Albanese’s Tassal visit an endorsement of corporate environmental vandals


The Saturday Paper reports that Anthony Albanese's visit to Tassal's salmon plant in the south of Tasmania on January 17 was a calculated provocation. Albanese appeared before the media in a vest embroidered with "Albo" and a hat printed with the Tassal logo. The office of prime minister is now open to corporate sponsorship. He is happy to be used as a Tassal prop.

Tassal is the biggest of the three overseas-owned companies exploiting Tasmania's inshore waters for industrial salmon production. Millions of introduced salmon swim in huge pens in the Huon and Derwent estuaries, Storm Bay, the D'Entrecasteaux Channel, the Mercury Passage at Maria Island on the east coast, and Macquarie Harbour on the west coast.

Macquarie Harbour is particularly contentious because it is the only remaining habitat of the Maugean skate, now on the doorstep of extinction due to multiple causes, but scientists say the main problem is the salmon pens that deplete oxygen from the harbour's waters. The same threats face the remarkable Red Handfish on the east coast.

Tanya Plibersek, Albanese's minister for the environment, has had to intervene and flag the removal of the industry from Macquarie harbour if a solution to the skate's plight cannot be found.

That alarmed the foreign-owned salmon industry. So Albanese's arrival at Tassal's operations hub south of Hobart, will have given an enormous sigh of relief to the parent company in Canada. Plibersek was nowhere to be seen. Getting Australia's prime minister to rig up as its advertising board was a corporate coup.

The cap the prime minister was wearing had a tagline under the Tassal logo: "It's Australian for seafood". The claim is as brazen as it is absurd. Atlantic salmon are a genetically altered version of a fish from the north Atlantic, about as far from Australia as it's possible to get. Albanese's message undermines Tasmania's brand, reputation for nature and claim for high-quality natural seafoods.

Albanese's personalised vest carried the logo of "Salmon Tasmania", the industry's peak body, which lobbies for government grants, institutional partnerships and laws "to ensure sustainable operation and regulation of the industry". Its commercial interpretation of "sustainable operation and regulation of the industry" makes the Maugean skate expendable. It demands that not one fish, not one job should be at stake to save the species. Add not one dollar of profit.

The day after Albanese flew back from Tasmania, Tassal's application to continue use of underwater explosives to ward off seals from its salmon leases was rejected by the international Aquaculture Stewardship Council, which said it was not convinced Tassal would be able to sufficiently minimise the impact on wildlife and that Tassal had failed to provide "credible evidence" for its rationale that it needed explosives to ensure the safety of its workers.

Asked about how he would honour Plibersek's commitment to action at Macquarie Harbour, including removing industrial fish farming if necessary to rescue the Maugean skate from extinction, Albanese said, "I support their jobs, I support all jobs. I am a pro-jobs prime minister and we need to support jobs and there's no conflict between jobs and sustainability."

He continued: "We have environmental laws that have to be dealt with … they're not optional, they're the law and we comply with the law and we do so in a sustainable way and we're working with industry to work through these issues."

The "we" Albanese refers to is a government that has also backed the industry's push for laws against protests. Tasmania's Atlantic salmon industry successfully lobbied Labor and Liberal parties for laws that criminalise peaceful protests. Citizens are banned from entering the peppercorn-rental sea leases in which the companies operate, under threat of large fines or jail sentences.

A small but noisy throng of protesters could be heard throughout the prime minister's media conference in Tasmania. The Albanese entourage was furious. Who had tipped off the demonstrators that he was about to visit? After all, he was there to advertise Tassal, not be accountable to the public. Like John Howard, he may be "greenish", but corporate wellbeing is this Labor leader's top priority.

Read the Saturday Paper's full report here.