Gone Fishing Part 2 The Factory Ship

The Federal Minister for the Environment, Tony Burke, with the Minister for Fisheries Senator Joe Ludwig by his side, on Tuesday announced that special legislation would be introduced into the Federal Parliament that evening to “stop the trawler”.  They looked very pleased with themselves for taking such decisive action, pleading inadequate science and special circumstances.  They also announced a restructure of AFMA (the Australian Fisheries Management Authority).

We are very good at stopping things, aren’t we?

Such a decision flies in the face of all the scientific advice available to them from their own organizations and departments, and is without doubt an insult to their own scientists, and to their respective organisations.  Will we see mass resignations from the AFMA Board?  Probably not, but they should, for this is nothing less than a massive vote of no confidence in them, from their Minister.  The government did not like the advice, irrespective of the science, so therefore they need to restructure the department.

This decision has a range of ramifications.

The immediate one is that there are now some 50 people out of work who yesterday were employed.  Further, there will be a massive compensation bill.  Taxpayers will be truly delighted to know that this decision will cost them plenty.  And there will also be ramifications at an international level because of the involvement of Dutch interests who have been led to believe that this project would proceed.  After all, after 7 years of planning, all approvals were in place.

And then, what of the rest of the trawler fleet?  The Ministers state they are concerned with bycatch.  As stated previously, there are trawlers fishing Australian waters with larger nets than this vessel.  What are the ministers going to do about them?  And how secure does the commercial fishing industry now feel, given the retrospective nature of this decision?  How are the banks going to respond to this threat to value?  The mortgages of commercial fishers are now open to question.  Already the institutions are circling, protecting their investments against the value of a now-insecure fishing licence.

The conservation lobby is cock-a-hoop.  Another victory for them.  The present science data does not fit with their demands, so blame the lack of science, and demand more research and more research until they get an answer that suits them.

Interesting approach also by the Greens Senator Whish-Wilson, who made the claim during this fracas that he wasn’t interested in the science, he just didn’t want the boat here.  Very illuminating, Senator, and the comment will be remembered.  And the Greens again complaining the government did not go far enough and ban the trawler altogether.  True to form, never satisfied!

I am intrigued that on the one hand we have politicians seeking an education system that produces scientists, only to condemn them when they provide scientific advice.  Not just fisheries scientists, all science would appear to be fair game these days.

It reminds me of the status of life science in Russia under Stalin.  Trofim Lysenko was an agronomist who developed a new theory of inheritance of characteristics, in line with Party philosophy.  Today, the word Lysenkoism is used colloquially to describe the manipulation or distortion of the scientific process as a way to reach a predetermined conclusion as dictated by an ideological bias, often related to social or political objectives.

Readers will recall that another government once interfered in process by introducing legislation, and was condemned loudly by the protest lobby, claiming a perversion of due process.  It was the Tasmanian government, and the issue was the pulp mill.  Now, another government has interfered in process by introducing legislation, and is praised by the protest lobby for taking decisive action.  I guess the difference is one was trying to get something started, while the other is trying to stop something being started.  The hypocrisy is overwhelming.

It is also disappointing to see the local politicians follow the mob.  It would have been asking too much I guess for our local crew to provide some leadership and direction.  Populist politics thrives when there is no vision.   “I must follow them for I am their leader’. 

On the day of his announcement, Minister Burke wrote to a number of people, thanking them for their activist efforts. 

One response he got was as follows:

What an absolute disgrace. And what a hypocrite.

Will you now be consistent and place the same onerous conditions on every trawler fishing in Australian waters?  Of course you won't.
And what does this say about your respect for the scientists that advised you. You might as well sack all of them while you are about it, and simply go along with the mob.
A bad day for you, and a sad day for your party.

Maybe he will read it, I certainly hope he does.

The Premier is away on a trade mission to China, while the Economic Development is having school holidays.  It is left to the Deputy Premier to make some sense out of this mess, as well as trying to resolve the closure of the King Island abattoir and the flawed IGA process.

The trade mission to China will indeed be an interesting exercise for the Premier.  It will be difficult to explain that we want investment on the one hand, while on the other we keep on changing the ground rules on such things as forestry (the IGA), mining (the looming Tarkine debate), and fisheries (retrospective legislation).  Even promoting our education system will be problematic when we treat those who we train with such disdain.

The state requires a leadership that can lead from the front, that can handle criticism and stick to what it believes, that can start things rather than stop things, that can encourage investment through a consistent and positive approach, and that can ensure a secure environment for employment, as distinct from the populist approach of appeasing the mob.

We have a way to go to get there, that’s for sure.