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Wednesday, 4 June 2008
Page: 4602

Mr BURKE (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (5:12 PM) —in reply—I thank all members of the House for their contributions to the debate on the Fisheries Legislation Amendment (New Governance Arrangements for the Australian Fisheries Management Authority and Other Matters) Bill 2008 and in particular thank the members for Wide Bay, Solomon, Moore and Lyons. Both the member for Lyons and the member for Solomon have been kind enough on different occasions to introduce me to members of the fishing sector in their electorates. I know from that experience the truth of some of the issues raised by the member for Wide Bay in terms of not only the pressures, the most severe of which is the price of fuel, but also the issues of exclusion zones, including but not limited to marine parks, import sustainability and, of course, stocks being under pressure because of illegal fishing.

The Leader of the Nationals also raised a concern about the appropriations that were being made for AFMA. I received advice during that speech that the bill does not task AFMA with new tasks in relation to illegal foreign fishing but does task AFMA with better tools. This is implemented by AFMA in consultation with Customs and Defence, and appropriations made on illegal foreign fishing are consistent with the former government’s appropriations. AFMA is itself implementing a business efficiency review to pursue efficient service delivery to AFMA levy payers. The member for Moore raised an issue with respect to the scientific research program, referring to its abolition. I would say in response that it would be probably better described as its completion. It was set up, I am advised, as a six-year program. Under the final budget of the previous government there was an appropriation for 2007-08 which has been used. There was never an appropriation for 2008-09. It was a five-year project that ran to the end of its five years.

As I informed the House when the bill was introduced, the legislation contains amendments which deal with both the governance issues and the capacity to combat illegal fishing. There are other issues that have been raised, and I will save my contribution on those until we get to the amendments, which I understand will be moved when we consider the bill in detail.

AFMA is a government agency that manages the Australian fishing industry’s access to fish stocks in Commonwealth waters and international fisheries agreements to which Australia is a party. Close to 16,000 people are directly employed in the seafood industry. These include the members of the Lakes Entrance Fishermen’s Cooperative in Victoria, who only a few weeks ago hosted me at their seafood processing facility; men and women who get up before the sun rises every morning and receive at the metropolitan fish markets fish that then go on to the capital cities of Sydney and Melbourne; and tuna farmers, like Hagen Stehr in Port Lincoln, who rely on international fisheries agreements to which Australia is a party for an allocation of internationally shared fish stocks. The legislation improves the accountability of AFMA for the management of a significant natural resource, to better manage the fish stocks and to provide jobs for Australians into the future.

The change of government has not changed the need for Australia to maintain its tough stance on illegal fishing in Australia’s waters and international waters to which Australia is a party. The AFMA managing director will report directly to the minister on matters relating to illegal foreign fishing under this legislation. This will improve the accountability of AFMA to the minister on illegal foreign fishing and enable the commission to get on with its job of managing Commonwealth fisheries.

The legislation also introduces new measures that will provide enforcement officers with better tools, improved tools, to combat illegal foreign fishing. The hot pursuit measures in the legislation better enable enforcement authorities to apprehend support vessels that frequently stop just outside the Australian fishing zone. More rigid stowage provisions, while maintaining a right of free passage, will make it more difficult for intending illegal foreign fishers to despatch and retrieve fishing equipment and avoid prosecution.

Strong enforcement provisions in our fisheries legislation reflect the Australian government’s absolute commitment to protect our fish stocks. They ensure Australia continues to support international efforts to address illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and to send a strong message to foreign fishers about the consequences of fishing illegally in our waters. This bill will ensure that the Australian government is equipped with more robust enforcement, compliance and governance arrangements to secure sustainable fisheries for future generations. One of the key aims of the reforms is to ensure that the new arrangements involve minimal disruption to the fishing industry and AFMA personnel.

The reforms to AFMA were announced by the previous government in October 2006, and bipartisan support was offered at that point by the then Labor opposition. Further delays will only serve to create uncertainty for the fishing industry and for the staff and directors of AFMA. I thank all members for their contribution to the debate and do urge the swift passage of this bill through both houses.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.