Home' Ausmarine : November 2012 Contents Minister Tony Burke thought he was on to a winner. The Greens
were in raptures, God and the Dutch had delivered them a shiny
new bolt to screw down the Labor/Green pact.
Resident Tasmanian MP and conspiracy theorist Andrew Wilkie,
with a headline popping up on his doorstep, demanded an inquiry
into quotas, even if he didn't know what they were. Then reality kicked
in. The ogre lurking on the horizon didn't seem as nasty as the Greens
and their political pillion passengers were claiming.
As it happened, the ogre was delivering some very substantial
benefits in the way of investment, jobs, technology, training and most
importantly, better environmental controls. How embarrassing. Since a
threat didn't exist, a face saving one would have to be created.
First a mythical history, suggesting the boat had been kicked out of
countries around the globe. However, no confirming government
could be found. Next, a mythical fishing history showing dolphins
hanging out of absurdly sized nets was circulated. Even school kids can
spot computer-generated photos these days, and by now the more
responsible media were asking serious questions.
Fishery managers, marine scientists and administrators from within
Burke's previous fisheries portfolio would not support his claim that
the boat posed a threat to the resource or was likely to increase capture
of non target species. If anything, the opposite was the case.
By now things were going seriously wrong. Ministers Burke
and Joe Ludwig were at odds not only with the scientific community,
but challenging the TAC and quota allocation process that, for
the last ten years, they and their predecessors had lauded as world's
Blunder followed blunder. In panic mode, it was decided to ditch
the science and management and cater to politics and polls.
Emergency legislation was rushed through both houses to address
what was clearly a non-existent threat. Naturally enough, foreign
governments, particularly the Dutch, started asking questions about
the risks for investors. After all, the prime minister was heading for a
UN meeting, seeking EU votes for a Security Council seat.
Sovereign risk in Australia has not been an issue previously. With
statutory fishing rights and quota subject to the whims and political
needs of the ministers of the day, it is now. Just to show the "clumsy
sack" was not empty, more silliness was to follow.
The 'Margiris' was to be surveyed and flagged as an Australian
vessel. In so doing the Dutch and Aussie partners decided to rename
the boat and call it after one of Holland's most famous marine
explorers, Abel Tasman. Some "twit", with no appreciation of the
enormous contribution Dutch navigators made to our country,
Having stuffed up at every turn, alienated the scientific
establishment and their own managers, there was only one thing left
to do: apply the gag. Government-employed administrators and
researchers were not to speak or provide information to the media.
The facts were obviously getting into the "wrong" hands.
When taxpayer funded research and management protocols are
denied to the taxpayers, we should be seriously concerned. If it is at
the instruction of, or even condoned by a departmental minister, we
are entitled to assume incompetence at best, and the worst otherwise.
For more than twenty years the federal government and the
Australian fishing industry has struggled with property rights issues.
On every occasion, industry was and is told that government is
committed to, among other things, security of the access asset.
However sincere this may be at the bureaucratic and research
level, it is transparently untrue when being considered by this
government. Polls and political alliances take precedence over
industry security and science-based management. The gag on
researchers won't work. The gag on managers is just another sick
joke from an accident-prone environment minister and a fisheries
minister too weak to give backing to his own department.
Prominent marine researchers have made it clear they will not be
gagged and resent the implication that their studies and reports are
in some respect unreliable. To date, minister Burke has had a pretty
cushy career. Moving from shop assistant to state politics to a safe
federal Labor seat and into ministerial portfolios that offered a high
profile and loads of media exposure. A party leadership role perhaps?
This time he backed the wrong horse, and instead of admitting
error he is looking spiteful and petulant. The Dutch company, unlike
the easy targets of the ministers' previous attention, is one of the
world's most respected fishing companies, well able defend itself
from self-serving political lobbies. The local Tasmanian partner can
also boast a proud fishing history, providing valued service to Tassie
fish farmers and employment to their local community.
Ministers Burke and Ludwig will still be on the media pages come
election time trying to explain why they ignored scientific and
management advice to attack the company with a legislative
hammer. Was it part of some desperate attempt to accommodate the
wishes of the Green or recreational lobbies? Were they frightened of
losing the support of a 'jilted' local single issue MP? Whatever the
reason for the knee jerk reaction, it has driven one more nail into the
Gillard government coffin
For a while it looked like the Sydney Fish Market would entirely
lose the services of long time defender of New South
Wales fishermen, Grahame Turk. Thankfully, sanity has prevailed.
Bill Gibson, after eighteen years of dedicated service, will
be replaced as board chairman by Grahame. Bryan Skepper, who
I think has been at the market since the days of sail, will take on
the general manager's role. Congratulations Bryan, God help
A government gag is
no laughing matter
November 2012 AUSMARINE
A personal comment from Ulladulla's very own
Barry McRoberts on Management Matters.
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