THE NSW Fisheries Minister, Ian Macdonald, was sacked over the weekend by Labor Premier Nathan Rees as part of a controversial Cabinet reshuffle which sees Lands Minister Tony Kelly take over the Primary Industries portfolio, which includes Fisheries.
A former senior Fisheries bureaucrat this morning described Macdonald as the “worst fisheries minister ever”. “This bloke set back fisheries development in NSW by eight years. He was a joke.”
Macdonald took over from NSW Labor Party heavyweight Eddie Obeid, who was demoted by former premier Bob Carr in 2002.
Obeid was widely regarded as a proactive and visionary minister with a strong bent towards developing the economic and social benefits of recreational fishing. Under Obeid, NSW anglers benefited from the introduction of the fishing licence – which provided much-needed funds for infrastructure and also funded various innovative programs such as FADs, artificial reefs, restocking and the buy-out of commercial fishing licences.
Obeid also introduced recreational fishing havens (RFHs), a series of waterways along the coast dedicated to angling. Obeid incurred the wrath of the commercial sector with his pro-recreational policies and also gained widespread mainstream media criticism for his business dealings. Carr considered him a liability and sent him to the backbench, where he has continued to wield significant factional power.
One of Macdonald’s first moves when he was appointed as Fisheries Minister seven years ago was to stop any further expansion of the RFH program. In an interview with Fishing World soon after his appointment, he said the balance had gone “too far” towards anglers and that he would swing it back towards the commercial sector.
Pundits in the fishing media interpreted Macdonald’s statements at the time as meaning that the pro-recreational angling policies of the Obeid era would be scrapped in favour of further developing the commercial sector.
Under Macdonald’s reign the NSW Fisheries Department lost its status as an independent department and was absorbed into a “super” Primary Industries department. Many senior Fisheries bureaucrats became disillusioned with Macdonald’s policies and either resigned or moved to other departments.
Macdonald was also derided by critics for his move last year to introduce a commercial fisheries share management scheme. Originally proposed by the National Party, and heavily promoted and lobbied for by commercial fishing interests, the scheme, according to Fisheries insiders, “produced a ridiculously complicated and expensive system with 220 classes of shares for 1000 commercial fishers for no net benefits at all”.
It is understood Macdonald will remain a member of the Legislative Council in NSW Parliament.
Fishing World will organise an interview with Minister Kelly as soon as possible so that he can outline his plans to benefit NSW’s one million anglers.