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Wednesday, 29 March 2006
Page: 152


Mr PRICE (7:49 PM) —I want to appraise the work of Labor’s Maritime Security Task Force, headed by the honourable member for Chisholm and including the member for Bendigo, the member for Lyons and Senator Glenn Sterle. I am part of that task force as well.

I do not think the people of Australia understand just what a diabolical, serious, calamitous position we are in. In Senate estimates, it was revealed that last year there were some 13,000 sightings of illegal fishing boats on our northern borders. Some penetrate 350 kilometres into our waters. We can roll off the tongue the words ‘13,000 illegal sightings’; it does not say much. But let me tell you this, Mr Deputy Speaker. On a very conservative estimate, it means that in the year 2005, a year which saw a 35 per cent increase in these sightings, there were some 78,000 illegal fishermen entering our waters. I am not talking about people accidentally getting into the 200-mile economic zone; I am talking about 78,000 illegal fishermen entering our waters. Lest some coalition members say that this could be double sighting, let me say that it would still mean 34,000 illegal fishermen entering our waters. I use the figure of 78,000. That is actually more than we have regular service men and women in our Army, Navy and Air Force combined. It is almost an extra 50 per cent. It is a most calamitous problem.

We are not doing very much about it. I know that the Minister for Foreign Affairs went to Jakarta and said that there will be joint patrols. It sounds very good. But when will these patrols commence? No-one can tell me. What I can tell the House is that our current patrol boats cannot go into our coastal creeks and rivers. The new ones will be able to. In fact, I can say to the House that Navy and Customs boats are not permitted to go there because so much of our northern coast is uncharted and they are not allowed to go into uncharted waters.

I specifically want to speak about a fisherman in the Northern Territory, Bruce Davey, a good Aussie. There is nothing flash about him, but he is a good Aussie. Do you know what he did? He is a fisherman, his livelihood is at threat and he intercepted an Indonesian fishing boat. He disabled the motor, hauled in the kilometre lines that were out—two of them—and rang Customs and said, ‘Come and take this boat.’ Do you know what our authorities said? After 10 hours of waiting and hauling in those lines, he was told to release the boat. In releasing the boat, they practised the John Howard method of catch, kiss and release: he kept the fishing lines but was forced to release the boat. The authorities said that if he did not release the boat he would be charged with piracy, with illegal detention and with a customs violation. I think on the eve of Anzac Day it is just an abomination that the government of the day, through its departments, would threaten an ordinary Australian fisherman—whose livelihood was being threatened—with piracy, with illegal detention and with a customs violation.

Mr Deputy Speaker Causley, I know you take a great interest in matters agriculture. These fishermen, who fish for shark, fish and trochus, are landing on our coast. They are not just in the waters but they are landing on our coast. They are actually putting down wells in our coastal land, and what are we doing? There are 78,000 of them and we are doing nothing. We have the foreign minister going to Jakarta saying that we are going to have joint patrols, and we do not have the ships and we do not have any dates. (Time expired)