Legislative Council: Wednesday, November 15, 2023


Fisheries Management Act Fees Notice

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI (Leader of the Opposition) (16:29): I move:

That the fees notice made under the Fisheries Management Act 2007 concerning fishery licence and boat and device registration application and annual fees, made on 20 June 2023 and laid on the table of this council on 27 June 2023, be disallowed.

Prior to the 2018 election, both major parties supported reforming the marine scalefish fishery to ensure a sustainable and economically viable industry into the future. Both parties took to the election their promise to reform the marine scalefish fishery. In fact, in an ABC News report prior to the last election the Labor government promised, and I quote, 'to buy back a third of marine scalefish fishery licences' along with zone management and quota changes, which was announced following a similar promise from the Liberal Party during that period of time.

After the 2018 election, the marine scalefish fishery sector was reformed with the clear objectives of securing biological and financially sustainable fishing practices. We were doing this. As the government of the day, we were working with the industry, ensuring communication was consistent and fishers had confidence in the process. We kept parties around the table and kept confidence in the industry.

Prior to the 2022 election, the now Minister for Primary Industries, then in opposition, the Hon. Clare Scriven, a member in this place, promised the sector an independent review into the cost-recovery policy model. She gave the sector hope that their ongoing concerns would be listened to and acted upon. Fast-forward 18 months, and on the Friday of the October long weekend the new proposed fee structure for 1 July 2024 to 30 June 2025 was sprung on marine scalefish fishers without any justification. For many their industry became non-viable overnight.

There had been no decision-making or transparency until this sudden announcement of the fee structure moving into 2024-25. Within these fees the base fee is set, and all licensees are to pay the same base fee whether or not they are a net-endorsed licence. The proposed fee structure percentage is 70 per cent for the quota, and 30 per cent is covering the base licence. The formula used to calculate the quota unit fee is the cost of managing the four quota fish species. This is then evenly divided by four.

Some species have 4,000 units whereas others have only 2,000 units. As I have said in this place previously, this creates an uneven burden on the fishers of those species with smaller units, as they are now required to pay more per unit compared with what is paid for other species. This has the real and serious risk of driving several fishermen across South Australia out of business due to the serious financial burden within the cost-recovery structure. In fact, one fisher's licence fee will be increasing by over 500 per cent from 2023-24 to 2024-25.

The industry is well underway with improved sustainability of fish stock, but according to numerous industry sources—and I say numerous—the government is about to ruin the financial component for a proportion of the industry due to those recent fee structure announcements. The industry was and is supposed to be participating in an autonomous adjustment process to assist in the continuation of the reform process. However, the government's position on the costing method has just undone a major component of the industry's autonomous adjustment capability by undermining financial confidence in the industry's future.

The Gulf St Vincent King George whiting and garfish fishers are set to pay 30 per cent of the gross value product of those species in government levies. This is simply not viable. The Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development has been sitting on the report of the independent review into the seafood sector's cost-recovery policy model for three months or longer, without any decisions, and has now suddenly hit fishers with the new fee structure out of the blue, seemingly with little to no concern about the long-term economic viability of the sector. The level of anxiety and stress that this has caused a large number of fishers is large and absolutely completely unacceptable.

It is crucial that steps are taken to ensure South Australia has a sustainable and economically viable seafood industry, but right now industry has absolutely no confidence that the minister has the balance right. The minister must immediately release this report to key stakeholders and the public to restore trust and transparency with South Australia's seafood industry.

As the opposition we have asked repeated questions of the minister, and I asked one again only yesterday. Today, we and the marine scalefishers are yet to receive satisfactory answers on the following:

1. Why has the minister released the licence fee structure for 2024-25 without releasing the report?

2. When will the minister be releasing this report to key stakeholders and the public so they can have confidence in the process?

Given the nature of the increase in fee licences and the indicated impact on the industry, in conjunction with the failure of the minister to commit to releasing the report of the independent review into the seafood sector's cost-recovery policy model—which is to inform future fee structure decision-making—there is a desire by the opposition in this place to hold the minister to account in her failure to properly manage South Australia's seafood sector. I urge members of this chamber to support this disallowance motion to stand up for the commercial fishing industry in this state.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. I.K. Hunter.