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Wednesday, 25 June 2003
Page: 12545

Senator GREIG (4:27 PM) —I rise to speak in the debate on the motion to take note moved by Senator O'Brien. The report tabled today by the Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation, Looking to the future: a review of Commonwealth fisheries policy, is welcome. It does make for some interesting reading. There is no question that Australia's fishing industry makes a significant contribution to the wealth of the nation, and that the Commonwealth plays a pivotal role in the regulation and management of that industry. I speak with a little experience in that area having worked for some years in my father's rock lobster fishing business in Western Australia. The policy framework for the management of Commonwealth fisheries was set out originally in New directions for Commonwealth fisheries management in the 1990s, which was released in 1989. After almost 14 years it was time for this policy framework to be reassessed. We Democrats certainly welcome that.

While the Australian Democrats are supportive of the fishing industries, we are concerned that the Commonwealth managed fisheries are not being managed on a sustainable basis. Fisheries managers seek to maximise the sustainable yield of our fisheries; however, they do so on the basis of incomplete information and without adequate regard for the precautionary principle and the natural heritage values of the marine environment. This has resulted in many of our fisheries being overfished and the loss of many natural heritage values. In this regard, the report notes that there are some 11 fish stocks now targeted in Commonwealth managed fisheries that are known to be overfished and 45 where the status of the fish stock is still unknown. Of concern is the potential for several commercial fish species or stocks to become extinct or commercially extinct, if measures are not taken immediately to address the overfishing problems. Southern bluefin tuna and orange roughy are examples of this where there is considerable evidence that stocks of these species have declined over the past 10 to 15 years. The Australian Democrats call on the Commonwealth again to include these species and other threatened marine species on the list of threatened species that is maintained under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

By-catch also remains a significant problem in several Commonwealth managed fisheries, particularly longline and trawl fisheries. By-catch of seals, marine birds, marine turtles and other icon species are extremely important issues. The Australian Democrats call on the federal government to do more to reduce the by-catch of these species. There are also large numbers of less glamorous, non-target species that suffer greatly from commercial fishing; however the impacts on these species are often unknown and they are often overlooked in by-catch management strategies. Unless these problems are addressed immediately, we will witness the decline of important elements of our marine biodiversity that form the bedrock of our fisheries industries. This will require a greater commitment of resources to researching the impacts of fishing on the marine environment and a greater willingness to establish and enforce stringent by-catch management standards.

The Democrats are pleased to see that this report acknowledges the need for fishing effort to be reduced in certain fisheries to allow for the recovery of depleted fish stocks and for ecosystem based fisheries management to be embraced. We are also pleased to note the commitment to prepare and implement a framework for resource sharing between the different sectors that use Commonwealth fisheries resources. The undertaking to examine opportunities for the involvement of Indigenous people in commercial fishing ventures is also very welcome, as are the commitments concerning greater transparency in decision making processes. While acknowledging these positives, the Democrats would like to see the Commonwealth devote greater attention and resources to the establishment of marine protected areas. The establishment of such marine protected areas is vital for the conservation of natural heritage values. These areas are also important for the replenishment of commercial fish stocks. We are also a little disappointed to see the report's conclusions and recommendations concerning enforcement and compliance. The Australian Democrats are concerned that the government is shying away from enforcing environmental laws in Commonwealth fisheries. This may be generating a culture of noncompliance and contributing to the decline in fish stocks and biodiversity in certain fisheries. Having said this, we do note and applaud the Commonwealth's attempts to rein in illegal fishing by foreign fishing vessels in Australian waters.

Finally, I must comment on the minister's closing remark in his statement where he said he had searched high and low for alternative policies in this area but could only find something produced by the opposition. I happily draw his attention to, where he will find a range of tremendous policies, including policies on fisheries. Key policies to be found on that site include Democrat proposals to ensure that research programs to determine ecologically sustainable harvesting rates for coastal fisheries are undertaken and completed, that the licences for coastal fisheries are undertaken and completed in accordance with the results of such surveys in terms of both harvesting rates and administrative costs, that measures be taken to prevent the collapse of fishing stocks due to exploitation, that research and monitoring of commercial breeding stocks be accelerated and that action be taken to reduce fishing pressures where necessary. Minister, there are 17 policy points in total in the area of aquaculture and fisheries, including—you might be interested to know—Democrat concern to support an education program encouraging restaurants to kill live lobsters and crabs humanely. So there is everything from A to Z in the Australian Democrat fisheries policy and I invite your scrutiny of it.