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Thursday, 20 March 2008
Page: 2397

Mr BURKE (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (10:14 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Fisheries Legislation Amendment (New Governance Arrangements for the Australian Fisheries Management Authority and Other Matters) Bill 2008 will amend legislation to improve governance of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA).

The bill will also provide strong tools to help fight illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

AFMA is an Australian government statutory authority set up to manage fisheries on behalf of the Commonwealth. As a body corporate, its functions and powers flow from the Fisheries Administration Act 1991 and the Fisheries Management Act 1991. AFMA also helps administer the Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984.

The amendments will provide for changes to AFMA in line with good governance practices and the policy document Governance arrangements for Australian government bodies.

The legislation will remove the AFMA board and the managing director.

AFMA will remain a body corporate, but its functions and powers will be performed by a commission and a chief executive officer (CEO).

The minister will be able to appoint the same person as both the chairperson of the commission and the CEO, but will also be able to make separate appointments.

Commissioners will have skills and expertise similar to current directors.

However, an important reform introduced by the bill will be to minimise the potential for commissioners to have conflicts of interest.

Mr John Uhrig’s Review of the corporate governance of statutory authorities and office holders of June 2003 (the Uhrig review) noted that independence and objectivity are important attributes for good governance and, while it is possible to manage perceived and real conflicts of interest, it is preferable to minimise circumstances in which they could arise.

This bill will establish eligibility criteria to exclude anyone who holds an executive position in a fisheries industry association from becoming a commissioner. The eligibility criteria will also exclude holders of a Commonwealth fishing concession, permit or licence and majority shareholders or persons in executive positions in companies holding concessions, permits or licences.

There will be no government representative on the commission.

The amendments will provide for the selection and appointment of commissioners to be conducted in accordance with the Rudd government’s policy on merit based selection of statutory office holders.

After an open and transparent process, the minister will make appointments for up to five years.

The commission will have responsibility for domestic fisheries management.

A key change to AFMA’s governance will be that the CEO will have responsibility for exercising AFMA’s foreign compliance functions and powers.

Allowing the CEO to report directly to the minister on foreign compliance matters acknowledges the need for direct government responsibility for matters that affect our border protection operations and important bilateral and international relations.

The minister will also be able to direct the CEO in the performance of this role.

AFMA will cease to be regulated under the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997 and will become a prescribed agency under the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 and a statutory agency under the Public Service Act 1999.

In accordance with the terms of those acts, the CEO will be responsible for financial management and human resource matters. The commission will not be able to direct the CEO in carrying out these functions.

These reforms relate to improving governance structures and arrangements.

There will be no significant changes to the day-to-day functions of AFMA.

AFMA will:

  • keep its name,
  • retain its body corporate status,
  • retain its current objectives and functions,
  • continue to have its domestic fisheries management functions funded by cost recovery from industry and
  • continue consulting with stakeholders, in accordance with existing legislative requirements.

In addition to these important reforms to AFMA’s governance arrangements, the bill will strengthen the government’s ability to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in three areas.

First, the amendments will improve compliance with international fisheries agreements and arrangements.

The amendments will make it an offence for Australian persons and corporations to breach an agreed fishing measure of an international fisheries management organisation or arrangement to which Australia is a party.

This bill will make it possible for Australian nationals to be prosecuted in Australian courts for activities onboard foreign vessels in waters outside the Australian fishing zone, where such activities are offences under the Fisheries Management Act 1991.

These amendments are consistent with Australia’s international obligations to ensure that our nationals do not engage in illegal fishing.

They are also in line with emerging international calls, that Australia supports, for states to control the activities of their nationals in the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

The amendments will restructure and strengthen the existing enforcement framework in the Fisheries Management Act 1991 relating to boarding and inspection procedures.

This will give effect to Australia’s obligations under international fisheries agreements and arrangements to which Australia is a party.

The amendments will maintain Australia’s rights and obligations in relation to the implementing agreement for the conservation and management of straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks (the United Nations fish stocks agreement).

It will also enable Australia to give effect to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission boarding and inspection procedures.

The general enforcement framework being put in place by the amendments has been structured to enable Australia to more easily give effect to all future boarding and inspection procedures adopted by other international fisheries agreements and arrangements to which Australia is a party.

Second, the amendments will clarify the ability of fisheries officers to exercise the powers of the Fisheries Management Act 1991 outside the Australian fishing zone following a hot pursuit of a boat that was in the Australian fishing zone or that has been providing support to foreign boats fishing illegally in the Australian fishing zone.

And the third way the amendments will strengthen the government’s ability to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing will be to further define and expand the stowage requirements in the Fisheries Management Act for foreign fishing vessels transiting through the Australian fishing zone.

Foreign vessels transiting our fishing zone will be required to have fishing equipment disengaged, secured and stored inboard in a manner that does not allow for fishing gear to be readily deployed. This requirement will make it more difficult for foreign fishers to engage in illegal fishing in Australia’s fishing zone.

In summary, these amendments will improve the governance and resource management of Commonwealth fisheries.

And they will support our efforts to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and bolster Australia’s case for continued leadership in international fora to advocate sustainable access to the fisheries resource.

Debate (on motion by Mr Randall) adjourned.