The MV Dianne at the Bundaberg Port Marina.
The MV Dianne at the Bundaberg Port Marina.

Coroner not confident in changes

CORONER David O'Connell was not confident there would be any meaningful change by Department of Agriculture and Fisheries in implementing a Vessel Monitoring System safety function.

Mr O'Connell was the Magistrate leading an inquest into the sinkings of vessels Cassandra in 2016 and Dianne in 2017 in which a total of eight people lost their lives or were never found.

The circumstances relating to the inquest involve the Department of Fisheries denying safety functions of a Vessel Monitoring System it "sold" to the commercial fishing industry in the 1990s.

"I cannot find any valid reason why it cannot be implemented, and accordingly I recommend (as have other coroners before me) that the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries implement a real-time monitoring of the VMS tracking or 'failure to poll' function of the system to allow the QPS to be immediately notified of any failure to poll by a vessel," Mr O'Connell wrote in his report.

Bundaberg's Barry Ehrke, a retired fisherman who gave evidence at the inquest for the case of the Cassandra, said it was a failure by the government from the start, though not necessarily solely the fault of the present government. However, he said that current members of the DAF should have been doing their homework.

Mr Ehrke's evidence showed the court that the VMS was originally marketed as including safety features, something the DAF denied a number of times to the court, though eventually conceded this position.

Mr O'Connell said it was unacceptable that a government department could "sell" a system to the commercial fishing industry and claim that it has a safety benefit, but then not implement the system with that benefit.

He criticised the DAF during the inquest as adopting an approach of "simply bureaucratic obstruction".

Burnett Member Stephen Bennett has backed LNP calls for Labor's Fisheries Minister to formally apologise for the department's conduct during the inquest.

"Minister Furner needs to publicly apologise to Queensland's commercial fishing industry for this deception and his department's actions during the coroner's investigation," Mr Bennett said.

Fisheries Minister Mark Furner described Mr Bennett's comments as "a grubby and despicable LNP attack designed to exploit a tragedy in order to score cheap political points".

"If Mr Perrett and Mr Bennett had a shred of decency they would resign their positions for stooping so low," Mr Furner said, calling for their firing if they would not.