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Wednesday, 4 June 2008
Page: 4596

Mr HALE (4:42 PM) —I rise today to make my contribution to this debate on the Fisheries Legislation Amendment (New Governance Arrangements for the Australian Fisheries Management Authority and Other Matters) Bill 2008. There are two very equally important aspects of this bill. Firstly, this bill will amend legislation to improve the governance of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, commonly known as AFMA; and, secondly, and particularly importantly for us in the north, this bill will provide strong tools to help fight illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

The proposal restructures and strengthens the obligations and powers relating to boarding and inspection of foreign fishing vessels to give effect to Australia’s obligations under international fisheries agreements and arrangements in which Australia is involved. These amendments will clarify the ability of fisheries officers to exercise the powers of the Fisheries Management Act 1991 outside the Australian fishing zone, commonly known as the AFZ. This aspect of the current act requires clarification, particularly in cases when AFMA officers undertake their duties following the hot pursuit of a boat that was in Australia’s fishing zone or that has been providing support to foreign boats fishing illegally in the Australian fishing zone.

While speaking about the amendment bill, it would be remiss of me not to mention my thanks to all our hardworking AFMA officers. There are roughly 50 AFMA office personnel in Darwin, primarily engaged on illegal foreign fishing surveillance and enforcement activities. These officers are often away from home for weeks at a time carrying out their work. I think as parliamentarians we can relate to that side of the job because, like us, our AFMA officers are often missing out on milestone events with family and friends. I must also mention Australian Customs, NT Fisheries and the Australian Defence Force, who work closely with AFMA officers to undertake Australian government fisheries enforcement activities in Australia’s northern and southern waters.

Under current arrangements, fisheries enforcement officers are often unable to apprehend the mother ship or support vehicles such as fuel and other supply vehicles, which generally sit just outside the Australian fishing zone. Currently, the hot pursuit of a mother ship on the high seas is only permitted when there is also a hot pursuit of vessels being supported from within the Australian fishing zone. This bill will provide for enforcement officers to pursue a fishing vessel or support vessel individually where the support vessel outside the Australian fishing zone is identified as supporting an illegal fishing vessel inside the Australian fishing zone. Importantly, the legislation provides for officers to shift the focus of their pursuit from fishing vessels to the mother ship should vessels separate during this operation.

The amendments in the bill strengthen Australia’s existing enforcement framework to ensure compliance, conservation and management measures adopted under international fishing management organisations and arrangements. It also clarifies the powers of the fisheries officers to commence hot pursuits of foreign vessels outside of the AFZ which are providing support to other illegal foreign fishing vessels within the AFZ. The amendment also clarifies requirements in the Fisheries Management Act for foreign fishing vessels transiting the Australian fishing zone to stow their equipment properly so that they are not tempted to engage in illegal fishing in our zone. The proposal amends the act to make it an offence for Australian nationals to breach the conservation and management measures of the international fisheries and management organisations to which we are a party. This amendment brings our domestic legislation in line with emerging international calls for states to control the activities of their nationals in the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

The bill will improve Australia’s enforcement capacity relating to Australian nationals and foreign fishers engaged in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. The amendments will engage Australia’s obligations under international fishing agreements and arrangements to which we are a party. As I said, the bill will strengthen requirements for foreign vessels transiting Australian waters to have their fishing equipment stored in a practical way. These amendments are absolutely essential to ensure that Australia’s approximately $2 billion a year commercial fishing industry and aquaculture sectors are protected.

In summary, these amendments to the act will improve the governance and resource management of Commonwealth fisheries. They will support our efforts to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. They will bolster Australia’s case for continued leadership internationally and they advocate sustainable access to the fisheries resource. I commend this bill to the House.