January 27th 2018

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Loy Yang just latest critical asset to go offshore

EDITORIAL Behind the power shift in the Middle East

CANBERRA OBSERVED Freedom of religion just an afterthought?

GENDER POLITICS Family Court washes hands of gender-dysphoric kids

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Western sanctions have forced Russia to upskill

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS China exerts soft power on our southern neighbour

ENVIRONMENT Senate committee puts marine life before people

SEXUAL ABUSE Royal commission report ignores cause of abuse

HIGHER EDUCATION Critical thinking and the culture of skepticism

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS U.S. urges Taiwan rearmament to counter China threat

PHILOSOPHY A reflection on thoughts of Richard Dawkins

MUSIC Group theory: A good band is greater than its parts

CINEMA Darkest Hour: A long time till dawn

BOOK REVIEW 'Populism' and the new social divide

BOOK REVIEW Poems outshine dross of inept introduction



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Senate committee puts marine life before people

by Chris McCormack

News Weekly, January 27, 2018

It is one of our favourite summer pastimes. Hitting the beach to enjoy cooling off in the seemingly endless expanse of water that surrounds this continent, with the carefree abandon Aussies are famous for. But that could be about to change.

Millions of residents, not to mention international tourists, will enter the oceans, harbours or bays this summer. They unconsciously expect that governments would take reasonable steps to protect swimmers from shark attacks. But a Senate report of the Environment and Communications References Committee entitled “Shark mitigation and deterrent measures”, released in December 2017, made the following recommendation: “The committee is of the view that the available evidence about the effectiveness of lethal shark control measures (mesh nets and traditional drum lines) used in New South Wales and Queensland does not warrant their continuation. The committee is concerned that the existence of lethal measures and the government resources devoted to their management provides the beach-going public with a false sense of security.” (p164)

One can only surmise that the committee arrived at this unsettling conclusion through an ideological bias. It was chaired by Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson. The “lethal shark-control measures” consist of a large submerged baited hook attached by line to a floating drum with another line anchoring the drum to the sea floor. If a shark bites the bait and gets hooked, it will die if not attended to within a short time. These baited hooks may work in conjunction with nets that are intended physically to keep sharks away from swimmers. The nets, though extremely effective, do not form a physically continuous line of protection. Moreover, they do trap and kill many forms of marine life.

A submission to the committee from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries stated that, since the baited drum lines and nets were installed along the most populous Queensland beaches in 1962 following multiple fatal shark bites, “only one fatal shark attack has been recorded at a beach serviced by the program”, despite the large increase in swimmers at these beaches since that time.

The department’s submission noted that, “prior to 1962, regular shark attacks occurred on popular Queensland beaches and made them unsafe for recreation”.

The NSW Department of Primary Industries manages the NSW Shark Meshing (Bather Protection) Program, which operates on 51 beaches between Wollongong and Newcastle. The beaches are netted between September 1 and April 30 each year. Since the program was introduced in 1937, there has been one fatal shark attack at a meshed beach in NSW, at Merewether Beach, Newcastle, in 1951. Of the 47 fatal shark attacks in NSW and Queensland in the last 100 years, 45 were at beaches with no shark mitigation measures.

Yet the committee could not see the efficacy of the baits and nets system, despite the fact that only two out of 47 recorded fatal shark attacks in these states in the last century occurred at meshed beaches.

The committee has recommended the removal of all nets and drum lines. One recommendation was for the use of smart drum lines (currently trialled on NSW’s north and south coasts) which, when a shark or other marine animal is caught, electronically alerts the relevant authority to attend, and release the catch. A comprehensive study needs to be undertaken into the efficacy of smart drum lines versus traditional drum lines and nets, and the benefit of new technologies proven, before smart drum lines replace existing shark-mitigation measures. Government’s should not gamble with peoples’ lives, courtesy of an animals-first ideology.

The West Australian Labor Government does not use nets or baited drum lines. In WA there have been 15 unprovoked fatal shark attacks since 2000. The latest fatality was of a 17-year-old girl in April 2017.

Following that attack, WA Fisheries minister Dave Kelly said to reporters: “We made it clear in opposition that we don’t see the merit in automatically deploying drum lines because they don’t actually make our beaches any safer.” Such is the alternate reality the WA Labor and Greens parties, who both oppose drum lines, live in.

In January 2014, when the previous WA Liberal government trialled baited drum lines for three months along the southwest coast after a spate of fatal shark attacks, no fatal shark attacks occurred during the trial period. However, after the WA Environmental Protection Authority recommended they be removed because they could harm protected species, and after public protests, the Liberal government abandoned the measures. The WA experience shows that both major political parties are willing to put animals’ lives ahead of human lives.

A common thread of the submissions to the Senate committee advocating removing meshing and baited drum lines was a dismissal of the evidence that nets and drum lines prevented deaths. They suggested that, because governments couldn’t “guarantee” public safety, they should remove these forms of shark mitigation because they harmed sharks and other bycatch.

The Senate committee in turn recommended adopting other forms of shark mitigation.

Although smart drum lines would appear to be the most effective alternative, they are considerably more expensive to maintain and must prove to be at least as effective as baited drum lines and nets before replacing them. Where human lives are at stake, government policies must reflect an evidence-based, humans first, not animals-first, approach.

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April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm