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Thursday, 21 June 2007
Page: 145

Senator ABETZ (Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation) (5:20 PM) —I thank those senators who have incorporated their speeches, because those who are listening might be interested to know that we have a very heavy schedule of legislation to get through still today. Therefore, those senators’ cooperation in that regard is particularly appreciated, especially wearing my hat as Manager of Government Business in the Senate. So thank you for that.

The fishing industry is one of Australia’s most valuable rural industries, with a value of over $2 billion per annum, of which approximately $1.5 billion is exported. The Australian government is committed to ensuring the sustainable management of these resources into the future and these bills form an important step in furthering this goal. The passage of the bills will ensure that the Australian government is equipped with modern fisheries management tools and more robust enforcement, compliance and administrative systems to secure sustainable fisheries for future generations.

The main reforms being implemented introduce modern fisheries management measures in the Torres Strait fisheries. This will better position Australia to meet its rights and obligations under the Torres Strait treaty with Papua New Guinea. The bills are the product of extensive consultation with industry and Torres Strait communities. As Parliamentary Secretary Ley informed the House of Representatives when she introduced the bills, commercial fishing is a key economic activity for Torres Strait communities. This legislation will facilitate the resolution of longstanding concerns held by Torres Strait Islanders about resource allocation in the Torres Strait Protected Zone fisheries. It will enable the PZJA to establish management plans under which all parties have a clear understanding of their access rights.

Provisions of this legislation affecting the Torres Strait Protected Zone fisheries were drafted after an extensive process of consultation with all of those with an interest in the Torres Strait Protected Zone fisheries. This included the provision of comprehensive information to Torres Strait islanders, especially those who hold a licence to fish for commercial purposes and their representatives on the Community Fishers Group, Torres Strait native title prescribed bodies corporate, including relevant entities in the northern Cape York area, and non-Indigenous commercial fishers and their representatives.

These bills were developed after considerable consultation and input from the Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries and I want to thank my Queensland counterpart, Mr Mulherin. The Queensland department administers various aspects of the Torres Strait Fisheries Act on behalf of the Torres Strait Protected Zone Joint Authority. The Queensland minister is a member of the PZJA and, as chairman of the PZJA, I value the relationship with Queensland and the Torres Strait Regional Authority. I am grateful for the cooperative relationship that exists between Queensland and the Australian government on matters that affect the Torres Strait Protected Zone fisheries and for the considerable input Queensland has made in ensuring these bills will meet management requirements into the future.

My counterpart, Senator O’Brien, has raised a whole host of questions and issues that I will not seek to engage in completely. Suffice it to say, I invite Senator O’Brien to look at the latest Bureau of Rural Sciences report when it comes out in about a month’s time. All I will say on the issue of overfishing is: watch this space. We have been dealing with it very carefully. In relation to the rolling over of the funds of the Securing our Fishing Future package, that was an unprecedented $220 million package sought by industry, developed with industry, rolled out for industry and fully supported by industry. The rollover of funds was at the request of industry. Senator O’Brien seeks to criticise us for doing that. That is a criticism that I am more than willing to wear and I am more than willing to circulate that criticism of the government to the industry sector because they will be very pleased to know that we have in fact acted on their requests.

On the issue of overfishing, I will mention only one example because I know the time constraints that are on us. If this government is to be criticised for overfishing, Senator O’Brien might like to explain why, in one single year under the previous Labor government, 62,658 tonnes of orange roughy were removed from the oceans, which is more than the totality of orange roughy fished in the 10 to 11 years of the Howard government. That was at a time when the minister had direct control and we did not have an Australian Fisheries Management Authority. I think it is very unwise of Senator O’Brien to seek to make cheap political point when the facts are so stacked against the way the previous Labor government administered fisheries. We now have a ministerial direction as a result of the good work of my colleague and predecessor, who has incorporated a speech, Senator Ian Macdonald. He did a fantastic job—

Senator O’Brien —Then why did he get sacked?

Senator ABETZ —in getting the $220 million together for industry as well. I want to take this opportunity to salute Senator Macdonald’s contribution and to completely reject the sort of comments that are made by Senator O’Brien. I commend the bills to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bills read a second time.