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Wednesday, 10 March 2010
Page: 1532

Senator STEPHENS (Parliamentary Secretary for Social Inclusion and Parliamentary Secretary for the Voluntary Sector) (6:51 PM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—


The Fisheries Legislation Amendment Bill makes amendments to fisheries legislation in three distinct areas.

It will facilitate significant reform by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) of its administration of fishing in Commonwealth waters though the introduction of an innovative electronic decision-making system, known as ‘eLicensing’. It will also clarify the types of defensive equipment fisheries officers can carry when investigating suspected illegal fishing activities. Finally, it will clarify provisions regarding fish receiver licences in the Torres Strait.

The first measure, which facilitates electronic decision-making, amends the Fisheries Management Act 1991 to provide an express power for AFMA to arrange for certain licensing decisions to be made electronically. This measure will significantly assist AFMA to achieve its legislative objective of implementing efficient and cost effective fisheries management on behalf of the Commonwealth.

AFMA has invested significant resources into the development of eLicensing. It is the central component of a package of electronic services being introduced by AFMA that are aimed at improving the cost effective management of Commonwealth fisheries, and improving the capacity of industry to manage their day-to-day business processes via the internet. The mechanism is a self-service portal developed by AFMA, known as ‘GOFish’.

GOFish allows fishing concession holders to log in via the internet and complete a range of licensing transactions, such as transferring fishing concessions, nominating a vessel to their fishing concession, updating their client information, viewing their quota holdings, and applying for the re-grant of a permit on the expiry of the previous permit.

The eLicensing system enables a range of high volume, routine licensing decisions under the Act to be made electronically. The system is expected to provide a much higher standard of service, especially as the fishing industry will be able to make ‘real-time’ transactions for routine administrative functions. AFMA anticipates that 80 per cent of transactions will be conducted through eLicensing by 2011.

The Bill authorises AFMA to approve the use of a computer program, under AFMA’s control, to make decisions under specified provisions of the Fisheries Management Act 1991. The specified decisions to be made will be high volume, routine decisions that do not require the exercise of judgement by an AFMA officer.

For example, where a fishing concession holder applies for a permit upon the expiry of the previous permit, the only relevant considerations—which are built into the rules applied by the computer program—might be that all outstanding levies have been paid and the concession holder is not the subject of any compliance action.

Complex decisions, that is, decisions that require the exercise of discretion, will be identified by the system and referred for manual processing by an AFMA officer.

As with any decision made electronically, it is possible that on occasion the computer program may make an incorrect decision. For example, this may occur because of a data entry error, or a virus that affects the program. The Bill provides AFMA with express authority in these circumstances, to revoke and replace the decision with a correct decision that would have been made had it been processed manually by an AFMA officer.

It should also be noted that participation in eLicensing will be optional, although user testing of GOFish with industry indicates that most industry members will elect to use the service. This testing has also shown eLicensing to be fast, reliable and user friendly and there is an expectation that it will result in lower costs for the fishing industry.

In this respect, I note that eLicensing was developed in consultation with the fishing industry via the AFMA Cost Reduction Working Group, and is expected to result in cost savings for both AFMA and industry. A reduction in AFMA’s administrative costs will directly result in a reduction in the costs passed onto industry through fees and annual levies.

Associated with eLicensing, the Bill makes it easier for concession holders to transfer their fishing concessions. AFMA still maintains its licensing role, but rather than AFMA approving transfers of fishing concessions, AFMA will simply register transfers of fishing concessions. AFMA’s discretion to refuse to register a transfer of a fishing concession will however apply to certain prescribed circumstances which will be limited and guided by policy considerations.

The removal of these trading impediments will allow the market to operate with greater efficiency, which will in turn enable AFMA to better achieve legislative objectives. This includes the objective of maximising the net economic returns to the Australian community from the management of Commonwealth fisheries.

The second measure which the Bill facilitates is the issuing of defensive equipment to AFMA fisheries officers.

Under the Fisheries Management Act 1991, AFMA is responsible for the investigation of illegal fishing activities by both domestic and foreign fishers in the Australian Fishing Zone and Commonwealth managed fisheries.

Under revised arrangements with the states which came into force on 1 July 2009, AFMA compliance officers have taken on the more frontline role of conducting patrols and inspecting vessels. This role was previously undertaken by state and territory fisheries officers.

Work undertaken by AFMA compliance officers is potentially dangerous. There are a number of documented assaults against fisheries officers engaged in such work, and it is essential that these officers are adequately equipped and trained to ensure their own safety in appropriate circumstances.

While the ability of AFMA to issue officers with the necessary defensive equipment is implicit in the existing legislation, the Bill will amend the Fisheries Management Act 1991 to provide express authority for Commonwealth officers to be issued with, and carry prescribed defensive equipment in the course of their duties.

The equipment prescribed by the Bill includes: bullet-proof vests, extendable batons, handcuffs, and any other equipment prescribed by regulations made under the Fisheries Management Act 1991.

Appropriately, the Bill requires that officers are only authorised to carry and use defensive equipment if they have undertaken training in how to effectively, lawfully and safely carry, use and store the equipment.

The third measure of the Bill will amend the Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984 (the Act).

Currently, an unintended regulatory burden is placed on individuals to comply with the Act in order to avoid committing an offence. Previous amendments to the Act, implemented under the Fisheries Legislation Amendment Act 2007, meant that in practice, all persons along the entire supply chain were required to hold a fish receiver licence. This arguably includes those who have mere possession and control of fish but who do not intend to sell the fish.

The Bill will amend the legislation to clarify those persons required to hold a fish receiver licence. This will support the implementation and integrity of an effective quota monitoring system in Torres Strait fisheries. Through these requirements, AFMA can quantify the commercial take of fish for stock assessment purposes and determine sustainable harvest levels.

Systems to regulate and monitor the amount of fish being caught for commercial purposes are paramount for effective fisheries management. The fish receiver licence is one of the measures that the Protected Zone Joint Authority will utilise as part of a quota monitoring system along with other reporting tools such as log books, docket books and catch disposal records.

The Bill will therefore ensure that a fish receiver licence will be required by the appropriate persons within the Protected Zone who receive fish that they are intending to sell, but who do not have some other type of licence that requires them to report the fish that they handle. Or, if the fish is disposed of immediately outside the Protected Zone by a commercially licensed fisher or transporter, the first person in that chain who is intending to sell the fish, must hold a fish receiver licence.

A person intending to use the fish for personal consumption will not be required to hold a fish receiver licence.

In conclusion, the Bill supports AFMA’s obligations to reduce industry costs while continuing to offer a high standard of service and ensures that AFMA’s officers possess the requisite defensive equipment in order to conduct their duties in a safe and effective manner.

Finally the Bill requires that fish caught commercially in the Torres Strait are disposed for their sale or commercial processing only to the holder of a fish receiver licence.

Debate (on motion by Senator Stephens) adjourned.