KAP slams blindside by “anti-fisheries” Minister


13 September 2023

Furious Katter’s Australian Party (KAP) MPs have re-named Mark Furner the Queensland Minister for “Anti-Fisheries” and suggested he stand aside for what they, and industry groups, have labelled as protracted and politically-motivated efforts to shut down the State’s commercial fishing sector.

Last week Gulf of Carpentaria fishers were blindsided by the revelation that the Palaszczuk Labor Government wants to ban net fishing across eleven candidate areas in the region.

This includes a massive area off Albatross Bay, off Weipa, all of Mornington Island and all rivers and creeks in the Gulf.

The area already has numerous closed and restricted areas as well as extensive Commonwealth Marine Parks, National Parks and special purpose zones, particularly surrounding Mornington Island.

Fishers in the Gulf were floored last week when news filtered through to them that the Queensland Government’s Future Fisheries Taskforce (the Taskforce) had plans to further restrict fishing activities in region.

This Taskforce was only formulated after the June joint-announcement by the State and Federal Governments that all commercial gillnets would be banned from the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) Marine Park by mid-2027.

The role of the Taskforce was to develop industry assistance packages for those impacted by the gillnet ban along the east-coast but it appears there are no limits on what the Taskforce can examine or policy it can direct, noting that restrictions in the Gulf were never originally advertised as an issue the Taskforce would examine.

A request by an industry body for the Taskforce’s terms of reference was denied.

KAP Leader and Traeger MP Robbie Katter accused Minister Furner, and his Department, of “unconscionable” conduct that would shut down the State’s fishing industry.

He said continued reference by the Minister, and his Commonwealth counterparts, to UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee’s threat to list Queensland’s GBR was alarming and revealing.

“I don’t know who our State and Federal Ministers are truly working for – the Queensland and Australian people who elected them, and who want a thriving and sustainable local commercial fishing sector, or unelected United Nations overlords who are continuing to encroach on our sovereignty and control public policy,” he said.

“This is absolutely disgraceful – the gillnet ban on the east-coast was bad enough, occurred without consultation and is predicated on politics and not practical reality; based on the government’s own data the threat to protected marine life from net fishing in the GBR is minimal if not non-existent.

“Now the government is claiming that the shutdown of commercial fishing in the Gulf through these new bans is necessary because the same protected animals who swim on the GBR could one day swim in the Gulf; it’s a farce.”

Mr Katter said 80 per cent of the Gulf’s commercial fishing sector, which supports untold local jobs and injects significant economic activity into the region, would be destroyed overnight if the decision went ahead.

He said he feared Minister Furner, and his Labor colleagues, would not be happy until the wild caught seafood sector across the State was completely shut down.

Chairman of the Gulf of Carpentaria Commercial Fisherman’s Association, David Wren, said the Association was appalled by the proposed closures.

“The Gulf of Carpentaria fishers have been badly let down by the current fish managers elected to look after the Fishing Industry including not only the Gulf’s resources, but also the fishermen and fishing families that work in the Gulf,” Mr Wren said.

“Whilst we appreciate the government is responding to a UNESCO assessment of the east-coast, we do not believe it has considered the economic ramifications of these suggested closures.

“To suggest the blanket closing of all the rivers and creeks on the Queensland side of the Gulf of Carpentaria, many of which already has restricted areas or closures, is the death knell for all of the N3 Barramundi Fishers in the GOC. [1]

“That is an economic fallout not just for the immediate fisherman but deck hands, engineers, unload crews, truck drivers and freight companies, cold stores, fish mongers, fish and chip shops, restaurants…the list is endless in the flow on effect.

“Without a doubt there will be a loss of jobs throughout those supply chains as the demand will not be there.

“The Government seems confused with its policies, on the one hand job creation and the other with this proposed ban (and) job losses – big losses in many of the Aboriginal communities that have no or very few job opportunities.

“This closure seems to fly in the face of the government’s own strategies.

“We believe Minister Furner has an agenda to, come what may, remove all commercial gill net fishers and this UNESCO report gives him some ammunition to carry it out.”

Hinchinbrook MP and KAP Deputy Leader Nick Dametto said the Minister had failed the industries he was appointed to represent and should do the right thing and stand aside.

“The Minister should do the right thing here and let someone who has the expertise and the desire to represent the ag and fishing industries have a go at the job,” he said.

“Time and time again we see third parties such as UNESCO and the WWF take priority over the voices and needs of those in agriculture and fisheries, and often I wonder if the Minister wouldn’t be better suited to the Environment portfolio, that’s where his heart seems to lie.”

The Government recently relied on high dugong deaths as one of the primary reasons to phase out gillnet fishing on Queensland’s east-coast.

Mr Dametto, through a Question Without Notice, asked the Minister what the number of dugong deaths was per year that warranted the decision.

The Minister was unable to answer the question and subsequent investigations showed that, since 2006, 12 dugong deaths by gillnets had occurred along the east-coast, or in other words, less than one per year, casting doubt over the apparent reasons behind the Government’s recent net bans.

New “expert” advice being relied on by the Taskforce claims that the habitats of the Gulf “support threatened and endangered species” and that current net bans are inadequate in providing that protection.

It’s unclear what, if any, impact net use in the Gulf is having on populations of threatened and endangered species at present and whether such bans are simply pre-emptive in nature.

“I’d go as far as to question the Minster’s knowledge and competence to deliver under the Agriculture and Fisheries portfolio,” Mr Dametto said.

“I am sure many in those industries, particularly commercial fishers on the east-coast and up in the Gulf, would say the Minster has to go if they are to stand a chance of seeing their industries continue into the future.

“Being remembered as the Minister who shut down the industries under their portfolio wouldn’t be a great legacy.”

[1] https://www.daf.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/62606/n3-goc-fishery.pdf

Nick Dametto MP