Hon Bob Katter MP
Hon Bob Katter MP

One of the proudest boasts I have in my lifetime is that I—or, more specifically, the head of my department—took the initiatives that resulted in the prawn fish-farming industry in Australia. But to show nothing more than white spot illustrates the error of this quarter of a century by this parliament. They have a policy of free trade. It has been taken to such a fanatical level that they do not honour or respect—the last speaker said, ‘We have the best fisheries in the world and we have clean, green image.’ No you have not! You have white spot. You do not have a clean, green image in fisheries. You now have one of the worst diseases that crustaceans can take in the world.

Who do we blame for this? We pleaded with the government not to bring in prawns from overseas. We said, ‘You will get white spot. You will get IHHNV on the Great Barrier Reef.’ We have people whingeing and crying and putting hundreds of millions of dollars, every year, in the Great Barrier Reef and then doing something that destroys the Great Barrier Reef. When we complained that we now have IHHNV there, they said, ‘It’s endemic. There’s nothing we can do about it.’ We said, ‘Bring them in and you’ll get disease on the barrier reef.’ No sooner do we get it and, far from saying, ‘We’re ashamed of ourselves and we’re embarrassed at what we’ve done,’ or apologising to the people of Australia and the planet, they said, ‘It’s endemic now so we don’t have to worry about it anymore.’ That was, basically, the answer I got.

You cannot have a clean, green image if you bring every agricultural product known to man into this country. I am not aware of anything, with one exception, that has been banned from coming into this country. I was at a big meeting in North Queensland with AQIS, the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service, and the Johnson family. This family made themselves immortal when they put up a huge sign during Mr Keating’s last election. The sign said ‘AQIS’. It had a big line through it and underneath it the word ‘acquiesce’. That sign said it all!

We said, ‘Bring the oranges in and you’ll get citrus canker.’ So we got citrus canker and it cost us $200 million. We said, ‘Bring the plantation product in and you’ll get black sigatoka in the bananas.’ So we got black sigatoka in the bananas. We said, ‘Bring the apples in and you’ll get fire blight.’ So we got fire blight in the apples. We said, ‘Bring the grapes in from California and you’ll get the glassy-winged sharpshooter disease.’

We have had an outbreak of black sigatoka. We have had an outbreak of citrus canker. We have had an outbreak of papaya fruit fly. It is easy for me to reel off these things, but each of them costs this country hundreds of millions of dollars. The major prawn fishery in Australia is on the east coast. In fact, the prawns are only caught in the warmer seas. The currents along the east coast travel north, so it will pick up.

I have a very interesting letter, here, from a young man I have very great admiration for, an industrialist in North Queensland. He is on the Innisfail council now. This is at 10 minutes past midnight. I will quote from the submission: ‘There is no instruction from the Queensland fisheries service to the commercial fishermen as to what to do when wild-caught prawns carrying white spot are caught.’ What do they do—throw them back in the ocean? It went on: ‘A few weeks ago 100 tiger prawns were caught in Moreton Bay and all of them were proven to have white spot.’ In other words, it has got away into the wild fishery. That is terribly depressing. From there it will travel north right up into the Barrier Reef and up to New Guinea. They will be infected with white spot. ‘We believe this test was conducted by biosecurity, as shown by their website and in the Courier Mail. These tiger prawns have been confirmed as being wild, ocean tiger prawns.’ So, it is into the wild now. It is into our seas.

The previous speaker talked about our clean, green image. Sorry mate! Your government destroyed your clean, green image. Your government destroyed it. And they did it with their eyes well and truly open. You do not need to feel bad on account of mob on the other side because they most certainly did exactly the same thing. Most worrying immediately—if there is any chance of containing this virus from spreading to other wild prawn populations in Queensland or interstate—is that in the early months of the year, Moreton Bay hosts a huge bait fishery consisting of small, greasy prawns, which is the technical name. They are sold by the fishermen and then processed by a large company into very popular 200 to 300 gram packs for distribution to approximately 3,000 different retailers up and down the east coast of Australia. So, you can kiss goodbye to your southern fishery as well, and your prawns there as well, because you have not even bothered to quarantine the area. If ever there were a case of closing the gate after the horse has bolted, we have it here.

We do not know if these prawns have white spot, as they have not been tested yet. They are not even being tested. They are caught in Moreton Bay, where already there have been 100 cases of white spot in the wild prawn fishery. And Moreton Bay, for those who do not know, is the bay in which Brisbane is built. Also, they are extremely small, and fishermen do not know how to identify whether they have white spot contrary to big prawns on which you can visibly see the marked white spot. You can imagine the ramifications of recreational fishermen using this bait throughout the Australian east coast fishery—throughout all of Australia’s fishery and in New South Wales and Victoria—as this white spot is incredibly contagious and spreads quickly. It was in the Logan River, and we have miles of problems because the Logan river runs to the Pacific Ocean at the Gold Coast. As this white spot is incredibly contagious and spreads quickly, the white spot not only affects prawns but also affects all crustaceans in the wild, and, I believe, certain fish species as well.

Minister Joyce, in December 2016, noted our concerns and said they had become a reality, and white spot is now prevalent in the wild in Moreton Bay. The minister has acknowledged this. If white spot disease is left unchecked in the wild, what happens to commercial fishermen? Do they keep fishing? If there is a negative impact on the fishermen and fisheries, will they be compensated for their loss the same as the prawn farmers? Here we go! Tax payers of Australia have to make up for the absolute utter irresponsibility and incompetence of the government—and it was both governments, the ALP and the LNP. Sit contented in the knowledge that it was both of you that did it! Unfortunately for you now, we, the others, are running at 25 per cent in Australia, because the Australian people have just had it up to here with this free market rubbish. If there is a negative impact on the fishermen and the fisheries, will they be compensated for their loss, as the prawn farmers are, particularly given the government agencies have not kept this debacle in check? If it has gone into the wild, we can start with blaming the government for not quarantining the area faster and more effectively, and for not quarantining the bait industry—doing nothing about the bait industry.

I hope everyone understands what I am saying here. Moreton Bay fishery is a big bait fishery. They catch little prawns that they cannot sell as anything else except bait and they sell them in 300 gram packs as bait throughout Australia. There has been nothing done by the biosecurity—what a contradiction in terms that is; it is a classic oxymoron. Nothing has been done about the bait fishery. It was brought to the attention of the minister, the LNP in Queensland and senior officials in the government, and they have done absolutely nothing. South Australia had the brains and foresight to announce a ban on all Moreton Bay prawn being used in their waterways back in January 2017. We cannot understand why the Queensland government and the federal government have not grappled with this problem immediately upon finding out about the white spot outbreak—10 whole months unchecked and climbing. In the event of fishery shutdown if the disease is not contained by strict management practices—of quarantining in Moreton Bay, or any other additional area—assistance should be given to all commercial operators affected, the same as for the prawn farmers.

We seek your urgent support for the establishment of a taskforce to deal with this matter as a matter of the greatest urgency. In our small representation in state parliament, the KAP—which I represent in this place—will be moving immediately along these lines as fast as we can get it into the state parliament. God help those who do not support this initiative.

This is the tragedy. When we established the industry, Thailand had $1,000 million in exports—farmed prawns. We felt that we would catch them by the year 2000. We thought they would hit $2,000 million and we would hit $2,000 million, and we were on target to do that. Two thousand million dollars represents 20,000 jobs. It represents $400 million that the government would get in tax revenue. That is $2,000 million worth. What happened was that we went up to about $700 million or $800 million in the industry and then we collapsed back down to $65 million. I will return to the reason that happened. Thailand did not go to $2,000 million; they went to $10,000 million.

This country here was running around placating the greenies—and that was the Liberal government, by the way; that was the Liberal government that placated the greenies—and it imposed upon the prawn farmers the requirement to have pure water going back into the river and sea systems. There is no marine prawn farming or any freshwater prawn farming in the world that has that requirement, which doubled the cost structure for our prawn farmers. Needless to say, they all went broke. Prawn farming has tremendous pumping costs, for aeration and moving the water, and tremendous electricity expenses. And I will not go sideways on the cost of electricity and privatisation. It is nothing else but privatisation. It is totally the result of privatisation.

Those electricity and other costs, and having to clean that water, meant we had to double the pond sizes. Because these areas are on the Gold Coast, the paradise coast of North Queensland, it is very valuable land. That land costs a hell of a lot of money. If you have to have twice the amount of land that you had before, you are in big trouble financially. Then you have the electricity costs and labour costs going through the roof because you had to purify the water. So we went from nearly $1,000 million down to virtually nothing, about $60 million, whilst Thailand went from $1,000 million up to $10,000 million.

You do not have to be Albert Einstein to figure out what happens then. Your clean, green image is completely shot to pieces. We have every disease known to man in this country now, thanks to these policies of no quarantine. Free trade overrides quarantine. When that famous sign of the Johnsons went up, with ‘AQIS’ changed to ‘acquiesce’, the head of quarantine was sacked over the bringing-in of plants that resulted in three diseases escaping. She moved over to head up the department of trade—because she was a great advocate of free trade!

We now have white spot. (Extension of time granted) We said that white spot was going to come in, and within, I think, about six months, there was a huge outbreak of white spot in Darwin. We said, ‘Righto. Hey, come on. Now you know that white spot comes in.’ They poured 23,000 tonnes of poison into Darwin harbour. But did they stop the prawns coming in from overseas? No way Hose   . That would offend against free-marketism, the religion of this place. We couldn’t possibly do that! So now we have white spot, and it is all the way up the coast to New Guinea. Congratulations to AQIS and the governments of Australia over the last 10 years! Congratulations to you!

Chamber House of Representatives on 28/03/2017 Item BILLS – Biosecurity Amendment (Ballast Water and Other Measures) Bill 2017 – Second Reading Speaker :Katter, Bob, MP