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Tuesday, 12 June 2007
Page: 39

Dr JENSEN (4:49 PM) —I rise to address the Fisheries Legislation Amendment Bill 2007 and the Fisheries Levy Amendment Bill 2007. Who can forget the Antarctic chase in August 2003 when Australian, British and South African vessels cornered a ship, registered in Uruguay, accused of poaching patagonian toothfish in Australian waters? The crew of the Australian patrol boat Southern Supporter endured massive seas and appallingly dangerous conditions to follow the Viarsa through icy waters for an amazing 20 days before the dramatic chase ended with the capture of that vessel. And who can forget the ongoing work done by Australian patrols in the waters off the Kimberley and the Northern Territory? In July last year a total of seven Indonesian fishing vessels carrying 67 crew were detained after a coastal surveillance flight discovered the type-3 ice boats early in the morning. Although five of the boats tried to evade capture, they were boarded successfully by sailors from HMAS Dubbo and HMAS Success. In all, the vessels were found to be carrying more than 4,000 kilograms of reef fish.

Illegal fishing within Australia has been a problem, with illegal fishers appearing too often in local courts charged with poaching. For example, three men who were convicted in the Rockingham courthouse south of Perth were ordered to pay almost $19,000 in fines and forfeit a large quantity of abalone, an aluminium dinghy, a 15-horsepower outboard engine, a fuel tank and two handspears. In fact, recently a fairly prominent WA Labor member of parliament was apprehended for doing much the same thing. The Howard government has moved decisively to tackle both fish poaching and overfishing in Australian waters. As a result of the Australian government’s tough approach, sightings of foreign fishing vessels in Australia’s northern waters in 2006 were down over 40 per cent compared with the number in 2005, despite an increase in surveillance flights. In addition, a record 365 vessels were apprehended and destroyed. This trend continues in 2007, with sightings in the first few months of the year down 68 per cent compared with in 2006.

On the domestic front, this year’s total allowable catch set by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority as a result of a ministerial direction in late 2005 will see wild catches brought within scientifically sustainable levels. Improvements to the management of Australian fisheries will continue under the Howard government.

In summary, the Fisheries Legislation Amendment Bill 2007 will amend the Fisheries Management Act 1991, the Fisheries Administration Act 1991, the Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984 and the Surveillance Devices Act 2004. In conjunction with the Fisheries Legislation Amendment Bill 2007, the Fisheries Levy Amendment Bill 2007 will amend the Fisheries Levy Act 1984. Together, these amendments will: improve the management of the Torres Strait and Commonwealth fisheries; combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing; better monitor fishing activities within Commonwealth jurisdiction fisheries; and facilitate a whole-of-government approach to law enforcement. Overall, the suite of changes will ensure that the Australian government is equipped with more robust enforcement, compliance, administrative and fisheries management tools.

In relation to the background of these two bills, they primarily focus on amending the Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984 to ensure that the Torres Strait fisheries can be managed consistently with contemporary Australian government fisheries policies and to better position Australia to meet its rights and obligations under the Torres Strait Treaty with Papua New Guinea. The key amendments are: firstly, to the Fisheries Administration Act 1991 and the Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984 to clarify the role of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority in the management of these fisheries; and, secondly, to the Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984 to improve the management of rights and obligations under the treaty. The Torres Strait Protected Zone Joint Authority is developing management plans for the three commercial fisheries and establishing a total allowable catch, or total allowable effort, in each fishery. This will better enable Australia to allocate a share of the catch or effort to PNG, to manage the Australian share of that allocation and to maximise the economic value of the resource whilst managing it sustainably.

The third key amendment is to the Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984 to facilitate the introduction of output controls and better fisheries management practices in fisheries and the introduction of new powers, with related offences: to issue licences that will enable persons to commercially fish without a boat; to regulate fish receivers through a licensing regime to ensure the total allowable catch is maintained under the output controls; to facilitate Indigenous commercial fishers’ compliance with the output control systems by requiring them to hold a master fisherman’s licence in certain circumstances, as is currently required for non-Indigenous commercial fishers; and to facilitate better compliance with output controls by permitting an infringement notice and demerit point scheme to be introduced by regulation.

The fourth amendment is to simplify the delegations in the Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984 to reflect current practice, to improve the licensing regime and to introduce identity cards for officers. The fifth amendment is to improve consistency with other legislative regimes including by introducing new search warrant procedures, a new power requiring a vessel to stop and developmental permits. The sixth amendment is to the Fisheries Levy Act 1984 to facilitate cost recovery against management plans consistent with Australian government policy. As levies are a form of taxation these amendments appear in a separate bill, as required by the Australian Constitution, which I will address later in this speech.

The seventh amendment is to the Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984, the Fisheries Management Act 1991, the Fisheries Administration Act 1991 and the Surveillance Devices Act 2004 to bolster compliance and enforcement procedures. In relation to the improved fisheries management tools, the Fisheries Legislation Amendment Bill also amends the Fisheries Management Act 1991 and the Fisheries Administration Act of the same year to allow for more cost-effective monitoring of the fishing industry’s compliance with fisheries and environmental obligations. The amendments will complement the Securing our Fishing Future initiative and will assist the Australian Fisheries Management Authority to implement the ministerial direction made in November 2005.

The key amendments are: firstly, to the Fisheries Administration Act 1991 and the Fisheries Management Act 1991 to provide a clearer legal basis for the current observer program by expanding the Australian Fisheries Management Authority’s functions to cover the placement of observers on both Australian and foreign commercial fishing boats; and, secondly, to the Fisheries Administration Act 1991 and to the Fisheries Management Act 1991 to widen the Australian Fisheries Management Authority’s functions to enable the collection of information in addition to that required for the management of fisheries and as an adjunct to the Australian Fisheries Management Authority’s observer and compliance activities. This will facilitate improved information sharing between agencies engaged in compliance and law enforcement involving serious criminal activity. The type of information and who it can be shared with will be subject to a regulation made by the minister.

The Australian Fisheries Management Authority plays a key role in protecting Australia’s vast fishing zone from illegal foreign fishing, including conducting deterrence and apprehension activities in tropical, temperate and cold water regions. As such, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority is a major client of Coastwatch and works closely with the Australian Customs Service and the ADF. The Australian Fisheries Management Authority’s main program areas are in the northern regions, where Australia has adjoining marine interests with Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. In Northern Australia, incursions are largely made by fishers from Indonesia—the majority of whom are targeting shark, with a small number targeting reef fish and trepang. A small number of incursions have been made by vessels from Taiwan and PNG in the past.

In the Heard and McDonald Islands area, where Australia has a patagonian toothfish and mackerel icefish fishery, patrols have been conducted using a civil charter vessel—or, more recently, the Oceanic Viking, a Customs funded vessel—to provide surveillance coverage to deter illegal fishing operations by foreign vessels. The officers who patrol Australia’s fishing zone in tropical, temperate and cold water regions are to be commended for their effort in circumstances that can be exceedingly dangerous.

Indonesian fishing incursions in the Australian fishing zone result from a number of entrenched factors, including heavy fishing pressure in Indonesian waters resulting in stock depletion and loss of marine habitats. This has made fishing in Australian waters increasingly attractive to Indonesian fishers. Also, high international prices for fresh and live reef fish, among others, have resulted in unsustainable fishing practices by these villagers, including the destruction by blasting and poisoning of reefs. Returns from illegal fishing are high in comparison to those available to most local villagers in eastern Indonesia.

Interdepartmental discussions led by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have recognised the need to address the issue, which is a long-term risk, whilst continuing to maintain traditional enforcement action in Australia’s boundaries. Initiatives that have been implemented and/or planned include the printing and distribution of free maps and maritime boundaries, and working on AusAID and world development bank programs for developing alternative fisheries projects in Indonesia.

Other initiatives are visits by Australian Fisheries officers to Indonesian ports to advise on Australian measures and to discourage incursions, continued funding of visits to Australia by Indonesian officials to discuss bilateral approaches to the problem and new Australian initiatives such as propeller entrapment devices. In the longer term Australia will be seeking to strengthen Indonesia’s commitment to these bilateral agreements to take sanctions against operators who commit fisheries offences in Australian waters.

The Heard and McDonald Islands region is important both as a potentially long-term commercially valuable fishery for Australia and because of its international significance as the only unmodified example of a sub-Antarctic ecosystem in the world. Illegal fishing activity in the region threatens the established management regime, which is designed to achieve responsible fishing and to minimise the impact of fishing on the sensitive Antarctic marine ecology of the region and a direct challenge to Australian sovereignty over fisheries and protected heritage areas.

Illegal fishing boats are not fishing in accordance with requirements set down under the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. This could lead to long-term depletion of the stocks unless preventative action is taken. In addition, illegal boats could introduce diseases, exotic vegetation or animals that would devastate the pristine environment and adversely impact on Australia’s Heard and McDonald Islands listings.

In respect of the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, illegal fishing in the southern oceans for patagonian toothfish increased dramatically during the late nineties and early noughties. With an increased Australian and French patrol presence over the last few years, illegal fishing in the Australian and French exclusive economic zones has been significantly reduced. The convention estimates that illegal, unregulated and unreported catch for all areas of the convention area in 2001-02 was 10,898 tonnes, compared with 7,599 tonnes in 2000-01 and 6,546 tonnes in 1999-2000.

One of the convention’s conservation measures adopted by member countries is the catch documentation scheme. The catch documentation scheme, as contained in the conservation measure, became binding on all Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources members on 7 May 2000. This enables the commission to identify the origin of toothfish entering the markets of all parties to the scheme and helps determine whether toothfish taken in the convention area were caught in a manner consistent with the convention. Specifically, the catch documentation scheme conservation measure requires vessel operators to complete a form which sets out certain information relating to the location of catches, amount of catches, ports of landing and transshipment.

In relation to combating illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, illegal fishing in Australia’s northern waters continues to pose serious threats. The Fisheries Legislation Amendment Bill 2007 further develops the regime by strengthening the forfeiture of provisions in the Fisheries Management Act 1991 and the Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984 so that the boat, catch and all equipment on foreign fishing boats engaged in illegal fishing in Australian waters are forfeit. The amendment also clarifies that the forfeiture may include any fish caught or equipment, including fuel and provisions, placed on board the boat after that offence. This amendment is a greater deterrent to illegal foreign fishers and will make it more difficult for foreign fishing boats to profit from illegal fishing.

The Fisheries Legislation Amendment Bill 2007 further develops the regime to enable Australian authorities to more effectively prosecute new custodial offence provisions for illegal foreign fishing, which were introduced by the Fisheries Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fishing Offences) Act 2006, and by amending the Surveillance Devices Act 2004 to ensure that these foreign fishing offences can be effectively investigated and prosecuted using surveillance devices.

In respect of transitional governance arrangements, the amendment to the Fisheries Administration Act 1991 will give the minister a temporary power to appoint Australian Fisheries Management Authority directors for up to nine months at a time. It is intended that this power will be used to extend the terms of existing directors, which will expire on 30 June 2008 if the Australian Fisheries Management Authority does not become a commission on 1 July 2008.

In relation to the financial impact of the amendments, they are expected to involve additional administrative costs to the Australian government. Those costs relating to the Torres Strait fisheries are subject to cost-sharing arrangements with the Queensland government. No additional costs will be imposed on the Torres Strait fishers as a result of the amendments. There will be some additional costs and savings to fishers in the Australian fishing industry. Those fishers in fisheries for which observer coverage will be introduced or increased will incur this fee. As is current practice, the fees will be based on budgeted unit costs.

The streamlining of information-sharing provisions will improve administration, reduce duplication and avoid additional costs associated with the establishment of marine parks. A move towards cost recovery is consistent with Australian government and Torres Strait Island Protected Zone Joint Authority policy. These bills were developed by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in consultation with all relevant Australian government agencies. Amendments that have an impact on the Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984 and related legislation were developed through extensive and detailed consultation with Torres Strait fisheries licensees, native title prescribed bodies and industry. (Time expired)