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Tuesday, 28 April 1987
Page: 2101

Mr RONALD EDWARDS(5.40) —I am pleased to follow the honourable member for Capricornia (Mr Wright). I commend him for his speech which, as always, was well informed, relevant and certainly took up the concerns of the people in his electorate of Capricornia and the wider concerns of the people in the Australian community. Australian people in a general way have a great association with the fishing industry. On the recreational side, fishing is one of the great participatory activities in Australia. In fact, people in the fishing industry argue that the recreational side of fishing is the highest participatory sport in Australia.

This is a cognate debate embracing three Bills-the Fishing Industry Research and Development Bill, the Fishing Industry Research Amendment Bill and the Fishing Legislation Amendment Bill. At the outset I would like to deal with aspects of the fishing industry. For many people listening to this debate who are aware of the fishing industry there are a number of aspects we ought to look at. The first is the matter of commercial exploitation. We are devoting most of our attention in this context to the commercial exploitation aspects of the fishing industry. As has been mentioned by previous speakers, the export potential of the fishing industry is a matter of considerable interest in this Parliament and in this country. Further, it is also a matter that we ought to pay attention to in terms of relative imports. The honourable member for Capricornia referred to the fact that some 85 per cent of the consumed fish products in Australia come from overseas. That is a matter of concern for people in this place because very clearly Australia is productive and prolific in terms of its fish resources but the amount that actually finds its way into domestic consumption is unnecessarily low. I will comment on that further.

The second aspect is that which I have touched upon-recreation. Clearly, amateur fishing needs are increasing. It is important to note that amateur fishing needs frequently can be in conflict with those of commercial and professional fishing operations but it is also important to observe in the context of this debate that given the increase in boat ownership and access of people to fishing spots, particularly with four-wheel drive vehicles, amateur fishing will continue to grow. That is a very important matter for us to observe.

I now turn to the third aspect-tourism. Fishing represents one of the end points of tourism. It is remarkable if one thinks-and I ask people listening to this debate to conjure this up in their minds-about the number of tourism brochures that somewhere feature fishing as an aspect of tourism. Very clearly one issue that the tourism industry has to address is that if one promotes areas as desirable tourism places but when people go there they catch few or no fish the tourism potential of those places can be quite seriously eroded. That is something to which we in this place ought to be paying attention.

The fourth point is the matter of conservation. Very clearly, we in the national Parliament and, I believe, those in the State parliaments, must pay attention to the long term conservation of our fishing resources. It is important, as I said at the outset, that we have fishing stocks. But it is also important to know the extent to which we have a conservation responsibility for our fishing stocks. That takes me to the fifth aspect I wanted to deal with-research. Very clearly, for us to debate effectively the matter of fishing and to have a policy on it we need to know a great deal about the activities of fishing stocks. I commend the role of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation Division of Fisheries Research because I am acquainted with the work it does. Very clearly its work is very important in informing us as a national parliament and informing the fishing industry what stocks we have, what diversity there is in those stocks and also what the capacity to develop new fishing industries is. Here I refer to the development of the scampi fishing industry in the north-west of Western Australia. I also commend Kailis Fisheries in Western Australia, which has been quite enterprising in its willingness to move into that area. As is pointed out in the Fishing Industry Research Amendment Bill, there is to be a new arrangement for funds for research. I note with pleasure the second reading speech, which says in part:

The Government has decided that the money left in the Research Account, after settlement of all outstanding accounts and recovery of all moneys due to the account, is to be applied to the acquisition of a fisheries research vessel for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation Division of Fisheries Research.

Should that outcome not occur, the Ministers for Finance and Primary Industry are to confer about the disposal of the residue.

Quite clearly, there is a great deal of interest in the fishing industry and among people I deal with in increasing the capacity of the CSIRO to undertake research activity. I commend the Government in this respect. There are many areas where the Government has planned well and the determination to use research funds to acquire another CSIRO fisheries research vessel is very important and will be seen down the track as being very important. The honourable member for Capricornia mentioned that this is a bipartisan debate-and that is important. People very often listen to debates in this House of Parliament and wonder at the degree of rancour that arises. But it is pleasing to note that in effect the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) and the Hawke Government are carrying out initiatives set in place under the previous Government. I would like to note that and inform people who are listening to the debate that this sort of co-operation is not an uncommon experience.

Mr Tim Fischer —The majority of legislation is.

Mr RONALD EDWARDS —As the honourable member for Farrer says, the majority of legislation is of that nature. It is unfortunate that the media very often extracts the more dramatic aspects of our conflict but people listening to this debate would be impressed by the intelligent comments in the debate and also by the fact that there is this degree of bipartisan recognition of how important the fishing industry is.

On the question of the importance of the fishing industry, let me turn to the economic aspects of the industry because I believe they are very important. To many people, this is an industry that to some extent has been neglected in terms of our realisation of its importance. Let me talk in terms of production. In 1985-86, the gross value of fisheries production at $592m ranked sixth among all Australia's rural industries. That had gone up one place from 1984-85. In 1984-85 production was estimated at 148,000 tonnes valued at $523.5m. So that is the picture in terms of tonnage in 1984-85. We have spoken before in this debate about exports. The value of exports of fishery products increased from $230m in 1980-81 to an estimated $481m in 1985-86 and significantly exceeded the value of imports each year during that period.

It is important to see that our export capacity is growing. I add only that the more we can add value in production of those exports the better. There is some comment in the legislation about the development of a sashimi fishery in relation to Japan. But I make the observation that the more we in this country can add value to the production of fishing and can export that value of production the better it will be for our balance of payments. Clearly this will be to the benefit of the industries associated with it. That is significant. I will now look at the numbers of boats involved. There are now more than 9,000 boats in the Australian commercial fishing fleet. It is a very vast fleet when one looks at it in those terms. However, as has been mentioned by previous speakers, this is a high risk activity because, unlike other cropping activities where one can be more certain of amounts, in terms of penning stock or sowing seed, fishing can be very uncertain.

I note that in my home State of Western Australia, the crayfish yield last season has been less than in the previous season because of variations in current, temperature and, of course, weather. The amount that fishing people can earn from their activity can be quite variable. To that extent it is a high risk activity. That is where the role of research comes in. The more we can effectively research this industry the more we can be certain of the outcomes.

Another important issue to mention in this debate is that it is pleasing to note that consumption of fish products is increasing. It is estimated that annual domestic consumption per capita has risen from 15 kilograms in 1979-80 to 17.3 kilograms in 1983-84, measured on the basis of live weight equivalent. Clearly, it is possible to observe why that trend is occurring. In our diet conscious community great value is given to fish products. I am pleased to note that in the parliamentary dining room increasing emphasis is being given to fish products. However, in the wider community there is still a great need for retailers to provide greater diversity of fish. There is another issue here. In both the restaurant and over the counter trades the public must not be deceived by retailers. I am sure that many honourable members are aware that very often they can go into a restaurant and buy what is supposedly barramundi, knowing very well that the amount of barramundi served in restaurants in Australia far exceeds the amount of barramundi that is ever caught. We can only come to the conclusion that the public is being deceived. I say to many people in both the restaurant trade and in the retail fishing activity that it is in their interest to cease deceiving the public.

Let us be clear about this matter. People in the meat trade have no objection to buying a lower grade cut of meat, knowing that they are paying a lower price. The general public does not object to buying sausages, sausage mince or a lower grade of steak, just as they do not object to buying an A-grade cut of meat such as fillet steak. The meat industry has successfully got on top of the problem in recent years and such is its success that when people go into shops they are confident about what they are buying. Unfortunately they do not have that same confidence in the retail fish industry, both on the restaurant side and in over-the-counter trade. If there is one complaint that I get repeatedly from people buying fish products it is that they do not always know what they are buying. It is very much up to the fishing industry itself to be certain about this and say: `Yes, we are serving shark.' There is nothing wrong with serving shark in a fish and chip shop, provided people know what they are buying. If there is buyer resistance it is based on the fact that people have been deceived from time to time. Clearly this does not occur across the board. There are some very good fish retailers whom I am sure honourable members and people in the wider community would know and would patronise. But I say to all the other retailers: If you want to be certain of increased consumption of fish, be certain that what you put on display to the public is what you say it is. The public does not like to be deceived.

If the public is getting fresh, high quality fish, it will pay the price for it. Unfortunately, at the moment all too often the public is paying a high price for a product that is not what it is claimed to be. If we are marketing shark, let us call it shark and let us see that it is marketed as such. If we are marketing snapper, let us make sure that it is snapper. If we are marketing barramundi, let us be sure that it is barramundi. If we say it is jew fish let us be sure it is jew fish. Let us not pretend because only by marketing a product accurately and at a reasonable price will the fishing industry be able to take advantage of this enormous market advantage that it has at present. I say `enormous' because whenever one reads about good diet and good food-and we should remember that this is Better Health Week and people will be talking about improvements in their diet this week-fish is mentioned. Let the fishing industry take note that it can take advantage of that. However, it will not succeed if it deceives the public in what it puts on the market and if that product is also excessively expensive.

That is another of the problems in market penetration of many fish products. Relative to meat products and particularly to chicken products, which are also recommended by dietitians, fish products are often far too expensive. I am not talking about crayfish and prawns. I am talking about ordinary cuts of fish in the market-place. I stress to retailers and, more importantly, the restaurant trade that if they want to get a reputation for good fish products they will only get it by charging the right price for the right product. Many commercial enterprises have done that and their success can be attributed to that fact. The only way in with the retail fishing industry will be able to compete effectively down the track is by being sure that the product that it puts on the market is competitive in price and that a realistic assessment of that product is provided in terms of the name claimed for it.

I turn to another question of concern and that is the question of over-fishing. The Western Australian Minister for Agriculture, Mr Julian Grill, in his responsibility for fishing is doing an excellent job in recognising the problems of over-fishing. There is a need in certain industries from time to time to have a reduction in the number of production bases. At the moment in Western Australia we have too many licensed commercial fishermen. The Western Australian Government is to be commended for the work that it is doing in this area in buying back licences and reducing the number of fishing operations in that State because over-fishing in the long term will simply mean that we will wipe out an industry. We only need reflect on what has happened to the prawning industry to see how over-fishing has destroyed its base. Therefore, I commend the Western Australian Government and Julian Grill in particular for being very imaginative about that.

Another problem that is raised with me-and, I am sure with everyone who ever goes to a fishing spot-is the abuse of local fishing spots, particularly by ill-informed amateurs who come in and catch big fish which they do not need and leave them on the beach. Professionals also come to these spots and destroy local fishing. I am particularly familiar with the local area of Trig and Scarborough on the coast of metropolitan Perth where there was a need for some action to be taken. The Western Australian Government acted very promptly and stopped the exploitation that was occurring on the reefs in that area because people were moving in and taking out all the stocks of shellfish. I also commend the Western Australian Government for stopping abalone fishing because this means that the abalone can now recover to a marketable level. Another area of concern is in the electorate of the honourable member for Forrest (Mr Drummond) at Georgraphe Bay and Cape Naturaliste, a spectacular part of Western Australia, where there is currently commercial over-fishing which is destroying stocks-so much so that last Christmas was probably one of the worst activity times for recreational fishing people because the fishing stocks had been wiped out. It has been put to me by people whose judgment I respect that there is a significant role for honorary wardens to play. These wardens would simply advise local fisheries officers where fishing abuses were occurring.

Mr Hodgman —Hear, hear! They are doing it in Tasmania.

Mr RONALD EDWARDS —I thank the honourable member for Denison for his comments. He says that this is being done in Tasmania. I think it is very much needed in Western Australia and other States as well. Honorary wardens should be able to move in and take the details of people who are abusing local fishing activities. Those names and other details should then be referred to fisheries officers for subsequent action and possible prosecution. If there is one issue that really raises the ire of people in tourist places, particularly those who are on holidays, it is this. People who go on holidays do not expect to come back with enormous quantities of fish but they do expect, however, if it is part of the local scene, to be able to get some fish. If we allow unscrupulous amateurs and professionals to destroy fishing stocks then we are doing ourselves a disservice.

Mr Hodgman —They are raping a resource.

Mr RONALD EDWARDS —That is absolutely right. They are destroying a resource completely. I believe that it is important that we recognise that fact in this Parliament and take sufficient action against them.

I am pleased to note that in the context of this legislation the powers of fisheries officers are dealt with. However, I also note that there is a need for honorary wardens who are on the spot, who are responsible people in local communities and who know everything that is going on. For example, in the area of Yallingup, near Margaret River in Western Australia, the salmon are running at the moment. It has been put to me many times that there are two local people who go to the river with nets, net all the salmon and leave a lot of them on the beach. People who go there to try to catch a few salmon and do not catch one are being denied that opportunity. As a result, the local tourist industry suffers. People say: `I am not coming back here because I can never catch any fish'.

I conclude my remarks by saying that this is a really serious issue. We need more research, we need a better policing system and we need to ensure that the competing interests of tourism, recreation, recreational fishing and professional fishing do not destroy one another. We all have an interest in ensuring that we have an effective fishing industry. I was disturbed to go to Green Head in Western Australia and find that fishermen had been throwing their bait bags over the side of boats and completely littering the coastline. The whole coastline was covered with bait bags from unscrupulous fishermen. Those bait bags tend to destroy natural life as well as litter the coastline. It is in the interests of the fishing industry to put those sort of things in order. I am pleased to commend this legislation to the House. I believe that it is far reaching and that it does a number of important things. Ultimately I believe it will lead to a more effective fishing industry if we are intelligent about it.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.