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- Start of Business
- COMMONWEALTH SCIENTIFIC AND INDUSTRIAL RESEARCH ORGANISATION
- NATIONAL RECYCLING WEEK
- MULTICULTURALISM AND AUSTRALIA’S MUSLIM COMMUNITIES
- Regulations and Ordinances Committee
- Community Affairs References Committee
- Australian Crime Commission Committee
- Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee
HIGHER EDUCATION LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (WORKPLACE RELATIONS REQUIREMENTS) BILL 2005
- Second Reading
- In Committee
- Third Reading
- PERSONAL EXPLANATIONS
- CORPORATIONS AMENDMENT BILL (NO. 1) 2005
- NATIONAL HEALTH AMENDMENT (IMMUNISATION PROGRAM) BILL 2005
- HIGHER EDUCATION LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (2005 MEASURES NO. 3) BILL 2005
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
(Wortley, Sen Dana, Abetz, Sen Eric)
Indonesia: Terrorist Attacks
(Eggleston, Sen Alan, Ellison, Sen Chris)
(Hutchins, Sen Steve, Abetz, Sen Eric)
(Fifield, Sen Mitchell, Abetz, Sen Eric)
(Wong, Sen Penny, Abetz, Sen Eric)
(Fierravanti-Wells, Sen Concetta, Patterson, Sen Kay)
Human Embryo Export
(Fielding, Sen Steve, Ellison, Sen Chris)
(Joyce, Sen Barnaby, Coonan, Sen Helen)
(Conroy, Sen Stephen, Coonan, Sen Helen)
(Allison, Sen Lyn, Hill, Sen Robert)
(Bishop, Sen Mark, Hill, Sen Robert)
Queen’s Baton Relay
(Ronaldson, Sen Michael, Kemp, Sen Rod)
- Workplace Relations
- ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS ON NOTICE
- DEPARTMENT OF PARLIAMENTARY SERVICES
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE: TAKE NOTE OF ANSWERS
- TAX LAWS AMENDMENT (LOSS RECOUPMENT RULES AND OTHER MEASURES) BILL 2005
- ENERGY EFFICIENCY OPPORTUNITIES BILL 2005
- WORKPLACE RELATIONS AMENDMENT (WORK CHOICES) BILL 2005
- BORDER PROTECTION
- PERSONAL EXPLANATIONS
- AUDITOR-GENERAL’S REPORTS
QUESTIONS ON NOTICE
Minister for Small Business and Tourism
(Evans, Sen Chris, Abetz, Sen Eric)
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs
(Evans, Sen Chris, Hill, Sen Robert)
Cairns Search and Rescue
(McLucas, Sen Jan, Campbell, Sen Ian)
Transair Pty Ltd
(McLucas, Sen Jan, Campbell, Sen Ian)
Aviation: Night Vision Goggles
(O’Brien, Sen Kerry, Campbell, Sen Ian)
(Brown, Sen Bob, Minchin, Sen Nick)
- Minister for Small Business and Tourism
Thursday, 10 November 2005
Senator STERLE (4:50 PM) —I rise today to speak in support of the motion moved by Senator O’Brien. The motion calls on the Senate to note the incompetence of the Howard government in its failure to protect Australia’s border security, quarantine and environmental integrity and fishery resources in northern Australian waters. This motion asks the Senate to note what is a simple statement of fact and, as such, I would assume that it would have the full support of all senators.
Honourable senators may have noticed that I am deeply concerned about Australia’s border security and the problem of illegal fishing in Australian waters. I will use this debate to expand on some of the themes I have raised previously in the Senate. As I have said before in this chamber, the neglect of border security is a whole-of-government approach for the Howard government, from the Prime Minister down. But, today, I will limit my contribution to comments made by Senator Ellison, Senator Ian Macdonald and the Prime Minister.
In question time yesterday, I asked Senator Ellison, the Minister for Justice and Customs, whether tasking the ACV Storm Bay—or whatever boat it was—to count birds and flowers was a part of the Howard government’s strategy to protect our maritime borders against illegal fishing. The minister told me that before he could give me an answer he would have to go back and recheck the issue of weather conditions, so he would have to take my question on notice. Senator Ellison then went on to tell me that I was trying to slur the good men and women of the Australian Customs Service and the ADF.
It seems that I will need to read my questions slower in the future so that the minister can understand them because I can assure the Senate that the only person I was trying to slur was the minister and his incompetent grasp of his portfolio. It does not inspire in me much confidence that Minister Ellison would have to consult weather charts before he could confirm or deny whether tasking any boat to count birds and flowers was a part of the Howard government’s strategy to protect our maritime borders against illegal fishing. I look forward to the minister’s complete answer once he has had time to consult the Bureau of Meteorology or whatever it is he needs to do.
Honourable senators might remember Senator Ian Macdonald’s comments when Jon Ford, the Western Australian Minister for Fisheries, dared to criticise the Commonwealth Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Senator Ian Macdonald told the media:
The WA Government needs to take a dose of reality and if there are problems in WA waters then they should be policing them …
West Australians know that Jon Ford is doing his best to care for the fragile marine ecology of Western Australian waters by creating sanctuary zones in marine parks and adjusting bag limits. But Jon Ford’s efforts have been undermined time and again by the Howard government’s inability to keep looting foreign fishermen out of Western Australian waters. I pointed out to the honourable minister that if he knew anything about his portfolio, he would know that WA waters are surrounded by Commonwealth waters and that the only reason that there would ever be a problem in WA waters would be if the Howard government had failed in its responsibility to police Commonwealth waters.
But the minister has not budged and he has not recanted his petulant comments. In fact, the minister has gone on to make even more petulant comments since that time. The minister is quoted in the Australian newspaper as saying that he was so disappointed with the level of co-operation he was getting from Jon Ford that he was still considering whether to offer him an invitation. Well, boo-hoo! Instead of getting on with the job, the minister seems to spend his days sooking about the states and fretting over who he will invite to his parties, like some capricious princess.
I must confess that I was pleasantly surprised the other day by some comments that Senator Ian Macdonald made in relation to the problem of illegal fishing. I draw honourable senators’ attention to a press release that Senator Ian Macdonald issued on 3 November titled ‘New report exposes flag of convenience countries’. When I read the title, I thought to myself that the Ships of shame report released by former Labor member Peter Morris was not that new. But as I read the press release, I saw that the report he was referring to was not the Ships of shame report, but a report jointly commissioned by none other than the International Transport Workers Federation and the World Wildlife Fund. I would have thought that Senator Ian Macdonald would have been cautious about being publicly enthusiastic about reports commissioned and funded by trade unions and environmentalists. His colleagues on that side of the chamber might start picking on him and telling him that he too is beholden to the trade union movement and the environmental lobby.
Senator Ian Macdonald’s press release details how flag of convenience shipping registers are assisting international fishing pirates. The press release details how Senator Ian Macdonald told international representatives attending the 24th meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources earlier this month that flag of convenience registers are:
… turning a blind eye to their international responsibilities and making a quick buck at the expense of the world’s fisheries and marine life.
I put it to the Senate that the world’s fisheries and marine life are not all that is being put at risk in the name of a quick buck. The minister would do well to talk to his mate the Minister for Transport and Regional Services and his chums in the National Farmers Federation. He might learn that they are happy to turn a blind eye to their Australian responsibilities and put Australia’s coastal security and the jobs of hardworking Australians at risk satisfying their addiction to flag of convenience registered shipping.
Time and again we have seen the Howard government sacrifice Australia’s national interest and risk our national security with their anti-Australian shipping policies that favour foreign flag of convenience vessels and crews in the name of cheap shipping costs. The Howard government have a record of breaching the Navigation Regulations and their own ministerial guidelines regulating coastal shipping by failing to establish if a licensed Australian vessel is available before issuing a single voyage permit to a foreign ship. If Senator Ian Macdonald enjoyed reading the International Transport Workers Federation report so much then I highly recommend that he reads Peter Morris’s Ships of shame report, released a decade ago, which exposed not only how flags of convenience shipping registers were assisting international fishing pirates but also how they were endangering our marine environment and undermining labour standards world wide.
If senators opposite do not believe me then I would remind them of a vessel formerly known as the Wallarah. The Wallarah was an Australian coastal ship, registered in Australia and proudly crewed by Australian seafarers, one of the last of the ‘60 milers’ which, for 16 years, carried coal from the mines at Catherine Hill Bay to Newcastle. In 2002, the Wallarah was renamed the Iluka, registered by its owners under the Tongan flag, a notorious flag of convenience shipping registry, and the Australian crew was replaced with Russians and Tongans. The Iluka, as it was then known, was then used to carry grain between Australia and New Zealand under the single voyage permit system operated by the Howard government.
If the Howard government are happy to use cheap foreign guest labour to move our cargo, I wonder how long it will be before they introduce guest labour, paid one-tenth of what Australian workers are paid, to drive our buses, teach our children, work in our hospitals or work at the Port Kembla Grain Terminal. I am sure it is only a matter of time. Senator Ian Macdonald might also be interested in reading the Australian Maritime Safety Authority annual report of 2004-05. The report details that, during 2004, the average number of deficiencies per inspection was 2.3. That is, every single time an AMSA inspector boarded a flag of convenience vessel, they found an average of 2.3 deficiencies. This statistic is unacceptable, but it is a statistic that the minister for transport seems happy to let slide in pursuing the Howard government’s maritime policy, which is designed to destroy the Maritime Union of Australia by allowing poorly paid foreign guest workers on foreign ships to move cargo around Australia’s coasts.
The fact is our borders leak like a sieve. Illegal fishing by foreign vessels is out of control, and the Howard government has clearly failed to protect our northern borders. You only have to look at recent failures in border protection in my home state of Western Australia this year to know that this is true. Just the other day seven boat people from West Timor landed on the Australian mainland near Kalumburu in the north of Western Australia and asked the locals for directions to the nearest town.
Then there was the time that the government had to rely on a schoolteacher, his family and members of a local community on a sightseeing and diving trip to raise the alarm about a group of illegal foreign fishers landing in Western Australian near Brue Reef, which is about 50 kilometres north of Cape Leveque in the Kimberley. I am sure Senator Scullion would know Brue Reef. I know Cape Leveque well. I have driven trucks on the dirt roads up there a number of times, delivering furniture, so I am quite familiar with that part of the world, as is, I am sure, the honourable senator, who has now escaped from the chamber. These illegal fishers not only breached the Howard government’s border protection measures and were poaching trochus shell; they actually landed on Australian soil. But these isolated examples I have just mentioned are only the tip of the iceberg. Last year 8,000 illegal vessels—not Australian boaties and yachties out looking around the north-west—were sighted operating in Australian waters and only 400 of them were intercepted.
We all remember the Prime Minister’s assessment of the state of our border security when he was asked on talkback radio about the plunder of Australian waters by illegal fishers. He said:
... what you’re seeing at the moment is the system working.
I can tell you, Mr Acting Deputy President, I watched 60 Minutes on the weekend and I did not see a system that was working. What I saw was the might of the Australian Navy being routed by a single pirate with a bamboo stake. Now before the senators opposite jump up, scream and carry on about what I am talking about and try to accuse me of being un-Australian or trying to slur defence personnel, let me make this clear: I, and my colleagues on this side of the chamber, have the greatest respect for the hardworking men and women of the Australian Navy, who are doing the best they can to deal with illegal fishing incursions into Australian waters with the resources that have been given to them by the Howard government.
These hardworking Australians who put their lives on the line every day to protect our quality of life deserve purpose-built vessels that will not be fended off by bamboo-stake-wielding bandits. The men and women who work to protect Australia’s coast deserve to be given the tools they need to get on with the job.
Senator Johnston —What are they?
Senator STERLE —The reality is—I will inform you, Senator Johnston, right now—that this government talks about border protection but when it is put to the test it surely misses out. I would like to conclude my comments by making it clear that this government’s policy failures on border security are placing our commercial fishermen in danger, are undermining the integrity of Australian quarantine—
Senator McGauran interjecting—
Senator STERLE —and are leading to the rape and plunder, Senator McGauran, of Western Australian fish stocks and our fragile marine ecology.
The Howard government’s policy failures on border security are allowing droves of Indonesian fishermen, who may have tuberculosis, may be carrying hens which may have been exposed to the avian flu and may be accompanied by dogs which may have been exposed to rabies, into Australia’s quarantine zone and onto our shores. But don’t worry! The Prime Minister assures us that the system is working. I put it to the Senate that the Prime Minister is wrong. I put it to the Senate that there is a lot more this government can and should do to protect Australia’s seas.
After nine long years of the Howard government, maritime security is still split between eight government departments administering 11 separate pieces of legislation. It is about time the Howard government realised that political spin will not protect Australian fishing stocks or secure our borders. Unlike the government, Labor have a plan. Our plan is for an Australian coastguard. Labor know that Australia needs purpose-built vessels which will not be fended off by bamboo-stake-wielding bandits. If the Prime Minister were fair dinkum about border protection, he would swallow his pride and admit that Labor’s proposal for a coastguard is the best answer to the problem we have with border security and illegal fishing in Australian waters.