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Tuesday, 28 April 1987
Page: 2096

Mr NEHL(5.11) —I take great pleasure in rising to speak to the Fishing Industry Research and Development Bill, the Fishing Industry Research Amendment Bill, and the Fishing Legislation Amendment Bill, which affect the Australian fishing industry. Before commencing, I would like to commend the honourable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr Snow) for his contribution to the debate. As always, it was a balanced, reasonable, moderate and appropriate contribution.

As has been stated, the Opposition is not opposing these Bills but there are certainly one or two points that I would like to comment on briefly. Firstly, the Fishing Legislation Amendment Bill makes administrative amendments to the Fisheries Act and it strengthens the powers of officials to enforce the various Commonwealth Acts dealing with fisheries. Provided officers have reasonable grounds to act, they will be allowed to exercise powers to stop, enter and search vessels without a warrant. Frankly, I have always had some reservations about any Act of government, whether it be State, Federal, or even local-which is most unlikely-which gives people in authority in departments the right to enter and search without a warrant. But, to be reasonable, it is obvious that, where we have a vessel at sea under some suspicion, it would be impossible for the patrol vessel to return to secure a warrant. Therefore, while I have those reservations, I have to accept that this is the only practical way of dealing with the problem.

Of course, one significant point in this Bill is that it forbids the cutting up of undersized fish in an attempt to disguise the fact that such fish had actually been taken. That will be very difficult to police but I certainly hope that, in the interests of the fish stocks in the waters around the whole of the Australian continent, it is able to be enforced.

I believe that the Fishing Industry Research and Development Bill is a most important Bill because it concerns the research and development of the industry and it establishes the Fishing Industry Research and Development Council. This, of course, allows for research and development planning and, for the very first time-from 1 July-following the introduction of the Bill, five-year plans will be prepared by the Council. It is quite obvious that one of the things that the Australian fishing industry needs is a unified and overall approach so that planning can be conducted for the proper management of our fisheries resources. It is interesting to note that the Council will be funded by State research funds and also a contribution from the Commonwealth equalling one per cent of the gross value of production of the industry.

As I have said, the five-year plans of the Fishing Industry Research and Development Council are a worthwhile step in the right direction and they will be developed in conjunction with the Australian Fisheries Council and the National Fishing Industry Council. Regrettably, up until this time, there has never been overall planning between State and Federal departments and authorities. So I must say that I hope for great gains for the Australian industry as a result of the introduction of sensible, reasonable planning to promote the proper management of the industry.

Mr Cowan —Particularly around Coffs Harbour also.

Mr NEHL —As the honourable member for Lyne has said, particularly around Coffs Harbour and further down in his electorate as well. As the honourable member for Lyne has mentioned that, it is appropriate that I should dwell briefly on the fishing industry in Cowper. We have three fishermen's co-operatives-at Coffs Harbour, at the lower Macleay and on the Hastings at Port Macquarie; 140 fishermen are actively involved. The value of fish collected in my electorate in the 1985-86 financial year totalled $3,947,316-a small amount of money on the national stage but, within one Federal electorate, a very worthwhile contribution to the local economy. The fish caught within this mid-north coast area are used to supply the local market, the Sydney market and, of course, some export markets. As well, the Coffs Harbour Fishermen's Co-operative is authorised and licensed to export fish, particularly tuna.

As the honourable member for Eden-Monaro mentioned in relation to his electorate, the growing sashimi tuna market in Japan is one of great potential. In 1985-86 it was worth only $51,604 to the Coffs Harbour Co-operative-a drop in the ocean is perhaps an appropriate way of referring to it. Nonetheless, it is a start which is reflecting the initiative of individual fishermen in that area. The fish are sent fresh chilled and not frozen because most of the vessels operating under the Coffs Harbour Co-operative are 20 metres or less in length. Of course, fresh chilled sashimi is the most highly prized form of fish on the Japanese market and, again, as the honourable member for Eden-Monaro mentioned, it is attracting prices of up to $100 per kilogram. So it it certainly a very worthwhile export and there is a great potential for growth. It is interesting also that the sashimi market provides the maximum return for fishermen. The potential for the industry to maximise its exports in this market needs careful planning and high quality control. I hope that the new organisation will be able to play a very significant part in assisting the industry to maintain those high quality controls and standards. The market could well be lost if products were sent irresponsibly or with neglect of the quality and standards required.

I think it is fair to say that many people involved in the Australian fishing industry are concerned that there has not been enough effective control of fisheries management. In many cases, some areas and some species of fish have been fished out to the detriment not only of the professional fishing industry but also the local inhabitants and tourists. Foreign deep sea trawlers are also seen as a threat in waters close to the edge of the 200-mile limit. What we will get as a result of the introduction of these Acts-and I applaud it-is greater Commonwealth-State co-operation and this will result in a greater uniformity of approach. I really hope that the Fishing Industry Research and Development Council will achieve this.

In speaking about the Australian fishing industry it is probably relevant to refer to Bureau of Agricultural Economics statistics for 1985-86. They reveal, interestingly, that the total value of fish products in Australia in that year was $592.3m-a very significant amount of money indeed. Again, this is of great interest as there is a very widely held public perception, because of fish imports, that Australia's fishing industry is not standing on its own feet and that we are importing more than we should. That could well be the case. However, it is worth noting that as well as producing $592m worth of fish, we are exporting $480.9m worth of fish per year and that is a very significant amount. Of that amount $270.4m worth of our fish products goes to Japan, $121.6m to the United States of America and Hong Kong takes $36.1m. The remainder is exported in smaller quantities to a number of other countries. Most Australian exports comprise crustaceans, abalone, prawns, crabs and scallops and very little fresh or wet fish are exported. There is great potential for species such as tuna, trevally and orange roughy to be exported to Japan. There are very exciting export opportunities. Again, it comes back to the creation of the new Fishing Industry Research and Development Council to provide the planning, management and stimulus to enable our fishing industry to take advantage of export opportunities.

Mr Cowan —The Sydney rock oyster.

Mr NEHL —As the honourable member for Lyne points out, the Sydney rock oyster has superb qualities. I notice that the honourable member for Gilmore (Mr Sharp) agrees with me. Those who are fortunate enough to live on the coast of New South Wales are able to relish the great delight of our wonderful seafoods. Australians are now consuming roughly $27 worth of fish per head. I mentioned the export figure of $480.9m. In the same year we imported $331.5m worth of fish, mainly in the form of tinned fish. As to the commonly held perception that we import far too much fish, it should be known and appreciated that our exports exceed our imports by $149.4m. The reality is that the Australian fishing industry has taken the opportunity to gird its loins, to bait its hooks and to get stuck into reaping the benefits of a thriving export industry. There is great potential for more to be done.

Finally, I make the point that while we consume only $111.4m of our local production and import $331.5m worth of fish, total local consumption is $442.9m and that, divided by 16 million gives us the figure of roughly $27 worth of fish which is consumed per head of the population.

Part of the action that should be taken is not just to look at the export market. The honourable member for Wannon (Mr Hawker) in his contribution to this debate very properly and rightly referred to the healthy attributes of fish, the fact that its cholesterol level is so very low and that it contains so much of what we need. For instance, 120 grams of fish provides only 100 calories whereas the same weight or quantity of duck contains 400 calories. So to the weight conscious members I suggest that they eat more fish and to all Australians I recommend that they too eat more fish because it is very healthy and the Australian fishing industry deserves their support.