COMMENT: Fishing to decide election?

With this weekend’s federal election looking to be a very close fought contest, is it naive to think that fishing could be one of the key issues that sways the eventual result?

The Australian Fishing Trade Association obviously thinks fishing issues are front and foremost with many voters, especially those in marginal coastal electorates in the key states of Queensland and Western Australia.

For the first time ever, the tackle industry body has entered into the political fray by paying for the broadcast of a television advertisement – to be aired in marginal seats nationally – that attacks the Greens’ push for an increase in marine park area to 30 per cent of our total coastline. The ad can be viewed HERE.

AFTA has also taken out full page advertisements in leading tabloid newspapers around the nation in a bid to raise public awareness on fishing no-go zones in marine parks. The AFTA ad on page 10 of today’s The Daily Telegraph states, “Fishing may never be the same again if The Greens or Labor get into power!”

Julia Gillard’s Labor Government has been silent on fishing issues throughout much of the election campaign, only yesterday issuing a brief media release that outlines its proposed marine park planning process if re-elected.

While Labor’s one-page marine policy statement doesn’t appear to say anything particularly new, the Government is obviously attempting to distance itself from Greens Senator Bob Brown’s recent calls for radical marine park expansions.

In the joint statement, Environment Minister Peter Garrett and Fisheries Minister Tony Burke say that “Federal Labor does not support the Greens’ calls for arbitrary targets which do not reflect the science”.

Importantly, however, the ministers fail to reject outright the Greens’ extremist anti-fishing policy. This means that if Julia Gillard is re-elected, and if the Greens hold the balance of power in the Senate – which they probably will – then Bob Brown’s no-fishing policies could be used as a bargaining chip and could well be introduced.

In its policy statement Labor also attempts to downplay the potential impact of any new commonwealth marine parks. “Importantly, marine parks have no impact on beach fishing and minimal impact on recreational fishing – because they only affect Commonwealth waters which generally begin more than five kilometres out to sea.”

We wonder if the Government has even the slightest clue about recreational fishing or the tackle, tourism and boating businesses it supports? Does anyone in the Government realise just how many recreational fishermen venture out to sea each weekend? Do they know that most gamefishermen head 15 or 20kms out before they even put a line in the water?! And, that most of the fishing effort for popular species such as snapper, kingfish and flathead is further than 5kms out? Given that, does the Government stand by its claim that new marine parks will have “minimal impact” on recreational anglers?

It is disappointing that the Government has failed to stand up for Australia’s 5 million + recreational anglers by so far refusing to categorically reject the Greens’ outlandish anti-fishing plans.

It is even more disappointing to see only policy statements to come from the Government that show it has no idea of the issues affecting anglers. Instead it makes condescending and erroneous feel-good statements.

In contrast, Coalition leader Tony Abbott has received much support from both the recreational and commercial fishing sectors for his promise of a freeze on marine parks, if he wins power. Abbott appears today on the front pages of both the Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian, fishing rod in hand, making the most of photo opportunities on the NSW South Coast.

Abbott’s shadow fisheries minister, Senator Richard Colbeck, took the time during the election campaign to speak at an AFTA event at the Gold Coast last weekend. Fisheries Minister Tony Burke was invited but was a no show as he had other commitments. Fisho interviewed Colbeck – see video HERE – and we would have loved the opportunity to do the same with Minister Burke. After we contacted his office he revealed today that he had a prior engagement and thus couldn’t make the AFTA event.

“I was already committed to another event when the invitation came around,” Tony Burke said. “I love going to fishing events, but when you commit to being somewhere I believe you have to stick to that.”

Senator Colbeck today released the Coalition’s fishing policy – see it in full HERE. We’re still waiting for Labor’s policy and will publish it when and if we get it. The Coalition policy outlines some interesting ideas, which we’ll try and analyse over the next couple of days.

In a sign of growing public awareness of fishing related issues, fishing and marine parks made primetime talkback radio this week. Talking on Sydney radio station 2GB, fishing identity Rex Hunt told Alan Jones the current push for more marine parks had nothing to do with preserving marine areas but instead was a push by anti-fishing fanatics.

In challenging the science used in calls for more managed marine parks around Australia, Hunt said: “The … best managers of the fishery are the fishermen.”

The full radio interview can be heard HERE.

Yesterday Tony Abbott did the Coalition’s chances of being elected no harm by saying, “Decent ordinary working Australians have a right to go down to the sea and fish. And I think that right should be protected, not attacked. Fishing is part of the Australian way of life.”

On the Abbott statement, Rex Hunt simply said “Amen.”

Australia’s 5 million rec anglers may well agree with Australia’s most recognisable fisho when they cast their vote in the federal election this Saturday.

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