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Monday, 6 December 1999
Page: 12813

Mr NEHL —My question is addressed to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Can the minister inform the House about federal government actions to stop illegal fishing in our waters? Have there been any successful arrests of foreign fishing vessels recently?

Mr TRUSS (Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) —I thank the member for Cowper for his question and his continuing interest in the fishing industry. This government has been increasing resources available to combat illegal fishing in Australian waters, and the parliament has recently passed new legislation to give us more powers to apprehend fishing vessels operating within and outside our coastal waters attempting to obtain access to Australian fishing stocks. Last week the Australian authorities were able to apprehend a Korean vessel inside the northern Australian fishing zone. It was a major operation following the sighting by Coastwatch of the vessel. HMAS Gladstone was dispatched to the scene. The vessel refused to stop, attempting to escape into Indonesian waters.

The naval vessel fired weapons of increasingly higher calibre and eventually was able to board the vessel and apprehend the crew. This was a dangerous night-time operation, and I would like to commend the naval vessel and all of those associated with the operation, including the Australian Fisheries Management Authority and Coastwatch, for the successful apprehension. The vessel is now in Darwin and the government expects that there will be a successful prosecution. The coalition is determined to send a clear message to those who would seek to take advantage of Australia's vast fishing zone that we are determined to police it and to police it effectively. We have the third largest fishing zone in the world and it is potentially—and already is—very productive.

The new legislation gives us more powers to apprehend and board ships operating outside our zone. We can use reasonable force now to intervene where there are suspected illegal activities occurring. All of this is very important to help us protect our highly valuable and diverse fish resources. This incident involving a Korean vessel is further evidence that the government's policies to get tough on illegal fishing are working and that the various Australian agencies are cooperating effectively together to put the government's policies into force.