Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 7 December 2004
Page: 33

Senator O'BRIEN (2:33 PM) —My question is to Senator Macdonald, the Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation. Does the minister recall issuing a press release on 24 October 2002, entitled `We are winning the war on illegal fishing', just one of at least 134 press releases the minister has issued since assuming the role of fisheries minister which laud the Howard government's record in tackling the problem of illegal fishing? Can the minister now confirm that he delivered a paper to the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council on Friday last week in Melbourne entitled `National Fishing Industry Strategy'? Didn't paragraph 2 of this paper include the statement that `illegal fishing appears to be increasing in Australian fisheries'? Isn't this a direct admission that the minister has failed in his duty to curtail illegal fishing in Australian waters, and does he still claim to be winning the war on illegal fishing?

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation) —I thank Senator O'Brien for a very important question on fisheries management in Australia—regrettably, we get too few of those. There are problems with illegal fishing in Australia, principally, I might say, in the state run fisheries which are run by the Labor governments. I do not want to make a politically partisan point out of a very serious issue. The federal government is helping the states in ways that I cannot speak too much about in trying to address some really serious problems in fisheries. The abalone fishery—not a Commonwealth fishery, I might say—is in significant difficulty through criminal activities. The states seem incapable of handling them, and the Commonwealth has taken a leadership role in that, as usual. There are other state run fisheries where there are problems with illegal fishing and, again, we want to work cooperatively. I am disappointed that apparently some of my state colleagues on the ministerial council feel it appropriate to leak that sort of information to try and have federal Labor colleagues make a fairly cheap political point out of it. It is a very serious issue, and we want to help.

I was disappointed that the state Labor ministers did not support another paper I had which would have allowed some equity and fairness to Commonwealth licensed fishers who were thrown out of business by state decisions—like Mr Beattie is doing in Queensland, shutting down fishing industries in Queensland and not giving one cent of compensation. Whereas the Commonwealth, in the Barrier Reef representative areas program where it has put fishermen in some difficulty, has a very generous structural adjustment package, the Queensland Labor government does nothing.

The question was about fisheries management and illegal fishing generally. The Commonwealth has been very successful in policing our fisheries down in the Southern Ocean—perhaps some of the most difficult seas in the world. We have just spent $90 million on a boat. Senator Ellison and I had the honour of launching it with its new guns a couple of weeks ago in Perth. That shows any illegal fishermen, particularly the international criminal cartels, that the Howard government is absolutely deadly serious about illegal fishing in its waters; that it will take very strong and determined action to deter that happening and, where it does occur, to apprehend those involved.

We do have a problem in the north of Australia as well, with Indonesian village fishermen—or what used to be Indonesian village fishermen—coming across the border to fish in Australia's much better managed waters. In those waters, through the good management of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, we have sustainable shark stocks. Shark fin is now selling in the Asian market at something like $US100 per kilogram. This gives great encouragement to Indonesian fishers to come across to our waters. But the Australian government has attacked that problem head on. Under the auspices of the Navy and its patrol boats, Customs and its patrol boats and Coastwatch, we have taken a whole-of-government approach that is doing particularly well having regard to this difficulty in the north. This year we have detained more Indonesian boats than ever before. We intend to continue to do that until such time as we can make those who would enter our waters illegally understand that there is no profit in coming illegally into Australian waters.

Senator O'BRIEN —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for his answer. Could he advise us whether he stands by the statement that he made in 2002 that we are winning the war on illegal fishing when in his answer he advised us that the type of illegal fishing in northern Australian waters has gone from the village type fishermen to a more aggressive fishing of some of the fish stocks? Can he demonstrate to the Senate how we can possibly be winning the war on illegal fishing, bearing in mind the activities that he has described, when the problem in northern Australian waters is actually getting worse?

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation) —We are winning the war on illegal fishing, certainly in the Southern Ocean. The word around the traps in ports around the world from where the international criminal cartels operate is that it is not worth their while going into Australian waters anymore. I do not want to blow our own trumpet but it represents a great effort by the Australian Navy, the Australian Customs Service and the fisheries patrol officers, who all do a great job in protecting Australian waters. In the north there is a problem, but we are working on that. We are holding our own, and it is going to get better. We are doing a lot of work with the Indonesians and there is a lot more work that will occur. I would hope that the Labor Party, for once in its life, would be bipartisan regarding a matter that is very much in Australia's national interest. (Time expired)