CQ's shark safety measures pulled on eve of school holidays
THE removal of drum lines to catch sharks along the Capricorn Coast hasn't stopped Emu Park's Hennessey family from enjoying a swim at the town's Main Beach.
To comply with a Federal Court decision preventing cruelty to sharks, the Queensland Government was forced to halt its shark control program at 27 beaches within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park area, posing a potential risk to the tourism industry and human life - on the first day of school holidays.
State and federal politicians have scrambled to find a solution to the sudden absence of shark protective measures with Queensland Fisheries Minister Mark Furner calling on the Federal Government to legislate a solution.
But Parliament isn't due to sit until mid-October - leaving a window of vulnerability.
Swimming at a beach, metres from where large sharks had been caught over the years, Sean Hennessey said the lack of shark protection wouldn't stop his family from swimming today or during the school holidays.
"It's give or take really. It won't stop us," Mr Hennessey said.
"Something has to give. Sharks don't do anything. The best thing about looking after what you have is that you'll have it tomorrow."
In 2017, a number of sharks were caught at drum lines near Emu Park beaches including four tiger sharks ranging in size between two and 3.5 metres.
Mr Furner said he would fight to the last to make sure drumlines and shark nets remained.
"With only one fatality at a shark control program beach since 1962, beachgoers will fight to keep this program and I will fight right alongside them," Mr Furner said.
"The (State) Government is committed to the shark control program lock, stock and barrel.
"We have committed $1 million per year over the next four years to explore possible better options than drumlines and shark nets, but I will not back any changes until I am convinced that they will be just as good or better for swimmer safety than our current program."
He said the new conditions under federal law would turn the shark control program from a 'catch and remove' program to a 'catch and release' program.
"Our contractors and staff are neither trained nor equipped to handle live sharks, tow them away from where they are caught and then to release them alive," he said.
"We're talking about sharks here, not whiting. You can't just kiss them on the nose and throw them back."
Mr Furner wrote again to Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley strongly urging her to move quickly to change federal laws to allow the return of drum lines to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
"There is no time to waste here. We need to get this equipment back in the water as soon as possible," he said.
He criticized comments from some LNP politicians suggesting the State Government ignore the court's ruling and leave the existing equipment in place.
"I was stunned that elected members would suggest the Queensland Government should operate in breach of the law," he said.
"That speaks volumes about their lack of respect for the law.
"This can be fixed quickly and legally by the Federal Government changing its laws and allowing our shark control program back in to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
"As a grandfather of small children and as a former lifesaver myself, there is nothing more important to me than keeping people as safe as possible in our waters, especially with the school holidays just starting."
Capricornian MP Michelle Landry said the Federal Government was moving quickly to respond to the Federal Court's decision, including possible legislative changes, but the Queensland Government needed to "get on and do their job".
She questioned what the Queensland Government had done since the administrative appeals tribunal decision in April to explore alternative options.
"Legislative change at a federal level will be considered for the medium to long term but there are also actions that the Queensland Government can put in place now," Ms Landry said.
"Our number one priority is to keep people safe. Queensland has had five months since the original AAT decision to improve its shark control program.
"Have they bought tags to track movements of sharks caught in the shark control program?
"Have they bought smart drum lines to trial in a shark control program?
"Have they looked at barrier nets for swimmers?
"Have they looked at drone surveillance?"
She said Queensland Labor needed to look at what other states were doing in this space to protect the public.
"Six years ago, the Western Australian Government ran a 15-month non-lethal trial of SMART drumlines for $3.84 million. NSW is another state that has adopted SMART drumlines," she said.
"Out of the nine conditions placed on the permit by the tribunal, two conditions require Queensland to purchase equipment to comply with the conditions.
"The Queensland Government could have raised during their appeal a need to take a phased approach - but they didn't."
Ms Landry said the issue was too serious for the Queensland Government to play politics over.
"The school holidays start today and they must act quickly so children's safety aren't at risk," she said.
Livingstone mayor Bill Ludwig expressed his disappointment with the court decision and said he hoped that commonsense would prevail and the local LNP representatives would be able to lobby for a solution for the community.
Cr Ludwig said the ocean was in both state and federal jurstiction and the council was relatively powerless when it came to addressing the shark control issue.
He said drumlines were an additional safety measure and there were kilometres of coastline in which people regularly swam without the protection of drum lines.
"I believe the majority of the community will want them reinstated so we'll certainly be part of that call," Cr Ludwig said.
"The other thing that we have is the Yeppoon Lagoon and it is certainly a safe family-friendly area.
"We encourage anybody who has concerns during the school holidays to avail themselves of the Yeppoon Lagoon and I'm sure it's going to be in huge demand."
Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley said the government was actively investigating legislative options.
"We need the Queensland Government to ensure it is doing everything possible to protect the safety of swimmers and that it is considering all options," Ms Ley said.