Legislative Council: Wednesday, May 18, 2022


Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (15:56): I move:

That the Environment, Resources and Development Committee inquire into and report on further legislative and policy measures to better protect the dolphins in the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary and the Port River, with particular consideration to be given to:

1. Limiting dredging;

2. Banning heavy gauge fishing practices and the use of large hooks, live bait and trawling;

3. Larger fines for industry discharge into the Port River;

4. Further speed restrictions on the Port River;

5. Increasing marine safety officers and park rangers;

6. Installation of shellfish reefs;

7. Regular and increased water quality monitoring; and

8. The impact of the die-off of mangroves and saltmarsh at St Kilda on the Port River dolphins.

Today, I rise to speak on an issue that I have spoken of in this place before, but I do so with a call to action. The bottlenose Port River dolphins are a much-loved feature of the Port. Although the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary was created in 2005, as we well know the Port River dolphins are still dying. The pod once numbered 30 to 50 dolphins; sadly, those numbers continue to dwindle. There may now be as few as between 10 and 12 dolphins remaining.

One of the dolphins, Mimo (also known as Squeak), who I have spoken of before in this particular chamber, has now died. This is a shameful state of affairs and it is time to rectify and explore what is going on. We need to conduct a review to ensure that we have a dolphin sanctuary, which we established through an act of this parliament, that actually does as that parliament intended: that it keeps this unique population of dolphins safe and that it gives them sanctuary.

I note that the original piece of legislation did not contain a review provision. I also note that at the time, back in 2004, the then environment minister, John Hill, spoke at the sanctuary and its purpose to 'provide for the long-term preservation of this significant marine environment'. From the outset, it was recognised that the Port River required management because of the 'complex, interrelated activities in the Port district'.

Indeed, living so close to industry does present unique challenges for this dolphin pod, but we must act to address these challenges and we must explore just what is going on that is harming these dolphins. The different needs of those who use the area of course must be balanced, and what we need is potentially a rebalancing to specifically also meet the needs of the dolphins.

From the outset, there has been widespread engagement and support for the sanctuary from both industry and community. I believe nobody wants to see harm come to these dolphins. Back when the dolphin sanctuary was established, people were shooting and deliberately harming the dolphins; however, I do not believe we have that culture left in this region anymore. Most of the community, almost without exception, I believe, supports the sanctuary.

The Greens pledged to protect the Port River dolphins in our most recent election campaign, and we do hope to see a plan that keeps these dolphins safe. We have explored issues such as the racing and other events taking place in the area that puts the dolphins at risk. We are also concerned about the red tape that the Australian Marine Wildlife and Rescue Organisation faces so that they can perform rescues more quickly within the area of the sanctuary.

We also have grave concerns about the use of harmful fishing techniques and equipment such as gang hooks and trawling. We have welcomed the speed limits that have been put in place for some areas of the sanctuary, but there are still areas of the sanctuary for which there is no speed limit.

One such area, the North Arm, hosts racing events regularly. Boats will race through this area at speeds in excess of 160 km/h, speeds that would fatally injure any dolphin in their path. These races take place within the dolphin sanctuary and that is an area that is meant to be a refuge. The Greens are certainly keen to make sure that if racing and other events are taking place they are not putting dolphins in danger.

If a dolphin is injured or unwell, the Australian Marine Wildlife Research and Rescue Organisation currently has to get permission from the minister before they are able to treat that dolphin within the sanctuary. This is both time consuming and an unnecessary delay and can mean the difference between life and death for these dolphins.

If an animal is struck by a boat, entangled or needs medical attention, rescuers need to be able to act, and it is quite extraordinary that they find it more difficult to act in a timely way within the sanctuary than outside the sanctuary. This, to me, seems quite preposterous. They should not be left waiting while the bureaucrats arrive on site and reach a decision, all while a dolphin suffers.

I have spoken to those involved in these rescues, and their frustration as they wait weeks, literally weeks and longer, for the bureaucrats to come up with responses is deeply concerning. The Greens' plan would reduce that red tape and would allow help to be given to the dolphins when and where they need it in a much more timely way, although I note that we are not here discussing a Greens' plan necessarily; we are discussing an inquiry into what can be done.

Dolphins have also shown signs of being caught up in fishing equipment, and heavy gauge fishing lines can get caught around a dolphin's mouth. This causes cuts and injuries, which can become infected. Sometimes it wraps in such a way that it actually means that the dolphin can no longer eat, and then they starve to death slowly, which is what happened to dolphin Star.

Fortunately, Star was freed from these nets, but she was later injured by gang hooks, which is thought to be what has killed her. The use of heavy gauge fishing lines, gang hooks and live bait leads to injuries, and we certainly question their use within this sanctuary. The trawling that is currently undertaken in the sanctuary, including in the Angas and Barker inlets, the Port River and the inner port, also raises questions.

Our Port River dolphins are suffering. They are suffering from mysterious illnesses and they are suffering from government inaction. We need to come together and act before this dwindling population of dolphins dies out. The changes that the Greens have pushed for I believe would mitigate some of the harms that have been caused. What I have done today is I have brought a call to action for this parliament to find a way forward to strengthen the current sanctuary that we have, which back in the mid-2000s we all supported, and ensure that it is indeed providing the sanctuary that that parliament created.

The call to action today is for this parliament to undertake a review through the processes of a committee. My motion would be that the Environment, Resources and Development Committee inquire into and further report on legislative and policy measures that may be taken, looking particularly at the issues of dredging, banning heavy gauge fishing practices and the use of large hooks, live bait and trawling, whether or not fines for industry discharge are required to be raised, further speed restrictions that may apply, increasing marine safety officers and park rangers, the installation of shellfish rigs, regular and increased water quality monitoring and, of course, looking at the impact of the die-off of the mangroves there and the saltmarsh in neighbouring St Kilda on these dolphins.

I have called in this motion for the ERD Committee to look at that. That is a committee of this parliament that has members of this council and also of the other place, so it is a joint house committee of Labor, Liberal and Greens. I would hope that that might be the appropriate body to take a look at this, and I have certainly raised it in my first meeting of that committee.

Should that not be something this council would see their way to supporting, I would urge members to then consider a select committee of this council, the upper house, to do that work, but I would be hopeful that the ERD will be the appropriate place to, in a cross-party collaborative way, ensure that the Dolphin Sanctuary is indeed providing sanctuary and protection for the much-loved Port River dolphins. With that, I commend the motion.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. I.K. Hunter.