Thursday, 30 March 2006
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation, Senator Abetz. Will the minister inform the Senate how the Howard government is acting to ensure the sustainability and profitability of our Commonwealth fishing industry into the future? Is the minister aware of any alternative policies?
I thank Senator Scullion for his question and acknowledge his expertise on these matters, which is unsurpassed in this place. I know that we on this side genuinely appreciate his contribution in a whole host of areas, but especially in the area of fisheries. Senator Scullion, like those on this side, has a genuine concern for the people who live in the coastal regions of our country.
Today I opened the $150 million Commonwealth fishing concession buyout component of the Australian government’s $220 million Securing our Fishing Future package. This is by far the largest structural adjustment package ever offered to the Australian fishing industry and is a critical investment by the Australian government in its future. Together with reforms being enacted by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, the tender aims to safeguard Commonwealth fish stocks for future generations and, at the same time, better position the fishing industry for a profitable and vibrant future.
This package was developed by the Australia government in response to requests from the fishing industry and has managed to do a unique thing in natural resource management—that is, unite competing interests. This package has been welcomed by the commercial fishing industry, the recreational fishing industry and the sensible elements of the environmental sector, who all too often sit at opposite ends of the table. The tender process is open to all Commonwealth fisheries except joint authority or internationally managed fisheries, although the tender will focus on four target fisheries.
The tender design has been developed in very close consultation with the fishing industry and has been tailored toward achieving best value for money. While the primary focus of the tender will be restructuring Commonwealth fisheries, I can also reassure those fishermen in state managed fisheries who are affected by the declaration of marine protected areas in the south-east marine region, which are expected to be announced shortly by my colleague Senator the Hon. Ian Campbell, that they will also be eligible to participate in the tender. The package also includes an additional $70 million in complementary assistance for the industry and associated communities.
This is a package about balance. It balances the needs of the environment with the needs of business. It recognises that we need to take action in the short term to have sustainable and profitable fisheries in the long term. It allows those fishermen who want to exit the industry to do so with dignity while better positioning those who remain to be profitable. The package is yet another example of the Howard government’s ability to balance conservation with the needs of industry and employment, demonstrating once again why we are increasingly being recognised as the party best able to manage the environment.
I was asked about alternative policies. In this instance, I am very pleased to say that there is none. I welcome the support of all parties in this place for this vital initiative to safeguard our fish stocks and the future of our fishing industry.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister further inform the Senate of the long-term benefits of investing in sustainable management practices? Has the government taken into consideration any other policies in formulating its own policy?
The point made by the honourable senator in his question is absolutely right: it is vitally important that we sustain our viable fishing industry. Not only is it a very important industry but also it is a very important product that we get from it: a health food that we as a community have to understand more and more. We in Australia produce premium quality Australian seafood, which is not only good for our economic wellbeing but also very good for our physical wellbeing. And so it is vitally important, if we want to maintain that resource for the benefit of future generations of Australians, that we have the benefit of that resource for generations to come. That is why I am delighted there is cross-party support for this initiative and cross-party support within the industry and the wider fishing and conservation sectors.