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Thursday, 16 August 2012
Page: 8984

Mr JOHN COBB (Calare) (10:28): I rise to speak on the Fisheries Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2012. The coalition supports this bill, which implements a number of small amendments to the Fisheries Management Act 1991 and the Fisheries Administration Act 1991 to facilitate the implementation of electronic monitoring, or e-monitoring, in relation to Commonwealth fisheries; require AFMA to write to all fishers if a fishery or part thereof is closed or reopened or otherwise varied; remove the obligation for AFMA to consult with fishers prior to closing a fishery or part of a fishery to fishing in an emergency; clarify the meaning of 'part of a fishery', as it is used in relation to directions to close a fishery or part of a fishery; allow AFMA to waive levies applicable to statutory fishing rights when they are surrendered—and some conditions apply; and specify liability of corporations and other principals with regard to unlawful conduct. The bill is recognition by the government that their policies are driving our commercial fisheries to the wall. Recently, the government unilaterally decided to lock up another 1.3 million square kilometres of our seas. More than doubling the number of marine reserves, from 27 to 60, has nothing to do with sustainably managing marine environments or fisheries and is not based on science. It is just another occasion for the Greens to demonstrate that they are running this government and to ensure that Labor continue to rent Green support at the next election. It has real consequences for Australian commercial and recreational fishers and the regional communities which support them. When 'lock it up' is the government's approach to vast areas of Australia's territorial waters, is it any wonder that our supermarkets are overflowing with imported seafood?

Remarkably, Australia imports a massive 72 per cent of the seafood we eat. There is no doubt that we must conserve our oceans and be conscious of the breeding grounds and the seasons so that they can be sensibly harvested. However, our fishing industry understands this only too well and is at the forefront of managing sustainable fisheries. Our recreational fishers and our marine tourism industries understand that the value of their entire industry is dependent on having a sustainable environment, but they have been ignored.

The government, as well as increasing the area of marine parks without justifiable science, also continues to cut the quotas of our commercial fishers, forcing many out of the industry. And, to add insult to injury, the government expects the few remaining commercial fishers to pay vastly increased costs for the management of the fisheries, sending even more to the wall. This bill is a token attempt by the government to reduce costs of the struggling commercial fishers who are being regulated out of existence.

The amendment to allow electronic monitoring is welcomed by industry and, although expensive to set up, it allows the fishers to save money and not be required to carry and fund human observers, which costs over $1,000 a day.

AFMA requires data to inform its decision making to fulfil its legislative responsibilities: environmentally sustainable use of fisheries resources; effective and cost-effective fisheries management; research into the fisheries and the marine environment; and investigation of possible breaches and enforcement activities. Traditionally, this information is gathered through logbook returns, vessel-monitoring systems and human observers positioned on vessels. E-monitoring involves electronic recording of fishing and related activities and includes use of cameras, GPS and vessel-monitoring systems. E-monitoring will complement other monitoring techniques.

The decision regarding whether to use observers or install e-monitoring equipment is made by AFMA, in consultation with the relevant management advisory committee for the fishery. MACs are made up of members from commercial industry, fisheries management, the scientific community, the environment-conservation sector and, in some instance, state governments. The decision to introduce e-monitoring would be based on the fishery specific monitoring requirements of, as well as the costs and benefits to, each fishery.

The bill will make several minor amendments to the FM Act to make provisions clear and consistent, to help ensure that provisions operate as intended and to simplify the administration of the Fisheries Management Act.

The bill will clarify the meaning of 'part of a fishery' as it is used in relation to directions to close a fishery or part of fishery to fishing. The provision will avoid doubt by providing that 'part of a fishery' can be defined in any way, consistent with the FM Act's definition of 'fishery'.

The bill will make it a requirement that all fishers are given written notification of a direction to close a fishery or part of a fishery to fishing or of any variation to or revocation of such a direction. The bill will also remove the requirement for AFMA to consult before making a direction to close a fishery or part thereof in an emergency. A requirement upon AFMA to consult in an emergency is inconsistent with the need to take urgent action. Because emergency closure directions are legislative instruments, they will still be subject to parliamentary scrutiny and AFMA will be required to notify fishers of the emergency closure as soon as possible. Examples of an emergency include where water becomes contaminated by an oil spill or algae bloom and where consumption of the affected fish poses a health hazard.

The bill will also make it possible for AFMA to waive levies payable in respect of a statutory fishing right that is surrendered and any penalty amounts payable for non-payment of the levy where no fishing has been undertaken under the statutory fishing right in the period to which the levy applies. The Fisheries Management Act currently provides AFMA with this power in respect of fishing permits but not in respect of statutory fishing rights. The amendments will remove this inconsistency to ensure that the same ability to waive levies can be applied to statutory fishing right holders.

The coalition recognises the important role fishing plays to hundreds of coastal and river communities in bringing employment to millions of Australians and to the national economy. The commercial fishing sector has a value of more than $2 billion, making it the sixth largest primary-producing sector. In addition, it is estimated that 3½ million Australians participate in recreational fishing, spending over $3 billion each year in charter hire, fishing and boating equipment, travel, accommodation and bait. The coalition are keeping a close eye on the fisheries portfolio as we are concerned that Labor continues to threaten the sector to keep the support of the Greens and to allow fringe environmental groups to unilaterally influence policy. The issue of no-take zones has caused great uncertainty for businesses that are directly and indirectly reliant on access to fishing resources right around Australia.

In conclusion, the coalition supports this bill, which will provide small, sensible measures to improve fisheries management and to cut ever-increasing costs imposed by the government that are crippling the sector.