environment spokesman, said the opposition did not support Hunt’s decision as it wasn’t “evidence-based”.

“Minister Greg Hunt has given the WA premier free rein to proceed with his plans by relying on an exemption provision within the federal environment laws directed at ‘Australia’s defence or security or a national emergency’,” he said.

 “Mr Hunt’s decision contains no evidence about how this issue qualifies as a ‘national emergency’ or about the wisdom of Premier Barnett’s plan compared to traditional shark management practices.


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