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Thursday, 25 February 2010
Page: 1964

Mr JOHN COBB (10:46 AM) —I rise to speak on the Fisheries Legislation Amendment Bill 2009. The bill ensures that Australia’s fisheries are adequately protected through the Australian Fisheries Management Authority. It will reduce red tape in fisheries licensing and improve provisions for fish receiver licences and the quota system in the Torres Strait Protected Zone. The Fisheries Legislation Amendment Bill 2009 will amend the Fisheries Management Act 1991 and the Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984. The amendments provide for three main outcomes: firstly, to improve the ability of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority to provide an efficient and cost-effective fisheries management service through changes to the administration of fisheries licensing and the introduction of electronic decision making; secondly, to ensure that fisheries officers engaged in investigating suspected illegal fishing can be properly equipped to safely perform that function; and, thirdly, to provide for consolidated arrangements regarding fish receiver licences in the Torres Strait.

E-licensing was developed in consultation with the fishing industry. Industry members across the major fisheries, including the Commonwealth Fisheries Association, brokers, companies and individual operators, have tested the functionality and design and they support the use of e-licensing. Electronic decision making will create greater business and administrative efficiencies. Transactions using the electronic system will cost less than applications made using the paper based system, which require processing by individual AFMA officers.

Amendments to the Fisheries Management Act will explicitly allow some routine, high-volume processes to be undertaken electronically, although it will not preclude manual decision making. As a result, two systems will be available for use by AFMA stakeholders—that is, the continuation of the current paper based system and the new e-licensing system. Associated with e-licensing, the bill removes restrictions on the trading of fishing concessions. Restrictions on the transfer of concessions have been removed by redefining the role of AFMA to that of registering, rather than approving, the transfer of concessions. It also limits AFMA’s discretion to refuse to register a transfer to certain prescribed circumstances, such as the suspension of a fishing permit, the levy on the fishing permit being unpaid and the holder being investigated for a fisheries offence or having been convicted of a fisheries offence.

On the defensive equipment side, AFMA has the responsibility of ensuring compliance with the provisions of the Fisheries Management Act through the investigation and detection of illegal activities by both domestic and foreign fishers in the AFZ and Commonwealth managed fisheries. Under a revised arrangement with the states which came into force on 1 July 2009, AFMA officers are undertaking front-line fishery inspections and patrol activities previously undertaken by state and territory officers. While the ability of AFMA to issue officers involved in such work with the necessary defensive equipment is implicit in the act, the bill provides express authority for AFMA fisheries officers to be issued with, and carry, prescribed defensive equipment in the course of their duties. In order to carry out front-line duties, AFMA now needs the capacity to ensure that officers are issued with, and trained in the use of, defensive equipment. Amendments to the act will expressly provide the authority for officers to carry defensive equipment including, for example, bulletproof vests, extendable batons and handcuffs. Any other equipment would need to be prescribed under the regulations.

The bill seeks to clarify and support the operation of the fish receiver licence and a quota monitoring system in the Torres Strait Protected Zone. Previous amendments to the TSF Act done under the Fisheries Legislation Amendment Act 2007 were intended to provide that all individuals who receive fish directly from Torres Strait commercial fishers require a fish receiver licence. Upon implementation it became apparent that these provisions had created an overly cumbersome regulatory system. The amendments actually required all people in the supply chain who handle fish caught in the Torres Strait by a licensed commercial fisher to hold a current fish receiver licence—including home consumers, which was not the original intent of the provision. In addition to rectifying the error in the legislation the amendments will support implementation of an effective quota monitoring system in Torres Strait fisheries by increasing reporting requirements, on catch, in the fisheries. A quota monitoring system allows AFMA to quantify the commercial take for stock assessment purposes and for the determination of sustainable harvest levels. It will provide the capacity to verify fishers’ catch records against records detailing information about product landed at a port.

The government has undertaken extensive consultation with Torres Strait fisheries stakeholders. In addition the Protected Zone Joint Authority agencies—the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry; AFMA; the Queensland Primary Industries and Fisheries; and, the Torres Strait Regional Authority—have been continuously consulted throughout the development process. We support this legislation.