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Thursday, 21 June 2007
Page: 142


Senator IAN MACDONALD (5:20 PM) —The incorporated speech read as follows—

I wanted to say a few words about this Bill and the Associated Bill and to commend its passage to the Senate.

I thank the other parties in the Senate for allowing me to incorporate this speech because of my absence from Parliament on the day that it is being debated.

The Bill covers a number of areas of Fisheries Management which I am very pleased to see eventually get to Parliament to become law. All of these particular initiatives are needed to allow Australia to continue to demonstrate world leadership in Fisheries Management and enforcement.

All of the various elements of the Bill have been under consideration for a number of years and I am pleased to have played a part in initiating these amendments during my time as the Minister for Fisheries.

Whilst the broad thrust has been determined for some time, I congratulate the Minister, Senator Abetz, on putting the finishing touches to the Legislation and in guiding the Bill through the Government’s Legislative processes and in successfully completing the wide consultation that is needed to fine tune Legislation that is brought before the House.

This Amendment Bill firstly deals with some governance arrangements necessary in view of the Government’s decision to establish the Australian Fisheries Management Authority as a Commission on 1st July 2008. The Bill allows Director’s terms to be extended to allow Directors of AFMA to be appointed for up to 9 months at a time without going through the selection process with a view to ensuring a smooth changeover from an Authority to the Commission.

In passing I might mention that prior to my leaving the role as Minister, I had not been convinced that changing the Authority to a Commission served any particular purpose or was useful in Fisheries Management but obviously in the past 18 months it has become clear that the new arrangement would best serve the management of Australia’s fisheries. Without changing my personal opinion, I accept the Government’s view that this is necessary and accordingly support the variation.

This Bill contains as well amendments to the Fisheries Management Act making it easier to prosecute foreign fishing boats operating illegally within Australia’s 12 nautical mile territorial sea.

The Explanatory Memorandum and the Second Reading Speech give the reasons for this.

Suffice it for me to say that I strongly support the strict liability element of the Bill which will enable the Authorities to better prosecute those who commit offences against Australian Laws.

The new provisions relating to forfeiture are I think appropriate and have been brought about by a number of difficulties experienced by the prosecuting authorities in recent years.

The Legislation as amended is very tough and Australia should make no apologies for having some of the toughest Fishing Legislation in the world. We are serious about maintaining our fish stocks in a sustainable way and offenders should have all the legal technicalities and niceties that they sometimes use to avoid conviction taken away from them.

The successful conclusion of the prosecutions against the Taruman should not obviate the necessity to make rules on forfeiture stricter. The difficulties the Government went through in relation to prosecutions of both the Volga and the Viassa also require that amendments are passed to tilt the balance in favour of maintaining our laws.

Over the four years of my term as Fisheries Minister, I had a very close association with the Torres Strait people and the fishing industry in the Torres Strait.

The amendments in this Bill are the result of painstaking negotiations over many years with the Torres Strait people and the Torres Strait Regional Authority facilitated by the Protected Zone Joint Authority of which the Commonwealth Minister, the Queensland Minister and the Chair of the Torres Strait Regional Authority are the members.

The amendments will lead to better administration of fisheries in the Torres Strait but more importantly will place the Torres Strait people in a position where they can become productively and profitably involved in the fisheries industries in the Strait.

Commercial fishing is the primary source of non-Government economic activity in the Torres Strait and it is essential that the Australian Government works with the Torres Strait Islanders to properly manage these fisheries in a sustainable way into the future.

Finally the Bill in Schedule 4 deals with Amendments to the Surveillance Devices Act in a way that ensures that new offences can be effectively investigated and prosecuted using surveillance devices thereby overcoming current impediments to prosecuting the new offences.

Overall the amendments to the Fisheries Management Act do increase the ability of Australian Authorities to better manage and enforce our Fisheries Management regimes particularly in respect to foreign boats operating in Australian waters.

These amendments place additional onus on Masters and owners of foreign boats to demonstrate that they are operating lawfully and also increase the

ability of the Commonwealth to confiscate offenders vessels and contents of those vessels.

In relation to the Torres Strait, these reforms will, I believe, lead to a better management of the fisheries and brings to fruition difficult, but in the end I believe wise, negotiations that will achieve better outcomes for the fisheries and people of the Torres Strait.