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Tuesday, 28 February 2006
Page: 121

Mr GAVAN O’CONNOR (4:39 PM) —The Fisheries Legislation Amendment (Cooperative Fisheries Arrangements and Other Matters) Bill 2005 before the House today makes a number of amendments to the Fisheries Management Act 1991 and the Fisheries Administration Act 1991. In summary, these amendments include clarifying the meaning of the existing economic efficiency objective, allowing for the amending of fisheries agreements made under the offshore constitutional settlement, the OCS, and inserting an ecologically sustainable development principle consistent with the ESD principle contained in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, the EPBC Act. I understand that these measures have the support of state and territory governments and have the support of the industry, so the opposition will be supporting their passage through the parliament.

The provisions of this bill are broadly consistent with longstanding Labor policies aimed at ensuring that our fisheries are sustainable and that they are efficiently managed. The current legislation requires the Australian Fisheries Management Authority to pursue the objective of ‘maximising economic efficiency in the exploitation of fishery resources’. The objective has now been clarified in this amendment bill as ‘maximising the net economic returns to the Australian community from the management of Australian fisheries’. It has taken too long for the government to clarify this—the industry has been asking for this ever since I assumed this portfolio. I think we can reasonably ask why it has taken so long to put these measures in this legislation for the industry and to bring it to the floor of this chamber.

This bill also addresses concerns that the exploitation of fisheries resources be consistent with the ESD principles contained in the Environment Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. This bill introduces the triple bottom line—economic, environmental and social outcomes for fisheries—into the considerations of AFMA. This industry is very important to regional communities. There are social implications of government policies as well as substantial local and national economic impacts. If these fisheries are not managed well, we will have an environmental problem on our hands. The long-term economic sustainability of the industry depends on the environmental management of the fisheries.

With regard to the offshore constitutional settlement provisions, it is very important that we get the highest level of cooperation between state, federal and territory governments in the management of our fisheries. Sadly that has not been the case in recent years. We know that Australia’s current illegal fishing problem, which is now out of control, is fairly and squarely a policy failure of this government.

The government has taken a high-handed approach in dealing with states and territories and indeed with the fishing community. On a lot of these issues, it has failed to take advantage of the limited available resources, particularly in the illegal fishing area. The member for Lyons, who joins me in this debate, will remember one fisheries minister that the opposition dispatched out of the portfolio for other reasons went so far in an industry meeting as to physically threaten a fisherman who disagreed with the government.

Mr Adams —In my electorate.

Mr GAVAN O’CONNOR —That caused a great amount of bad blood between fishing industry representatives and the government. Thank goodness he was removed from the portfolio for other reasons. However, I know the parliamentary secretary is far more rational and intelligent than her predecessors in this portfolio, and we have great expectations that at least some of the longstanding problems of this industry will be addressed. The opposition will support the bill. My good friend and colleague the member for Lyons, who has a deep and abiding interest in this industry, will expand on many of the views and points of the opposition in the context of this debate.