ELECTION 2013 ANALYSIS: And now the hard work begins

TONY Abbott will have an expertscientific panel reviewing the commonwealth marine parks within thefirst 100 days of his new Government, media reports reveal.

This places marine parks as one of thekey issues for the Coalition Government, which swept to power in alandslide election victory on the weekend.

Abbott, now Australia’s 28thPM, is expected to honour his promise to “suspend” the currentmarine parks process, which would have resulted in anglers beinglocked out of massive areas around the coastline.

While it is impossible to tell what theexpert panel will end up recommending, Coalition insiders suggestmarine park management under the Abbott regime will be more “flexibleand common sense” than the hardline approach forced on the previousLabor government by anti-fishing extremists.

It is likely, insiders say, that thenew Government would favour “protecting what needs protecting”but not necessarily banning fishing.

The Coalition’s approach to marineprotection is likely to be a bitter pill for the various anti-fishinggroups, which have long campaigned for no-compromise lockouts.

Based on what the Coalition haspromised to do, it seems that the multi-million dollar anti-fishingcampaigns funded by Pew and other foreign environment groups havelargely failed.

While Coalition stalwarts like RonBoswell, Richard Colbeck, GeorgeChristensen and Bob Baldwin have longsupported anglers by opposing the marine lockout agenda, there seemslittle doubt that the campaigns run by the Australian RecreationalFishing Foundation and Keep Australia Fishing also played a role infocusing the Coalition’s attention on the issue.

The success of the campaigns run bythese groups is down to the efforts of Allan Hansard, an experiencedpolitical lobbyist and negotiator who took the reins of the tackleindustry association little more than a year ago.

Most fishing pundits – myselfincluded – openly acknowledge that we would have had a snowflake’schance in hell of achieving any political traction had Hansard nottaken up the cudgel on our behalf.

In my view, all Aussie fishos owe ahuge debt of gratitude to Hansard. I’ve spent significant time withAllan for the past several months as we’ve wandered the halls ofparliament meeting with MPs and bureaucrats on behalf of KAF andARFF. He comes across as fairly unassuming but behind the mildmannered exterior he’s a sharp operator with finely tuned politicalskills.

All in all, I reckon we were bloodylucky to have him come along when he did …

An example of Hansard’s influence wasthe appearance of Tony Abbott at the AFTA trade show. Staged in thefinal weeks of the election campaign, having the then OppositionLeader at the annual trade show was a clear signal that the Coalitionwas listening to angler concerns. Abbott’s statement at AFTA thathe would “suspend and review” the marine parks legislation, andhis comments about how important recreational fishing is to theeconomy and society in general, can be seen as marking a new era inpolitical recognition for the recreational fishing sector.

The fact is we’ve never before had amajor political figure so openly and unequivocally support oursector. That fact that Abbott is now PM presents angling leaders withthe opportunity to further engage with the federal Government inorder to effect real and positive change for 5 million Aussie fishos.

Lest anyone think the fishing sector isnow a stooge for the Coalition, let me make it clear that significanttime and effort was made trying to engage with the Labor Party bothbefore and during the election campaign. Unfortunately our numerousletters and invitations received no response. As the ALP now attemptsto rebuild and refocus after what can be considered a devastatingelection loss, it can only be hoped that they will make the effort torebuild ties with the recreational fishing sector. After all, itwould surely be in their electoral benefit to do so.

While it seems that the AbbottGovernment has a clear mandate to enforce its stated marine parkpolicies, it’s likely the Senate will pose some hurdles. Thussignificant work remains to be done by Allan Hansard and his team toensure the best interests of Aussie anglers are foremost in the mindsof our new political leaders.

We’ll keep you informed …

Jim Harnwell is the editor andpublisher of Fishing World. He’s also a board member of bothKeep Australia Fishing and the Australian Fishing Trade Association.

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