As you line up tomorrow for a democracy sausage, there are sure to be a number of factors influencing how you will cast your vote in the 2022 Federal Election. While it is fair to say that most fisheries management, and recreational fishing policies occur at the state or territory level, the Commonwealth has an important role in managing some of our offshore fisheries, marine parks, and has a record of investing in recreational fishing infrastructure from time to time. Indeed, at the 2019 election both the Coalition and the ALP made significant commitments to invest in recreational fishing facilities, fish habitat and each committed to better recognition of recreational fishing through improved policy and legislation (which was subsequently implemented with bi-partisan support).
So, in the lead up to this election AFANT have been working with our national peak body the Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation (ARFF) to gain support of the major parties for key investments and policies to support recreational fishing around the country. The AFANT team has also been engaged with local candidates around the issue of access to the Angalarri River, following the decision of Defence to restrict access to this popular waterway.
The ARFF 2022 Election Manifesto:
Developed in consultation with member delegates from around the country, ARFF and its members proposed a number of initiatives to significantly increase the social, environmental, and economic benefits provided by fishing to all Australians. These initiatives included actions designed to enhance and protect our aquatic environments, with recreational fishers taking a lead to ensure good fishing for future generations. You can read the 2022 Election Manifesto here…
Responses to the ARFF Election manifesto:
Unfortunately, at the 2022 election it is hard to be satisfied with the largely lacklustre responses of the major parties to the comprehensive policy and investment framework outlined by the ARFF. Despite a number of meetings and formal correspondence with key Liberal/Nationals Coalition and Labor portfolio spokespeople, both parties have failed to address most of the key policies outlined in the Manifesto.
Unlike in 2019, where both the major parties committed to compressive policies and investments to support recreational fishing, the support for the sector at this election has been much more muted and far less comprehensive. The responses received (including from some of the minor parties) can be accessed here.
Despite the somewhat disappointing overall responses, there are still some key commitments that each of the two major parties have made and these will be of interest to recreational fishers in the Northern Territory:
The Liberal National Coalition has committed an additional $20M to the Recreational Fishing and Camping Facilities Program (which builds upon the $20M announced in 2019), the Coalition suggests this will support up to 100 projects around the country. In the previous term of Government, the NT benefited to the tune of $1.4M from this program, with funds recently committed to co-finance the Daly River carpark upgrade. See more about this announcement here.
While the Labor party did not commit to a national recreational fishing infrastructure program the Labor MP for Solomon Luke Gosling has committed $2.5M for a Fishing Centre at Elizabeth River boat ramp should he be re-elected and the ALP form Government. It was announced that the funding would be provided for the Palmerston Game Fishing Club to build a two-storey facility at Elizabeth River, which will feature a function space, including kitchen and bar facilities, kiosk and space for the volunteer coastguard, and an on-site caretaker to provide greater security for the car park. More information about this announcement here.
It is fair to say that thanks to the advocacy from AFANT and the ARFF, Commonwealth marine parks have had minimal impact on displacing recreational fishing in the waters off of the Northern Territory. Yet this has not been the case around the nation and the favourable zoning in the NT has not always been a settled matter with bi-partisan support; with Labor taking a policy to the 2019 election to review marine park zoning.
This time around, following a campaign from ARFF, the Australian Fishing Trade Association and the Boating Industry Association, commitments have been received from both major parties not to change Commonwealth Marine Park zoning. This means both parties appear to have committed to no new lock outs for recreational fishing in commonwealth waters. Angalarri River Fishing Access
The Angalarri River flows into the Victoria River approximately 35km downstream of the Big Horse Creek boat ramp. The river is one of the best run-off fishing spots in the Victoria River system and is popular with local and interstate visitors. For the past 34 years the Katherine Game Fishing Club has held its annual Big Horse Creek Barramundi Classic on the waters of the Victoria and Angalarri Rivers, a competition that attracts up to 200 competitors.
The Angalarri River flows through the Bradshaw Field Training Area which is owned by the Commonwealth Department of Defence and in 2021 for the first time, recreational fishers began to be kicked off the river, with new signage erected to inform people it was off limits for fishing. AFANT picked up the cause to restore access and in September 2021 the then CPL Senator for the NT Dr Sam McMahon engaged with the Minister for Defence and announced that access for fishing had been restored, and that Defence would work with AFANT on a Code of Conduct (a process that has begun).
Unfortunately, this win was short lived, and in April 2022, with the Commonwealth Government in caretaker mode, Defence personnel began to inform the community again that the Angalarri River was off limits to fishing. This culminated in Defence personnel taking the dangerous and unprecedented step of stringing a rope across the mouth of the river on the Friday before the May Day long weekend. The rope was removed late that night, after AFANT contacted senior Defence Department staff. While senior bureaucrats have committed to continuing to work with AFANT on a Code of Conduct for fishing access, presently access rights for the public are unclear and it appears fishers are once again locked out of the Angalarri River.
Although this issue re-emerged well into the current election campaign, AFANT has been engaged with both major parties, including the CLP and ALP candidates for the seat of Lingiari. Both parties have written back to AFANT and have committed to work with us to secure access to the Angalarri River and develop a Code of Conduct with Defence.
Country Liberal Party candidate for Lingiari Damien Ryan said he would “fight for this outcome if I am successfully elected as the Member for Lingiari”. He noted that the Deputy Prime Minister had given him a commitment that he would “take it up with the Minister responsible for this portfolio after the election”.
Australian Labor Party candidate for Lingiari Marion Scrymgour noted that while she thought this matter had been resolved following the announcement in September last year, she would “happily be involved in discussions between Defence, AFANT and native title holders if that was thought to be helpful and required, as I support the continued safe access to the river by recreational fishers”.
The wrap up
Ultimately, while the specific commitments on infrastructure differ, there appears to be little else that sets the two major parties apart when it comes to the known policies and positions that may impact NT recreational fishing at this election. Both parties have committed not to lock out fishers from Commonwealth waters and each party has committed to work with AFANT on access to the Angalarri River.
Whichever way you intend to vote tomorrow, just don’t forget to (it’s compulsory!). With a nice big morning tide at around 10am (for Darwin), there should be lots of time to vote, grab a snag and still have plenty of water at the ramp if you’re heading out later on!