Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria) — I rise to speak on the Fisheries Amendment Bill 2013 and state from the outset that the opposition does not oppose the bill. It gives me pleasure to speak on the bill because fishing is particularly popular in Western Victoria Region, and there are a number of constituents and coastal towns in my electorate with a very strong stake in this industry.
There are two aspects to the bill before us today. Its primary purpose is to establish the Fisheries Advisory Council.
The 14-member advisory council has been operating in an interim capacity for some time. It is made up of 5 commercial fishing representatives, 5 recreational fishing representatives, an ecologist and an economist, as well as a member representing Indigenous fishing interests. The Fisheries Advisory Council will provide advice to the minister and the department in a number of areas including, but not limited to, commercial and recreational fishing management, access to resources, licensing, research and compliance. I think all members of the chamber would agree that all five areas are extremely important to the industry, but as I said, the council will not be restricted to those primary responsibilities.
As stated in my introductory remarks, many townships in my electorate have recreational fishers, not only those who live in the electorate but also those who come to fish on weekends and on industry rostered days off or during school holidays.
The boat ramps around western Victoria remain full throughout the day and often for weeks on end during the holiday periods. Fishing is popular not just with the locals but also with visitors and tourists, whether they be regular or one-off visits.
During the Bracks and Brumby Labor governments I had the pleasure on many occasions of representing the then Minister for Agriculture and the Minister for Regional and Rural Development in announcing a number of significant projects for the fishing industry, which included funding for piers, marinas, fish cleaning tables and the like, from Portland, Warrnambool, Port Fairy and the Surf Coast. As the member for Ripon in the other place, who is a former Minister for Agriculture, stated during his contribution to this bill, there are 720 000 recreational fishers across Victoria. That is a significant number of Victorians undertaking this activity.
What I have said on previous occasions and when there have been community events relating to the funding of fishing infrastructure is that it is one of the recreational pursuits that everyone can enjoy. Fishing is a low-cost activity and it does not matter whether you are a man or a woman, a child or an adult or where you live, it is very accessible and a great way for an individual to take time out to enjoy the sport and also the environment. It is a great family activity and a great way for parents to introduce young children to fishing, cooking and enjoying the fresh country air.
Many licence-holders reside in the electorate of Western Victoria Region and there are excellent fishing opportunities in Corio Bay, Port Fairy and even beyond Portland. During the tuna season in Portland and the surrounding area, we are inundated by people who have come from interstate and are there for weeks on end. The seals that hover around the cleaning tables put on an enormous amount of weight during that period. It is great to see because it brings significant tourist activity, whether it be for accommodation, food or petrol in the area, and it brings the townships to life leading up to the Christmas period.
As I said, the fishing industry is important in terms of tourism. It is important to stores that sell fishing equipment, bait and fuel for boats and to providers of accommodation, whether it be caravan parks, bed and breakfasts or hotels and motels. It is estimated that Victoria’s recreational fishing industry provides the state with more than $3.2 billion in economic activity.
Recreational fishing is important at a state level, but it is also important to many small townships, particularly in the tourism off-season. The commercial fishing industry in this state is also very strong. The Australian Bureau of Statistics indicates that there are about 1700 Victorian jobs that are directly linked to commercial fishing.
I note that the member for Bellarine in the Assembly, Lisa Neville, spoke on this bill when it came before the lower house, and she talked about how she has enjoyed the quality of the seafood that has come from her electorate. I must agree with her. It is true that Lisa and I are fortunate to have electorates with highly productive and pristine water resources. We both enjoy the mussel festival that is held in Portarlington each year, which is all about teaching the local community and tourists the importance of the mussel industry, in terms of not just mussels being a nutritious food source but also how the mussel industry needs to be protected at all costs.
There was a problem with the mussel industry some time ago, but government department staff based at Queenscliff were able to work through that problem. We now again have a very active, prosperous and successful mussel industry around the Bellarine Peninsula. Statistics show that commercial fishing contributes over $60 million to the state’s economy.
Labor is supportive of setting up the Fisheries Advisory Council. We were also supportive of the consultation with the industry about this initiative, and it is supported by the industry. I am a member of the Education and Training Committee, a joint parliamentary committee that released a report fairly recently on agricultural training, the major recommendation of which was to set up an advisory committee for the agricultural sector. Unfortunately the government did not see fit to support that recommendation, saying it was going to be too costly, too bureaucratic and a few other things.
I wonder how the government can make that argument in that case but not in the case of the Fisheries Advisory Council.
However, Labor supports the establishment of the Fisheries Advisory Council, the conducting of industry consultation and for there to be mechanisms through which consultation can be exercised on an ongoing basis, not just through one-off round tables. The Fisheries Advisory Council will play a serious role in making sure that significant research is undertaken to underpin this important industry. It is an industry that can be quite fragile at times, whether it be because of disease — which we have seen with the abalone industry and the mussel industry, which had problems some five years ago — or other factors. We need to be ahead of the game and ensure that the Fisheries Advisory Council is able to play a significant role in forcing government to put adequate resources into this area.
As we know, last year the government slashed half the research and science positions in the Department of Environment and Primary Industries that were stationed at Queenscliff. Members of this chamber would be aware that I spoke out quite vigorously on that issue, not once but several times, as did the member for Bellarine. It is not just the scientists and the staff who are no longer there; the laboratories and equipment were also cut. I hope the advisory council makes some clear, straightforward statements to this government to ensure that the funding is resurrected for the research to continue. The expertise, research and science based in Queenscliff was invaluable in terms of informing good policy decisions, and under this government that is now gone. If something is not done about it, a dynamic industry that delivers so many benefits to a number of stakeholders will be the poorer.
In conclusion, I wish the Fisheries Advisory Council well in its responsibilities going forward.
The Labor opposition looks forward to the council having success in informing the government about issues that affect the industry, both commercial and recreational, such as research and the sustainability of resources. We look forward to the council being able to exercise cohesive leadership. Its leadership role will bring the many stakeholders and various parts of the fishing industry together to have a strong and active voice that will urge the government to do the right thing by the industry.