Australian Parliament

Fisheries Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2012 (second reading speech)

Senator Edwards (South Australia) (13/03/13) (18:25): I rise to speak to the Fisheries Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2012, which amends the Fisheries Management Act 1991. The fishing industry, like so many other primary industries in this country, is vital to Australia’s productivity, and it is an industry that the Gillard Labor government has neglected in its time in office. Senators Joyce and Williams would no doubt know that there has been a procession of agriculture ministers in the time of the Rudd and Gillard governments—five, I believe—which is an indication of the contempt in which Labor holds this very important industry.

As a South Australian senator, the fishing industry is very near and dear to my heart, and is a vital cog in the economic livelihood of my state. Just last month I visited Port Lincoln on the west coast of South Australia, and Robe on the south-east coast, with my colleague and shadow parliamentary secretary for fisheries and forestry, Senator Richard Colbeck. Port Lincoln is a major tuna fishing area situated on the southern tip of the Eyre Peninsula, and it has a successful aquaculture industry that farms tuna, yellowtail kingfish, abalone, mussels and oysters, and houses some of the biggest research and experimental farming areas in seahorses and spiny lobsters. Robe is renowned for its extensive shark and lobster fishing, all ecosystems very well managed by industry but, sadly, treated with contempt by government.

The debate on this bill gives me the perfect opportunity to discuss how successful Port Lincoln has become and how Labor’s incompetence has harmed what is a very important industry in a state now technically in recession. Not only is Port Lincoln home to Makybe Diva, the winner of three Melbourne Cups, but it also boastsTIME Magazine‘s Best Invention of 2009: tank-bred tuna. Cleanseas developed the technology to enable bluefin tuna to spawn in captivity, and this has meant the entire lifecycle of southern bluefin tuna can be carried out in a commercial setting. This is unprecedented, which is why it was afforded such a prestigious honour in 2009.

The tuna industry is key to Port Lincoln, and the people involved are very conscious of putting back into the region to make sure that the locals and the town thrive. In fact, at least one in seven of the fishing town’s 14,000 residents is employed by the $260 million fish industry alone. Speaking with the tuna industry I have found they have great concerns about the government and its lack of understanding of how they operate. This bill is a perfect example of that lack of understanding displayed by the two ministers whose portfolios impact this important industry: namely, Senator Ludwig and Minister Burke.

This bill looks to facilitate the implementation of electronic monitoring, or e-monitoring, in Commonwealth fisheries. That in itself would be a very good initiative if it were finalised and proven. This e-monitoring will now use new stereo video technology which at this point in time is unautomated. This industry has great concerns that this initiative will cause substantial husbandry and quota management problems in the Australian industry, but they do not feel that the government is listening to them or their concerns, which is something of a hallmark of this government. It is what we in the political sphere call an ‘announce and defend’ style of management. Whilst we all encourage the use of new technology to improve productivity, it is imperative that we listen to the industry. The ministers should listen to their industry. When I spoke to the industry they had serious concerns that the new technology was not ready to be used because it was not fully developed.

The information collected through this e-monitoring is required by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, a very credible government authority—AFMA as we know it—to ensure those in the industry are following the rules and regulations. In the past this information has been gathered through logbook returns, vessel monitoring systems and independent AFMA observers on the ships. These new systems have been trialled, but they are not complete. It is vital that, if we are to roll out new technologies and put new systems in place to increase efficiencies and monitoring of the fishing industry, we make sure the new systems work and they do not inhibit productivity at a practical level. That just makes sense. From the tuna industry people I spoke to the message was strong that the Gillard Labor government is proposing a new system that is not better but will cost at least double what the current system costs. That has a familiar ring, Senator Williams.

Senator WILLIAMS: Yes, more cost and no benefit.

Senator EDWARDS: Yes Senator Williams. In the short term the government is again failing industry and business by not fully exploring technologies that work. It does not operate collaboratively with industries to ensure that it provides practical outcomes. The industry is happy to move into new ground and eager to have new technologies streamline their operations and the operation of the industry the world over, but they want the technologies simply to work. They do not currently work.

We held a local industry forum with the number of attendees in the hundreds. All of the people I spoke to at the local industry forum were scathing of Minister Ludwig, questioning why he had dropped the ball on their issues. Like the mining tax and the carbon tax, this government is again providing problems and not a solution to take this country forward. This government is happy to take away our competitive advantage in complete isolation of the world business stage and the world industry stage and to place a burden on this vibrant industry that will prevent them putting back into a community such as Port Lincoln. It just seems somewhat ludicrous.

It is not just the tuna industry that has the issues. When it was known that we were in town, fishers came from everywhere to have their say on where this government was failing to help and in a lot of cases actually hindering their prosperity. It is no wonder that the ministers never venture into the regions where they overlay these legislative burdens; if they did, they would find out how palpable the views on this legislation are.

The prawn industry has its issues. The abalone industry also raised concerns about the ridiculous red tape that is stifling their productivity and preventing them from achieving their true potential. The abalone industry has concerns about its viability—fancy that. This is a very much revered industry with a product which goes all over Asia. It is a high-value item, and they are worried about their viability. In fact, the Abalone Council of Australia met with Safe Work Australia because the workplace safety regulations were developed recently with no consultation with any commercial dive harvest organisation around Australia. That is right, no consultation. Quite reasonably, the Abalone Council appreciates the need for harmonisation of legislation around the country, but it is the height of arrogance not to consult them before implementing these changes. Regulations and legislation need to be workable for an industry to survive. The industry does not want the regulations removed—they want a safe work environment—but they do want to make the legislation workable and practical.

Marine parks were another serious concern for the industry. I have spoken numerous times in this chamber about the impact that both federal and state Labor marine parks regulations are having on both recreational and commercial fishers not only in South Australia but around the country. We on this side of the chamber know about the lack of consultation and unscientific designation of marine parks. The science is being held to account at numerous times by eminent scientists, yet the minister remains mute on any review for both recreational and commercial fishers. The fishers of Australia want more than anyone to ensure that the fishing environment in their region is sustainable, and to suggest otherwise is just mischievous. This is their livelihood or their recreation; it is their passion, and they want it to be there for the generations to come. The marine parks proposal has commercial fishers very concerned that they will be pushed closer to shore and on top of the recreational fishers, which pits fisher against fisher. That is hardly a result that any government would be looking at for an outcome. The fishers that I spoke with believe the government has not given this proper consideration and that the government has come up with a recipe for disaster. The industry was asking me why they have not seen or heard from Minister Ludwig or Minister Burke—again, announce and defend. Australia already imports more than 70 per cent of the seafood we consume. I think Senator Joyce said this morning that it is currently at 72 per cent. Under Labor’s plan this will only grow. As recently as last Friday, I went to a supermarket freezer to try to buy some fish for the weekend, and I struggled to find anything that was grown or produced in Australia in that entire freezer compartment. Senator Back, you would know how distressing that would be for anybody who is looking to ensure that they support the Australian fishing industry. When you see a packet stating ‘whiting’ you would assume, if you were in South Australia, that it would be local whiting. But it said ‘Product of Thailand’. That whiting is a bit different from the King George whiting that I have come to expect, know and love from my native South Australia.

While the Gillard Labor government and Ministers Ludwig and Burke have failed to take into consideration the future need for seafood from a sustainable source, with the demand predicted to grow by 850,000 tonnes by 2020, I suggest that they are both paying lip service to this industry. They promote how wonderful and important the industry is—and rightly so—but their actions suggest otherwise. I would like to draw the attention of those opposite to the hypocrisy of their South Australian Labor colleagues when it comes to the fishing industry. Late last year, the South Australian Labor Minister for Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, Gail Gago, said, ‘South Australians are spoilt for home-grown choice.’ In the lead-up to Christmas, Minister Gago encouraged South Australians to eat South Australian seafood, including ‘a seafood platter gloriously piled with smoked salmon, marinated calamari and octopus, Spencer Gulf King Prawns.’ She went on to explain the benefits of sourcing our food from within our state when she said, ‘Buying local food and beverages supports our farmers and producers, which in turns helps generate income, create jobs, build our regions and boost the economy.’ I agree with that, but if you are going to talk the talk you have to walk the walk. And when you are the minister for agriculture and fisheries you actually have to make the difference and ensure that these things come to hand.

On 11 February this year, the minister claimed that the South Australian government’s strategic priority of premium food and wine was one of seven key areas on which the state government was focusing its efforts. And no doubt the federal government’s food plan will equally promote Australia’s premium food. Then, on 1 March 2013, at one of the state’s premier tourism and sporting events, the Clipsal V8 race, guests in the South Australian government’s own suite were offered fish. It was Queensland barramundi. There is nothing wrong with Queensland barramundi; however, I know that the aquaculture industry in South Australia is very successful in growing barramundi. I think that, if Minister Gago is going to talk the talk, she should walk the walk. Labor just do not get it. And, just as South Australian Labor are trying to promote South Australian seafood to the world, federal Labor are doing the same with Australian seafood—but they are both so hypocritical about it.

Senator FEENEY: You bet we are!

Senator EDWARDS: It is good to see you are awake on the other side. Do you really want to push for more production offshore with these marine parks, Senator Feeney? Do you feel all warm and cosy about the fact that you are going to lock up one of the biggest marine park areas in the world? What you completely ignore is that all you are doing is pushing that fishing into unsustainable regions around us in the Asia-Pacific region.

While this bill looks to make changes to the closure of fisheries, the waiver of levies and the liability of corporations and other principles, Labor are missing the bigger picture. In the longer term, we need to look at freeing up the impasse that has come about with obtaining free trade agreements with China and South Korea. I have got your attention now, Senator Feeney, because surely you would also be disappointed with the progress that your government is making. I pointed out earlier today that our $1 billion a year beef trade is significantly disadvantaged in South Korea because we do not have an agreement and there has been no urgency to get an agreement—and we did not hear anything from the Minister for Foreign Affairs about this at all when he was asked in question time. To listen and to understand the issues facing the fishing industry was the main purpose of my visit around South Australia several weeks ago. As I pointed out to the locals, who confirmed my suspicions, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Ludwig, and the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Mr Burke, have largely been absent from this region of Australia for a very long time. That is telling on Labor’s attitude toward this industry, the country and the bush—given that Lincoln and Robe are the source of more than 60 per cent of the country’s seafood. Rather than standing in the chamber postulating, I challenge the minister to get down there, talk to those fishermen and listen to them.