Seafood Directions 2015, Opening Address, 26 October 2015

Seafood Directions 2015: Selling Our Story, Crown Perth Convention Centre.

Thank you very much Arno [Verboon], and can I not only acknowledge your chairmanship of the Western Australian Fishing Industry Council, but also [as] the chair of Seafood Directions 2015.

 I certainly know, having been a conference organiser in a previous life, just how much work goes into putting on an event like this and can I congratulate you and your team on what looks like it’s going to be an absolutely program that you’ve put together for this year’s conference, and so I acknowledge the huge amount of work that’s gone into putting this conference on.

Can I also apologise, this is going to be a bit of a hit and run appearance; but unfortunately I’d already made a commitment in Melbourne tonight before I was elevated to the ministry, so I’m afraid I’m going to be here, and then I’m out the door.

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you very much for the opportunity to be here, it’s a great pleasure to be addressing you today for the first time as the minister responsible for commonwealth fisheries. And no, I don’t come from a position of any great background in the fishing industry, but I can assure you, primary industries is in my blood. I’m a country girl, born and bred in the Riverland in South Australia, brought up on a horticultural property, and actually I own and operate a horticultural floriculture business today, Ruston’s Roses, so I understand the challenges that primary producers face. And hopefully one day I’ll reap the rewards that we’re supposed to get, being primary producers, but at this stage it just seems to be like an extraordinary amount of hard work. But being from Renmark, I’m on the end of the Murray system, it’s where my electorate office is, so I live on the river. These days I don’t get the opportunity to chuck a line over the side of the tinny too often, but when I get the chance, I love to go down on the river and fish, so unfortunately that’s probably my greatest claim to fame in the fishing industry- is a love of just sitting on the river, but also a huge love of eating of the seafood, which I had the luxury of last night being educated on the difference between- what was it?- a Southern Rock Lobster as opposed to an Eastern Rock Lobster. I’m not quite sure which one’s better but I’m sure over time I’ll get to learn.

I have to say that the opportunity my role is going to bring to the fishing industry I suppose is the fact that I don’t have a huge background in fishing, in comparison to your previous minister, Richard Colbeck, who had a life-long experience in the fishing industry, you could say I’m somewhat of a blank canvas. Some would call it an empty head, but I like to think that I can offer you an untainted mind when it comes to taking the Australian fishing industry forward. “Selling our Story” is the theme of this year’s conference, and I think that is extraordinarily apt given the state of play. You could call it a slogan, but I think it represents far more than just a few words that have been strung together. I think in many respects it says it all, because behind those three words there’s just the extraordinary complexity of the matters that your industry faces, and I think we the government have to act in unison with you to make sure we maximise the opportunities that are clearly present before us.

In relation to a sound and effective communications strategy for the industry, which is the main subject I wish to talk about today, it’s essential that all sectors get together to work totally collaboratively, and in a partnership sense. The Australian government has initiated, with preliminary input from some of the members of industry that are here today, the starting point for an Australian fisheries communications strategy. But let me stress, this is the starting point, it’s certainly not a fait accompli, and it’s your input, and the wisdom and expertise of your industry that must shape the final communications strategy, and the plans that will flow from it. Because ultimately this is your industry, so this has to be your plan. Unlike many who’ve gone before me, I can assure you I’m not going to be an interventionist minister. You won’t be seeing me imposing anything on you that I don’t have to do so, unless enforced to do by regulation or legislation. In fact, my motto has always been “Governments should only do what the private sector can’t, won’t and shouldn’t do,” and that’s how I intend to run this portfolio. Fundamentally, and in practical application, I believe it’s you, the industry, that are the ones that are best-placed to make decisions about your industry. Abdicating responsibility for decisions to government invariably ends up in tears, and I think it’s time that we handed back to you responsibility for your own actions and your own outcomes. Don’t think for a minute that I’m suggesting that we’re going to vacate this space, but what I’d like to do is for us, as in the government and the agencies that work with government, to concentrate on creating the best possible environment in which you can operate. An environment relieved of unnecessary red tape, one that provides easy access to markets and to resource, and one that recognises just how fantastic fisheries really are in this country. You know, government and our agencies exist to help you, that is our role. So let me paint a picture of where I see the industry is, and how we as the government can assist in facilitating the outcomes you seek for your future.

I believe we’ve got a fantastic story to tell all Australians about what we do. Even in the few short weeks that I’ve been involved in this particular portfolio, the contribution that your industry makes has become very quickly and easily evident. The fact that the Australian Seafood Sector is forecast to reach a value of $2.9 billion dollars in the next financial year is a case in point. It’s an outstanding contribution to our national economy, and particularly when you consider that around half our seafood is exported which adds to the bottom line of Australia’s economic books. And’s what’s more, Australian seafood is a premium product and one that ranks amongst the world’s best, and that’s something we should be extraordinarily proud of. Beyond that, it’s quite obvious that Australian fisheries are regarded internationally as among the best managed and the most sustainable in the world. And that’s a record and a reputation of which we all should be justifiably proud. But the work and dedication that underpins sustainable Australian fisheries is frankly far less appreciated outside of this room than it is inside of this room, and that’s a really unfortunate fact and something that I will come back to in a minute.

For now, suffice to say, your industry is delivering outstanding returns, not just to the Australian community but to our national economy, so therefore I think it is an extraordinary honour and I am very, very pleased to be able to represent your industry in parliament from now on. I noted that on average, Australians consume about fifteen kilograms of seafood every year, which is up about fifteen percent in the last decade. Global consumption has increased twenty-six percent in the last fifteen years, and seafood is now considered to be one of the major sources of protein in global diets. So the opportunities for growth in this sector are obviously very, very significant. I was advised that something like thirty to forty million additional tonnes of seafood will be required to meet global demands by the year 2030. And whilst Australia is obviously well-placed, with good fisheries management to increase the amount of seafood that we’re able to provide to that market, it seems to me that it’s much clearer that it is the value-added opportunity, the increased returns at the farm gate, that we are going to be able to see as demand increases the price that we’re able to put on our products, that is the most important thing that will be generated out of an increased demand for fish and seafood globally, and the opportunity that Australia should be able to capitalise on.

So, now, what’s going on in Canberra? Obviously we recognise the opportunities that the seafood industry has in front of it, and we certainly want to work with you, to seize the opportunities for you, and on behalf of Australia in general. The coalition’s policy for a more competitive and sustainable fisheries sector committed a million dollars to support the development and promotion of sustainable fishing practices by the establishment of both national recreational and commercial peak industry bodies. And I believe the establishment of such a body will be very important to creating an industry that’s able to speak effectively with one voice and respond to future demands. The government’s also worked consistently towards creating a business, trade, and regulatory environment that encourages innovation, and allows your industry to thrive in the face of growing domestic and international demand.

When it comes to good policy outcomes, any industry that can come to government and speak with one voice is far more likely to be successful in achieving the outcome that you want. If you give us a heap of different opinions, you’re likely to get, at best, no outcome at all, and at worst, an outcome that the government decides to give you, which invariably nobody likes. The Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper, along with the White Paper on Developing Northern Australia, both represent our long-term commitment to Australian agriculture and Fisheries. And through the White Paper, the government has committed an additional hundred million dollars to research and development in our rural R&D for profit program, and extended the program through to 2021-22. This program, I think, represents a practical investment in the future of Australia, and that funding will be nationally coordinated on strategic research that actually delivers real outcomes. The second round of that particular program is now open, so I’d encourage anybody in this room who’s eligible to get access to that research and development pool of funds that you should do so.

Also, cutting red tape is at the heart of the government’s mission to build a strong and prosperous economy, and has been the ongoing focus of this particular portfolio for many years, and believe you me, it is something that is very, very dear to my heart. And that’s why both the Competitiveness White Paper and the Northern Australia Paper have initiated productivity commission reviews into fisheries and aquaculture regulations to identify duplication, or poorly implemented regulations that are harming investment in your industry. These reports will provide the foundation by which we, the government, will be able to respond to ensure fishing and aquaculture sectors can grow unhindered by excessive or inconsistent regulatory or compliance costs. So cutting red tape will, I believe, have widespread benefits for both your aquaculture industries and your wild-catch industry. So in line with this, the government will also work towards single-jurisdiction management of fisheries and aquaculture operations in northern Australia, to replace the current multi-jurisdictional oversight arrangements. We will provide a framework for managing aquaculture in commonwealth waters which will be developed under the national aquaculture strategy, which I believe is due to be released next year. Shared licensing and compliance services between jurisdictions, which will reduce complexity for fishers and allow them to operate in a single fishery, under a single licence, where they are now currently required separate licences for different jurisdictions, and extend export licences for low-risk fisheries from five to ten years. The Department of Environment has already commenced granting these extensions and I understand that several of the low-risk fisheries here in Western Australia have already been successful in gaining that change.

So in working to streamline fisheries regulation, we are working with the Department of Environment and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority on options for reducing any duplicative regulation concerning environmental approvals under the EPBC Act, and my department’s also considering improvements to fisheries policy as part of this broader deregulation, including review of existing fishing policies relating to commonwealth fisheries management. We’re doing this to make sure that policy settings for fisheries, including dealing with bycatch, developing harvest strategies for commercial catch, and reviewing the rules around the use of foreign boats in Australian fisheries, remains up-to-date and keeps your industry competitive and sustainable. So our aim is to provide the best possible settings to ensure sustainable use of fisheries resources, while supporting your fishing industry, and getting rid of that unnecessary red tape.

So all this work is designed to ensure your industry is able to respond to market demand in the most agile, innovative, and effective way possible. So a key priority for this government is to secure access to the broadest possible range of markets for Australian fish; we said Australia was open for business and we absolutely meant that. Our focus to date has been to eliminate trade and tariff barriers in some of the most important international markets that we have, and the conclusion of the free-trade arrangements in South Korea, Japan, and China hopefully will deliver some very strong outcomes for the seafood industry in Australia. These agreements will allow market access gains, and we are certainly working towards achieving further trade arrangements with other trading opportunities, particularly in India, where we know that they have a huge and burgeoning middle class population. So each of these elements is part of a strong policy foundation that will be essential to ensure that we assist you in ensuring a strong future. However, there are many other challenges that we must overcome in order to realise the success, and these challenges are challenges that both the government and the industry must embrace. A strong policy foundation alone I don’t believe will enough, and neither do I think that it will simply be good enough to be good at what you do to, produce a premium product for global markets, to do that efficiently, sustainably, and responsibly.

In coming back to the central core of the address for today, the harsh reality in today’s media environment, which is far broader than news media, is that popular opinion and an understanding of the real value of the Australian seafood industry will be central I think, to the success into the future. And this is because the legitimacy of any industry is only as strong as the community sentiment that supports it. We all know that modern industry faces challenges of social licence, but you could certainly make the case for seafood to be a textbook example of this challenge. Frankly, in light of the sheer volume of rigorous science that underpins Australian fisheries management, it’s difficult not to be left entirely speechless by some of the anti-fishing campaigns that we’ve been seeing. You’ve probably seen the one with the slogan “Save the sea kittens”, by attempting to rebrand fish as cute and cuddly, and trying to somehow demonise fishing is quite extraordinary. And perhaps some of the most effective, but not necessarily the most factual, have been the click campaigns on the “Ban the super trawler”. And these campaigns, I think, are symptomatic of a much broader issue that challenges not only the science that underpins the management of Australian fisheries, but the legitimacy of commercial fishing in the eyes of the public. So the battle is for the hearts and minds of Australian seafood consumers. And to win this battle, the seafood industry must have a clear and united voice. In the absence of that voice, the loudest voice will prevail, regardless of facts. In short, a strong and united industry voice is the defining challenge for a modern seafood industry.

So to return to the core of the effective Australian fisheries communications strategy, and the theme of this conference, “Selling Our Story”, where are we? As with all good conversations that are designed to achieve the desired outcome, all voices and opinions have to be heard and considered. And it’s good to have a starting point from which we can work forward today, and that’s what I’m about to outline, but can I really stress that this is just a starting point and it’s you, the industry, that needs to now take up the discussion. You need to decide whether you wish to own this strategy, and you need to direct where the strategy goes into the future. So to get to a starting point and a draft strategy, obviously we’ve had to underpin this with comprehensive market research, which has been used to develop some of the core aspects that we’re about to show you. Some of the facts? Research found that Australians have little front-of-mind or spontaneous feeling for the seafood industry, particularly in comparison to other primary industries. More importantly though, market research found that consumers want to feel proud of your industry, and are searching for a reason to do so. So the draft strategy has been designed to give them that very reason. It contains elements designed to give your industry a strong identity that reflects the true values that underpin your work. It also recognises that educating the general public on the important work that you already do to ensure clean and sustainable industry and how it contributes to the Australian economy and the community, is very vital in this strategy. And it’s about creating transparency in the work that government does too. We also need to be very clear about the partnership that exists between industry and government, to ensure the Australian consumer has access to this high-quality seafood, not just now, but into the future. The strategy also outlines the separate and specific roles for government and for industry. It proposes that the role for government will be to ensure greater transparency in compliance activities, in other words, making it clear that we have sound management practices and arrangements in place to enforce the rules, and to ensure that the science that underpins our fisheries is more accessible to the Australian community.

The opportunity for industry is to own, manage and implement its own campaign, and to tap into what appears to be a latent pride and support that exists in the minds of the public for your industry. The government recognises the unique challenges that you face in developing such a campaign, which is why, I understand, that we came to the table and funded the development and market tested the concept. The aim of any final campaign is to win the hearts and minds of Australians by increasing pride in our national fisheries an aquaculture, which basically, the bottom line is, it results in you selling more fish, or selling the fish that you’re currently selling at a greater price. So the draft concept is designed to tell your story to consumers by showing them the amazing people behind the seafood industry and what they have to offer. This is a proposed campaign that aims to create a powerful and recognisable identify based on three principles: that Australian seafood is the best in the world, that your industry cares about the health of our oceans and its marine environment, and that all of us should support this great Australian industry. On that note, I’m very proud to unveil today’s first draft creative elements of “The Best from our Island Home” campaign for your consideration.

[Campaign images projected onto screen]

So these are just a small selections of the draft suite of products and concepts that have been developed, but it gives you an idea of the emotional feel that the market testing came back to us to show what the public wanted to feel good about your industry. These are the kinds of imagery that they thought, or that the market testing said, that they wanted to see, and actually had the desired effect in terms of the emotion and reaction that we were seeking. I’d encourage everybody here to visit the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources stand at the conference, because it’s really important for you to obviously see the greater suite of materials that have been put together by the creatives on this particular project. But we also want to get your feedback about what you think about it, the changes you’d like- first and foremost whether you support the idea of moving the project forward, and also how you would like to see the project moved forward. So you’ll hear more about the detail that underpins this campaign, the market research, later in the conference. I believe that Penny Burke from Essence Communication will be giving you a presentation tomorrow afternoon, where she’ll delve into the real detail of how and why we’ve come up with this particular imagery and the concepts that you’ll see at the stand.

So in closing today, I think this marks a really important milestone for the beginning of an opportunity to establish a positive relationship for your industry with the Australian community. Government has its role to play, by improving the messaging around the science and management of Australian fisheries. However, the government shouldn’t be delivering the campaign on the industry’s behalf, it has to be you as the industry to take the campaign forward. In order to be successful, the implementation of the campaign must be both industry lead and industry owned. Already there seems to be a strong support for the draft concept from people that I’ve spoken to so far, but we need to be on the front foot if such a campaign is going to be successful. I’m certainly enthusiastic to continue working with the industry through the next phase of this project, which will require obviously a lot of discussion with industry about how we’re going to fund this, and what are the governance arrangements and mechanisms that we’re needing to put around it and how we’re going to oversee the implementation of the campaign. I’m very, very confident that the establishment of an effective peak body will provide the natural home for this particular campaign, and ensure its long-term success. In fact, I believe that without the establishment of such a body, the long-term success of this campaign is going to be potentially compromised. I’m really excited to see where the industry is going to go to in the future. Can I wish you every success with Seafood Directions 2015, I’m very sorry I can’t stay around longer to see more about it and meet more of you, but I can assure you, I will be back. So thank you very much.


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