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Thursday, 16 August 2012
Page: 8988


Mr BALDWIN (Paterson) (10:44): I rise to speak on the Fisheries Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2012. The bill before us today implements some important amendments to the Fisheries Management Act and the Fisheries Administration Act. These amendments are designed to help facilitate more efficient data reporting through electronic monitoring, or e-monitoring, and in doing so potentially realise cost savings to the industry. The amendments will also help clarify interpretations of the Fisheries Management Act and the Fisheries Administration Act. Accountability of corporations, concession holders and their employees, directors and agents in relation to compliancy and liability will be clarified within the bill. The amendments to the bill will allow for emergency powers to be introduced to partly close or close a fishery without stakeholder consultation in case of emergency. The term 'part of fishery' as it relates to fishery closures will be defined. AFMA will be required to write to stakeholders if the fishery or part thereof is closed. Amendments further contained in this bill will also allow AFMA to waive levies applicable to statutory fishing rights when they are surrendered.

The Australian commercial fishing industry is an important economic driver for Australia, contributing billions of dollars to the national economy and employing and supporting thousands of people and families in communities right across Australia. Not only is Australia's fishing industry important to the economy but it is also an important sector for Australian food security now and into the future. The effective management of Australia's wild fisheries is essential to guarantee an economic and environmentally sustainable future for the industry.

Australia has a marine area or Exclusive Economic Zone of approximately 10 million square kilometres, two million of which are located in the Australian Antarctic Territory. To put this into context, Australia's landmass is approximately 7.69 million kilometres. Commonwealth fisheries are all fisheries in the zone outside three nautical miles to the 200-nautical-mile zone. Management of this vast resource in its geographical nature has been problematic, to say the least. For example, there are some fisheries jointly managed between the states and Commonwealth, such as in the Torres Strait. Then there is the issue of migratory pelagic species that travel inside and outside our territorial borders—for example, southern bluefin tuna and yellowfin tuna, to name but two targeted commercial species. These fish are not subject to our management plans until they reach the Australian Exclusive Economic Zone.

There is an ongoing need to consult and work with other countries to ensure a uniform management plan for sustainability. Back in 1997, I attended the South Pacific fisheries forum at the time of the introduction of the superseiners into the Federated States of Micronesia. The superseiners all but wiped out large-scale migratory pelagic species. That country needed income and took the licence fee off the then American-flagged boats. The impact of that fishery was felt not just in the immediate area but across the broader Pacific.

The monitoring of vessels and collation of real-time data to better manage the fishery and regulatory enforcement have been inherently difficult and resource intensive. The difficulties of interception, detection and apprehension of vessels fishing illegally, both domestic and foreign, have been exacerbated with the deployment of assets to deal with all the arrivals of illegal immigrants.

Australia quite deservedly is globally considered a leader in fisheries resource management and training. As an island nation, we acknowledge the importance of fisheries resource management. We have achieved this through the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, AFMA, and state fisheries bodies. The Australian Fisheries Management Authority was established in 1991 to take responsibility for the efficient management and sustainable use of Commonwealth fish resources on behalf of the Australian community.

This bill will give provision under the Fisheries Administration Act 1991 to enable e-monitoring of vessels in certain fisheries. The collection and collation of catch statistics has been difficult and in many cases antiquated, relying on participants to report fishing activity. Traditionally information has been gathered through physical logbook returns, vessel-monitoring systems and human observers positioned on the vessels. This is an expensive exercise, costing the operator around $1,000 per day per vessel.

The e-monitoring system is an integrated data reporting system that will allow for a more concise, expedient and uniform management and compliancy tool. The e-monitoring system will also include electronic recording of fishing related activity and includes the use of cameras, GPS and vessel-monitoring systems. Types of data that will be generated by e-monitoring include video footage of fishing and fishing related activities on the decks of boats, in the processing areas of boats or in the water, and data showing the location and identity of boats and the time that fishing activities take place. The cost of purchasing, installing and maintaining an e-monitoring system will be borne by the fishers. It is expected the proposed system, compared to observer programs that cost in excess of $1,000 per day, will prove more cost effective and reliable. I would like to see the ongoing cost-benefit of this system as it relates to the imposts on the fishery stakeholders. The cost impost of management on fishermen through licensing and compliance must be balanced and cost-effective.

The bill expressly authorises AFMA to collect e-monitoring data and creates offences for hindering the operation of e-monitoring equipment or modifying, damaging or destroying data without the written authority of AFMA. The ability to collect comprehensive real-time information as it relates to individual fisheries will prove invaluable in the better management of Australian fisheries.

As alluded to by the member for Lyons, with this Labor government's plan to allow the FV Margiris, the world's second-largest supertrawler, into Australia to fish, these issues will be critical. Seafish Tasmania is bringing in this 142-metre trawler to Devonport and plans to have it fishing by the end of the month. Seafish has an 18,000-tonne redbait and jack mackerel quota which will be harvested in Commonwealth waters from Western Australia to the New South Wales coast. I am particularly concerned about the volume of bycatch that will be taken by this vessel. With monitoring systems, sounding systems and an understanding of fish migratory patterns, fishing can be much better targeted, but there is always the incidental bycatch, and that is what concerns me. As alluded to by the member for Lyons, there are concerns when you disrupt the food chain of fish up-line and down-line of that particular species. We remember very well the pilchard kill that occurred due to a virus, and there were impacts up the food chain from that. I do not think we need to create that purposely with our fishing, so e-monitoring, controlling and managing our fishery are critically important.

On that, I personally, along with the recreational fishing community—with whom I have regular discussions because they fit in as part of my tourism portfolio—and my constituency in the Hunter Valley remain to be convinced that the science is up to date and accurate. I refer to the impact of the orange roughy fishery, where the initial science was fundamentally flawed. The fishery was overfished, which had devastating impacts. Fish are not like sheep or cattle, which are on the land and you can herd them up and do a direct headcount to know exactly what is there. There are a lot of assumptions in fisheries management, and, no matter how detailed the assumptions are about fish stock, at the end of the day they are still assumptions.

With regard to compliance and enforcement, the bill before us today will allow for expedience in dealing with compliance breaches and allow AFMA to use e-monitoring certificates as prima facie evidence in court proceedings. There have been great technological advances in GPS, surveillance and reporting technologies in terms of their reliability and their accuracy, but it would be remiss of me not to draw attention to the importance of the ongoing validation of these technologies, not only in assuring reliable and accurate data collection but also in preventing misuse and/or criminal activity.

The bill seeks to amend the Fisheries Management Act so that corporations or other persons can be held responsible for the unlawful conduct of masters of the vessels and the crew unless company directors demonstrate that they have exercised precautions and due diligence to prevent breaches. Like any industry, there is a component of criminality that exists. This criminality can jeopardise not only the fishery, through unreported takes, but also the long-term economic sustainability of stakeholders. This amendment will hopefully act as a deterrent for unscrupulous operators, owners who might have otherwise conducted illegal fishing practices but avoided prosecution. I, along with all of my community, fully support any measures that can bring those engaging in illegal fishing activities to account. That includes directors, corporations and masters. If AFMA is to use evidentiary certificates generated by e-monitoring, the legal implications must be considered. Systemic inaccuracy and system anomalies could invalidate the monitoring system—therefore posing a legal recourse for breaches in compliance and potentially negate pending and past convictions or actions—and corrupt scientific data. The e-monitoring system has been trialled in the gillnet, hook and trap sector and has been used as evidence. However, at this point the prosecutions have not been completed and therefore we are unsure how the system data will stand up to legal scrutiny.

The bill will make provisions for AFMA to close or partly close a fishery in the instance that an emergency is classified. The bill will allow for this closure to be enacted without the consultation of industry stakeholders. As I said, a good example of that was where masses of pilchards were killed, affecting the food chain overnight. I raise my concern that the removal of industry consultation must only be considered in the extreme. The ongoing consultation of industry stakeholders is an essential part of developing a strategic plan that the industry will embrace and work with. This mechanism is designed to ensure the economic and ecological viability of the said fishery where an ecological, biological or man-made threat jeopardises the fishery. This could manifest itself as an oil spill, or an unexpected biomass crash, as I said earlier in relation to the pilchards.

I support this measure in the context that this power enacted by the bill will be used by AFMA and the minister in the spirit that it was designed for. Careful consideration must be given to the impact of a closure or part thereof on relevant stakeholders. Closures must be based on validated and unbiased scientific data, and the power to close a fishery without consultation must be based on an imminent threat to or catastrophe suffered by the fishery. This provision cannot be used as a divisive political tool, as occurred with the closure of our live beef exports.

Statutory and discretionary powers to close or limit commercial activity in any sector should be administered with extreme caution and only be entered into with a fully informed understanding of the implications that such closures can have. Unfortunately this has not been the case, as was clearly demonstrated when Minister Ludwig made the decision to shut down overnight the live cattle export industry to Indonesia. I do not need to remind anyone that that is the same minister who has responsibility for the fisheries portfolio. The impacts on cattle growers and associated industries and communities have proven catastrophic. The industry had taken years to develop, employed thousands of people in rural and remote areas and was a key economic driver for regional Australia. The long-term impacts to rural Australia and the ongoing viability of the industries involved are still being felt and are yet to be fully realised.

The knee-jerk closure of the cattle export industry has demonstrated the initiation of similar powers to these fishery measures based on political agendas and not on impartial consideration of the facts or the economic and social ramifications. The Australian fishing industry has copped it hard through disjointed and inconsistent policy and management at both state and federal levels. The economic potential and development of the industry are yet to be realised. Many world fisheries are suffering or are unviable due to historically poor management practices, lack of enforceability and in some cases the total absence of management altogether.

The interpretation of emergency and protocols warranting emergency closures needs to be clarified. The implementation of emergency closure directions should not be used as a policy mechanism without up-to-date and accurate scientific evidence. Even though emergency closures would be subject to parliamentary scrutiny, the implementation of these discretionary powers could have adverse economic implications for affected stakeholders. I would like to be assured that AFMA as the independent regulatory body will develop strategies based on factual information and will not be manipulated by political agendas that are not in the best interests of fisheries. The Australian fishing industry is facing many challenges, and these and other issues need to be considered. (Time expired)