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Tuesday, 15 October 2002
Page: 5178

Senator SCULLION (5:57 PM) —I rise this afternoon to speak on the Torres Strait Fisheries Amendment Bill 2002. During my time in the seafood industry, I can recall holding one principle beyond all others. As a fisherman, I often talked to fisheries managers who were convinced that the business of managing fisheries was all about managing fish. It took me quite a few years to really understand how far wrong we had gone with that whole process. Managing fisheries is actually all about managing people. To manage people, you have to have the same process you have with any management issue with people: you have to ensure that all of the people involved in the process have a lot of ownership of and an understanding about the process itself.

It is very interesting that this amendment would usually be perceived as a fairly simple administrative change to the Torres Strait Fisheries Act, with the simple addition of another person to the Torres Strait Protected Zone Joint Authority. But, as Senator Ridgeway has pointed out, when associated with people these issues are not as simple as they may first appear. The Chairperson of the Torres Strait Regional Authority already actually sits on the authority but is not a full member. We have had years and years of Indigenous people telling us—certainly they have spoken to me over the years—of their frustration in not being further involved in mainstream fisheries management. Under this new amendment, the authority will enable the third member to join both the federal and state fisheries ministers in a more formalised arrangement.

Before coming to this place, I was very proud to have been involved with the establishment of similar management structures across the Northern Territory for a range of areas and language groups, like the Warnindilyakwa, the Numberini, the Tiwi Islands, Port Keats, the Beagle Gulf and the Manbuynga ga Rulyapa. They all refer to fisheries management groups and areas which were empowered to manage the fisheries and the resources within the areas relating to the language group for which they spoke.

The greatest difficulties that we had every single time that we started off these consultative committees and these management committees were, as Senator Ridgeway said, associated with issues of representation. One of the greatest pieces of evolution within these committees is that when we started off there were some difficulties, and so we started where we could and we evolved the process of ensuring that the Indigenous communities were empowered to resolve some of those issues about representation themselves. I certainly hope that this step is the very first of a series of steps to ensure better understanding and the empowerment of all the people from the Torres Strait in this process.

The whole issue of fisheries management is about looking after the resource. I think it is very important that we move with some timeliness towards a resolution of these matters. Some previous speakers spoke about some of the issues associated with the complex allocation processes that are about to take place. They are not only allocation processes; they are resource management processes that not only involve allocations between certain sectors and reductions between certain sectors but ensure that certain sectors are brought up to capacity. It is a very complex issue involving a lot of people and a whole range of different rights and interests.

I think it is very important, though, that the bottom line is that there is no real point in going out and managing something unless you have the goal of managing it so that our children will have a better opportunity to access that resource than we did. If we allow too much time to pass, at the end of the day the fisheries industry will suffer. We know that from history, so there is a reasonable imperative to continue to take reasonable steps in this direction. It is very important to recognise that this appointment is not so much a token advisory appointment but a position that will eventually represent all the traditional interests within the Torres Strait. The issues associated with the Queensland fisheries minister have traditionally reflected the interests of the commercial fishers, the recreational fishers in Queensland and the management processes that go with them. The Commonwealth minister clearly has been there to represent Australia's interest, the treaty obligations and those interests and issues associated with the Commonwealth fisheries.

I believe the very complex issues that the Torres Strait Protected Zone Joint Authority are about to take on will be very much assisted by the appointment of Terry Waia. I understand that the PNG interests and the licence held by the traditional owners are going to have a fishing effort assigned to them, and I think that process will be very much assisted by someone who has such a history in fishing at a local level. The fact that the Torres Strait Protected Zone Joint Authority will also have to oversee a restructure that accommodates all of these interests, as well as ensuring that the existing operators can continue to fish in an economic and sustainable manner, is one of the first challenges that will be laid down.

Let us look at the current Chairman of the TSRA, Terry Waia. I can think of few other people who could step into that environment and work towards bringing these interests together. He is an individual who, as chair of the Saibai Island Council, has looked across at the western provinces of New Guinea; he has dealt with many of the quarantine and immigration issues and has associated himself with many of the resolutions in those matters. In his address to Corroboree 2000, which was convened by the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, Mr Waia said:

As a person who has lived my whole life within two kilometres of the western province of New Guinea, I have always known reconciliation and compromise—two people, Torres Strait Islanders and Papuans, living as neighbours.

The principal words are, `I have always known reconciliation and compromise.' If you had to think of values that you wished to instil in someone who was going to be involved in the very complex matter of fisheries management, they would be the sorts of values that you would ask for. I think that this particular individual will very much appreciate the position, the aspirations and the desires of the numbers of stakeholders and will be very much an addition to the whole process of rationalising and further managing the resources of the Torres Strait Islanders in the future.