Constituency Statement - Abalone Divers

I thank the (Deputy) Speaker and others seated here today.


(Deputy Speaker), I would like to take this opportunity to share the concerns of a local worker in my electorate.


A few weeks back, I spoke with an abalone diver who told me he was struggling.


And he told me it wasn’t just him. Every abalone diver he knew was finding it hard to make ends meet.


These are hardworking men and women. They spend long days on the water and longer nights at home, trying to square the books.


And the point he raised was this - our abalone quota system isn’t working for our divers, and it’s not working for our regional communities.

Quite rightly, our abalone stocks are sustainably managed with limits on what can be taken.


The Tasmanian Government has created quotas – each one is worth 238kg of abalone – and it sells the right to harvest these quotas on the open market.


The problem is that wealthy interstate and overseas investors are buying up the quotas, and they essentially lease the fishing rights to divers.


The quota holders are raking it in while the blokes who do the work are barely keeping their heads above water.


In 2021, the “Beach Price” for a 238kg quota unit of abalone was $11,650. That’s what the market paid the quota owners.


For collecting that 238kg, divers were paid $2380, or $10 per kg, and out of that they have to pay all their fixed costs as well as wages and fuel.


(Deputy) Speaker, the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water & Environment commissioned a major report, the Knuckey Report, that found divers’ yearly fixed expenses were around $48,000.


So, when you add deckhand wages and fuel, you’re talking at least $80,000, and that’s without the diver taking a decent wage for themselves.


(Deputy) Speaker, for a diver just to meet their basic expenses, they have to win a contract for 33 quotas, allowing them to haul in 8 tonnes of abalone.


The diver gets $78,000, every cent of it going on bills, while the quota owner hauls in $384,450, most of it clear profit.


If it doesn’t sound fair, you’re right. It’s not.


The system works for quota owners, not divers.


(Deputy) Speaker, I agree that we need quotas to ensure our fish are sustainably managed, but the quotas should be owned by the people who do the work.


If someone wants to own a fishing quota they should get on a boat and haul in the fish, not sit in an office and pay someone else to take the risk and do the work.


If quotas were owned by divers and not investors, we’d rejuvenate our fishing towns.


Divers would be able to afford to pay deckhands higher wages, offer more secure employment and run safer, more modern vessels because they’d be getting the full benefit of the market price of the quota.


Then, their hard work would see more money poured back into local economies.


Some people will argue that the quota system works well because the market sets the price.


Well, (Deputy) Speaker, it might work well for the Government, which gets a higher bid price, and it certainly works well for the quota owners who rake in high profits.


But it’s not working well for divers and it’s not working well for regional communities.


(Deputy) Speaker, those who work the land and the sea should reap the rewards of their labour, not be made to beg for scraps from the table.


The quota system needs to change - and I will keep fighting for that change.