Recreational fishing special coordinator


Mr BARBER (Northern Metropolitan) — It is unfortunate that the allegation of a conflict of interest against a private citizen — someone who is a former member but is currently, as far as I am aware, a private citizen — is being debated in such a precipitous fashion. In this instance we have both the government and the opposition to blame for baiting each other into the debate in which we now find ourselves. With the information we have been given so far, I think the matter deserves better scrutiny so that it is not left hanging in the air. If I understand correctly, Mr Drum suggests that Mr Ingram holds an abalone licence and therefore has a conflict of interest in being involved in the buyout of other commercial operators elsewhere in Victoria.

Ms Pulford — and of course her department would know — did not really address that issue. She did not say whether Mr Ingram does or does not currently hold an abalone licence. As I said, Ms Pulford's department not only has that data at its fingertips, but one might expect that in a conflict of interest declaration, which Ms Pulford confirms has been lodged and considered by her and the cabinet, that that information might have been made available to the house.

If we could have some more light rather than heat shed on this issue, we could move on to the next question. Assuming Mr Ingram does have an abalone licence, we could all debate whether we think that is a conflict of interest. Is there some kind of substitutability between purchasers of abalone and purchasers of King George whiting, flathead or snapper from the bay? They are all marine products. There is no doubt that this program that both the Labor and Liberal parties are endorsing to remove — —

[Speech was interrupted.]

Mr BARBER — And The Nationals; do not forget the other one. This program the parties are endorsing will make fish from the bay more expensive and difficult to obtain for ordinary consumers. It could be that as a result of this program — which is to phase out all commercial netting in the bay — when I go down to my local fish market or seafood restaurant, I will now be getting fish that could have been flown in from another part of the world.

The commercial netting fishery in the bays is said to be a sustainable fishery. Ms Pulford's own department says it is sustainable. Even Greenpeace says it is sustainable and a preferred choice compared to other species of fish from other countries that may not even be labelled correctly.

Since both speakers raise the broader policy question of the merits and political support or otherwise of the buyout program, I say we need more scientific evidence before this process proceeds. I hope Mr Ingram is going to examine all the relevant scientific evidence. Some of that evidence is still forthcoming. In fact I believe Ms Pulford's own department's is funding or delivering some of the scientific research. It could be that Mr Ingram, with a completely open mind and free of any conflict of interest, is willing to look at some of that research and give some advice back to the minister that perhaps the buyout of all the licences is not necessary and will not necessarily deliver the kinds of benefits that Labor, Liberal and The Nationals all think it will, which is — in short — more fish.

If the fishery is sustainable now and if evidence shows that the catch-per-unit effort for recreational fishermen and fisherwomen is not in decline, then it may be that the measures proposed would not necessarily achieve the desired effect. While there may be one or two licensees who may be eager to be bought out, it could be that with some more scientific evidence coming down the line and with some more time available this program could be reconsidered.

As it is, we have heard a lot about it lately. We ask a minister for the detail of or rationale for their particular policy, and what we get is, 'It's an election promise, therefore we're doing it'. First of all, it is the job of the Parliament to still scrutinise those promises, and secondly, citizens deserve better explanations from their governments than simply, 'We're doing it because we promised to do it'.

If we see Mr Ingram around the place here, we might stop him in the corridor and ask him for his opinion. He always has strong opinions on these matters. Of course The Nationals have an in-built and tribal animus against him; basically there is not a single thing Mr Ingram could do that would get the support of The Nationals. Unfortunately, the nub of the issue that was raised here today has not been satisfactorily dealt with. In my opinion it would have been better if Mr Drum had bowled up another question where he sought the facts I am seeking, which are: does Mr Ingram hold an abalone licence? Was it disclosed in his conflict of interest declaration, and if so, has the minister formed the view that that is not a conflict of interest? In that case, we could debate those matters with a few facts.