Federal Member for Fairfax

Media release

Senator for Western Australia Dio Wang will meet with the Government and Australia’s peak scientific body today about his proposal for Australia to be a world leader in non-lethal shark deterrent innovations.

In a letter to Innovation and Science Minister Christopher Pyne in December, Senator Wang noted that Australia was ideally placed to lead the world in providing non-lethal solutions to better balance human safety and marine biodiversity.

“From coast to coast, state governments are throwing millions of dollars into research and the development of non-lethal mitigation strategies for shark attacks, prompted by a rising tide of public angst over the impacts on our coastal lifestyle,” he said.

“We have seen a proliferation of personal shark repellent devices – such as one from my home state of Western Australia that has received global interest – as well as other technological innovations aimed at giving confidence to people in using their ocean environment.

“However there is no national coordination of this research and innovation, with CSIRO work in this area focused on shark populations. Indeed, questions have been raised recently in the media about whether some tagging programs to monitor sharks could be increasing the risk of attacks on humans.

“Additionally, there have been recent concerns about the potential for consumer exploitation due to a lack of independent, coordinated testing on the efficacy of some of these so-called shark repellents.”

Senator Wang wrote to the Innovation Minister to highlight the benefits of the Government strategically coordinating the ad hoc research in this area across Australia.

Today, Senator Wang meets with the Minister and CSIRO to discuss this proposal and looks forward to their insights and feedback.

Extract from Letter to The Hon. Christopher Pyne MP

As you will no doubt be aware, the number of shark attacks in Australia has appeared to dramatically increase over the past few years.

After a significant increase in the number of deaths off the Western Australian coast, and repeated public calls for the WA Premier to deal with this growing public safety issue, the Premier introduced a number of initiatives to restore public and business confidence around the popular swimming beaches in the State. The Premier’s efforts at protecting ocean users by capturing rogue sharks on drum-lines near popular beaches have now been discontinued. But just last week, he warned that many people would be nervous ahead of summer about heading into the water because of a “dramatic increase” in the number of sharks off the WA coast.

I represent many Western Australians who hesitate to let our children go surfing or curtail our family visits to the beach, which is part of the culture and lifestyle of WA. When we don’t visit our beaches, we don’t support the myriad small businesses that depend on our visitation.

Australia is ideally placed to take an international leadership role in providing non-lethal solutions to better manage the interaction between increasing numbers of high-order predators and the corresponding increase in public use of our waterways and oceans. As a result of interventions to protect both the great white shark and saltwater crocodile in Australia, we have been successful in growing the abundance of these iconic species in the wild- both were arguably heading the way of the dodo bird.

Australia has a long history of managing the interaction between people and sharks. This has principally been by various methods of capturing sharks (set line and large gill net) in the vicinity of popular swimming beaches: Crocodiles have been principally managed by capture, relocation and removal of difficult or large animals in areas of high interaction.

We have already seen significant technical innovations in the area of personal protection from shark attack in Australia- for instance, the WA-made Shark Shield repellent device, for which sales have reportedly almost doubled sales across the globe since WA Government-funded research found it deterred sharks more than 90 per cent of the time.

Almost all Australian jurisdictions have contributed to shark mitigation research – but there should be benefits to having a nationally co-ordinated approach in both avoiding duplication and capitalising on the synergies of integrated research. The work of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in this area is concentrated on research into population estimates of great white sharks to provide a scientific basis for policies that strive to balance conservation and public safety- a balance that can be achieved with the successful development of non-lethal shark deterrents.

Whilst I am confident of the great innovations around Australia at work, a useful role of Government would be to strategically coordinate the focus on shark deterrence. If our peak research organisation was tasked with leading collaboration amongst the innovators, I feel confident that Australia would lead the world in balancing this emerging public safety issue with environmental priorities.

Bond University shark expert Professor Daryl McPhee was this week reported in the Sydney Morning Herald as saying that the increase in shark deterrence devices is promising, but most have a long way to go. He said that in terms of efficacy, what is required is that devices be tested not privately by businesses but rather subjected to independent trials.

Minister, I have been impressed by your advocacy for innovation and collaboration. I know your commitment and leadership on this essential public safety issue can make a significant improvement to the lifestyles of not only my constituents in Western Australia, but to all Australians who enjoy our beachside lifestyle.

I appreciate your interest and assistance with these matters and look forward to your response.