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Thursday, 29 May 1997
Page: 3967

Senator COOK(12.01 p.m.) —My question related to a press release. I am not sure of the date of the article or which newspaper it appeared in but I am happy to pass my photocopy to you, Minister. It was faxed to me on 31 January 1997. The headline is: `Japanese getting our fuel rebate'. The report is by Nick Cater in Canberra, who writes:

The National Audit Office last year highlighted widespread problems, including the ability of Japanese and other foreign operators to claim the rebate while in Australian waters.

Last year 250 Japanese long-line vessels were licensed to fish up to 3.2 million kg of tuna, marlin, shark and other fish in Australian waters.

More than 84 vessels took up the option, operating out of Sydney, Hobart and Fremantle.

A total of $91 million was paid out to fishing vessel operators under the Fuel Rebate Scheme last financial year.

But Customs officials were unable to say yesterday how much of this was paid to foreign-owned vessels.

It goes on—and this is the relevant point:

The Minister responsible for Customs, Geoff Prosser, yesterday confirmed Japanese owned and operated vessels would be paid a rebate if eligible.

`There is an international agreement that if international fishing vessels stop at an Australian port to refuel they are not charged excise,' a spokesman said.

`Similarly Australian vessels refuelling overseas are not charged excise.'

I am not necessarily saying that they are accurate quotes but is there such an agreement? Was that what you were referring to? If so, is there a knock-for-knock policy here in which foreigners licensed to operate in our waters, as you have described, can access the rebate? Do Australian fishing vessels, to the extent that Australian fishing vessels operate in foreign waters—I am not an expert on this industry and I only know of a couple of examples where Australian fishing vessels may operate in Indonesia, but there may be Australian fishing vessels in Papua New Guinea or some of the Pacific islands or elsewhere—under this agreement, get any excise that might be applied to diesel fuel remitted back to them by those governments?