On behalf of the Joint Select Committee on Northern Australia, I present the committee's report entitled Scaling up: inquiry into opportunities for expanding aquaculture in northern Australia, together with the minutes of proceedings.
Scaling up is the report of an in-depth investigation into the aquaculture industry in Northern Australia following on from the committee's earlier report, Pivot north.
Northern Australia has a natural advantage for aquaculture production, including a long coastline, pristine waters, the availability of suitable land, and proximity to Asia.
The tropical climate also encourages high aquaculture growth rates and there are a number of aquaculture species which occur naturally in northern Australia.
Most seafood consumed in Australia is imported and this provides local producers, including aquaculture ventures, with a significant opportunity to increase market share through import replacement.
An obstacle, however, is an exemption from country-of-origin labelling requirements for food prepared for immediate consumption, such as in restaurants, cafes, and clubs.
Interestingly, the Northern Territory does not have this exemption. Consumers in restaurants in other states and territories should also be allowed to make informed choices and the committee has recommended this anomaly be removed.
Northern Australian aquaculture is relatively underdeveloped compared to other Australian jurisdictions, but barramundi and prawn aquaculture is poised to expand.
Across the Top End and the Torres Strait, there is greater potential for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander management of coastal waters and fisheries, and potential for sea ranching of clams, oysters, pearl meat, triton shell and trochus shell.
For example, there are moves to increase the involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in crocodile farming and trepang-ranching enterprises. As well, triton shell could be produced for the environmental management of the crown-of-thorns starfish. Such developments can boost Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment.
The Australian South Sea pearling industry is facing significant challenges including widespread damage arising from oyster oedema disease.
Consequently, the committee has recommended that an Australian pearl industry recovery taskforce be established to fund research to identify the causative agent and possible remedial action.
The committee has been encouraged by the move to create aquaculture development zones in Western Australia and the Northern Territory, which will ensure certainty for industry by defining approval conditions and reducing approval times.
In Northern Queensland, in contrast, the development of aquaculture, which is influenced by the need to protect the waters of the Great Barrier Reef, has seen impediments to aquaculture development to a degree not commensurate with its projected impact on the health of the Great Barrier Reef.
There is a pressing need, particularly in Queensland, for scientific certainty and regulatory clarity concerning potential aquaculture industry impacts. To assist science-based decision-making, there should be research into the potential for environmental impact arising from aquaculture ventures in areas adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef.
The committee was heartened by the degree to which there is common ground amongst stakeholders as to how to resolve any development impasse in Queensland.
The committee is confident that aquaculture companies are taking steps to reduce their environmental impact and comply with environmental regulatory requirements.
The expansion of aquaculture in northern Australia increases the need for a skilled workforce, and training institutions will need to provide industry-focused training courses to meet the anticipated skill-set requirements of expanding aquaculture ventures.
In its first report, Pivot north, the committee recognised the need for significant infrastructure investment in Northern Australia. In Scaling up, the committee has recommended funding assistance for developing road and port infrastructure to service the Kimberley Aquaculture Development Zone and Project Sea Dragon in the Northern Territory.
Another consideration is the need for pest and disease diagnosis facilities to provide real-time diagnosis and treatment strategies to aquaculture ventures.
Locating a diagnosis facility within a university campus would enable access to a broad range of scientific expertise which could be harnessed to serve other primary industries.
Development of other facilities to support an expanding aquaculture industry, such as hatcheries, feed mills and fish processing facilities, should ideally be led by industry demand.
Finally, I would like to thank all those who participated in the inquiry by providing submissions, appearing at public hearings and hosting inspections. I would also like to thank my committee colleagues for their commitment to the work of this committee and in particular this inquiry. Mr Speaker, I commend the report to the House.