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Thursday, 14 October 1999
Page: 9674

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (9:36 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard .

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows

The purpose of the Fisheries Legislation Amendment Bill (No.1) 1999 is to introduce new measures for sustainable management of fisheries, in particular, new powers, offences and sanctions to ensure compliance with fisheries management measures.

The Fisheries Legislation Amendment Bill (No 1) 1999 consists of two schedules. Schedule 1 relates to new forfeiture and enforcement powers to combat illegal foreign fishing. These measures are aimed at ensuring more effective fisheries surveillance and enforcement within the Australian fishing zone. Schedule 2 relates to implementing obligations necessary to ratify an international Agreement termed the `Fish Stocks Agreement'. The full title is the `Agreement for the Implementation of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks '.

Both Schedules of the bill address the growing issue of illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing. Illegal fishing occurs when foreign fishing vessels operate within the Australian fishing zone without authorisation. Unregulated and unreported fishing occurs on the high seas where fisheries management arrangements, established to manage particular stocks, are ignored. This is despite the duties countries have under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to cooperate to implement management measures under such arrangements.

There is rising concern over the ongoing activities of illegal foreign fishing vessels in the Australian fishing zone, particularly in remote areas of the zone, such as our sub-Antarctic Territories and off north western Australia. Australia's sovereign right to manage the fish resources in these areas is challenged by such activities and the Government is determined to take stern measures to deter illegal foreign fishing in the Australian fishing zone. In the sub-Antarctic, illegal fishing and fishing occurring outside management regimes established by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources costs the Australian industry potentially tens of millions of dollars per year in terms of fish stolen. It also undermines cooperative management under the Commission and poses a threat to the Antarctic Treaty system itself.

Illegal fishers, particularly those in the sub-Antarctic are highly organised and adaptable operators chasing very valuable fish in extremely harsh conditions. Penalties for illegal foreign fishing are proposed to be doubled, recognising the high value of such fisheries to Australia, the large profits to be made by illegal operators and the high costs of enforcement. An amendment is also proposed to overcome the problems with enforcement action experienced following the apprehension of the Aliza Glacial , caught illegally fishing within the Australian fishing zone around Heard Island. In that case, a third party who was the mortgagee of the vessel, successfully intervened to assert the primacy of its interest in the vessel under the Admiralty Act 1988 over enforcement action by the Commonwealth. The amendment makes clear that third party interests will not prevail over Commonwealth enforcement action by virtue of the Admiralty Act.

Amendments under Schedule 1 will provide for a more effective catch, gear and boat forfeiture scheme to deter illegal foreign fishing in the Australian fishing zone.

Australian fisheries officers will be able to seize foreign boats, fishing gear or catch which have been automatically forfeited to the Commonwealth as a result of illegal fishing in the Australian Fishing Zone. The onus will then fall to the illegal foreign fishers to establish their legitimacy for being present in the Australian fishing zone without authorisation. The amendments implement the international law principle of constructive presence. This enables action, outside the Australian fishing zone, against motherships that support illegal foreign fishers within the Australian fishing zone.

Other amendments will provide fisheries officers with explicit powers to use reasonable force when requiring a boat to stop consistent with international law to apprehend foreign boats suspected of illegal fishing. Such force could include firing at or into a ship after appropriate warning shots have been fired and using devices to stop propulsion of the boat.

The amendments to implement the Fish Stocks Agreement, contained in Schedule 2, will provide a framework to address the wider problem of unregulated and unreported fishing on the high seas.

Unsustainable fishing on the high seas directly impacts the sustainability of stocks on which our domestic industry relies. In the Australian context, highly migratory fish stocks include stocks that migrate through our fishing zone such as southern bluefin tuna and other tuna and billfish species. Straddling stocks include stocks that straddle the boundary of our fishing zone and the high seas adjacent to it, such as orange roughy and in some cases the Patagonian toothfish. The value of these species to the Australian economy in 1999 is expected to be over $250 million.

The Fish Stocks Agreement was drafted out of international concern for the sustainability of these straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks. The objective of the Fish Stocks Agreement is to ensure the long-term conservation and sustainable use of these fish stocks. Australia signed the Agreement when it was first opened for signature in 1995. The amendments being introduced will enable Australia to enjoy the rights under the Agreement and also meet its obligations.

Australia is a world leader in sustainable fisheries management and manages its fisheries in accordance with contemporary fisheries management principles such as the precautionary principle and ecologically sustainable development. The Fish Stocks Agreement will strengthen the application of these principles, in particular by requiring stock specific reference points to be determined for highly migratory and straddling stocks. The bill will amend fisheries management legislation to require stock specific reference points to be set out in fisheries management plans.

The Agreement provides a framework for strengthened cooperation between nations to manage and conserve these stocks by establishing regional fisheries management organisations or similar arrangements. The objectives of fisheries management legislation will be amended to reflect this international obligation.

Ratification of the Fish Stocks Agreement by Australia and participation in regional fisheries organisations will help secure a share to fish resources both within and outside the Australian fishing zone. The regional fisheries organisations will be responsible for devising cooperative measures to conserve and manage the relevant regional stocks. The regime will be legally binding on members who will be required to abide by these measures or refrain from participating in the fisheries. Members will have rights to enforce these measures on the other parties to the Agreement. The amendments will enable Australian fisheries officers to board and inspect fishing vessels on the high seas to check compliance with regionally agreed management and conservation measures.

Once the Agreement comes into force members will be required to take on flag state responsibility for vessels carrying its flag. This responsibility will involve regulating the activities of that vessel to ensure it operates in accordance with the principles of the Agreement and any regional conservation and management measures. The amendments will expand the application of fisheries management legislation to the high seas in order to fulfil this obligation. The amendments will require the Australian Fisheries Management Authority to authorise Australian vessels to fish on the high seas and impose and monitor the necessary conditions for compliance with any conservation and management measures.

Debate (on motion by Senator O'Brien) adjourned.

Ordered that the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for a later hour of the day.