October 16, 2013  |  Second Reading

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.