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Monday, 8 October 1984
Page: 1824


Mr HODGMAN(5.53) —The Hawke socialist Government at this very moment is engaged in an act of international stupidity and domestic vandalism. Today it is taking decisions that will certainly cost hundreds of jobs in and around Hobart, that will definitely further damage our already shaky trade relations with Japan and that must call into question the competence of a senior Minister, the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin), who is at the table. Over the last few days the Australian Government has been involved in negotiations with the Japanese tuna fishing industry over its right of access to Australian waters. This is an annual event where agreements are made to protect the southern bluefin tuna, to protect the interests of the Australian fishing industry and to ensure that the Japanese industry has fair and reasonable access to our fishing grounds, for which it pays a fee.

But last week all semblance of a fair go and reasonableness went out the window . The Minister's Department has taken a position that effectively bans the Japanese from fishing the southern bluefin tuna in southern Australian waters. This means that the Japanese fleet will have no reason to visit the port of Hobart, at a cost of some $3.5m worth of business each year to small business in and around Hobart, in and around the Denison electorate, as well as causing the loss of hundreds of jobs. The figure is as high as 300 to 400 jobs which are dependent directly and indirectly on these visits.

This decision is a direct attack on Hobart. The Minister is insisting that the Japanese also set a quota on southern bluefin tuna that they catch in international and Australian waters. That sounds reasonable enough. But let me put it in perspective. The total Japanese catch of southern bluefin tuna from the Australian fishing zone last year was some 1,500 tonnes; that is, from all Australian waters, not just southern oceans. The Australian fishermen's own quota, recently set by this Minister, from next year will be 14,500 tonnes. That 1,500 tonnes to be taken by the Japanese is part of a total catch of some 18,000 tonnes taken in international waters. I repeat that the Japanese quota is 1,500 tonnes and the Australian fishermen's quota is 14,500 tonnes-nearly 10 times the size of the Japanese quota.

The Japanese rightly say that the question of how much of this stock they catch in international waters should be decided at a trilateral government to government level between the Japanese, Australian and New Zealand Governments, and not imposed upon them by officials from the Minister's Department. The Japanese have been fishing international waters for decades and understand the critical importance of maintaining the parental biomass of the stock. From 1972 the Japanese fishermen have voluntarily entered into a program of deliberately reducing the number of southern blue fin caught and the total weight. It must be understood that the Japanese fish deeper for the larger fish especially to meet demand for their sashimi market back home. They do not fish for the juvenile stock found in waters around Western Australia and off parts of South Australia.

Only a few days ago I was informed that the Japanese, who last week made a number of significant concessions over the number of hooks used by the fleet and in respect of the time they spend in sections of the fishery, have been told in effect: 'Go home-you are not wanted here'. This is a scandal that will have long lasting repercussions in our relations with Japan, and the finger will be pointed at the Minister. The Japanese tuna fishing industry is now saying that it will have to mount a campaign in its own country against Australia. It says that it will result in a crack in the entire good trading relations between Australia and Japan. They feel betrayed, frustrated and let down. They have been down to Hobart to try and win local support and they got it. They have been using the offices of the Japanese Embassy in Canberra to try and get help but even that does not seem to have made any impression on the Department. They even went to see the Hon. Ken Wriedt, Leader of the Opposition in Tasmania, former Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and a man regarded as one of the finest Ministers, if not the finest Minister, in the Whitlam era. He understood their problem, and I understand that he has endeavoured to assist them. It is a pity he is not back in his old chair during the current negotiations.

As Federal member for Denison, and on behalf of my colleague the Federal member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck) I am speaking out, not just on behalf of the interests of the people of Hobart who will be very adversely affected by this but because I want to demonstrate just how relations between nations can be affected by something as trivial, as insensitive and as blinkered as the negotiations currently under way. The Minister must step in and sort out this problem once and for all. Maybe he has snubbed his nose at the Japanese because he believes the local industry has to be protected.

I believe the local industry should be protected. I have been the honorary legal adviser to the Professional Fishermen's Association of Tasmania for the past 16 years, having taken over from my father in that position. I have very firm views about our industry. I make it quite clear that we believe the local industry must be protected. We say to the Minister that he simply has to do something to correct the impression given because, as my colleague the shadow Minister for Primary Industry, the honourable member for Darling Downs (Mr McVeigh), who is sitting next to me at the table, will confirm, the Minister does not seem to be going terribly well in his primary industry negotiations with Japan.

It may well be that the Minister's decision is motivated by the pending election announced only a few minutes ago. We do believe that the local industry must be protected, but there is no local tuna industry in Tasmania and if the Japanese are forced out of the port of Hobart there will be nothing to fill the void. I repeat: $3.5m a year is now to be lost to the port of Hobart because of the way in which the Minister has negotiated, and 300 to 400 jobs directly and indirectly will be lost. I was involved in negotiations each year they came up under our Government and I always understood that the Federal Government did recognise the industry's enormous impact on the economy of Hobart and southern Tasmania. I suggest that the Minister is putting votes ahead of our relations with Japan. It is simply not good enough. I ask the Minister to intervene now and to get back on the right track. Madam Deputy Speaker, I seek leave to table a telex sent by the Japan Tuna, International Division, which points out in great detail the matters to which I have adverted and which calls upon those involved directly and indirectly, in the interests of Hobart and Tasmania, to do everything they can to get this Minister and this Government back on the right track.

Leave granted.