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Monday, 8 October 1984
Page: 1823

Mr DRUMMOND(5.43) —I appreciate the significance of this important debate. I moved for the adjournment of this debate earlier today to enable a matter concerning the forthcoming election to be dealt with. I look forward to the election because it will be good to get back into government after 1 December. One of the reasons why we will be back in government is the type of legislation that we have before us. The honourable member for Darling Downs (Mr McVeigh) has broadly outlined the coalition's opposition to this legislation, and I want to concur with him in that. I particularly want to speak about the local issues in Albany, where the bluefin tuna industry will be severely affected. I point out to the House that this legislation is one of the reasons why this Government is not doing well and will not win the next election.

The Fisheries Licences Levy Bill 1984 could well be described as a Bill to add insult to injury. The Government has drastically curtailed an important part of our fishing industry, refused compensation and adjustment assistance, and then brought down this Bill to require a levy payment from surviving operators. This Bill is a final twist of the knife in what has been a particularly ungenerous response to a part of Western Australia that is too often disregarded by Canberra. Tuna fishing has for some years been a major component of the economy of the Albany region. It gives direct employment to 145 people and to a further 231 in the processing and servicing industry. The sum of $2m a year is brought directly into Albany. Moreover numbers of people were encouraged into this industry after 1978 when whaling ceased at Albany. It is relevant to note that that industry's demise was due less to economic factors than to political factors, and that the interests of Albany were sacrificed to public opinion in the big cities of the eastern seaboard. It came as a shock to the southern bluefin tuna fishery at Albany that the industry would suddenly have to be curtailed. Earlier there had been no indication from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation or any such body that breeding stocks were in danger. I firmly believe that when an industry such as this has to cut back operations because of government action, rather than the law of the market-place , affected operators have every right to expect adjustment help. Instead we have a government that hides behind an Industries Assistance Commission report in refusing assistance, and then forces what remains of the industry to pay its own management costs.

During the last two weeks Albany tuna fishermen learned that their quotas for the new season would be based on 40 per cent of the previous best catch, not the 50 per cent figure they had been led to expect. This has put them further behind , whether their choice is to leave the industry or consolidate within it. Few can avoid the choice, and the quota system by itself does very little to solve the problem. The Government can hardly congratulate itself on its rejection of the initial IAC recommendation of limiting the Western Australian tuna catch to 1,000 tonnes. This in effect would have wiped out the industry in Albany and the south coast of Western Australia. The quota system, however, does nothing to solve a cost burden that is now to be increased through this thoughtless piece of legislation. The small size of the quotas in their final form will not provide sufficient cash when sold to re-establish in another industry. I remind the House that the other fisheries off the south coast are fully exploited and that tuna operators can hardly expect to transfer to them. Common justice demands that they get a fair measure of adjustment assistance. Rural adjustment funding would be a suitable avenue, had not this Government decided to cut it back 40 per cent in the Budget. The need will remain. Equally, the Government has an obligation to assist those remaining in the southern bluefin tuna industry, the very people whom it now plans to hit with a levy. It should be obvious that if the tuna industry is to remain viable in nearly all cases the fishermen will have to buy additional quotas. It is equally certain that this could be a severe financial strain, when boats are being paid off and other costs are being met. Surely the Government could have looked to interest free loans as a means of practical assistance. This would hardly be classified as a handout. Instead these operators are to be visited with an additional cost.

This Bill is carefully non specific as to the amount of levy that may be payable. On the one hand we might hope that this Government will show a belated sense of justice and impose a very small levy on the tuna industry. On the other hand we might be concerned that the discretion given to the Government could result in a quite unreasonable imposition that it is simply not game to bring before this House. As a matter of principle we should be reluctant to pass legislation that relies so heavily on ministerial discretion.

Mr Rocher —The price of quotas will go through the roof.

Mr DRUMMOND —That is true. Given the Government's record towards the south coast tuna fishery over recent weeks, I am suspicious about any open-ended arrangements on financial levies. According to this Bill, fishing licenses will be granted only on condition that the levy is paid. Quite apart from the injustice of imposing new costs on people who had the right to expect financial aid, we should question the fairness of requiring our primary industries to carry these sorts of managerial costs. Fishing, like any other primary industry, cannot raise its prices at will to meet costs, particularly those of labour and fuel. Primary industry should not get handouts except in cases of disaster or government-imposed cutbacks, and does not ask for them. We do however need to be mindful of the massive subsidies given to primary industry overseas.

The management of tuna stocks, as with any other national resource, benefits all Australians, and not simply those who are currently involved in the fishing industry. For this reason the community should carry the managerial costs. Moreover, the Japanese are benefiting from our management arrangements in their use of the Australian fishing zone. I understand that access fees from the Japanese long line fleet last year exceeded $2m; a figure of this size can surely go a long way to funding the management program.

A serious deficiency in the quota arrangement has added to the problems faced by the full time southern bluefin tuna fishermen seeking to remain viable. Fishermen using other than pole-line methods are allowed to take up to 5 tonnes without reference to the quotas. This allowance has surely reduced tuna quotas from what they might otherwise have been. If too many people avail themselves of this 5 tonne non-quota, surely it threatens the overall management program. These people will be exempt from the operation of this Bill. The injustice of the levy becomes more apparent when it is realised that it is paid by only some of those catching tuna, who are dependent on the industry. The idea of limited entry into the Southern bluefin tuna industry is seriously undermined. Accordingly, management levies become a farce.

I return to the point that Albany has been treated with peculiar insensitivity, first by the IAC and then by the Government. Its bland comments that only a small proportion of fishermen in the western sector are dependent on tuna conflicts with the solid evidence available from Albany. I cannot see the justice of proposals that those leaving an industry be financed by those remaining in it, when this adjustment is being forced by government intervention . It is altogether removed from the example of a farm too small to be viable in today's market, where the neighbour who buys it finances the departure of the seller into another field of employment. This Government has imposed something like a 30 per cent cut on the national tuna catch. Its reasons may be sound, but the existing operators should not be expected to bear the total cost. While the IAC did not recommend compensation, it noted that the Government was not precluded from any decision to provide adjustment help. The response has been this Bill and the added cost that it will involve. We can only question the consistency of a Government that talks about compensating one small group of Australians for land that was occupied by their remote ancestors, and then denies responsibility for people whose livelihoods are drastically affected by Government action. This Bill is just another episode in the catalogue of shabby treatment being meted out not only to Albany and the south coast fishing industry, but also to the people of Australia generally.