A Valuer General report released by the State Government this week proves what we already know – the State Government grossly underpaid the Gippsland Lakes commercial fishermen on their fishing equipment compensation as part of this year’s buy out of licences.
Gippsland East Nationals MP, Tim Bull, said the Minister had some explaining to do to the commercial fishing families after this was one of the major sticking points when the legislation passed through State Parliament last year – which the Government vehemently defended.
“It has taken over six months for the Minister to release these figures she promised to provide to fishers last year, and it shows she has undersold them,” said Mr Bull.
“The compensation component of the buy-out was $60,000 - a figure fishers strongly disputed and produced receipts to show their gear was worth much more. However, this was rejected, and the Minister simply said the $60,000 was a figure based on the independent valuation of the Valuer General’s office.
“However, we now have the report and it shows the average valuation for equipment across the 10 licences was $213,000 with three being valued at over $260,000, so how did the Minister base her $60,000 figure on the Valuer General’s valuations? No wonder she was trying to hide it.
“The bulk of the equipment payments is nets and where the government has stuffed this up completely, is their argument was ‘we will give you $60,000 and you can keep the nets to sell them on top of that’.
“But through sheer incompetence, they didn’t realise there weren’t the other markets for these nets and proof of this is that this year almost all have been picked up and dumped. They would have been sold if they could have.
“The Minister and the Victorian Fisheries Authority (VFA) was told this but ignored it and when the Department was asked to name these other commercial markets they could be sold into, they had no answer because they didn’t exist.
“The Government has completely shafted our local commercial fishers. They have done exactly what they said they would not do and that is set a budget for the buy-out and come up with a formula that sits within that budget. That is clearly what they have done.
“To prove how much of a sham this whole process was, they met with the fishers on August 9, 2019 when considerable information was sought from the fishers, including the
Valuer General’s information. While the fishers were waiting for this, the legislation was introduced into Parliament 17 days later. The timeframes around the legislation indicate it was written and finalised while they were having pretend consultation meetings.
“The government kept falling back on the comment that you have to look at the package as a whole.”
“But that is not what they said they would do, they said they would fairly pay across each of the three components of the package. They have not done this, and this report proves it.
“To make matters worse, they then wonder why the commercial sector is a little frosty about supporting their annual seafood festival in Lakes. I think some of these bureaucrats are on another planet, they seem to think it is ok to shaft you one minute and then all is forgotten, and you are expected to be best buddies again.
“Country people don’t like being taken as fools by the bureaucrats in Fisheries Victoria and the Minister’s office and while they know this won’t be revisited, a good start to repair the damage they have done is an apology. That’s the least these families deserve.”
Mr Bull said the other disappointing element of this was that in the vote in the Legislative Council (which was narrowly lost 22-18), local Upper House Member, Jeff Bourman voted against revisiting this element of the package. Mr Bourman was happy to sit back and allow these families to be sold short even after he heard the concerns raised in the debate.
“This is the same bloke who likes to pretend he is a conservative, but as party leader, directed the Shooters and Fisheries preferences to Labor above the conservatives in the lower house seat of Morwell, preferenced Labor candidates above conservative candidates in his own Upper House seat and even negotiated a deal that saw his Shooters and Fishers Party preference the Greens’ candidates above conservative candidates in other Upper House seats,” said Mr Bull.
Fishing net image courtesy of Visit Victoria Content Hub