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Monday, 15 March 2010
Page: 2377

Mr BRIGGS (12:10 PM) —Thank you, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to address this Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Recreational Fishing for Mako and Porbeagle Sharks) Bill 2010. The opposition is supporting it because it has been brought to this House largely due to the actions of the opposition spokesperson on this issue, Senator Richard Colbeck, who campaigned vigorously over the summer months to ensure that this bill could come before this House because of the failure of the Minister for Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts in the way he went about addressing this issue. I will deal with that later on in my speech.

I thought it was important, firstly, to talk about the importance of recreational fishing in my area in Mayo in South Australia. It is a very important industry to the Fleurieu Peninsula and Kangaroo Island in my area. Recreational fishing on Kangaroo Island is a large part of the tourism industry that drives people’s visitation to the island—fishing for whiting and snapper, in particular. It does form a very large industry on KI. It forms a subpart of the tourism industry. It is very important particularly for tourism operators on Kangaroo Island and also those along the south coast in Victor Harbour and down to Cape Jervis where there is a strong recreational fishing industry. There is also a small commercial fishing industry which operates along those parts as well. This is a very important industry in my area.

It is estimated that recreational fishing is the sport with the nation’s highest participation, which would come as a surprise to many. However, it would not for those who have some role in it. It is a very popular sport and activity for people. In South Australia alone about one-quarter of an estimated 328,000 South Australians enjoy fishing each year. Apart from enjoyment, recreational fishing injects millions of dollars into the economy through the maintenance of boats and retail sales of marine engines, tackle and equipment.

South Australia also has a strong, viable commercial fishing industry. In 2005-06 the state’s commercial wild fisheries were worth approximately $193 million. Mainly they are driven by the very successful tuna farms off Port Lincoln in South Australia in the member for Grey’s electorate. However, as I said, there are small patches throughout other parts of the state in the south-east and off the south coast where my electorate is as well.

It is a very important industry for employment. The recreational aspect plays a major role in tourism. It is one industry that we need to ensure continues to grow and continues to be well managed. It is a challenging industry for many reasons. In the 12 months prior to October 2007 an estimated 236,000 South Australian residents aged over five years fished at least once, representing about 17 per cent of the South Australian population, which is a very large percentage of the population to be participating. A total of 98 individual species were reported by recreational fishers as being caught during 2007-08. Recreational fishing was more popular among males than females, which does not come as too much of a surprise, I am sure. Much of the fishing effort—87 per cent—was caught in marine waters, including estuaries and inshore and offshore waters. There is also a portion of fish caught in South Australia through the Murray-Darling Basin system, but largely they are caught in marine waters.

It is an industry which clearly needs to be managed in conjunction with the environment. I think in South Australia because of reforms in the nineties when the quota system was introduced—and I am sure around the country there are similar stories—we are managing fish stocks in an appropriate fashion. I think it is very important we do so because the sustainability of the industry is obviously very important not only for the recreational fishing industry and commercial fishing industry but also to the challenge we have as a globe with food security.

There have been reports over the last few months with claims that 70 per cent of the world’s fish stocks have been overfished, and this will obviously impact in coming years with the growing world population, particularly in Asia, where people use seafood as a major staple in their diet. We need to make sure that we are sustaining the fishing industry in a fashion which means that it is manageable to enjoy both in a recreational sense and, more importantly, in a food security sense. So these are important issues for us to manage. As I said recently in debate on a bill that the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry presented, which was related to the security of the fishing industry, I think we do need to be very careful that we are sustaining this industry in an appropriate fashion as we go forward.

That brings me to this bill and the reason for the bill being presented to the parliament today. It is the case that the minister for the environment failed and made a big blunder last year in listing the mako shark before consulting with industry. As I understand, there is no proof whatsoever of the minister consulting with the recreational fishing industry, or state authorities for that matter. I would have thought that was pretty important in trying to gather whether this should be a protected species or not. Of course we support action by governments to ensure that there is sustainability in a fish stock and sustainability of a species, but we support that being done on a scientific and consultative basis, not just by an edict from a minister made without testing whether there is in fact a problem. It caused massive dislocation with people who have very much enjoyed catching these particular species of fish. That was the first blunder by this minister. We understand late last year he was busy trying to warn the Prime Minister of impending disaster in the Home Insulation Program and clearly had other things on his mind. But this, of course, led to a lack of detail and rigour being applied to this issue, and thus the species was listed and therefore we now have this bill in the parliament to overturn what was clearly a mistake.

His second blunder was the unilateral decision to declare the Coral Sea a conservation zone on 20 May 2009. It was also done with no consultation whatsoever, with commercial or recreational fishing groups or affected Queensland communities. It appears that the minister had no difficulty siding with the USA funded Pew Environment Group, a division of the Pew Charitable Trusts, which has no take and even no activity agenda that it aims to install across wide areas of the sovereign waters. In other words, the minister again made a decision affecting these very important industries without talking to the relevant fisheries, without talking to the state governments, without consulting with the people who are involved in these industries. In fact, Mr Dean Logan, the national spokesman for the Boating and Fishing Council of Australia, said:

… Garrett has single handedly lost the respect of the entire Australian recreational marine, boating, outboard and fishing sectors and is causing deep divisions within the Australian environmental lobby.

That is pretty stunning criticism from someone involved in the industry.

The third blunder that this minister made in relation to the fishing industry—a minister some on his own side have described to me as the minister for Narnia—was that he caused great angst among recreational and commercial fisheries through the federal government’s bioregional planning process, which, again according to Dean Logan of the BFCA, is ‘in complete disarray’ and ‘a terminally ill process that has so far lacked anything resembling real engagement with the recreational boating and fishing industries’.

My electorate takes in large areas of coastline and includes some of the most pristine marine waters in the world. The quality of the fishing around Kangaroo Island in my electorate is amongst the finest you will find anywhere in the country. Sound management over the years by both state and Commonwealth fishery agencies has helped ensure some of the world’s most productive and sustainable fisheries for rock lobster, abalone, shark, prawns, cockles and scalefish, including the prized snapper and king george whiting that my region is famous for. Fishing is a major drawcard, as I said earlier in these remarks, and it is a major contributor to jobs, income and lifestyle within the region.

We also have the world’s most successful fish tag business located in my electorate. It is a stunning success story of a small business located in Victor Harbor. You would not think that fish tags could be such a popular small business industry to be involved in until you see the amount of money this small business actually makes every year. It is one of two in the world, the most successful in the world. All sorts of research institutions look to get access to fish tags to do the scientific research which obviously leads to decisions like listing different species in marine fisheries. So it is a very important business located in little old Victor Harbor in my electorate.

In conclusion, this is a very important issue in my electorate. It has major implications for jobs and major implications for the enjoyment of many in my electorate and from outside of my electorate who travel to enjoy some of the best fishing in the country. It is an issue where we need to ensure that we consult, that we look at the science and that we do not ever overfish different species. I certainly support a sustainable approach and I think South Australia should continue with the quota system that we have—one that ensures that people can only take what they need at the end of the day when they go out fishing. In this case, I think the great criticism, the criticism very well made by Senator Colbeck and others, is that this minister single-handedly failed to consult, he single-handedly failed to do his research and he single-handedly failed to look at the data, which led to a decision which caused great angst in fishing communities across the country. It is not inconsistent with how this minister has performed in other areas of his portfolio. Clearly he spent a lot of last year trying to warn the Prime Minister about problems in the insulation debacle.

Mr Randall —No, he didn’t.

Mr BRIGGS —That obviously took a lot of time off his plate—we understand that. The member at the table is interjecting that he did not think he did enough of that, and maybe that is right, but I have faith that the minister tried very hard to and unfortunately the Prime Minister ignored those bits of advice from the minister. The minister—who has had 90 per cent of his task taken off him and been left with basically just the fishing industry and a few other issues, like wombats—can hopefully now concentrate more on these industries that are so important for our country and for my electorate. It is disappointing that we have to debate this bill, but it has been a great opportunity to talk about just how important the fishing industry is for my electorate. With those remarks, I conclude.