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Wednesday, 27 June 2012
Page: 8157

Mr SIDEBOTTOM (BraddonParliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (09:50): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Fisheries Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2012 will amend the Fisheries Management Act 1991 and the Fisheries Administration Act 1991.

Mr Combet: Hear, hear!

Mr SIDEBOTTOM: Thank you. The main amendments will introduce electronic monitoring (e-monitoring) to Australian boats that are authorised to fish under concessions and scientific permits granted by the Commonwealth. E-monitoring can include cameras, global positioning systems and sensors and can generate a range of visual and nonvisual information for monitoring fishing and related activities.

Australian fisheries are a valuable natural resource and must be carefully managed to ensure sustainability. Commercial fish catch contributes more than $2 billion per year to the Australian economy. Processors, marketers, retailers, consumers and many allied small businesses benefit directly or indirectly from the industry and increase its contribution to the economy. As well as protecting the economic value of commercial fish stocks, Australians expect species that are valuable to the economy will not be over exploited. Accurate scientific data is essential to set catch limits on species to protect their status and maximise the economic returns to Australia. Furthermore, Australians expect that threatened, endangered and protected species, such as sea lions, dolphins and albatrosses, as well as the marine environment, will be protected from damage. E-monitoring of fishing activities is a cost-effective way to check that fishing activities are not damaging these species and habitats.

The Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) is responsible for managing Commonwealth fisheries, which, in general terms, are waters more than three nautical miles from the Australian coastline. The Commonwealth also manages some fisheries within three nautical miles, under agreements with the states and the Northern Territory.

It is vital that AFMA has access to accurate, comprehensive and timely data on the state of fish stocks, and on the impacts of fishing on both fish stocks and the marine environment, to manage fisheries. AFMA also needs to have accurate data to monitor whether fishing activities meet legal requirements.

E-monitoring will provide better, cheaper data. This has been proven by trials of e-monitoring in several Australian fisheries and overseas, and by implementing e-monitoring on some boats in waters off South Australia. Trials and cost-benefit analyses have shown that the more data that is required for a fishery, the cheaper it will become to use e-monitoring systems, rather than observers. E-monitoring also has the benefit of generating more comprehensive data, which complements the information we get from observers, vessel-monitoring systems and logbook reporting.

The bill formalises e-monitoring and its use as a fisheries management tool. Specifically, the bill gives AFMA an express power to impose e-monitoring obligations on Commonwealth fishing concession and scientific permit holders. In line with AFMA's legislative objectives, AFMA will be able to require concession and scientific permit holders to monitor not only fishing but also related activities, such as the impact of fishing on protected species and the broader marine environment.

The bill makes it an offence to hinder the operation of e-monitoring equipment, or to modify, damage, or destroy e-monitoring data. These offences reflect the need to protect the integrity of the e-monitoring scheme and ensure that the data is accurate and complete.

Further to this, the bill adds to the list of matters about which AFMA can issue an evidentiary certificate. The certificates act as prima facie evidence and therefore reduce the time and costs that might otherwise be spent in proving straightforward procedural or administrative matters in court.

Other amendments in the bill will make it clear that fishing concession holders are responsible for the actions of the masters and crew of their boats; will enable AFMA to waive levies payable for statutory fishing rights that are surrendered; and will make provisions in the legislation about implementing fisheries closures clearer, more consistent and simpler to administer.

The bill will help to hold fishing concession or permit holders responsible for the actions of the masters or crew employed on their boats. Currently, it is too easy for corporations or other persons, such as those that hold concessions or permits for fishing, to claim they are not responsible for the actions of their directors, employees or agents. The amendments therefore will place more responsibility on concession or permit holders to take reasonable precautions and exercise due diligence to ensure that the master and crew comply with their legal obligations.

The bill will allow AFMA to waive a levy payable in respect of a statutory fishing right if the right is surrendered without any fishing having taken place under it. This is already allowed in respect of fishing permits. In this situation, the holder has not and will not benefit from the statutory fishing right in the period to which the levy applies and should therefore be able to surrender it without payment.

The bill will also ensure that fishers are always notified in writing of decisions to close a fishery or part of a fishery to fishing, or to change or revoke such decisions. It will also clarify how a 'part of a fishery' can be defined; for example, by reference to a place, a time or a type or quantity of fishing gear. It will also allow AFMA to make emergency fishery closures without prior consultation, although, because they are legislative instruments, emergency closure directions will still be subject to parliamentary scrutiny.

The amendments in this bill will help ensure the sustainably of Australia's fisheries and will provide greater certainty for fishers and the community that Australia's fisheries are being very well managed. I commend the legislation to the House.

Debate adjourned.