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Thursday, 14 October 1999
Page: 9720

Senator TROETH (1:21 PM) —I would like to thank senators for their contribution to the debate. Senator Greig, I hope to deal with that point that you raised before I finish. The Fisheries Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 1999 comes at a time when the issues of illegal and unregulated fishing are receiving a considerable amount of community attention and concern—and rightly so. Australia has the third largest fishing zone in the world. A lot of that zone is isolated and it has therefore been easier for people to make illegal use of our zone. It is a real challenge to adequately supervise such a large fishing area. We have some very valuable fishing stocks in Australia, and these are a considerable degree of attraction to rogue fishing operators, who are looking to free ride off the efforts of Australia to manage its fishing resources sustainably.

This bill will strengthen Australia's powers to manage and protect these resources, and there are two particular initiatives that I would like to mention. Schedule 1 has measures for more effective enforcement against those illegal foreign fishing operations and will provide for greater deterrents for those seeking to take fish from our waters. The second, dealt with in schedule 2, allows for the implementation of the United Nations fish stocks agreement that provides for more effective management of straddling and highly migratory species, many of which are found in Australian waters.

The deterrence measures were developed as a result of the experience in apprehending a vessel poaching Patagonian toothfish in the subantarctic Heard and McDonald islands areas and also from the apprehension of significant numbers of boats to Australia's north. Obviously when you have to travel a very long way over several days, as one did in the Antarctic to apprehend the vessel, it has to be done with equipment that is capable of making such a journey and in secrecy to make sure that the vessels do not abscond in the time that is available for us to reach those isolated areas. Our success in that regard in the Antarctic and Heard and McDonald island areas was somewhat mitigated when the law proved not adequate to enable us to impose the maximum possible penalty, including forfeiture. This legislation removes that loophole provided by the Admiralty Act and should give illegal operators and financiers of their operations, particularly sophisticated fishers from distant water fishing nations, something more to think about.

Schedule 1 also enables the government to put into place new provisions to allow Australia to take action against mother ships located outside the Australian fishing zone but supporting illegal fishing activities within that zone. These mother ships are increasingly prevalent in international waters and their large capacity to process and store fish makes them an extreme threat to responsible and sustainable management of our fish resources.

The bill also allows, for the first time, fisheries officers the capacity to take strong enforcement action and to use reasonable force, including firing at vessels and taking other necessary action. The bill provides for building on current efforts to manage straddling and highly migratory stocks on a regional basis. It supports cooperative regional management and creates a legal framework for the implementation of regional fisheries management arrangements.

The ratification of the fish stocks agreement by Australia and participation in regional fisheries organisations will help secure access to fish resources both within and outside the Australian fishing zone. Regional fisheries organisations will be responsible for devising cooperative measures to conserve and manage the relevant regional stocks. This regime will be legally binding on members, who will be required to abide by these measures or refrain from participating in the fisheries, and members of these organisations will have the right to enforce these measures on the other parties to the agreement. Currently, the value of the straddling and highly migratory species to the Australian economy is over $250 million. Given the importance of these species to employment in many coastal communities around Australia, the bill will ensure the long-term conservation and sustainable use of these valuable fish species important for environmental and economic viability of our regions.

At this point I want to acknowledge the support that the government has received from industry. Industry sees the benefit of stronger resource security and sustainability offered by the implementation of the fish stocks agreement. This bill is not the only action the government is taking in relation to ensuring better management of our fish stocks. We have the oceans policy; we have ongoing work in the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, particularly current work on a trade certification for toothfish; we have our much publicised efforts in the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna; our ongoing action in the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea to bring Japan to account for its unilateral experimental fishing program; we have ongoing work in the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission; we have current negotiations for the development of a regional fisheries agreement in the western and southern Pacific; we have our commitment of $16.3 million to increasing surveillance and enforcement measures in the subantarctic; and we have our work to ensure that the issues of fishery subsidies are discussed in a new round of world trade negotiations. These are all examples of the government's commitment to conservation and sustainable management of our diverse fisheries resources.

Lastly, Senator Greig, I refer to the question you asked me earlier. The fish stocks agreement legislation allows for strengthening regional organisations such as the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources—also, I believe, known as CCAMLR. In CCAMLR a fish certification system is well advanced after intercessional meetings this year, and it is expected that this certification regime may be adopted in the CCAMLR meeting later this year. In the southern bluefin tuna context, catch certification is also well advanced, and where these specific regional organisations have designed trade catch certification processes CITES control may not be so necessary. I hope that answers your question, Senator Greig.

To briefly sum up, the government has made strong efforts in this legislation to pursue strong action to support the sustainability of our fisheries resources, backed by international law. The passage of the bill will send a clear message to those foreign fishers, who might now think twice about fishing illegally. As well, it provides real benefits for the conservation of marine resources in Australia and also the future viability of our very important fishery industry. I commend the bill to the Senate.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.

Sitting suspended from 1.31 p.m. to 2.00 p.m.