Transcript of Senator Richard Colbeck - Address to Seafood Directions Conference, Port Lincoln

October 28, 2013


Congratulations to Jonas for last night and to all the winners of the awards last night, it was a great night Jonas. It really sets a good and positive mood for the evening and for the week and I hope you all enjoy what you've got for the week to come. I had a look at the program and there's some great stuff.

Can I recognise my parliamentary colleagues, Rowan Ramsey, Member for Grey; a really good mate of mine and someone who I'm trying to educate more around fisheries, Shaun Edwards Senator for South Australia, good to see you here Shaun; local state member Peter Treloar; local government colleagues, I did a stint in local government too and I really enjoyed it, I'm not sure I was supposed to but it was good fun so welcome to you as well. Thanks for the opportunity to be here.

As I said before, it really is good to be here. I've shadowed this portfolio for five years now and to have the opportunity to pull on the levers and start to do some things is one that I am really looking forward to and I relish very much.

We have a really good story to tell about Australian fisheries, we have a really good story to tell. That story hasn't been told for too long and one of the things that I want to do is tell that story and help you guys tell your story. I know you are proud of your industry and you should be. We've done a lot of hard work over the last 15 or so years to put ourselves in a situation where we do have a sustainable industry, we can talk about that with pride globally and we are recognised globally as being a sustainable industry, and now what we need to do is maintain that. But we need to make sure that we have a profitable industry and one where people are willing to invest and grow the industry and I think there is real capacity to do that, both in the wild fishery, also in aquaculture, and also there are huge opportunities I think in developing relationships with the indigenous community and the recreational community. They are really important as part of the picture of fisheries because the one thing that you're all looking for, one important thing, is access to the fishery. If we're going to end up blueing among ourselves then the one thing that we're likely to lose is access because if there's a dust up out there's someone who wants to take advantage of it there will be public pressure applied to reduce access to the fishery. So one of the things that I want to do is retain that and we have the potential to grow it. The next version of the fish stocks report will be this week and that has more good news in it.

So what we do in our fisheries here in Australia is that not only do we have good scientific background for the way that we manage our fisheries and the way that we set it up with our harvest strategies, but we actually measure what we do and we publish that. So you've seen the continued improvement since we've started publishing our fish stocks reports over the years from when we had a reasonable proportion of our fish stocks that were overfished and subject to overfishing, that has continued to reduce every year. We measure 93 stocks and have now started working with our state colleagues to combine work with state and commonwealth fisheries that work continues to improve. I think that all contributes to the proud and strong message that we have about our fisheries sector here in Australia. But of course we need to continue to improve; continuous improvement is part of that process.

We made a number of commitments at the federal election; all of those were designed from my perspective to work in a positive way with the industry. We want to reduce where we can regulation; we know that regulation is a cost to industry and where it is unnecessary we don't see that it should be there. I had a couple of conversations last night about that and I had a couple in the lead up to the election and since, if you know where there is some regulation that doesn't need to be there or you think it doesn't need to be there come and tell us, happy to have that conversation. We don't know everything and don't claim to know everything, so if you know where there is some regulation that you think could be reduced legitimately, come and tell us about it. I think that is a reasonable way that we can operate.

We're obviously removing some taxes, the carbon tax is one that I know had an impact on this industry from an industry perspective but also from refrigeration, that is an impost that we didn't see needed to be there so we are going to remove that.

I've already talked about the fact that we have sustainable fisheries and that we actually measure them and that is a really important point for consumers in this country. They want to know that the fish they buy is sustainably caught. Now the simple message that I give people when they ask where they can buy a sustainably caught fish is a simple answer - buy Australian. It's a very simple answer. That's a message that we need to continue to push to the broader community and part of that is continuing to demonstrate that what we do is sustainably caught and managed.

The previous government set up a review into fisheries management and we will continue that work but will also make sure there is genuine consultation during that process and I think it's really important that there is good engagement with the industry; we understand each other and what our wants and needs are. As I said before, I want to have a circumstance where it is an industry where people are prepared to invest so the industry can grow. We have huge opportunities I think in our fisheries.

I'm interested in developing a national strategy for aquaculture. We've seen really great products that are coming out of the aquaculture sector, you've got some brilliant products here in South Australia and I'm more than happy to boast about what we've got in Tasmania - perhaps we should have a competition one day to try out the differences between the oysters. I think that would be a good opportunity for us to have a discussion because I think the Tassie oysters are pretty good, but I did enjoy the Coffin Bay ones last night.

I spoke this month at the CCSBT and we've seen an increase in the quota there and that's a great piece of news, to see a fishery that was in as much trouble as that one was in a situation now where were starting to increase the quota, it's a highly valuable industry and really important to this town,. To see where we've got that cooperation, mostly, between the participating countries who are involved and see that we've turned around that industry where we can start to increase quotas is a testament to the fact that we've got good strategies and systems in place, something we really ought to be proud of and telling our communities. We're doing this well and that should be used as an example for the rest of the country, but also our participation in a regional sense for our fisheries, that we do have good practices in place and we can use that as an example for boarder fisheries management. I'm certainly interested in getting involved in some of the discussions at an international and a regional level about fisheries management. I think we can play a strong part in that, not a patronising part, but I think we can lead by example. So there is a real opportunity for us there.

Seafood protein is such an important part of the global diet. I think the quote from Ray Hilborn is one of the more salient I've heard, that 25% of the globe's protein comes from seafood. A full quarter comes from seafood. If you wanted to replace that with grain-fed proteins you'd have to clear the world's rainforests 22 times over to replace it. It's absolutely vital that we retain our marine species and keep our fisheries in good condition. The alternative when you look at it in that context just doesn't bare thinking about and when you think of the global food task heading towards 2050 the seafood industry is going to continue to play a vital task in that. So a value industry but also an important one in terms of the global food task.

We've also had a process over the last four or five years for the development of marine protected areas. We have campaigned and complained long and hard, along with many of you, about that process. It was a significant issue in my mind in the 2010 election and was again at the recent election. We're going to have a very close look at that process because we don't think locking up huge swathes of the ocean is conducive to maintain a sustainable seafood industry. Marine protected areas are not about fisheries management. We need to look after our entire marine environment, its vitally important that we look after it all because otherwise the sustainability of our industry, which I talked about a minute ago, won't exist. So were going to have a very comprehensive review of the marine parks so taking back the management plans, putting in place a scientific committee to review the boundaries and then have a consultative process with bioregional planning groups on each of the regions so there is genuine consultation, not playing one group off against the other, put everything on the table and have a genuine discussion about it and I think that's a way to get to a sensible result and not have some sort of formulate result where the claim is that we need 30 per cent of our marine environment locked up in no-go zones. That to me doesn't make sense. So let's have a genuine process that will deal with that.

It's in that context that we recognised Oceanwatch as a NRM group. When I say we have to keep our marine environment in good condition I mean it. It is important and so here we have a group that's been working with the fishing industry for a long time and they're doing just that. I think they deserve that recognition that we've given them. Now they can start working with communities around Australia to do just that.

We have some work to do with our peak bodies recreational and commercial and so well start working on that prices, we'll reinvigorate our recreational fishing council and work very closely with commercial sectors. It's important that representation that the industry has to government is strong, informed and sound and I'm really determined to develop and grow that relationship. There are a lot in the room that I already know and have good relationships with but I want to continue to build that and its important, as I said together, that everyone is engaged together because the thing that we all want to retain is access to the fishery.

Above all I want to make sure we have a strong fishing sector into the future. We consistently hear in the media what disaster our fisheries are. They're not talking about us, they are talking about issues in other jurisdictions but that message seems to over bare the message from the Australian fishing sector. We need to turn that around, I'm happy to do my bit but everyone needs to be part of it. I know that you get tired after a continuous hounding but we need to let people understand that we do have good and strong fisheries and so the strong message about having a strong, sustainable, viable fishery in this country is one that I want to set a platform for during my time in this portfolio. I really look forward to the opportunity to work with you all do that, I really do.

As I said at the outset, it's great to be here, it's taken a while to get here, pestering my friend James in the department for five years at estimates, we now get to do it much more regularly. Enjoy the conference, I hope something really good comes out of it and I look forward to talking to you when the opportunity arises while I'm here today and thanks again Jonas for the opportunity to be here.

281013 TRANSCRIPT Seafood Directions speech
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