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Tuesday, 9 October 1984
Page: 1459


Senator GARETH EVANS (Attorney-General)(3.35) —I move:

That the Bills be now read a second time.

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

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows-

FISHERIES LICENCES LEVY BILL 1984

The purpose of this Bill is to provide basic authority for imposing a levy on Australian boats to raise revenue to support fisheries management measures and costs of associated research for the effective management of fisheries. Foreign boats already pay levy under the Foreign Fishing Boats Levy Act 1981. Boats licensed by Papua New Guinea to fish in the Torres Strait protected zone are exempt from payment of Australian levies and statutory fees by virtue of article 26 (2) of the Torres Strait Treaty.

The Budget includes greatly increased allocations to support implementation of new and improved management arrangements for our major offshore fisheries. While the Government has been moving quickly to address the problems of excess capacity in many of our fisheries and low returns to fishermen, the situation has been reached where we must look to the fishing industry to contribute to the costs of management programs offering long term benefit to the industry.

It is proposed to impose levies on the grant of renewal of prescribed kinds of fisheries licences or on making prescribed kinds of endorsements or entries on licences, as the case may be. These prescribed authorisations will relate to particular managed fisheries in which measures are being implemented for the benefit of that sector of the industry and it is clear that industry should meet all or part of the cost of administering the management program.

Rates of levy will be set by regulation and may be different for different fisheries. Each levy rate and the method of calculating the amount payable in respect of the authorisation for a particular boat will take account of the operational characteristics of the fishery in which it is imposed and the nature of the management program which the levy will be used to fund.

The time at which levy becomes payable is when the licence is granted or renewed or an endorsement or entry is made in it. The holder of the licence is the person liable to pay the levy.

Mr President, this is a straightforward Bill that does no more than establish flexible machinery for subsequently imposing levies. It is not intended that the fishing industry levy should be a means of raising general revenue. Levy will be imposed only to fund specific management programs or associated research activities in particular fisheries, after consultation with the segment of the fishing industry and the State or States concerned.

I now turn to the financial impact of this legislation.

The Minister has discussed the proposal to impose levies with his State colleagues in the Australian Fisheries Council and their major concern has been the effect it will have on State revenue. The Minister has assured them that the levy will apply only to fisheries which the Commonwealth has the sole or a major responsibility for managing and will not apply to fisheries for which States are solely responsible.

The percentage of cost recovery in any managed fishery will be determined in the light of the costs and benefits that flow from that management. For example, in a situation such as the proposed buy-back of authorisations to use boats in the northern prawn fishery, it is already apparent that the principal long-term beneficiaries will be those licence-holders who remain after their colleagues have sold their entitlement to operate in the fishery. Those beneficiaries will over time meet the full cost of the buy-back program. To support the initial phases of the program, the Government has authorised the raising of a loan to be repaid from the levy collected in the northern prawn fishery.

It should be clearly understood that all levy moneys collected will be spent on the fishery management programs and associated research which each levy was imposed to fund. However, a portion of the levy will be applied to cover the overhead costs of the Department of Primary Industry in collecting and administering it.

The Taxation Office has advised that under existing tax laws, all levy money paid will be fully deductible from income as business expenses for taxation assessment purposes. I commend the Bill to honourable senators.

FISHING LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL (No. 2) 1984

The purpose of this Bill is to amend the Fisheries Act 1952 and the Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984 to facilitate collection of the levy to be imposed under the provisions of the Fisheries Licences Levy Bill 1984 now before the House.

Honourable senators will be familiar with the requirement that one Bill impose a levy and one or more Bills deal with its collection and disbursement. The two Acts which the present Bill amends provide for the implementation of the fisheries management plans that the fishing industry levy is intended to support . Incorporating the levy collection provisions in those Acts gives recognition to the concept of fisheries management and fishing industry levy as closely related elements of a single package. Proposals to strengthen the management powers in the fishery laws of the Commonwealth to facilitate the imposition of certain levies are being considered and the Minister expects to introduce appropriate amendments into Parliament early in 1985. I mention this because I consider it very important to be aware of the close relationship between the fishing industry levy and fisheries management.

To facilitate collection of the levy, the Bill provides for the refusal of a prescribed kind of authorisation, which could be the grant or renewal of a licence or making an endorsement or an entry on a licence, on which levy is payable, unless the holder of the licence first tenders the amount of the levy, together with any statutory fee, to the licensing authority, the grant or renewal of the prescribed kind of authorisation will serve as evidence that the levy has been paid in respect of the period for which the authorisation is valid , if the management rules of the fishery concerned require the licensing authority to refuse to grant the authorisation applied for, there will be a refund of the amount of levy and any fee tendered with the application.

To enforce the payment of levy, the Bill provides for the imposition of higher monetary penalties in circumstances where a boat was used in a fishery without the appropriate authorisation on which levy was payable. The maximum fine in these circumstances will be $5000. The court may, along the lines of similar provisions in the Income Tax Assessment Act, also order convicted offenders to pay an extra penalty not exceeding the amount of levy and such an order will be enforceable as a civil debt to the Commonwealth, in addition to the foregoing, the other non-monetary penalty provisions in the two acts being amended will be applicable. This range of penalties will provide a strong deterrent against the unauthorised use of a boat and avoidance of the levy. Because boats licensed by Papua New Guinea to fish in the Torres Strait protected zone are exempt from payment of Australian levies and statutory fees by virtue of article 26 (2) of the Torres Strait Treaty, the Bill does not impose the additional monetary penalties on persons convicted for breach of the Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984 involving the use of such boats.

The Bill amends both Acts by inserting the powers, offences and penalties I have outlined, at the relevant points in each act. As well, the Bill adds to the existing power of officers to go on board a boat, the power to inspect the boat, its engines or its fishing equipment for levy assessment purposes, using professional assistance such as a qualified ship surveyor where necessary, and also provides power for joint authorities to refuse to grant leviable authorisations unless the levy has been tendered. The Bill provides power in each of the Acts to make regulations for remission or refund of levy or statutory fees in specified circumstances.

It will be apparent to honourable senators that this Bill, together with its associated Fisheries Licences Levy Bill, simply constitutes the framework for imposing and collecting the levy. Details of particular levies will be contained in regulations made from time to time in accordance with the provisions in the Fisheries Licences Levy Bill. As the prime function of this Bill is to allow collection of the levy it has no direct financial impact.

It is proposed that levy will be paid into consolidated revenue and made available for expenditure on each specific management program for which it was collected through the annual appropriations to the Department of Primary Industry, where appropriate, trust accounts can be set up under the Audit Act, into which individual levies, particularly those recovering the full cost of the relevant management program, will be paid and from which they will be disbursed for purposes of that program.

I would emphasize that the Government does not intend to use the levy as a general revenue-raising measure and that no levy will be imposed in respect of a fishery except after consultation with the people in that fishery and the state or states concerned, about the management program and the levy to be imposed to fund that program. I commend the Bill to honourable senators.

Debate (on motion by Senator Chaney) adjourned.