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Thursday, 25 February 2010
Page: 1966

Mr ADAMS (10:53 AM) —The Fisheries Legislation Amendment Bill 2009 makes amendments to Australia’s fishing legislation that will reduce the administrative burden on the Commonwealth’s fishing industries, protect Australian waters from illegal fishing and better protect fisheries officers. Our fishing industry is worth over $2 billion annually. Fishing and aquaculture is the fifth most valuable primary industry after wool, beef, wheat and dairy. Australia’s fishing zone is the third largest in the world, so it is pretty big. It is probably a bit bigger than the member for Barker’s electorate.

The Australian Fisheries Management Authority is responsible for the effective management and sustainable use of Commonwealth fish resources on behalf of the Australian community. The Australian Fisheries Management Authority manages fisheries within the 200 nautical mile Australian fishing zone outside state coastal waters—for example, beyond three nautical miles, on the high seas and in some cases, by agreement with the states, to the low-water mark. The Australian Fisheries Management Authority’s domestic activities operate under a cost recovery framework. That took a while to agree to over the years, but I think that is a pretty well accepted process now.

This bill amends the Fisheries Management Act 1991, the FM Act, and the Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984, the TSF Act. A core part of AFMA’s business is the daily administration of the management arrangements in Commonwealth fisheries, including fishing concessions and entitlement administration. Fishing concessions, fishing permits, statutory fishing rights and entitlements may be bought, sold, transferred and leased. In the past these types of routine high-volume transactions have been undertaken by AFMA’s officers individually and manually. The bill will enable an electronic decision-making process, e-licensing. The E word is becoming a big part of our administration through government agencies and of course through industry, and with the Rudd government’s rollout of broadband we will be able to do these things better and more efficiently in our country. It will lead to an enormous amount of upgrading, advances and gains in productivity. So e-licensing is to be implemented by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, AFMA, to improve the cost efficiency of the management of Commonwealth fisheries and to improve the capacity of industry to manage routine business processes via the internet—a modern process.

The amendments will clarify AFMA’s role as a licensing and registration body rather than an approval body. This means that when a person wishes to transfer a fishing concession AFMA must register the transfer, unless specified circumstances detailed in the legislation have occurred. Electronic decision making, e-licensing, will create greater business and administrative efficiencies. Transactions using the electronic system will cost less than applications made using the paper based system, which will require processing by individual AFMA officers. Amendments to the FM 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 the use of AFMA stakeholders—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 AFMA’s role as one of registering rather than approving the transfer of concessions. It also limits AFMA’s discretion to refuse to register a transfer in 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.

E-licensing has been developed in consultation with the fishing industry. Members across the major fisheries, including the Commonwealth Fisheries Association, brokers, companies and individual operators, have tested the functionality and the design and support the use of e-licensing. The industry has become more and more reliant on IT to help it speed up approvals and streamline the processes, so this initiative really makes a lot of sense.

The bill also supports the investigation and detection of illegal fishing activities, while the ability of AFMA to issue its officers involved in this type of work with the necessary defensive equipment is implied in the FM Act. The bill will ensure that the FM Act provides express authority for the issuing of certain types of defensive equipment. AFMA has the responsibility of ensuring compliance with provisions of the FM Act through the investigation and detection of illegal activities by both domestic and foreign fishers in the Australian fishing zone and the Commonwealth managed fisheries.

Under revised arrangements 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 implied in the FM 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 Fisheries Management Act will explicitly provide the authority for officers to carry defensive equipment—including, for instance, bulletproof vests, extendible batons and handcuffs. Any other equipment would need to be prescribed under the regulations. I have always considered that those in the fishing industry are also the eyes and the ears of other maritime activities and are often well-placed to pass on information not only related to their industry, so there is a need to ensure the safety of these officers undertaking this type of work.

The bill will implement a treaty between the government of Australia and the government of the French Republic to cooperate in the maritime areas adjacent to the French Southern and Antarctic Territories—the TAAF, Heard Island and McDonald Islands—which entered into force on 1 February 2005 as a cooperative treaty. From my work on the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, I can remember these sorts of treaties well. An agreement on cooperative enforcement of fisheries laws between the government of Australia and the government of the French Republic in the maritime areas adjacent to the French Southern and Antarctic Territories, Heard Island and McDonald Islands—the ‘enforcement agreement’—was signed in January 2007 and builds on the cooperative treaty.

Australia must incorporate the cooperative treaty and enforcement agreement into its legislation for cooperative enforcement activities to occur between Australia and France. The bill will grant French officers immunity from Australia’s civil and criminal administrative jurisdiction as provided for under the enforcement agreement. This is consistent with the enforcement agreement, where French officers acting consistently with the enforcement agreement are indemnified under Australian law, and it complements the FM Act, which indemnifies Australian officers in the exercise of powers under the FM Act. Australian officers are afforded similar indemnity under French law.

Illegal, unreported and unregulated—IUU—fishing is a major concern for the Australian government. IUU fishing on the high seas is a highly organised, mobile and elusive activity that undermines the efforts of responsible countries to sustainably manage their fish resources. International cooperation is vital to effectively combat this serious problem. Australia must incorporate the cooperative treaty and enforcement agreement into its legislation.

The bill will give Australian officers statutory authority to assist French officers to undertake cooperative enforcement activities and will grant French officers immunity from Australia’s civil and criminal jurisdiction when they are undertaking cooperative enforcement activities pursuant to the enforcement agreement. France has implemented the enforcement agreement into French law to the effect that Australian officers and vessels acting consistently with the enforcement agreement can assist French controllers in enforcing French fisheries law. Similarly, Australian officers acting consistently with the enforcement agreement are indemnified under French law. The Australian fishing industry and conservation non-government organisations were consulted during the negotiation and conclusion of the enforcement agreement and are supportive of the amendments.

The bill will also clarify the TSF Act to refine overly burdensome legislation and support the implementation of an effective quota monitoring system in Torres Strait fisheries by increasing reporting requirements on catch in the fishery. Previous amendments to the TSF Act, done under the Fisheries Legislation Amendment Act 2007, were intended to provide that all individuals who received fish directly from Torres Strait commercial fishers required a fish receiver licence. Upon implementation it became apparent that those provisions had created an overly cumbersome regulatory system. The amendments required all people in the supply chain who receive 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 intention of the provision.

In addition to rectifying the error in the legislation, the amendments will support the implementation of an effective quota monitoring scheme in the Torres Strait fisheries by increasing reporting requirements on catch in the fishery. A quota monitoring scheme allows AFMA to qualify the commercial take for stock assessment purposes and 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.

Extensive consultation has been undertaken with Torres Strait Island fishery stakeholders. In addition, the Protected Zone Joint Authority agencies—the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, AFMA, Queensland Primary Industries and Fisheries and the Torres Strait Regional Authority—have been continually consulted throughout that process.

I remember the report of a committee of which I was deputy chair back in 1997 entitled Managing Commonwealth fisheries: the last frontier. Some of its recommendations were implemented, including to modernise AFMA. There has been movement forward on some of the committee’s recommendations. One recommendation was to upgrade the processes being used in those days. Another recommendation was to work more with the states, and I see that becoming more evident in agreements with the states. I can see that, over the years, we have been getting there with a lot of those recommendations.

We know that fish do not recognise three-mile nautical lines and nor do they recognise 200-mile zones in international waters—a difficulty! In 1997 a recommendation was made that the CSIRO vessel Southern Surveyor was needed for research in this area. In the last budget, allocations were made for the upgrading of the vessel. This came about as a result of a report initiated by the member for Calwell—who is just leaving the chamber. It was a very good report and has led to some very good money going into research. Part of that money was for the upgrade of the Southern Surveyor and for research into climate change in the Southern Ocean and sustainable fishing by the fishing industry. The ship is stationed in Tasmania, at Hobart Harbour on the Derwent River.

I believe this bill takes the industry forward and is needed to improve the overall safety and efficiency of our industry. I recommended it to the House. I will be supporting the bill. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The question is that this bill be now read a second time. I call the member for Moore.

Mr Slipper —This will be a Churchillian contribution.