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Tuesday, 28 April 1987
Page: 2088


Mr CAMPBELL(4.26) —In addressing the Fishing Industry Research and Development Bill 1987 and cognate Bills, I find it difficult to say very much after the second reading speech made by the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin). I think that he covered the subject very adequately. It was a commonsense approach to the industry by a very commonsense Minister. I wish to dwell on that point for one moment because I think that the present Minister for Primary Industry has proved himself to be one of the most far-sighted and level-headed Ministers that this Government-or this country-has ever seen.

Strangely, I found myself in some sympathy with some of the remarks made by the honourable member for O'Connor (Mr Tuckey)-a situation which I would not like to occur too often. However, there was one remark with which I take issue-a bit of his hyperbole which must be addressed and which has nothing whatsoever to do with this legislation. However, Mr Deputy Speaker, as he was given a certain amount of licence I assume I will be, too. I refer to his remarks about the current account debt. He talked about the enormous blowout in the current account debt for which he blamed this Government. The truth, as the honourable member well knows, is that that debt is very largely in the private sector. About 66 per cent of Australia's current account deficit is in the private sector and I, as an Australian citizen, feel no responsibility for that, nor do I feel that it impedes me in any way. If those doyens of the free enterprise system who have borrowed so heavily overseas go broke, it is their problem. It will not affect me and it certainly does not mortgage my children. It is true that as a citizen of this country I have a responsibility for the Australian national debt. I accept that responsibility as I accept somewhat more reluctantly some responsibility for the West Australian debt which was largely contracted by the unhedged borrowings of the previous Government. But I do not accept responsibility for the Queensland debt which, for the information of honourable members, is bigger than that of the Commonwealth.

I return to the legislation, which consists of three Bills. I wish to address those briefly. I refer first to the Fishing Legislation Amendment Bill 1987. Among the things that this Bill seeks to do is to legislate to bring into force in Australia the multinational treaty which was worked out between the United States of America and the Pacific Islands in respect of fishing in the Pacific Islands area. The honourable member for O'Connor touched very briefly on this. In a situation in which we find ourselves disconcerted by the appearance of the Libyans in the South Pacific, it may be constructive to reflect that had the Americans shown a little more foresight of and sympathy to the aspirations of the very small island states and not allowed their tuna fleet to rampage uncontrolled through the area, we may not be facing the present situation. I do not think that the Libyan threat is particularly dangerous in this area; I have great faith in the common sense of those islands and I do not believe that we will see great inroads by the Libyans, or by the Russians for that matter. However, it is well to reflect that had the Americans been a little more considerate in those early stages we may not have seen these developments take place.

This Bill also enhances the power of fisheries inspectors who have considerably greater power than policemen. In reading the Bill, I do not find that the power has been enhanced enormously because the inspectors have always had what I consider to be extraordinary powers. I think that there is a potential for these powers to be a threat to civil liberties, but I understand, as does the member for O'Connor, the difficulties associated in policing an industry such as this. All I would say to the fishing industry is this: It is beholden upon those fisheries inspectors to use those powers, which are quite enormous, with discretion and common sense. I am sure that in general that is the case and I hope that is maintained.

The Bills also allow for greater consultation with the industry. This is important because one is dealing generally with a group of individualists-some of them are fairly rugged individualists-and any government and any Ministry has to take into account the foibles of people such as this. Misunderstandings can and do occur. Governments have to recognise that these people often are not the sort who read the fine print. We have to have a continuing education program. It is simply not good enough to say `It is in writing there. It is in the Act. You should have read it' because we are dealing with the sort of people who very often do not read the legislation.

I would like to praise the efforts of the previous Government which set up the off-shore constitutional settlement arrangement by which we overcame the nonsense of multicontrol of fisheries. Until then a State could say that it would control an area up to the three-mile limit and the Commonwealth could come in and allow a totally different set of rules to apply beyond the three-mile limit, or the reverse could occur. That was a nonsense situation, and I think it is to the credit of the previous Government that a mechanism was worked out to allow for a single control of the fisheries to the 200-mile limit. As an Australian I deplore the parochialism of Australian States. I do not think it is in our national interest and I am worried by what I see as a tendency for it to increase rather than diminish over time. Sometimes I feel that there was a greater sense of unity in this country in 1903 than there is today. I believe that, unless Australia behaves as a united nation, in the long run it will not survive. I make it clear that I think the previous Government, in very difficult circumstances, came to that understanding which will be worth while.

The Government is committed to putting in matching funds for fisheries research to a maximum value of one per cent of the average annual gross value for the last three years. Money that is spent on fisheries research is well spent, and I am pleased to see that in winding up the old fisheries research resources it has been suggested by the Minister that a fisheries research vessel be acquired by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. I do not know enough about the situation to comment on it, but I suggest that we look at the possibility of simply investing that money and using it to hire vessels as they are required. Most fisheries research could be undertaken by using vessels that are employed in the fisheries industry. Some specialised equipment may be required, but perhaps this could be containerised and shipped around the country to be put on various boats that are hired on a charter basis. This would be of twofold value: Firstly, I suspect that it would make the money go further and, secondly, it would help to keep the research factors in touch with the production factors. It would help to keep the liaison going between the industry and research. In the many areas of research the industry often finds itself wondering what it is all about. I know this occurs in the rural sector and I am sure it also occurs in other industries. I address that remark to the Minister. There may be very good reasons for its not being a viable option.

The honourable member for O'Connor mentioned the limited entry fisheries and praised the Western Australian Government for their establishment. I tend to support him. I believe the time will come when all Australian fisheries will have limited entry. Indeed, I believe this is the only way that we can ultimately control the biomass to make sure that our industry is not overfished. With limited entry fisheries there are some problems, however. One to which the honourable member for O'Connor alluded is the problem of increased efficiency. I am not one to suggest that we stop progress in the industry. It may be the case that, with a new method of catching, a fish that is not currently commercially viable will become viable. I support that entirely. Simultaneously, my experience with fish traps has not been as bad as that of previous speakers. I have seen fish traps, properly managed, catch an excellent standard of fish. I am sure that today we have soft-sided nets that do not damage the fish in the way that was described by the previous speaker, the honourable member for O'Connor. But the fishing effort is affected.

The problem with snapper fishing generally is that the season is so short that a mass of fish is caught in a short time and the price, as a consequence, crashes. The snapper industry needs, in my opinion, a sophisticated marketing effort. After all, snapper is a very palatable fish, and I believe it has a big commercial future. We need resources to store this fish so that it can be properly marketed and so that the fishermen can get a sustained return for the duration of the season and not be in the position, as many of them are in my electorate, where the price is down to $1.50 a kilogram and where it becomes totally uneconomic.

I hope that some of the research moneys which will be made available on a joint basis are put into finding out where the markets are, how we can get fish to the markets and how we can establish new markets. After all, the fishing industry efforts in Australia last year had a gross value of $522.5m, of which over $4m was exported. That represented 148,900 tonnes of wet fish. It also represented in Australia an annual consumption of 17 kilograms per person. In three years that is up by some 2 1/2 kilograms. That development is to be welcomed, but there is room for a considerable increase in fish consumption which I believe can occur to a certain extent, without impinging on the amount of meat-red meat, particularly-that is consumed.

I also believe that the areas of research have to be widened. There is no doubt that we have added considerably to the value added. The tuna fishing industry in Esperance was given an enormous shock when tuna quotas came in. Quick action was taken by the Minister for Agriculture in Western Australia and the Western Australian Government bought quota. It was eventually driven from the market by the South Australian fishermen who were prepared to pay far more than the Western Australian Government, but by its quick action the Western Australian Government was able to secure quota which has enabled the industry to survive in the Esperance area. The industry could not survive with the old method of catching tuna for canning. It had to look to new methods. I give enormous credit to the Minister for Agriculture in Western Australia, Julian Grill, for the work he put into sashimi research. Now a lot of the effort in Esperance is put into sashimi. One advantage that the pole fisherman has over the purse seiner is that he is much better equipped to enter the sashimi market. I would say that, because of the nature of fishing in purse seining, one simply cannot successfully sashimi fish from a purse seiner and one has either to line fish or, in the case of tuna, pole them. The fish has to be treated with enormous respect and got to the market in perfect condition. The fish are packed in individual cardboard coffins and sent to Japan where the fish are auctioned individually, and the fisherman knows how much he gets for each fish. Fishermen very soon realise that it pays to treat the fish well because it is reflected very quickly in the value that the Japanese are prepared to pay for those fish.

Another innovation that is supported very strongly by the Minister for Agriculture in Western Australia is smoked tuna. To my mind it is a great delicacy. I find it preferable to smoked salmon and I look forward to the day when the parliamentary dining room has smoked tuna as an option. I might also point out to the Joint House Department that it is considerably cheaper than smoked salmon.

The crayfish industry in Australia is well organised and extremely well merchandised. The fishing research effort that can be undertaken here is in relation to finding new grounds. I have been told by fishermen that new grounds do exist, to the west of us, and that there is a lot of potential in those grounds. Some of the high land rising within the Australian 200-mile limit could be a very economic location for a new crayfishing industry. It will probably need some restructuring; it will probably need a different type of boat, perhaps a bigger boat with longer sea legs. I also believe that it is possible-in fact I have done some work in this regard-to enter into a joint venture with the French for the commercialisation of the potential around the Kerguelen Islands. I might also add that if we could get a viable fishing industry established in the Kerguelen Islands, we might be able to kill the nonsense that we hear from time to time about the French changing their nuclear testing site from the Pacific Ocean to the Indian Ocean, a move that I am sure they have no intention of making.

Another industry on which we ought to undertake some research is turtle fishing. I think that we have allowed the environmental people to have too much sway. The great depleter of turtles was not the commercial fishing of them but probably the advent in Australia of the fox, as thousands and thousands of young turtles were slaughtered by foxes, often at the egg stage. Young turtles run an enormous risk in going from the nest to the sea; I think there is something like only a two per cent survival rate. If Australia could put some money into research to ensure that a bigger percentage of those young turtles survive, I think that we would find that turtle numbers would increase very rapidly. There is a market for turtles. I believe that the turtle population-and I have seen them in great numbers in my electorate-is sufficient to allow commercialisation, particularly as a controlled entry fishery, which could, in fact, pay for some of the research and development necessary to prove up this undertaking. I think it is very foolish of us in Australia to often be blinded by some perhaps well intentioned but often ill-informed and emotional environmental ideas. There are many examples of that.

Another area that could be looked at involves Atlantic salmon. I read recently that a fisherman who was fishing, I think, in the Derwent River, caught an Atlantic salmon, a fish quite foreign to the area but one that is prized throughout the world for its eating qualities. I have been told that 2,000 years ago the Romans used to catch these fish on the Channel coast and cart them over the Alps in carts of ice, to have them delivered fresh to the tables of Rome, where they were considered to be a great delicacy. I have also been told that in times gone by noblemen would invite the catcher, the fisherman, and the chef to sit down to eat the Atlantic salmon with them, as it was such a prized fish. I suspect that that may be overstating the nature of the flesh, but it does indicate that it is a good eating quality fish. It may be possible to establish this fish in commercial quantities in some parts of Australia. I believe that some parts of Tasmania are ideally suited to the Atlantic salmon. I see nothing wrong with introducing a new species in such areas. I am sure that this proposal, too, would meet a lot of opposition from some of the environmental people who will talk about damage to the ecosystem and how such species will compete with native species. However, I believe that these things should be looked at and evaluated. If such a proposal is deemed to be worthwhile, we should not hesitate to establish an Atlantic salmon industry in Australia. After all, many species of animal presently in Australia got here more or less by accident; the dingo is just one example.

In conclusion, I would like to say that this Bill generally is uncontentious. It has the support of the Opposition. I guess that gives the lie to those people who say that we in this Parliament can never agree. I point out that it represents the effort and consideration put in by the Minister for Primary Industry, who I believe has given his heart-and by the size of his frame it is a very considerable one-to enhancing the viability of rural industries throughout Australia.