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Monday, 4 May 1987
Page: 2264

Senator ARCHER(9.12) —I too would like to support Senator Boswell's motion. I find it most regrettable that there is a problem of this nature. Earlier today I had one of those friendly approaches from Senator Walsh indicating that he did not quite agree with me on the approach that I was about to take. He demonstrated that he did not even know what he was talking about. In view of the fact that he was not here when the debate started tonight, I point out to him that we are talking about paragraphs 6.1, 9.1, 9.2, 9.3, 9.4, 9.5, 10.1, 10.2, 10.3, 12, 14.1, 14.2 and Schedule 1. Seeing that Senator Walsh was listening so attentively while I was going through that list, perhaps I ought to read it again-but I will not bother. If Senator Walsh had demonstrated any idea that he even knew what the motion was about, I would take him more seriously now and in the future. I assume, however, that somebody must have told him something, because he would not have had the opportunity to pick it all up on his own. It would make it easier if we could all start by talking about the same thing.

I regret very much that this problem does exist. I regret it because there is no doubt that the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) has, by and large, tried to be of assistance to the industry, and I respect that very much. I am sorry that for one reason or another the communication service has broken down-and broken down badly in this regard. This particular problem goes back into last year. Since then there has been far too much talking and not enough listening. The position has not changed and the present problems exist only because they were made out to be much worse last year. Prawn problems are not new. One only has to go back to people such as Bob Mostyn to find out that prawning in the Gulf entails certain hazards. One could follow up the next 500 fishermen to have that statement vouched for.

When I came into this Parliament in 1975 there were major problems with the industry then. I have spent quite a bit of time during the intervening period talking to people who had those problems. I could say that it was pretty much of a rabble in 1976. The administration of the day was trying to do the best it could and failed. Progress was very slow. There was little co-ordination, and co-operation left much to be desired. As I recall, Senator Walsh may, for some of the time, have been a member of the Committee on Trade and Commerce at the time we were investigating aspects of the fishing industry. I believe that that Committee did much towards opening up discussion with people involved. Those people at that stage felt very much out on a limb, that nobody cared for them, that they were regarded as a bunch of hill-billies, and some of them even behaved accordingly. The Committee's investigations made them realise that they were part of it, that people did care, that efforts were being made to try to get the industry into a lively and worthwhile form. I believe the Committee achieved quite a lot.

I have to give credit to many of the major operators, because I believe that the big people in the business have behaved very well towards the small ones. The small operators have been protected, they have received extra units in the deal because they were small, they have paid reduced levies, and they have had the inside run. It should not go unnoticed that the larger operators have acted in this way. The establishment of units has been too generous. We recognise that and the industry recognises that. Once in, the problem is having these units reduced. In this regard I particularly commend Peter Pownall, who I am glad to see is in the gallery tonight, for the efforts he has made in trying to get people to understand the problem and do something about it, and to get them organised.

The buy-back scheme has been developed. It has started and it can be made to work. It has the support of the fishermen. No one has any doubts that the effort in fishing has to be reduced and that conservation is absolutely paramount. One of the major problems is that the biology of the banana and the tiger prawn leaves much still to be learnt. Very little is known of it, and although there is, for instance, a very good catch of banana prawns right now, it is not known how long it will last or how it will be next year, and we do not know what effects the seasonal conditions will have on later runs of tiger prawns. There are considerable differences, and the estimates that people make from time to time are only guesses of the best order possible.

Because of the situation, the fishermen have said that they will agree to a reduction in nets, to an extended closure period, to the banning of daylight hours fishing and to a limit of 70,000 units. The Government proposal is that there be no buy-back-that there be, purely and simply, confiscation with no payment and no appeal. I do not see that anybody could possibly be serious in believing that we can wipe out an asset of this nature just like that, with no payment, no compensation, no appeal, no judge, no anything. Of course, I have no alternative other than to give my support to the fishermen, because I believe that it is not right. The buy-back scheme is in place, it has been agreed to and it can be made to work. There is no reason why the Government should repudiate the present deal, of which it was a party. It has participated in it and it sanctioned it. The whole thing is in place. I do not think it is reasonable to expect people to back off like that just because the Government changes its mind.

When I was first made aware of the problem in plan of management No. 12, I had discussions with various people involved in the industry and I made it clear that I was not going to support any move that left an open-ended situation that would not ultimately provide for a reduction in the fishing units to the level that had to be achieved. I am pleased to say that I have been given that absolute undertaking by the industry representatives and that they will, using the methods that they have before them, achieve exactly that.

I think the fishermen need to be reminded that, far from being that outpost rabble of 12 to 15 years ago, they are now a very strong, well-organised, highly commercial and business-like group. Take my word for it-they are not peasants. They deserve great credit for the effort that they have put in. They have done a marvellous job in becoming now what is probably the best planned and best organised group in Australian fishing. They are responsible, they can see where they are heading, they have offered to put-up up to $3m a year to follow their plan through, but they insist on fairness in respect of those going out. They want to make sure that there is no double-dipping, which could happen under the sort of scheme that the Government is coming up with.

I have a huge file of correspondence and documents. I am satisfied that the fishermen most of all know their case and know it very well. Clearly, from the indications of the meeting in Cairns on Friday, the Minister was fully up to date with the information concerning the notice of motion. Clearly Senator Walsh was not informed when he had discussions earlier in the day. Clearly the industry has the capacity to make the scheme work and the discussions held with the Minister on Friday, I believe, have laid the way for this to be achieved with a bit of support all around later in the week. I support the motion.