Thursday, 26 October 2023

Senator Murray Watt’s impotence as a Cabinet Minister and indifference for stakeholders even in his own portfolios has crashed to a new low following a Senate Estimates hearing in Canberra.

Asked a succession of questions late on Tuesday about the Albanese Government’s cave-in to UNESCO’s demand to install a ban on gillnet fishing, Senator Watt couldn’t even recall if he had voiced concern with Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek over the ban’s impacts on the regional Queensland fishers that he supposedly represents.

He even argued that his Department had “no responsibility” over the ban and its effect on Commonwealth fisheries.

Shadow Environment and Fisheries Minister Senator Jonno Duniam said:

“As Fisheries Minister, Mr Watt is meant to provide a counterweight to Ms Plibersek’s hard-left ideological instincts, but he continually fails to put up even one iota of a fight for the industries and communities he is meant to serve.”

“This is despite the fact that the gillnets ban is already turning into one of the most consequential and devastating decisions in memory for Australia’s commercial fishing industry.”

Shadow Minister for Northern Australia, Senator Susan McDonald, said she was shocked when the hearings revealed the Federal Environment Minister and the Fisheries Minister had not sought advice on banning gillnets from the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) or the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC) before a letter was sent to UNESCO announcing the bans.

This is even though the FRDC’s 2020 Stock Assessment Report showed populations of net-caught species barramundi and grey mackerel are “sustainable”.

She said banning nets would increase costs of seafood and be a hammer blow to already-stretched household budgets.

“It is clear that the Federal and Queensland Labor Governments have colluded on fisheries management without advice from the two federal bodies specifically tasked with researching and advising on such matters,” she said.

“The Minister has simply taken the word of Queensland Labor – whose fishing taskforce is headed by an environmental activist – that commercial net fishing has to go and pledged federal support for it.

“It’s beggars belief that a Federal Minister would act so rashly to sign off on the decimation of Queensland’s commercial fishery without seeking the advice of AFMA and the FRDC.

“Furthermore, the Federal Fisheries Minister – a Queensland Senator – refused to answer questions about the devastation fishers in his own state are facing under this plan which will increase costs of seafood and hurt Australian families already burdened by a cost of living crisis.

“I am appalled and angry that such a serious issue has been hastily endorsed with zero consultation and no regard for the welfare of fishers or the finances of people who can’t catch their own fish.

“Queensland and Federal Labor are doing the bidding of activists and ignoring Australian families trying to put food on the table.”