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Wednesday, 25 June 2003
Page: 12542

Senator O'BRIEN (4:18 PM) —by leave—I move:

That the Senate take note of the statement.

Labor welcomes the tabling of the statement and the document. We consider that the fishing industry is a key sector of the economy. Properly managed, fisheries can create and sustain jobs and earn export income while protecting the fish stocks and the marine environment. That is our objective and I know it is the objective of both commercial and recreational fishers. Australian fisheries, as the minister says, are worth in the order of $2½ billion per annum to the economy and generate, I am told, over $2 billion in export income.

Despite being in office since March 1996, the Howard government has failed to build the policy platform for a sustainable Australian fishing industry. I have not had an opportunity to consider in detail this document Looking to the future: a review of Commonwealth fisheries policy, so I cannot say whether or not this represents such a policy platform. But at least we have something on the table, and I compliment the minister for that. I note, however, that outcome 5 in this document refers to the preparation of another policy paper to address means of `maximising economic efficiency' while applying `the principles of ecologically sustainable development'. If we have to wait another three years, it will be me tabling that document.

The Hawke Labor government delivered the last Commonwealth statement on fisheries in 1989, nearly 13 years ago. Since that time the following issues have significantly reduced the effectiveness of the current regulatory regime: the very high value of the resource; the need for the industry to adopt ecologically sustainable practices; increased government involvement in international agreements on resource management; and competing pressures of recreational and Indigenous fishers for resource access. While there has been widespread recognition of the need for reform for some time, this government has failed to deliver. In June 2000 the then minister, Mr Truss, announced a review of Commonwealth fisheries policy. It has taken three years and three ministers to deliver on that commitment. I note Senator Macdonald thanks the industry for its assistance in the development of this statement. He should have considered apologising to those people for the lack of interest and clear lack of action by Mr Truss and Mr Tuckey.

Mr Acting Deputy President, you might recall, as mentioned by the minister, a discussion paper that I released with the fishing industry last year. Since that time I have had the opportunity to talk to all the people that I am sure Senator Macdonald has been talking to. A number of key issues have emerged from that process, and I will be announcing Labor policy on these matters at a later time. But I would like to highlight one key area of concern—that is, the increasing administrative complexity of the numerous Commonwealth agencies that have an interest in the management of Commonwealth fisheries. I am not sure that this matter is properly addressed in this document.

The introduction of new agencies into the original management system for Australian fisheries by the Howard government has made the management task more complex, more expensive and, arguably, less able to achieve the objectives of sustainable resource use, wealth generation and environmental security. The Australian Fisheries Management Authority established in 1992 by Labor has the primary responsibility to manage the fisheries. The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry provides the minister with advice, development and related matters through the fisheries branch. The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, the Bureau of Rural Sciences and the National Office of Food Safety have a role. Environment Australia also has a direct role in the management of Commonwealth fisheries and state and territory fisheries that involve exports through the EPBC Act of 1999. The National Oceans Office is developing regional marine plans based on a framework for integrated and ecosystem based planning practices. The National Oceans Office reports to a board of no less than five federal ministers. The Fisheries Research and Development Corporation is the key research body with annual funding in the order of $21 million. The relationship between these agencies and how they impact on the management of the 18 Commonwealth fisheries must be addressed with the objective of developing a more administratively efficient and effective system of managing a fisheries resource.

If drawing that problem to the attention of the Senate is a matter of falling in behind the government's policy, I guess that means the government thinks the current system is right. I do not think that the industry does, and if that is the implication of the minister's statement then I think the industry has a lot to be worried about. The coordination of fishery responsibilities between the Commonwealth and the states is achieved through Commonwealth-state offshore constitutional settlement agreements and I note the minister plans to review these agreements, which is a welcome move.

Sustainable management of Australia's fisheries is an issue that concerns all Australians, not just government and industry. It is important that industry and government work closely with all stakeholders to keep abreast of community expectations and to ensure that the industry grows in a sustainable way. There is an urgent need to review the original AFMA single management authority structure and its association with these new agencies to provide clear reporting lines to the federal parliament, accountability to the industry and more effective management arrangements with states and territories. Labor believes that the management tools, education and training programs for the industry should be built around these new industry standards.

Recreational and traditional fishing have an impact on the sustainable use of fishery resources. State and territory governments generally manage these activities but there are some fisheries where there is considerable recreational activity that could be managed by the Commonwealth. I note that the minister's statement goes to this matter also. Labor believes that aquaculture will play a major role in the future of the industry as increasing pressure on wild catch fisheries puts them under significant stress.

There is also need for the development of a policy framework to support sustainable aquaculture based on Commonwealth fishery species. The aquaculture industry must be encouraged to grow through research and development to produce environmentally compatible, efficient and cost-effective production techniques that yield a consistent and high-quality resource supply. It is essential that the management of fisheries be underpinned by science but there is also a need to ensure that within that science based management system regional economic and social considerations are given appropriate attention. Adjustment plans for fisheries must take into account regional and social implications. This is an important issue for a number of Australian fisheries that must reduce their take to maintain long-term sustainability. There is also a need to consider management tools in terms of their impact on local small-scale fishers. Any regionally based programs, however, must be built around education, training and innovation.

As I have said, I have not yet had an opportunity to consider the detail of the minister's statement and the report which he has tabled but I will do so and I will test its contents against some principles. They are: the sustainable use of marine resources, including the establishment of sustainable, cost-efficient management systems for all fisheries; minimising waste and better utilising unavoidable by-catch; maximising the value of the catch; promotion of long-term investment in the sector; equitable allocation of resources where there are strong competing interests between commercial, recreational and traditional fishers; allocation of resources for research into the best options for the development of broad ecosystem management systems; closer links between research and management agencies to ensure the delivery of better management outcomes; elimination of duplication of effort in all Commonwealth agencies that have an involvement in fisheries management; coordination of management between state and Commonwealth jurisdictions while maintaining a key role for environmental oversight; and development of modern compliant systems that rely on risk based management and independent audit processes rather than a heavy regulatory and policing regime.

Finally, it must be some considerable relief to Australian fishers that the Prime Minister, after a couple of massive failures, has appointed a minister who has an interest in his job and has a plan. The industry will now be hoping that Senator Ian Macdonald has the right plan and that he can deliver. Mr Truss certainly could not.