SUBJECTS: Labor Country Caucus, Tasmanian Salmon Industry, regional and agricultural policy.
MONDAY, 23 JANUARY 2017
JUSTINE KEAY, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR BRADDON: Thank you very much for coming. I am absolutely chuffed that I have the Labor Country Caucus here on the North West Coast in my electorate of Braddon. I’m Justine Keay the Federal Member and we have just been through Petuna Seafood looking at some ocean trout that is being processed, some great Tasmanian product. It is really important that the Country Caucus has come to the North West of country Tasmania and it really shows that Labor is listening to regional Australian communities and to our agricultural sector and processing sector as well. We are joined by a number of Senators, Shadow Ministers and MPs and I am really proud to be able to show them what Tasmania has to offer and the North West of Tasmania in our primary and production sector. I am joined today by our Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon so I will hand over to Joel.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Thanks Justine. I wear two hats today. I am obviously the Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry but also the convener of Country Caucus. Every January the Country Caucus meets to discuss the year ahead, policy in particular and also campaigning strategy. We visit different regions and while in that region we go out and learn from others and this year we have chosen the North West Coast of Tasmania. I thank Justine and all of her parliamentary colleagues for hosting us. Why have we come here? The process for us is about learning and we like to look at the things that have been done well. For example, here at Petuna they are employing lots of people in an environmentally sustainable way and are adding value to a local product and are supplying both large domestic markets and export markets. We like to come here and talk to the management about how things are going and to learn from what they are doing right and to always ask them what Government can do for them to help them be more productive and even more profitable. Of course we also go out and look at challenges and find out where people might be struggling, whether they be companies, individuals or regional communities and again to develop policy and to ask them what a Labor Government could best do for them. So it’s a learning experience. I’m with ten MPs and Senators today including the five from Tasmania and will be joined by a few more of my Country Caucus colleagues tomorrow so we are hunting in a big pack. Here today we are reminded again that we want to be a country that makes things, that adds value to our products and employs local people in that value adding process. There is no better example of that than at Petuna and I congratulate the company on the work it is doing and I congratulate the sector in Tasmania which is such a large employer and such an important part of the Tasmanian economy. I will be happy to take questions if anyone has any?
JOURNALIST: What have you been hearing from salmon producers here in Tasmania that may form a Labor policy in the future?
FITZGIBBON: I make a habit of asking any CEO or senior management - what is the one thing a Government could do to make their life easier and to make their business more profitable? I take away one key message from Petuna this morning and it’s all about workforce retention. The Labor party has a deep seeded interest in making sure people have every opportunity available to have productive work and be in a happy work place. We also want to ensure companies and farmers and employers generally can secure the workforce they need to undertake their operations. This all starts right at Gonski. A real focus for me and my colleagues in the Labor Party, we want to make sure people get the right education and all the opportunities in life and of course we have to produce a market and a market here is a vibrant regional community that is Country Caucus’ key focus looking at what we need to do when in Government to make sure our regions are as strong as they possibly can be.
JOURNALIST: How does Tasmanian agriculture compare to the rest of the country?
FITZGIBBON: I have very strong views about this. Tasmanian agriculture is doing well but is not without its challenges. Obviously dairy has gone through a very difficult time and I am very critical of the Government because I don’t believe it has done enough to address the challenges facing dairy farmers and their families. Horticulture is a real strength here in Tasmania and my view is that we talk about the opportunities in Asia. Horticulture and indeed seafood is where the real action is and where we can do our most to value add and of course Tasmania is an island. All of Australia has a reputation of being a provider of clean, green, safe food. That is our competitive advantage in Asia but Tasmania’s reputation is even stronger because it is an island state and I think there are enormous opportunities for Tasmania in agriculture and fisheries and I personally, and it is a contested subject, I believe Tasmania is capable of marketing its own brand. In other words, this is not just Australian produce, this is Tasmanian produce, the cleanest, greenest and safest place in the world. I think the opportunity is enormous. While it is important that Government stays out of the way of business, it is also important that Government is engaged in the sector and I don’t believe the Government is doing enough. It has no productivity agenda, it has no workforce agenda and it has no real value adding agenda making sure as best we can, we add value to the product here in Australia and indeed in Tasmania.
JOURNALIST: There is a fair bit of unrest in the salmon industry at the moment in terms of farming and where some farms could be located. Do you think there needs to be more done to regulate the industry in Tasmania?
FITZGIBBON: I think it’s fair to say the sector was challenged last year by, if you like, some allegations or accusations. Often good things come out of adversity and it tested the sector. It went through a Senate Inquiry and it came out of that test with flying colours and a big green tick of approval which demonstrates the sustainability of the sector. I congratulate the sector and think most Tasmanians, if not all Tasmanians know how important it is to the economy and to jobs here and again it came through that test with flying colours.
JOURNALIST: So you would be happy for a salmon farm to be established on Tasmania’s East Coast?
FITZGIBBON: I might point to Anne Urquhart to talk about that if she wants because I think Anne chaired the Senate Committee and she would be happy to answer.
ANNE URQUHART, SENATOR FOR TASMANIA: Yes I did, and look at the time the Senate Committee held the inquiry we found that the sustainability of the industry was impeccable. In fact one of the things we found was that they continually engaged in improving in the way they operate. I think there are number of proposals on the table at the moment that weren’t on the table at the time when we had that inquiry, but that process will be vigorously looked at by all the companies that are involved in it and will also be looked at in terms of sustainability of its continuation. I think from the Senate Inquiry and what we saw in both the industry and the environmental agencies it was a big green tick as Joel indicated. There was also a proposal that one of the recommendations out of the Senate Inquiry was for communities to be involved in engagement and for them to be able to have input into the process of where farms are and to ask questions and learn from information on it. The key point was that sustainability is there and the large companies that operate the salmon industry in this state are very, very careful and manage their industry to the full potential of sustainability and what we learned is they are not going to damage their industry because then they don’t have one and it is our role to support that and make sure it continues.
FITZGIBBON: Can I just say that we all had the great fortune of having dinner in Devonport last night where we all enjoyed either some local travalla or some local salmon and we washed it down with a moderate amount of local wine so we are doing our best for the Tasmanian economy. I am about to sign a poster for Brian Mitchell who of course is joined today by Justine and Ross Hart our local members and our Senators and Anne Urquhart and I’m going to sign this poster to once again demonstrate our support for the sector.