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Thursday, 19 June 2008
Page: 2889

Senator IAN MACDONALD (3:54 PM) —I was just concluding, on behalf of the opposition, some remarks in relation to the Fisheries Legislation Amendment (New Governance Arrangements for the Australian Fisheries Management Authority and Other Matters) Bill 2008, which, as I have indicated, the coalition will be supporting, principally on the basis that it is legislation originated by the previous government as far back as the time that I was the relevant minister, which was many years ago. I made some reference to some of the board members of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority. In that vein, I also want to congratulate Mr Tony Rundle for his very distinguished service as chairman of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority. Mr Rundle, as many senators will recall, is a former Premier of Tasmania. In his role in AFMA he has shown real leadership and a very quick understanding of the issues involved. He has contributed very substantially to the progress being undertaken in the fishing industry at the moment.

The fishing industry is being squeezed by rising petrol prices, which the Labor Party promised prior to the election they would reduce. They have not done so, as we all know. Among the many industries hit, the fishing industry is one of the hardest hit by the continuing escalation of fuel prices. Fishing is an industry of small business people—very often mum-and-dad operations—and they are really being slammed by this government’s inability to address the issue of the high price of fuel. They are also being squeezed at the other end by competition from imports of Asian farmed fish products, which make it very difficult for them. The previous government had a program worth almost $300 million to try to get some of the fishermen out of the industry with dignity by buying out licences. The intention is that those who are left in the industry will be financially sustainable, and, with fewer people in the industry, there will be less pressure on fish stocks. That is all proceeding as I speak. I look forward to the day when we have in Australia a profitable and ecologically sustainable fishing industry.

Notwithstanding that, the SeaNet program, which was a very good interface between the environment, the ecology and the fishing industry, is threatened with cessation of funding by the Labor government. This is indeed a scandal of the first degree which should be redressed. I am not sure if the new government, just through inexperience, has not realised the importance of that organisation, but I would certainly urge the minister to have a look at that and ensure that it is funded through the environment department.

I will conclude my comments on the bill by referring to the enforcement of compliance measures adopted by international fisheries management organisations and to arrangements to implement obligations under the UN Fish Stocks Agreement. Australia participates in a number of these international fisheries management organisations, which were established to manage and conserve fish stocks and marine living resources on the high seas. Australia has agreed to implement and enforce conservation and management measures in accordance with the decisions made by these organisations. Two I will mention are the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, CCAMLR, which is headquartered in Hobart and which is one of the better regional fisheries management organisations, and also the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, which, as the name says, looks after tuna stocks in the western and central Pacific. Australia was very much at the forefront in a leadership role in setting up that commission, whose headquarters are in Pohnpei in Micronesia and whose inaugural and current chairman is an Australian, Mr Glenn Hurry. Since those days, Mr Hurry has been appointed as the CEO of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority. As well as doing a fabulous job previously as a senior departmental fisheries officer, Mr Hurry now continues his great contribution to the fishing industry in his work as CEO of AFMA. The contribution he made to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission is well evidenced by the fact that he was a popular and continuing choice for the position of inaugural president of that commission.

Australia has taken the lead in a number of quite notable incidents, such as those involving the South Tomi, the Viarsa, the Volga, and in the arrest of many other fishing vessels. Senators might recall the chase of the Viarsa across the Southern Ocean, with waves of 30 or 40 feet—five or six metres—and ice floes. They chased that vessel right across, almost to its home port of Montevideo, where it was arrested with the help of the British and South African authorities. Many quite high-profile events have demonstrated to the world that Australia is genuine about enforcing international law in its own waters and, where possible, on the high seas.

This bill takes further the powers given to the Australian authorities to attempt to enforce international marine conservation laws on the high seas. In the case of both CCAMLR and the WCPFC, the measure includes the boarding and inspection of vessels to verify compliance with agreed fisheries management measures. I hasten to add that this relates to fishing areas. It is a pity that the current government were not able to advance their rhetoric in relation to whaling in a manner similar to what we have been able to do in the fisheries area. We are able to take enforcement action against foreign fishing vessels contravening international fisheries management measures where such action is authorised by the country to which the vessel is flagged. Those authorisations can be given on an ad hoc basis or on the basis of a standing agreement. That, of course, happened in the case of the Taruman, which was a Cambodian flagged vessel, would you believe, which was photographed fishing in waters off Macquarie Island by a New Zealand air force plane. Several months later, that vessel was again discovered transiting Australian waters. As a result of the offence that had occurred three months prior around Heard and McDonald Islands, the Australian authorities were able to arrest the vessel and take it to Hobart. They succeeded in the quite complicated legal cases that ensued, but it did show that our laws at the time were sufficient to do that rather unusual and novel application of international law.

This bill will extend yet again the powers of the Australian authorities to maintain marine resources and enforce conservation measures on the high seas. As the new government has found out—somewhat belatedly, in relation to whaling—there is always a challenge as to how far you can go and how much Australian law can be made to apply on the high seas. We have been able to do that in this case through the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement and other international measures. It is not easy. It takes a lot of work on the part of the department, and I congratulate the department on the work that they have done to date in extending the boundaries and pushing the envelope, so to speak. It extends the legal basis for the action that we are able to take to conserve the marine resources using conservation regulations on the high seas. With that, I again indicate that the coalition supports this legislation.