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Monday, 20 May 1985
Page: 2130

Senator ARCHER —Has the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry been drawn to the fact that the northern prawn fishery has, following severe economic problems, undertaken a self-help program involving a licence buy-back scheme, which scheme was ratified by legislation passed through this chamber on Tuesday last? Is he aware that the industry has agreed to contribute $1m this year as first payment in an effort to survive? Further and finally, is he aware that increases in fuel costs during May alone amount to an extra $45,000 per year on the average prawn trawler and that, unless such a selective impost is relieved, some fishermen will have grave difficulty in meeting their commitment to that scheme? What steps will the Government now take to restore the good faith exhibited by the fishermen in the implementation of their buy-back scheme?

Senator WALSH —It is not entirely correct to call the northern prawn fishery scheme a self-help scheme. It is a joint government and industry scheme aimed at removing the surplus capacity which is the fundamental cause of the problems that many of the fishermen have in that area. Fuel prices, which are frequently cited, are really a symptom rather than a cause, and continuing very high levels of subsidy for fuel prices will not, of themselves, overcome the industry's problems.

I am not sure of the accuracy of the precise figure that Senator Archer quoted. There has been some increase in fuel costs delivered to that area; there is a prospective increase in the near future. As a result of that decision the Government has decided-I cannot find the note of the precise amount-that an additional amount will be made available to accelerate the boat buy-back program, thereby coming to grips with the industry's real problems; that is the fishery has been over-fished for a considerable length of time and there are too many boats. This response makes much more sense both in the industry's long term interest and in the public interest than would any alternative policy of continuing to pay subsidies in one form or another to the people operating in that area without redressing the industry's fundamental structural problem.