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Monday, 14 October 1991
Page: 1835


Mr LLOYD(4.55 p.m.) —-I wish to make some general comments covering the Fisheries Administration Bill, the Fisheries Management Bill and the Fisheries Legislation (Consequential Provisions) Bill. The Opposition will be supporting all the amendments.

I hope that this is the end of the passage of these amendments. This has been a messy and most unsatisfactory way of introducing and considering significant legislation. In saying that, I am not being critical of the present Minister for Primary Industries and Energy (Mr Crean), because he inherited this situation at a very difficult time; in fact, I commend him for the way he accepted and responded positively to the reality that the legislation was not satisfactory.

I would like to run briefly through the situation. Firstly, the document, White Paper--whatever one would like to call it--entitled New Directions in Commonwealth Fisheries Management was released in 1989. I think it was sensible to have that broad presentation of government thinking. The Fisheries Administration Bill was presented in December 1990, with a promise of the remaining six pieces of legislation early in 1991. We were advised that the new arrangements would start on 1 July, even though no legislation had been passed by the Parliament and it was ahead of the remaining pieces of legislation that were necessary for the total package. There was also the appointment of some key people ahead of any parliamentary approval or authority for those appointments--in particular, the Chairman, Mr Jim McColl. I wish him well. I think that he is a good appointment. I have known him for quite a few years. I just wanted to refer to the way the appointment was made.

At the same time there was obviously a breakdown within the AFS with regard to administration to a certain degree. The legislation was presented in early June. Once again, the new arrangements were to start on 1 July. The legislation was guillotined through this place in 45 minutes. That certainly is not the way significant legislation should be considered. I am advised that there were far too many unanswered questions relative to the power of the Minister, the Department, AFMA, and so forth--questions such as: if there are about 800 Commonwealth fisheries levy payers, why do we need to have a ratio of over 100 : 110 people in the Australian Fisheries Service to cover that number of people and, with it, the cost to the fishermen who were being required to pay 90 per cent of some unknown and unaccountable costs?

In the meantime, the Government had established, on a different timetable, an Industry Commission inquiry to look into certain aspects. That seemed to me to be a silly thing to do, because if there were to be inquiries they should at least be held together. As the Minister said, running on a separate agenda, of course, was the ESD process, of which fisheries was part. The logical and sensible thing was done in the Senate; that is, the matter was referred to a Senate committee--not as a spoiling tactic, because I think it was important for everybody to sort this thing out better. At the time the matter was referred to the Senate committee we were not thanked by industry leaders for doing it, they wanted the legislation through as quickly as possible. I believe that there is a lesson to be learned by the leaders of a number of other rural industries. I say to whoever is in government, `Don't support government legislation automatically until you see the small print'.

Now, 80 amendments later, we have a rewritten Bill. The draft report of the Industry Commission is out. There is the commitment by the Minister and the Government that in 12 months there will be a review by the Senate committee. There is clarification of the industry, its payment situation and total cost, and the Minister himself in his comments has made a commitment with regard to cost over the current year, et cetera. I have just received a letter from the Minister, for which I thank him. It says:

I am writing to you to confirm the funding arrangements for the Policy Group which will remain in the Department of Primary Industries and Energy when the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) is established, following passage of the Fishing Legislation Package.

He then goes on to some of the procedural arrangements. He says:

At present the funding of similar activities in the Australian Fisheries Service (AFS) comes entirely from Consolidated Revenue. In addition to these activities the Group remaining in the Department will undertake a range of new tasks associated with the Fisheries Management legislation and the operation of AFMA under the Fisheries Administration legislation.

I am writing to confirm the information provided by the officers at the meeting that funding for this Group will be met entirely from Consolidated Revenue.

That clarifies another point. There has also been some further clarification regarding the situations under which a resource rent tax applies. For those reasons, we will certainly be supporting the legislation. I hope that everybody will see that it is better legislation. Now with the new arrangements there is an urgent need for better organisation, both within the Department and outside, so that fishermen will get value for money with accountability, so that the industry is able to address this very serious situation of resource security and maintain the stocks for fisheries and so that, within the limits the Minister has stated with regard to Government policy, et cetera, as much real administrative power as possible goes to the MACs so they can be given a real chance to understand or to make the difficult decisions themselves which are for their benefit.

It is important to note that in the legislation there is the banning of driftnet fishing in Australian waters and there is the establishment of a research and development corporation for the industry. On all those points there will be no further contribution to any of the amendments. As far as the Opposition is concerned it has all been sorted out. We fully support all the amendments and the three Bills.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Resolution reported; report adopted.