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Tuesday, 28 April 1987
Page: 2092


Mr HAWKER(4.46) —It is always interesting to follow in debate the honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Campbell) and after listening to his speech I must say that there was a lot of common sense there and that he referred to quite a few things that I wish some of his own colleagues would listen to, and this is particularly pertinent to his making a few commonsense observations about the bleeding hearts that seem to plague his side of politics.

The Opposition has agreed to debate the Fishing Industry Research and Development Bill, the Fishing Industry Research Amendment Bill and the Fishing Legislation Amendment Bill in cognate, with one Bill making administrative and procedural changes to existing Acts and the other two Bills establishing machinery for fishing research. The Opposition will not oppose the passage of this legislation, although a number of questions have emerged in Opposition discussion, initiated by the Deputy Leader of the National Party, the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt). I hope that when he responds, the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) will address the points that I intend to raise.

There are many producer organisations representing the special interest among fisheries both inland and spread along the coastline of the world's largest island continent. The contribution of fishermen to national living standards was alluded to by the Minister in his second reading address on the Fishing Legislation Amendment Bill. He pointed out that production in 1985-86 grossed a touch less than $600m. Exports are now drawing more than $40m a month, again a significant figure in the light of the recent blow-out in the current account deficit. I commend the industry on its development, in particular over the period since the mid-1970s.

I want to draw to the attention of honourable members some very interesting and fascinating developments in the fishing industry in my electorate. Some boats going out of the port of Portland in my electorate have discovered very large shoals of a fish called orange roughy. Those fishermen have found that there are very large numbers of orange roughy and they are developing this new fishing field off the coast of Tasmania, through the port of Portland, and that is certainly proving to be a very profitable enterprise. The Government has decided to conservatively place a limit on the amount of orange roughy that can be taken at this stage to 20,000 tonnes per year, although I believe that that figure will in fact prove to be conservative. It is likely that this new development will indeed contribute greatly to the growth of our fishing industry.

The fishing industry has overcome the challenge of the relatively brief shelf life of fresh fish. Consumers across Australia have vastly improved access to fresh supplies while an increasing array of of manufactured fish product-high in nutritional value-has also contributed greatly to expansion of sales. It is a little known fact that Australian fisheries now rank sixth on the ladder of our primary industries, in terms of the value of production. With its quite brilliant marketing effort, the industry has every cause to be optimistic over its future. At the same time, I sense a growing awareness of the need to ensure that ocean and estuary stocks remain adequate, and that the various fisheries are given adequate `breathing spaces' allowing stocks to build up, to ensure both commercial-sized catches and ongoing repetition of breeding patterns.

In this regard, we are witnessing the progressive introduction of self-help management programs, notably in such large-scale operations as the northern prawn and southern bluefish tuna fisheries. I will say more about the northern prawn fishery in a moment. These management programs, in most cases, have been initiated by those engaged in the fisheries. The mutual co-operation between operators of widely varying size deserves the recognition and the support of this Parliament and Australians generally.

The Fishing Legislation Amendment Bill amends two Acts of 1984, the Continental Shelf (Living Natural Resources) Act and the Torres Strait Fisheries Act, along with the Fisheries Act dating from 1952. Changes are in general relatively minor, although there has been extended discussion among honourable members on this side of the House over the widening of inspectors' powers. I draw to the Minister's attention the statement in the explanatory memorandum regarding powers of officers to search a vessel or motor vehicle. The Bill permits such action without warrant, but I quote from the explanatory memorandum:

These powers are exercisable without warrant if it should not be possible to obtain one due to the exigencies of the immediate situation at sea or on a road.

On my reading of this 25-page Bill, the memorandum is here referring to clauses 6, 19 and 34. These clauses do not appear to carry the proviso written into the memorandum; that is, a warrant may be avoided only if it is impractical to obtain one. There is no apparent reference in the Bill to the qualification-whether it is practical to get that warrant. This is crucial. The Bill, not the explanatory memorandum, becomes the legal device in the event of any dispute.

The memorandum refers to power to enter land and premises, exercisable only by warrant or consent, and the Bill accurately reflects this; for example, in clause 6 (c) (ab) on page 4. The qualification regarding warrants to search a vessel or vehicle is not as clear. The Opposition does not propose an amendment to correct this apparent anomaly, but it does require the Minister's immediate attention. As the shadow Minister for Primary Industry, the honourable member for Gwydir, has said before, the position of the National Fishing Industry Council Secretary-Treasurer, Mr David Townsend, should be placed on record. He has said that powers given by this Bill should not exceed normal police authority. Should the Minister fail to treat this matter properly now, and after enactment there are abuses of the spirit of the Act, he and his Government will be guilty of misleading the Parliament. We do not believe he intends this and so we ask for clarification.

Having said that, we in the Opposition support the strengthening of powers to identify undersized or illegal catches and agree that inspections on sea-going vessels or remote areas of land should be backed with powers sufficiently tough to make the law enforceable. Further, these amendments clarify and increase the protection afforded fishermen who assess their catches and promptly return illegal fish to the waters.

In addressing this Bill, I, along with my colleagues, thank the Minister for his courtesy in acknowledging the tremendous efforts of the Hon. Peter Nixon, the Minister for Primary Industry until 1983, to rationalise legal provisions applied to fisheries. We pay the present Minister a compliment for continuing these efforts in the manner that he has. The previous Minister won an important battle against the odds to bring under single law fisheries from the coast to the outer limit of our fishery jurisdiction. The off-shore constitutional settlement established by the Fraser-Anthony Government is now serving an important purpose for these fisheries.

Turning to the two research Bills, which have broad endorsement from the Opposition in establishing a research structure for the industry, I note that, although Australia's fishing operations are spread over a vast area, they will gain significant mutual benefit from a co-ordinated and intensive research effort. In view of the diverse nature of fishing, it is commendable that the maximum outlays matched on an industry dollar to government dollar basis have been doubled to one per cent of the gross value of industry production. This means almost $6m could be spent annually on research without requiring fresh legislation.

Honourable members on this side of the House hold some concern over clause 6 of the Fishing Industry Research Amendment Bill which winds up the existing trust account and provides for redistribution of funds. The sum involved is a hefty $9m, virtually all Commonwealth contributions. The clause provides that the funds be channelled into purchase of a research vessel for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, according to the explanatory memorandum. In fact, I understand that two-thirds of the funds will be channelled into the 1987-88 research program. Two questions arise. Firstly, will the funds be redistributed in this way? If so, the Minister could have been a little more precise in the choice of words for his second reading address. Secondly, will the Minister give more detail to the House on the proposed criteria for buying a research vessel? He has indicated that `if that outcome does not occur'-that is, the vessel is not bought-`the remaining $3m will be reallocated as the Ministers for Finance and Primary Industry see fit'. It is a remarkably loose arrangement for appropriating $3m. Already the Minister for Science (Mr Barry Jones) has indicated that the proportion of total CSIRO funds allocated to primary industry is in decline. It would be unacceptable for the Government to make a half-hearted effort to fund a vessel, then snatch the money away to Consolidated Revenue or somewhere else. The Opposition seeks clarification of the Minister's intentions in this regard. Further, it would be helpful if the Minister would agree to advise Parliament formally after the final distribution of this $9m fund is determined. These matters apart, the industry has actively sought this legislation and the Opposition commends its passage through both chambers of Parliament.

Although the Opposition will not oppose these Bills, the benefits to operators in the northern prawn fishery stand to be undermined by proposed changes to plans for industry rationalisation. Self-help efforts to ease pressure on stocks by reducing licences and fishing capacity have been quite outstanding. Despite this, the Government now has regulations before this Parliament implementing stiff rationalisation procedures which clearly do not have the support of a majority of northern prawn operators. My parliamentary colleagues in another place are acting to defer the special provisions plan until the Government explains its actions and moves to allay the present widespread resentment and suspicion. I understand the Minister has agreed to meet fishing representatives in Cairns this coming Friday on this very matter.

It is difficult to justify part 3 of the Government's plan for compulsory surrender of units under the conditions of surrender without compensation or right of appeal. Such conditions would appear to run contrary to normal justice and equity which are expected and enjoyed by other Australians. Part 3 also introduces reduction units, a concept which has neither been discussed in detail nor endorsed by entitlement holders. Significantly, these reduction units would nullify the central element of the industry's own self-help rationalisation plan, the voluntary adjustment buy-back scheme, to which trawler owners contributed $900,000 in 1986 and have pledged up to $3m this year. As a result we may be on the verge of heavy new financial and social problems for operators, especially the independent fishermen. It has now been claimed that the Minister and his advisers are acting contrary to the unanimous recommendation of the Northern Prawn Fishery Management Committee at a meeting in Cairns on 3 and 4 March. Significantly, this is not an isolated claim. On several occasions operators have been concerned to bring to the attention of the honourable member for Gwydir what they claim to be inaccurate minutes of government-industry meetings. It is important that we do not allow the general perception to arise that the Government is in some way trying to justifiably crash through predictable complaints and opposition to change.

I stress that an effective self-help industry rationalisation plan is already under way, but is being jeopardised by this heavy-handed government intervention. Let us look at the facts. Vessel numbers have already declined to about 230. The buy-back scheme removed about 12,000 units, or 10 per cent of total unit numbers, in 1985-86. This was equivalent to a reduction of 25 licences. There is a clear majority view that buy-back is more equitable than compulsory surrender. Further, the industry has openly accepted the Government's view that unit numbers should decline further from the present level of more than 100,000 to 70,000 by 1993. At the instigation of the industry, sales of surplus trawlers to overseas buyers are being negotiated. But although several prospective sales have come close to finalisation, they are being frustrated by uncertainty over this special provisions plan. Further, many prospective sales of units have been forestalled by the threat of sharp fluctuations to unit values. The Minister agreed some time ago to appoint an independent consultant to offer suggestions for improving the buy-back scheme. This appointment seems redundant in the face of the Department's sledgehammer intervention.

Other critical measures initiated by the industry include: The closure of the fishery for almost half of this year; gear restrictions; a three-month ban on daylight trawling during the tiger prawn spawning season; new restrictions on the building of replacement trawlers; and automatic forfeit-ure of one licence plus many units when a vessel is replaced. Clearly operators have gone to enormous lengths and made significant voluntary sacrifices to reduce the northern prawn fishery effort by 30 per cent, ensuring the long term viability of the industry. They should be encouraged in their efforts, not belted with government overreaction. The special provisions plan becomes all the more sinister in the light of an approach to the Deputy Leader of the National Party, the honourable member for Gwydir, by one independent operator claiming that the Government's action could cost him up to $700,000. This is just not acceptable.

The Minister must now go public and explain his Department's actions to this Parliament. He must listen clearly to his counterpart Ministers in the Northern Territory and Queensland and to fishermen at his meeting in Cairns on Friday and act on their concerns. The Minister will have no excuse for bulldozing an inappropriate, costly and unjustifiable set of rules under an industry facing a difficult economic future. He must accept that by forcing unwarranted regulations through Parliament he will only worsen tensions between industry and the Labor Government. Having said that, the Opposition will allow passage of the Bills but awaits the Minister's second reading response with considerable interest.