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Thursday, 19 June 2008
Page: 2872

Senator IAN MACDONALD (1:52 PM) —I indicate at the start that the opposition supports this bill subject to a couple of matters that I will raise during the course of my speech. Things move slowly when complications and issues are involved. The genesis of this bill occurred when I was the Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation. Since then there have been two ministers for fisheries: Senator Abetz, who was a very good minister, and the current minister, Mr Burke, who is the sole minister in the portfolio of agriculture, fisheries and forestry. In previous governments there have been three ministers with responsibility for areas related to agriculture, fisheries and forestry, and to a degree that indicates the interest of this government in rural, regional and agricultural matters compared to that of the former government.

A number of the things provided for in this bill were in fact initiatives of the previous government, and some of them I was not in favour of. I do not mind saying that I never saw the need to change the Australian Fisheries Management Authority into a commission. I thought it was bureaucracy gone mad and process for the sake of process—but I lost that debate in opposition and, as it was put forward by the previous government and is now supported by the current opposition, I of course support the bill. But I make the point that I think that some parts of the changes were changes for the sake of process alone.

The bill makes the new CEO of AFMA, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, responsible for foreign compliance activity, subject to direction from the minister. Making the CEO report directly to the minister, rather than to the commission, acknowledges the need for direct ministerial oversight of activities that may have foreign policy implications and that are an integrated part of Australia’s border protection operations. In my time as fisheries minister it became abundantly clear that having a government authority involved in foreign fisheries compliance was just not the right way to go about it, because many of the decisions involved issues of government policy. So that amendment is clearly supported.

The bill changes the eligibility for a position on the new commission and it establishes criteria to exclude anyone who holds, or anyone who is an executive officer or a majority shareholder in a company which holds, a Commonwealth concession permit or licence. It was always apparent to me that there were people on the authority’s board who may have had a conflict of interest. One of these was the government adviser. In my case it was Mr Daryl Quinlivan, who is an excellent officer and was a very good board member. I often said to Mr Quinlivan, ‘It is very difficult for you to advise me as minister and at the same time have a position on the board of the authority and be subject to the requirements of board members.’ So the requirement removing the public service appointment to the new commission is one I support. The exclusion I mentioned before of a shareholder or someone who holds a concession permit is, on the face of it, appropriate; you cannot have conflicts of interest on the commission, as it will now be. However, this provision does exclude from the commission very qualified people who can make, and have made in the past, a very significant contribution to the work of fisheries management in Australia. I particularly want to single out Mr Brian Jeffriess, who has been a member of the board. He was also the CEO of the tuna boat owners’ organisation and he excused himself from any dealings relating to tuna during his time on the board. But he did, as a very experienced person in the fishing industry, bring a great expertise to that authority, which has been of very considerable benefit to the industry in Australia over many years.

I have mentioned the matter of converting from a government agency to a commission and I do not want to say anything more about that. I want to spend just a little time talking about the fisheries legislation as it strengthens the government’s ability to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and to fulfil Australia’s responsibilities under international law and agreements. This bill strengthens the hand of the Australian government, through its various agencies, to enforce not only its own fishing laws but also the fishing laws of regional fisheries management organisations throughout the world. That is something that is difficult constitutionally. As the Labor Party has worked out recently in relation to whales, it becomes very difficult. I am pleased to see this bill address those issues.

Debate interrupted.