Save our fishing Industry and the families whose lives depend on it

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This Petition of NSW residents, draws to the attention of the house that NSW Commercial & Generational Fishermen are devastated that their livelihoods and futures are now destroyed by the NSW Commercial Fishing Business Adjustment Programme and “Untested” Subsidised Share Trading Market (SSTM), without just compensation. In a single swipe, 150 amendments in November 2015 to the Fisheries

Management Act 1994 destroyed fishermen without any scrutiny or debate by parliament. The Reform outcomes are grossly inequitable and have not met the stated assurances given by the Minister and the Department to MPs, fishers, their families and citizens of NSW. The outcomes were highly predicted by reports and recommendations. Through power and control the government chose to ignore these reports, therefore failing to mitigate the negative impacts on Commercial Fishers, Cooperative’s and Industry.

Hidden documents and redacted reports reveal a serious cover up which exposes the lack of procedural fairness and maladministration practices of the NSW Department of Primary industries. Withholding of vital information, including misleading and deceptive information provided to General Purpose Standing Committee No 5. Commercial Fishermen who took part in the “Novel, Untested” Subsidised Share Trading Market to buy back their businesses are left devastated.

Others who did not participate in the SSTM have also been hung out to dry. Fishers are finding they are unable to continue suffering losses of assets, broken marriages, years of debt (that they will struggle to pay down due to loss of property rights). Fishers are now left with reduced business equity, serious depression and other mental health issues.

The undersigned petitioners therefore ask the Legislative Assembly to commit funding for an immediate Full Independent

Public Inquiry with Terms of Reference that include, but not limited to:

1. compensation paid to all Commercial Fishermen affected for loss of income, business value, livelihoods and loss of assets;

2. all persons that may be identified to have colluded & behaved fraudulently before, during and post the SSTM be required to hand back the shares they procured & senior managers who are found to have disregarded their duty of care be dismissed;

3. investigation into the secret withholding of Government Subsidies promised to all fishermen by the department and the Minister during the SSTM. The dealings in shares conducted by the department after the SSTM had closed, without any probity, and the expenditure of Government and Commercial Fishing Trust Funds in regards to loans provided and allocated subsidy;

4. all forms of mismanagement, maladministration, insider trading and corruption, historically and present be throughly investigated;

5. the immediate implementation of necessary protections to stop foreign investment and the monopoly of quota into our local seafood resources, together with an immediate pause on any further legislative changes including, the allocation of “new quota shares” yet to be implemented in Hand Gathering and Ocean Fisheries;

6. that the “Ministerial Advisory Council” and “CommFish” be immediately dissolved until a Full Independent Public Inquiry has taken place and findings and recommendations are made public;

7. all lobbyists, associations and representative groups associated with the NSW Commercial Fishing Industry disclose their membership details, dealings and representations made to Government, on behalf of industry during the NSW Commercial Fishing Reform.

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PLEASE SIGN THE ABOVE PETITION and READ THE BRIEF BACKGROUND BELOW.

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Background information:
See video here: Teach a Man to Fish Part 2: Something smells fishy

Since the recent reforms to the commercial fishing industry, allowing bigger fishing and other businesses to buy more access and quota shares, consequently, small to medium generational and local established hardworking commercial fishing families are suffering.

Wealthier businessmen, fishermen and non-fishermen, are now monopolising our waterways and small fishing businesses have been forced to sell up or are struggling to make a living competing with businesses that have more days to work, and more quota to catch but are not paying higher fees. In other words, the fishermen that were not able to purchase their shares to remain viable are now subsidising those wealthier businessmen/ investors and non-fisherman. That's just not fair, by any custom or lawful economic measure!

All before the reforms, Fishermen were on an equal playing field, operating on the same level of access rights depending on their individual endorsements, *meaning Days allowed to work, "Estuary region-by-region" or "Ocean fisheries", and the amount and types of Species allowed to catch with input controls that ensured sustainability.  Historically, a fair system!

The NSW Fisheries Reform program forced fishers to participate in a share trading scheme without conditional bidding, it activated latent effort*, created new share linkage options and shifted the value of existing access shares as “property rights” and redistributed that wealth and catch-history from those fishers who did the work to those who did not. That's just theft!

When the share market system was put in place early 2017 all fishermen were told that if they wanted to exit, take a buy out from the industry or sell part of their business they would be subsidised and those fishers who needed more shares to continue to work at their historic level would have to purchase those shares capped only up to their deficit and the government would include a subsidy to assist in purchasing those shares.  That's just easy to understand!

Fishers had to borrow money, take on long term debt without any increase in income. The problem is that the $16 million the government said was on offer less money already spent-before-the-market to buy empty licences was not transparent. In many share-classes, supply was not there to buy having sold BEFORE the market. But the majority of fishers going into the market were not told about this.  Bureaucratic maths that just won't add up!

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Quote from Judge Basten and Judge Beazley in the recent Court of Appeal case Elliott v The Minister Administrating the Fisheries Management Act 1994
Judge Basten: "Pretty bizarre variations."
Judge Beazley: "How would anyone bidding know whether to increase or decrease the bid? It wasn't an open market, was it, in that sense?"
Mr Taylor: "It wasn't an auction; it was--"
Judge Basten: "It wasn't transparent."
Judge Beazley: "Thank you. A better word."

Three rounds (1, 2, 3) took place to manipulate and intimidate fishers and force all those buying shares, to continually increase their bids in Round One and Round Two; while a few privileged number of selected fishers and investors knew • in-advance • that the Government was not applying “all the subsidy until Round Three.”, and given advantage.

Put simply it was a process of elimination that favoured the Government first and foremost and wealthier bigger business or "share barons" over marginalised small to medium fishing families in coastal fishing communities along the NSW Coast. Consequently, the many fishermen were unable to secure the shares they needed to remain viable or even to go to work while a few 'others' received a “windfall wealth”, re-routed, at expense of the many.

This also has had a diabolical impact on the viability of Fish Co-operatives in regional coastal communities threatening to force closures and loss of jobs for those who work in the industry. The wider community will also suffer when the professional locally established active, 1st, 2nd, third, fourth, and fifth generational fishermen can no longer remain viable.

Dr Kate Barclay stated:
"The committee also heard testimony from Associate Professor Kathryn Barclay from the School of International Studies, UTS who conducted a study from 2014 to 2016 to evaluate the contribution of professional fisheries to NSW coastal communities which determined that the NSW professional fishing industry contributes more than $436 million in revenue annually.

A few and together with the above, who took a “Buy-Out” receiving hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash subsidies, then immediately bought back-in, buying not one business but 2, 3 and 4 businesses. All those many who could not buy the necessary shares were left to try and claw-back their business, now unable to compete, against those favoured few all cashed up by NSWG with a strategic subsidy from NSW Tax-Payers.

The General-Purpose Standing Committee No 5, Parliamentary Inquiry, final report, 24 February 2017, stated:

“The committee also believes that further work needs to be undertaken on
strategies to buy-out latent effort and to ensure [all] those receiving buy-out packages cannot re-enter the industry for a determined period.”

That probity measure above was ignored by the Minister and the NSW Government. Consequently, advantaged fishers bought back-in; some bought back-in within days and weeks after taking a massive buy-out of tax payer money. “A lottery win” that now is destroying those that are trying to find the shares to compete to stay viable in the industry.

All decisions to reform the fishing industry to date have been based on poor research, no science, no environmental or socio-economic impact study and have historically denied the traditional input of generational, established sustainable fishing knowledge.

Almost 700 submissions from Commercial Fisherman in NSW in April 2014 said ‘NO’ to the NSW Liberal National Party Commercial Fishing Reforms. They were all ignored. The most recent Parliamentary Inquiry December 2016 did include the voices of over 170 Professional fishermen, but they were ignored, and the Inquiry was seen by most fishermen as a farce, false, a pretence and became merely an exercise in ticking boxes for bureaucrats.

The hand-picked consultative group of professional fishermen also had knowledge two years prior to the introduction of the share market system, making a case for insider trading against this allegedly corrupt body of individuals. Some of these Investors and fishermen are doing very well as a result of this share market system at the expense of many "going to the wall”. Alarming knowledge!

 

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Lies, Trickery and Fraud by the Department and mis-leading the Minister has been the course-of-the-norm from-the-start of this purported Reform and its Business Adjustment Program.

‘A culture of misconduct and greed that ignored basic standards of honesty, in pursuit of profit for the Government and share investors.

Reports have been kept a secret not only from the NSW Commercial Fisherman, Fishing Co-operatives and communities involved but also kept a secret from the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry General Purpose Standing Committee No 5.  Blatant lies are now visible regarding what was in those secret reports and found in a un/redacted probity-audit review AND that identifies it does not meet Australian Standards, therefore not one which anyone can rely on.

More Quotes

Extract from the Probity Review:
“A review is substantially less in scope than a reasonable assurance audit conducted in accordance with ASAE 3000. Accordingly, we do not express an audit opinion. Had we performed a reasonable assurance audit as defined by ASAE 3000 or an audit as defined by Australian Standards on Auditing, additional information may have come to our attention, which would have been reported to [DPI, the Minister's own Government] Department. “

Recommendations from a Socio-Economic framework explicitly stating that the first survey of the impacts of the reforms are to take place spring of 2017 and then again spring of 2018, have been totally ignored, leaving all those impacted with no answers or transparency as to why they have had their businesses destroyed and lost their future. No attempt whatsoever has been given by NSWG to address the plight of those affected.

In 2014 a Senior manager stated that the government was deliberately using uncertainty because the government knew the money was insufficient for its purpose. The Chair of the General-Purpose Standing Committee, The Honourable Robert Brown, stated that, "$20 to 26 million was needed for the Commercial Fishing Adjustment Package". Professor Alistair McIlgorm: stated” $30m to $40m was likely more realistic”.  Professor Steven Kennelly also did not support that the $16 million was sufficient.

“.. The $16 million just would not be sufficient in order for people to match the amounts of shares and share trading and so on that would be required to meet the structural reform targets.”

It is quite obvious the Liberal National Coalition by claiming to create as they've proclaimed, "The biggest Reform in the history of the NSW Commercial Fishing industry”, did so on the 'smell of seafood and oily fish rags' AND they expected those who did the work, those 20% of the Fishermen that caught 80% off the catch in the industry, to pay for it, without any fair exchange or recompense.

The General Purpose Standing Committee No 5, 24th February 2017 stated in Comments:                                                                                                                                “The committee acknowledges that changes to the rules relating to the Adjustment Subsidy Program may distort the market and present legal challenge. We therefore reiterate-the-importance of DPI working with individual fishers on a case by case basis."

The Government and its Department subjectively decided who they would work with and it was not to be just any fisher that was going to Quota fisheries. They decided by their powers who the winners and losers would be effectively and did not compensate those who have been harmed and worse, just destroyed.

The Minister* Tricked and Defrauded the NSW Parliament in November 2015 by deliberately signing in Amendments to the Fisheries Management Act of 1994 ; which de‑facto amounted to a “New Plan “ AND THAT would have provided compensation to those whose Property Rights would later be destroyed, but instead was an “Amended Plan“ deliberately designed to NOT trigger compensation for the loss of income and loss of value to disadvantaged Fishermen's Property Rights.  *Minister Blair could easily have been mis'led!

The Minister received 146 submissions but did not make any of them public.

Hansard extract from Clayton Barr MP, Member for Cessnock, NSW Labour Party, stated in the second reading speech 18th November 2015:

“In a single swipe the Bill will make 150 recommendations to the Fisheries Management Act of 1994”; “the Government has taken a "trust us, we'll do-it-in-regulation" approach. That [mere regulation] does not satisfy the expectation of [1.] the community OR [satisfy 2.] the responsibility we have as members of Parliament [to oversight on behalf of community].”

“The fishing community needs certainty. Certainty comes in legislation, not regulation. Regulation can be changed and gazetted. The rules, terms and conditions can change overnight, which means that every person in these industries can be unknowingly and rapidly affected without any prior debate-or-scrutiny. The New South Wales Parliament is held to debate-and-scrutinise all legislative reform.”

“Importantly in his second reading speech the Minister [Niall Blair] clearly identified that the Bill does not include broader reforms to commercial fishing. That was a good place for the Minister to start, because people are concerned about possible future reforms to commercial fishing. It was important to identify that those reforms are not part of this Bill.”

“Various stakeholder groups with ongoing concerns have continued to approach
the Opposition, even after the Minister gave his speech in reply. “The changes in
this Bill are MASSIVE — they are significant, and they will affect people.”

Minister Niall Blair, Second Reading Speech, November 2015:
“Before I respond to the various matters raised in debate, I will reiterate what the bill
is not about. It is not about making decisions on the proposed commercial fisheries
reforms; they will be dealt with at a later time. As I said earlier, once we get to the
point of making those decisions no doubt we will be having further debates in this
place.”  That's just political-speak heard rote on many subjects; take-away fish-reform!

The Minister Niall Blair did not bring the debate or any scrutiny of the Commercial fisheries reforms back to the chamber — as he'd promised.  

Minister Niall Blair goes on to say: “The bill is not about seizing property rights without compensation.”

Precisely, the above is exactly what they have done by rendering many of the Access shares-and-endorsements of established hard-working Generational fishermen who did the work, contributed to the economy and helped employ directly and indirectly thousands of people across this state rendered them a shell — being seized, ‘WITH NO COMPENSATION'.

A 2nd Senior Manager of the Department of Primary Industries has never-the-less agreed that indeed many endorsements that have gone to Quota have now been rendered as empty 'shell'. He stated last year December 2018:

“we have effectively separated many of those with the quota and so kind of crystallised that value by separating the value on to quota shares from access shares." 

Written by Heather Elliott, and edited by Grant Saunders 

© 2019 • Fishers Unite for Justice

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PLEASE SIGN THE ABOVE PETITION AND READ THE BRIEF BACKGROUND.

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