Fisheries Amendment Bill 2013
I am pleased to add my contribution to the debate on the Fisheries Amendment Bill 2013, which as we have heard from other speakers does two things in general. The first and major component of the bill is to establish the Fisheries Advisory Council. It also makes a number of miscellaneous changes to the Fisheries Act 1995 that are of less significance in some ways but may prove to be of specific interest to the commercial fishing industry, where levies can be varied and so on.
As indicated by the last speaker, the member for South Barwon, and as other speakers have already indicated, the fishing industry is very important in this state. The commercial and recreational fishing industries provide many opportunities to ensure that we have food — that is, fish and various forms of seafood — available in our shops in Victoria but also to provide export industries and in a number of cases to enable us to export products into Asia.
Commercial fishing is a pretty tough industry, but sometimes it is very successful and rewarding. Of course it is an important part of the life of so many of our coastal towns around the state. From Port Fairy and Portland and right around the coast to Lakes Entrance and on to Mallacoota, both commercial and recreational fishing provide a very important component to the economy and life of those towns. As we have heard from other speakers, we do not refer to the economy of coastal towns just in terms of the fish that are caught or sold; there are so many items that fit into this economy — for example, the equipment that is required for that fishing, whether it be the boats, the trailers or other fishing equipment. Clearly that forms a very important part of the economy of those coastal towns, as it does for many inland towns around this state where there are some great inland fishing sites.
As well as that we have the aquaculture industry, which is developing further in this state. That includes the yabby industry, which has been greatly challenged through the drought years but is now in a position to develop again. As a member of the Rural and Regional Committee of this Parliament, I was pleased during hearings on a recent reference we undertook in regard to food safety standards to have an opportunity to visit a number of areas and hear about a number of issues associated with the fishing industry as they related to food safety. However, in my former role as parliamentary secretary to the then Minister for Agriculture I also had an opportunity to talk with many people in the fishing industry to gain a greater appreciation of the issues that have been of concern to them and have been important in that industry. I am pleased to have been able to understand the industry and to gain an appreciation and understanding of the broad range of fishing industries across the state, as well as their value to the state and the individuals involved in those industries.
I would just add that the chairperson of our committee also made a statement today on the government’s response to the committee’s report on food safety standards. Some of that related very significantly to the seafood industry and to the yabby industry. We met with people in the yabby industry who were concerned about how food safety standards were affecting their progress in the industry, and we made recommendations to ensure that their progress was not being impinged upon excessively while food could be safely handled. They also wanted their industry to be dealt with in comparable ways to the industry in other states.
We will see, but I was slightly disappointed with the minister’s response to that report, which came out during the last fortnight.
In regard to the yabby industry the minister said that he supports the concept that we are putting forward and will consult with the industry, but it is still a little bit unclear what the outcome for the yabby industry will be in terms of its requirements for food safety standards. I hope that in the not-too-distant future a sound outcome is brought forward which will allow that industry to develop and provide good, sound product. Likewise operators in the wild catch part of the seafood industry — that is, the live seafood industry — also expressed concerns about the requirements of PrimeSafe in regard to food safety in that industry. I see that the minister accepted that this area is of low risk and should be treated accordingly. Again I was a little disappointed but not surprised that the response from the minister was that he will consult further and seek an examination of the best way to progress this, so the outcome is yet to be made clear. However, we hope that in following through on these issues the minister will see that the wild catch industry, the live seafood industry, is dealt with appropriately in terms of food safety standards.
Recreational fishing is clearly a great industry across this state and a family-friendly industry. While I have not been a great fisherman myself, as a child and as a university student I enjoyed fishing in the ocean and in some of our great rivers around this state. I remember some terrific trips in my university days with university friends up the Howqua and Delatite rivers. We did not necessarily catch a lot of fish but we certainly enjoyed the camaraderie of the trip and a good time was had by all who attended.
I am pleased that my son, who is now aged 10, has developed an interest in fishing. He managed to persuade me to buy him a new rod and he fishes in Lake Wendouree, which has water in it again, making it possible to fish there. He has not been successful in catching any fish in Lake Wendouree but when we went to Peterborough during the last summer holidays my sister-in-law managed to organise for him to go out in a boat in the estuary at Peterborough.
He had a big smile on his face and was very pleased because he was able to catch some whiting there. He has also been out on Corio Bay with me and the member for Geelong looking to snare some fish there. While he was unsuccessful, I was able to catch something. I forget whether it was a flathead or what it was but I at least came away with something, so I was pleased. Clearly recreational fishing can be a great family activity and is one that ought to be encouraged.
In regard to the establishment of the Fisheries Advisory Council, we have heard what the role of this committee will be, and it is laudable for the government to consult widely in regard to the council’s development, its management and its policy development in regard to fishing. We want to ensure that this government does the best job it can for the fishing industry across the state. The concern members on this side of the house have is that a Fisheries Advisory Council as a permanent body might not be the best way to undertake this consultation, but clearly it has much to offer in representing a mix of commercial, recreational and Aboriginal fishing interests and so on. I hope this body, when established — even though I see it is predicted to cost something of the order of $80 000 per year — will be of ongoing value and will help the minister and departmental officials to make those important decisions about protection of the industry and will ensure the appropriate balance and will also ensure good management practices.
Clearly the jury is out on this matter. We will see whether other forms of consultation would be better, but I presume broader and more specific consultation will continue to take place in a range of areas as required. We will see what the effects of this permanent body will be. I hope this legislation is a sound step forward for the fishing industry across this state, which is an important industry, as I have said. We will wait and see how the Fisheries Advisory Council operates in the future.