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Tuesday, 14 May 1985
Page: 1890

Senator ARCHER(3.36) —The Opposition supports the Fishing Legislation Amendment Bill 1985 and the Fisheries Levy Amendment Bill 1985. I wish to make a few general comments about various aspects of the fishing industry and this legislation. Of course, the aim of the legislation is to provide the framework whereby the maximum profitable sustainable yield can be provided for Australian fishermen. Historically this has not been easy. There have been a lot of fluctuations in the industry since its earliest days. In recent times the industry has been subject to technology changes of enormous proportions and great increases in amateur effort. It also has had to contend with fluctuating exchange rates, undreamed of cost increases, the influences of foreign fish and foreign fisherman and so on. Australia-wide we have come from what was largely 30 years ago a cut lunch industry to a situation in which sections of the industry are extremely competent by any world standards. This probably applies in particular to areas such as lobsters, prawns, scallops, oysters, the new tuna fishery and some of the deep sea trawl industry. We hope they will be typical of many other types of fishing in the not too distant future.

The technology involved in catching and processing and in the fishing boats is absolutely first class. I give enormous credit to the industry for the way in which it has progressed when it has never been really easy to do so. As soon as any one group makes progress there seems to be an automatic cut-off to follow. Usually this is for very sound biological reasons. The groups I have mentioned have usually accomplished what they have in spite of those cut-offs and the many traumas on the way.

The capitalisation of the fishing industry is now enormous. The efficiency of the good fisheries is excellent. In many places the fishing industry is still regarded as a peasant industry. It is certainly nothing like that; it involves a group of highly skilled professionals. In looking at the amendments and the legislation now before us I have to say that the Fishing Act of 1952 still is in pretty much of a mess. The first time I dealt with that legislation and tried to work something out from it Arthur Bollen told me that a complete revision of the legislation was well under way. That was not yesterday. I gather that if I asked a question now I would probably find that the revision was well under way. However, I still find difficulty in fathoming out the legislation. I believe it should be put on the priority list again. Those needing to use the Act should be able to understand it thoroughly and not have to wade through the hundreds and hundreds of amendments that have been made to it over a period of years. This was a major recommendation of the Senate Standing Committee on Trade and Commerce in 1982 and all members of that Committee regret that it has not yet taken place.

The management question has had considerable investigation over many years; various fisheries have been considered for various types of management on many occasions. The scheme covered by these Bills is for the establishment of a system of units for managed fisheries, and I recognise that the idea is not new and that it has both support and opposition. I equally recognise that some scheme had to be undertaken and that the fisheries concerned want a scheme and have already moved in this direction. My hope for this scheme-for any scheme-is that it will not provide poor fishermen with an income that they do not deserve; that it will best reward the most efficient fishermen; that it will improve profitability; that it will produce stability; that it will encourage investigation of new fisheries; and that it will ensure maintenance of stocks for the future. I am quite satisfied in my own mind that units in this case and in any similar case should be transferable and should be capable of accumulation or division, as is appropriate for the most economical co-operation of the fishery. In all primary industries where there is clearly a problem of available produce or market restrictions this method to me is the one preferred. How the Department which supports units for fishing so totally rejects them in dairying defies all imagination. The need and circumstances are almost identical: The existing effort simply exceeds what is available.

I would now like to use the opportunity of this debate to raise the question of fuel costs. I asked a question last week about an impact study on the effect of this year's fuel cost rises on the profitability of existing fisheries and on the likelihood of new developments. I have not yet received a reply, and I hope that I will be able to get some response shortly. Fishing uses more fuel per unit of production than any other industry and its situation needs to be taken into account. There is little use in putting new legislation into action to save the fishing industry if at the same time fishermen are unable to continue to fish because fuel becomes too expensive to use. How many honourable senators appreciate that the cream of the tuna fleet and, of course, of the prawn fleet are now putting from $35,000 to $40,000-worth of fuel in their boats before they go to sea?

I have had a great interest in fishing and the industry over many years and I look forward to improved performance, greater Australian participation and increased development in the years ahead. For instance, Australianisation of foreign fishing and joint ventures is not going well enough, and the Australian interests have not done as well as I believe they should have, in spite of a reasonable effort to encourage them by the Government, by the Australian industry and so on. I have to say that I have not always been totally happy with the administration and other aspects of the Australian management, as the present and previous Ministers have been well aware. I do not want to open up on this occasion in particular, but I simply draw attention to the fact that difficulties are probably attributable in many cases to the shortage of departmental officers with a working knowledge of fishing and a rapport with fishermen. This will continue to be the case until fisheries administration becomes more of a career in which officers wishing to get advancement may invest time in getting practical experience and still get their promotion in the service.

The major difficulties in the industry have always been in its own organisation and representation. The industry is spread around the entire coastline of Australia. Those in the industry work at all hours and all days and, as a group, are seldom good at meetings. Each group feels that it is different as to location and species, even though I have found that their problems are usually much the same or at least very similar. The most appropriate organisation for the industry itself and the funding of that organisation is still the most important issue requiring attention. I have great regrets that the Australian Fishing Industry Council failed. That was certainly no fault of Fred Connell and the others who gave it every chance, but I believe we all know that in the available situation it can probably be no better as yet.

I had hoped that by now the industry reorganisation would have produced legislative amendments, but that is not so. I hope that when advisory committees finish their job we may be closer to a totally representative industry-funded organisation that can make the sort of contribution to be expected from a body of the size and importance of the fishing industry. For instance, the annual meeting of the Trawler Owners Association of Australia will be held this week at Ulladulla. In the notice sent out by its executive officer stocks, profit, et cetera, and the future are raised very well-I make it clear that the stock is the most important issue for the industry-but I take the point of the trawlermen that right now biologists are rampant-they are everywhere-and that economists are nowhere to be found; and that, no matter how good biologists say stocks are, if they cannot be caught at a profit it does not matter much at all. The newsletter that came out with the notice has a paragraph or two that would be well worth incorporating. I read one paragraph to point out what I mean. In it the executive officer, Mr Laurie Walkear, says:

We have a veritable army of biologists, with a fleet of vessels, all having meeting after costly meeting so that they can tell us after umpteen years that they are not too sure of anything, but whatever it is, things are quite O.K. From a biological point of view of course. Meanwhile there is not an Economist in sight. Is it too hard? Or too distasteful? Or isn't there any fun in it? Whatever it is, we need a few around, and soon.

This particular group is in severe economic difficulty. It has been pushed into various corners by changes in circumstance and it really needs some help. It does not really matter to it whether it is determined that there are fish there or not if the fishermen cannot economically catch them and sell them.

I have trouble going along with advisory committees, not only in fishing but generally. Beyond their being a short term exercise and while, in the case of the fishing group, I respect the members on the present committee and the job they are doing, there is always the problem with a committee of this sort that it is a committee giving advice to the Minister, not to the industry; and it is usually the industry that needs representation. The management of the northern prawn fisheries has demonstrated what can be achieved, and I would like to take this opportunity to give it great commendation for what it has done at a time when the Government was not too sure what it ought to do. The organisation, led by Peter Pownall, has demonstrated what can be done and, having struggled to rationalise a very bad situation for many years, there is every indication that it can fix it; and this legislation regularises the arrangements that cover its very excellent buy back system. If it has a good season and follows the plan through, it will be better off as an industry in the future. I only hope that every approach-and there certainly will be approaches-will be turned down totally as they arise. All sorts of approaches will be made to water down this scheme, and I hope that they are totally resisted. My congratulations certainly go to Peter Pownall and all the boys from the north, and I offer them as a model for other fisheries.

In the southern end of Australia there are problems with the trawlermen-those who fish for shark and scallops, for a start. Their problems are worsening and it is going to require great wisdom, care and a lot of manoeuvring to get them through the minefield that lies ahead of them. I regret that governments always take too long to act. The problems are there. I feel that so often awful damage is done before the appropriate action for the fishery is taken. For evidence of that we have only to look at the southern bluefin tuna fishery and the serious trouble it is in. It is an international problem. Yet that fishery is one of the most researched fisheries in the world. So much has happened there that has been wrong. How to get it right for the future is still the job ahead. The fishermen, especially those at Port Lincoln, are the true professionals of Australian fishing-people like the Puglesis, the Lukins and Michael Thomas. I have come to know those gentlemen pretty well. A finer bunch would be hard to find. Most of them started from the bottom and worked their way up. When I say 'worked' I mean worked. The fact that they are becoming victims of international problems is most regrettable. I trust that the scheme which is now in vogue for them will get them out of their difficulties. The Western Australian tuna fishermen are also deserving of particular consideration in this debate. They too have followed everything that they were told or encouraged to do. The fact that it was wrong in the first place and took a long time to rectify was not their fault. I am sorry for them. I noticed a report in the West Australian of 4 May about the income of the fishery. In part the report states:

This reduction represents a 78 per cent drop in income to the community from around $650,000 to less than $140,000 . . .

That is an enormous problem for a small community. We cannot do any more than to feel terribly sorry for that community. The lobster fishermen around Australia are the pioneers in management controls. In Western Australia the system is accepted and appreciated, likewise in Tasmania and South Australia. Of course, not everyone likes it, but it is accepted for the job it does and the need that it fills. There would be no lobster industry were it not for the management that has been applied. The management of the various fisheries was one of the prime considerations in the Senate report. Although the report was substantially approved by government, and even more by industry, it is regrettable that progress on it has still been fairly slow.

I personally and the Opposition generally support the Bills and the fact that the legislation gives a legal basis to actions that the industry substantially has undertaken and/or accepted. I would, however, like to move later the amendment that was moved in the other place and draw attention to the fact that in no way is it designed to hold up the legislation-far from it; it is designed to grant a right of appeal against a bureaucratic decision. I am sure that members on both sides of the chamber believe that a right of appeal is fundamental to any form of action. The question of this clause was raised by the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills. It was pointed out there that some mention needed to be made of the right of appeal. I would appreciate it if the Minister could give that his attention.