Commercial Fisheries Business Adjustment Program
This morning I met with many good men and women from the commercial fishing industry in this State. The meeting was instigated by the hardworking member for The Entrance and the shadow Minister for Primary Industries, the Hon. Mick Veitch. At that meeting we heard many moving stories. I have had a number of phone calls and I participated in a number of meetings concerning this Government's complete mishandling of its adjustment program and reforms of the commercial fishing industry in New South Wales. It is ironic that the meeting was held in this place this very morning. Today is a very dark day for all small businesses in New South Wales because in the early hours of this morning the guillotine was applied to the greyhound industry. It is clear that the commercial fishing industry is suffering death by a thousand cuts and being left to bleed out.
Mr Geoff Provest: Ha, ha!
Ms JENNY AITCHISON: I acknowledge the laughter of Government members. As I go around this State and meet with people from many industries I am constantly appalled at the incompetent and disrespectful way in which this Government is dealing with small business. Hairdressers in every town and village across this State, including Maitland, were being told that they would no longer require the qualifications essential to the health and safety of workers and their clients The Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation floated a thought bubble that he had not even passed by the Minister for Skills and Small Business but, thankfully, after a campaign by the industry and supported by Labor, the Minister walked back his announcement. However, that was not before a climate of fear and uncertainty for those small businesses had been created. But let me return to the commercial fishers who have been going through years of pain in their industry.
Through a variety of measures commercial fishers have lost their rights and the current reforms have put them in the untenable position of having to borrow money to continue. In other words, those businesses—some of which have operated in this State for up to five generations—are now at risk of being destroyed at the stroke of a Minister's pen as unviable and they will lose their livelihoods. How will they pay their mortgages on boats, homes or other assets with a measly $20,000? They are caught between the Government's economic rationalist assurances of increasing share prices for sellers and its lack of care that many will not be able to afford to purchase another stake in this industry, particularly when the new regime will give them less than one-third of their current fishing days to pay off the debt.
For those who have gone into debt and/or sunk their life savings into equipment and gear, boats and facilities, and for their extensive knowledge of the industry, the Government is offering a measly $20,000 and whatever their shares can get on the open market—that is, if any fishers are left in the industry to purchase their shares at the end of this debacle. This will have disastrous impacts on small businesses as well as the economies of small fishing villages across this State. The proposed reforms will also put the future of co-ops at risk as well as the future of coffee shops, accountants, service stations, grocery stores, butchers, bakers and other small businesses that rely on the income they receive from the fishers to survive. On a more macro level, they will put the tourism, restaurant and gourmet food industry that highlight our fantastic Australian seafood at risk.
Earlier today I spoke to the managing director of a company that has operated for more than 128 years in this State in supplying fishing gear and equipment to the industry. He told me that each year his company spends more than $250,000 on freight alone. This does not include the many suppliers he pays for telephone, office equipment, advertising, insurance and utilities or the taxes he pays to the State and Federal governments. He is gravely concerned, as are many business people I have spoken to across this State, about the wider business impacts of this botched reform process. These reforms will have a snowballing economic effect on our local regional fishing communities and they will have broader economic impacts across the State. The Government frequently proclaims that New South Wales is the "new State of business" so the question must be asked: First the greyhounds and now the commercial fishers. Who is next?