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Thursday, 6 December 1973
Page: 2569

Senator WRIEDT (Tasmania) (Minister for Primary Industry) - The Government will oppose the 2 amendments. Senator Laucke has referred to the position obtaining in other countries. I think his information about the position in those countries is correct, as it is much along the same lines as mine. He has said that the laws of other countries are not rigid, but I point out that they are certainly more severe than is proposed in this Bill. I suggest that is really the difference. The Government does not wish to write into this legislation punishments against individuals on the vessels. In the recent case in Western Australia, it was necessary to hold in custody the masters of those vessels. Under the present legislation, by inserting this mandatory provision, in effect the crews of vessels held can be repatriated and returned to their homeland. Then the matter can be resolved between the court, the Australian Government, and the owners of the vessel, who would be required to apply through the court for the release of the vessel. Therefore, we are not taking away from the court the right to make a determination.

If we persist with the present law, we will be so weakened in relation to exercising our authority in Australian waters that we will find ourselves back in the position in which we were in the Western Australia case. It is all very well for us to debate this matter in the Senate, but people in the fishing industry are concerned about it and are entitled to protection. I dare say that the laws of the country are framed to ensure that Australian waters, within the declared zones, are preserved for Australian fishermen. If these amendments were carried, much authority would be taken away from the Australian authorities. The whole purpose of the mandatory provision is to ensure that the vessels can be held and that the crews can be repatriated, with the owners of vessels being able to apply for the release of the vessels, the court deciding whether they should be released. If the amendment is carried, that procedure will be denied. I think that is unfortunate, because I do not really think that the significance of what the Bill is trying to do has been understood.

The arguments advanced in favour of these amendments are unconvincing. By these amendments, the present situation will be allowed to continue, and it is obvious that we do not want it to continue. We do not want to hold the masters of fishing vessels; we do not want them imprisoned, as they are in countries such as Japan and the U.S.A. for 6 months, 1 year, or 3 years. We are trying to avoid that situation and, if the owners want to apply for the return of the vessel, they can apply to the court. As I have said, if the amendments are carried this procedure will not be possible. The Government feels compelled to oppose the amendments because they would defeat one of the important aims of the Bill.

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