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Tuesday, 15 October 2002
Page: 5175

Senator McLUCAS (5:39 PM) —In speaking to the Torres Strait Fisheries Amendment Bill 2002 I want to canvass two specific issues: firstly, the consultation process that was undertaken by the government in the lead-up to the bringing of this bill to the parliament and, secondly, the management issues related to the Torres Strait prawn fishery.

The Senate needs to be aware, as does the government, that both Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders traditionally have lived, and now do live, in the Torres Strait. It was only last year that the Kaurareg people's native title claim over islands in the southern part of the Torres Strait, including Prince of Wales Island and Horn Island, was recognised. The Kaurareg are Aboriginal people who, like the Torres Strait Islanders, have strong associations with the sea. Like Torres Strait Islanders, the Kaurareg wish to pursue their native title claim over the sea.

Over some years the Kaurareg have lobbied to change their representative body for native title matters from the Torres Strait Regional Authority to the Cape York Land Council. There are good arguments on both sides of this discussion and, clearly, more work needs to be done to ensure that all parties can be satisfied that their native title interests are being well represented. This is especially so given that currently the Torres Strait Regional Authority is pursuing a sea claim on behalf of traditional owners in the region. However, I recognise that this native title representative issue is not related to this bill, but it is indicative of the need for both Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders living in the Torres Strait to be consulted in the process of developing legislation such as this bill. My advice is that this has not occurred in this case, and that is disappointing.

However, the fundamental purpose of the bill is to give representation to Indigenous interests on the Torres Strait Protected Zone Joint Authority, and that principle should and will be supported. I take this opportunity to urge the government to review their consultation mechanisms in the Torres Strait to ensure inclusion of both Torres Strait Islanders and the Kaurareg not only for fisheries matters but for all issues.

I move now to management issues in the Torres Strait prawn fishery. In July this year on Thursday Island, Ministers Macdonald and Palaszczuk, as the constituted joint authority of the Torres Strait Protected Zone Joint Authority, requested that an options paper be developed to address management issues in the fishery. There are two issues that need to be canvassed in this options paper: firstly, the issue of sustainability and, secondly, the need by government to allocate fishing days to both Torres Strait Islanders and Papua New Guineans.

In the original allocation of days in 1993 and 1994, there was no allocation made to these licence holders. There were 13,570 days allocated at that time and that was when those days were capped. The fishers in the area have no question that the issue of sustainability needs to be addressed and needs to be addressed through good modelling of the fishery with good scientific information, and they are pursuing that work with the Australian Fisheries Management Authority. I encourage the Australian Fisheries Management Authority to undertake sound scientific work in consultation and cooperatively with the fishers so that a resolution to the issue of sustainability can be found. I can advise the Senate that the Torres Strait Prawn Entitlement Holders Association happily acknowledge that the issue of sustainability has to be addressed, and addressed soon.

The second issue, although it is somewhat related, goes to the reallocation of days to include Torres Strait fishers and Papua New Guineans in the fishery. It is the view of the Torres Strait Prawn Entitlement Holders Association that those issues are somewhat separate but that the issue of sustainability has to be identified first and then the reallocation can occur. I understand that an independent panel has been established to review this process, and I wish that group well in its deliberations. But it comes down to the number of days that should be allocated to the fishery. In the view of the Torres Strait Prawn Entitlement Holders Association, if further days are going to be allocated to licence holders—and they do not have a problem with that—it has to be within the sustainability model and there has to be recognition that, in fact, that is a reallocation of days from existing licence holders to new licence holders. That is an important point that AFMA and the independent panel have to consider when they are reallocating those days.

I understand that the Torres Strait Prawn Entitlement Holders Association has requested representation on the Protected Zone Joint Authority. That request has not been taken seriously. I will be interested in your comments, Minister, as to why that has not been progressed. I understand also that the fishers are now attending the joint authority's meetings on Thursday Island and, in the view of some of the fishers, the value is more to the authority than the other way. It certainly would be useful if there were a more cooperative relationship between, essentially, the managers of this fishery and those who work it. In support of their view that they need to be represented on the joint authority they suggest that it is an issue of equity and the contribution that they can make to good management practice of the fishery. To conclude, I support the inclusion of the Chairperson of the Torres Strait Regional Authority on the Torres Strait Protected Zone Joint Authority. I encourage open and better consultation with the Indigenous peoples of Torres Strait and the fishers who work in the fishery.