Open letter to Premier: consultation illusory


Friday, December 9, 2022

Dear Premier,

Your government's defence of the consultation process surrounding plans to expand the Atlantic salmon industry in Tasmania is disingenuous and misleading.

In The Examiner, Launceston, your Primary Industry minister, Jo Palmer, says the government could not have done more to enable consultation on the draft plan.

In fact, the government could not have done more to create the illusion of public consultation.

The latest draft salmon plan utterly ignores the concerns more than 200 people who made thoughtful, intelligent and informed submissions in the first round of "consultation" – more than 80% of whom expressed serious concern about industry expansion and its impact on marine life, communities and waterways.

Your government's true intentions were revealed when it emerged that you personally gave secret undertakings to multinational salmon executives at a private Liberal Party fundraiser that their expansion plans would be green-lighted. This was shameful back-door dealing with multinationals whose records of corruption, environmental vandalism and regulatory failures are globally recognised.

To now claim the government is consulting the public in good faith is dishonest and insulting.

It is you or Minister Jo Palmer who should be facing the difficult but legitimate questions at the current round of public meetings, not the two public servants who struggle to defend a draft document lacking detail and clarity while unable to answer the inevitable questions of policy that you should be there to answer.

The public meetings are a travesty of process.

They have not been widely advertised. The Hobart venue was – confusingly – kept secret until far too late. People have been refused registration because of "oversubscription" only to find – in Hobart – the hall is half empty. Bruny Island residents, at the epicentre of the industry, do not have the courtesy of a meeting, instead having to traipse across the Channel to Hobart or Huonville. The many residents of the Tasman Peninsula and the Huon Valley who work in Hobart will be denied the opportunity to attend the midweek lunchtime meetings although they, like Bruny Island, are deeply impacted by the industry.

It is unclear why anyone would bother to engage in this latest round of submissions or how they can do so when the draft document lacks clarity, detail or scientific underpinnings. Even industry executives tell me they do not see much point in engaging. You, of course, have already promised the executives what they want, so they have no incentive to engage.

In a further act of bad faith, January 20 is set as the deadline for a second round of public submissions. This is in complete contradiction to undertakings by your Cabinet colleague, Roger Jaensch, who gave me and two others a clear undertaking that the process would not be held over the Christmas/New Year holiday period—the traditional time for governments to bury controversial issues.

Given this litany of failure of process and good faith, could you please explain why any Tasmanian should trust the process of industry expansion you have set in train?

Could you also explain why you have prioritised the demands of a voracious foreign-owned industry whose profits will go offshore when alternatives exist to maintain and increase employment in a sustainable industry?

And will you now let Tasmanians into the secret of how and where you intend to green-light industry expansion? Is Bass Strait next for open-net Atlantic salmon cages? Or the west coast of the Furneaux Islands already designated for "fin fish" exploitation? Or increased stocking densities and cages around Bruny Island? Or further exploiting oxygen-depleted Macquarie Harbour?

Your silence—or the usual response that "matters you have raised have been noted, and your correspondence is currently being considered" —will be taken as acknowledgement that your actions and those of the government are indefensible.

Yours sincerely,

Peter George

President, Neighbours of Fish Farming

(Published statewide campaign on 12 December in the Examiner and 14 December in the Mercury)