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Wednesday, 4 June 2008
Page: 4605

Mr BURKE (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (5:22 PM) —In response to the two amendments, I will first deal with the issue of the separation of the CEO and the chair, which has just been raised by the Leader of the Nationals. The standard model for commissions is that the same person be appointed as both chair and CEO. However, this legislation provides flexibility to best suit the requirements of AFMA. I do not recall whether the comments by the member for Lyons were made in the precise fashion to which the Leader of the Nationals has referred, but I can assure him that my intention as minister, and the intention of the provision in the legislation, is to have flexibility as to whether the positions are separated or combined based on making sure we get the best people in the jobs. The minister will be able to appoint the same person as both chair of the commission and CEO but will also be able to make separate appointments. Either option is possible under the flexibility in this bill.

AFMA is a small agency with a high profile and broad responsibilities. It may sometimes prove difficult to attract the best individual qualified to oversee the full range of AFMA’s fisheries management, regulatory, domestic and foreign compliance functions. For this reason I consider that there should be flexibility in combining the chair and CEO roles in order to attract the best people to those positions. As a matter of policy, if appropriate candidates can be found I would prefer to have the positions filled by two separate people. But I want to have the flexibility to make sure that merit is the prime concern. For that reason the government will be opposing the amendment and supporting the bill in its original form. We are also opposing the amendment with respect to the involvement of industry in the appointments process, not because it sets too high a bar but because I am concerned that, when you set a low bar, that is often all that ends up happening in the long term.

The bill establishes an expertise based commission that minimises the scope for conflict of interest in the management of this public resource. In line with broader government policy, the minister will have the authority to appoint the commissioners and the CEO for up to five years. To allow the government to implement a transparent, merit based appointments process and because of the proposed commencement date of 1 July, there is a need to appoint inaugural commissioners for a transitional period of up to six months. During this time a selection process will be conducted in accordance with whole-of-government policies for the selection of senior public servants and statutory office holders. This process ensures the candidates are assessed objectively and selected based on their merit, knowledge and skill. This is consistent with the aim of the reforms to AFMA—that is, to improve its governance and to minimise circumstances in which perceived or real conflicts of interest could arise. The peak industry and other stakeholders do not have a statutory role in the selection of AFMA commissioners. Both sides of the House, though—and I am sure I am not misrepresenting the other side of the House—do have a desire to ensure that the government consults with industry on the appointment of commissioners.

It is important that industry has confidence in the appointments process. To the extent that this amendment aims to achieve that end point, I do not for a minute doubt the good intention of the amendment. I can inform the Leader of the Nationals that I have already written to stakeholders seeking their views on the appointment of the inaugural commissioners of AFMA and will continue to consult with key stakeholder groups on future AFMA appointments. As a simple example, if we had the clause in the amendment referring purely to industry stakeholders then as a matter of course, as time went on, there would be no consultation with anyone from the recreational fishing sector. Notwithstanding that, given the goodwill that I believe is on both sides of the House and the long-term intention of consultation, both industry groups and the recreational fishing sector have been consulted on those appointments. Given that the opposition and government share a policy commitment to consult, I do not see the insertion of these words into the legislation as necessary or good practice.