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Transcript of interview with Richard Hudson: ABC rural: 4 August 2009: [Western Rock Lobster Fishery]

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The Hon. Tony Burke MP

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

Tony Burke - interview with Richard Hudson, ABC rural

4 August 2009

REPORTER: We will be talking fishing first on the program, because yesterday it was reported in the media that crayfishermen in the Western Rock Lobster Fishery could soon be offered Federal Government money to exit the industry. But if you're one of those fisherman looking at getting out of the industry, don't start popping the champagne corks just yet.

Because, yesterday afternoon, Richard Hudson chatted to Federal Fisheries Minister, Tony Burke to find out if he is considering funding an exit package.

The main stumbling block seems to be that the Western Rock Lobster Fishery is not controlled by the Commonwealth.

TONY BURKE: Well the first things is there's no doubt that the Rock Lobster Fishery is facing some very tough times in the years ahead given the projections on where the scientists believe the fisheries are going to be at over the next year or so.

I did receive a letter from the State Minister asking whether they could be eligible for the packages that are available to farmers under exceptional circumstances. Unfortunately we can't do it that way because the legislation actually prevents it. I can't get a guarantee as to whether or not the new drought policy when it comes through is going to solve this particular problem.

The general concept of being involved in some sort of buyout is something that we have done from time to time for fisheries that are commonwealth fisheries. This one's a state fishery. If the WA Government is serious about wanting us to take this sort of direct role, then I'm happy to sit down and have the conversations with the WA Minister about whether or not they want to hand this over as a commonwealth fishery. It's difficult for us to be involved in a buyout without having management of the fishery, and it's certainly something that no government to my knowledge, state or federal, has ever really done. It's the buyout as always if that's what's happening, has always been something that the manager of the fisheries has taken responsibility for.

RICHARD HUDSON: Why couldn't you continue to have a state government-run fishery with federal funding for an exit package? What's wrong with that concept?

TONY BURKE: If you're buying out some licences, the reason that you do that is to reduce the total number - the total size of the catch, so that the people who are still involved are able to make a better livelihood and some people who are leaving get to leave with a bit of dignity. If you've got management, you make sure, while you're buying some licences out that you don't issue extra ones. But if you don't have management control, what can then happen is the person who's the manager of the fishery, that level of government keeps issuing licences and the other level of government that's paying for the buyout keep buying out, but you end up with no-one's situation actually being improved because new licences keep getting issued.

And that's why anything to do with exit packages needs to be directly linked to management of the fishery.

RICHARD HUDSON: But is there another pool of funds that you could call on to allow some of these fishermen to exit the industry while still keeping the fishery under state government control?

TONY BURKE: If the WA Government want to talk about it in those terms, I'm not going to shut down the conversation. I'm happy to see if we can work through the issues. But certainly, to date, the way this has always been done in the different fisheries around Australia is, if you've got management control of the fishery, and it's facing particularly tough times ahead, that's where the manager of the fishery looks at exit packages as a way of buying out some of the licences to help the people who stay around. I find it difficult to see how you could work it a different way.

REPORTER: That's Federal Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Tony Burke. And I think you could safely say it might be difficult for Western Rock Lobster fishermen to get any industry exit funding from the Federal Government. Well I have to wait and see what eventuates. There are many talks between Mr Burke and State Fisheries Minister, Norman Moore.