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Wednesday, 22 August 1979
Page: 485

Mr BRYANT (Wills) - I wish to address the House on an answer to a question asked by the honourable member for Hunter (Mr James) which was published in yesterday's Hansard. It deals with the seizure and disposal of foreign fishing vessels. Some interesting questions arise from a study of this document. There are 82 vessels involved and the schedule which is incorporated gives the vessel's name, where it was apprehended and the name of the owner. It states how long it was held before disposal, the way in which it was disposed of, the name of the purchaser and the price. I suggest that somebody, perhaps the Public Accounts Committee, should take a good look at the way the Government disposes of public property. The schedule shows some interesting figures. Trawlers of various sorts were disposed of for sums as low as $5,000 or $6,000.

I want to cite as an example one vessel about which I know something. In 1973 the Minister responsible asked me whether the Department of Aboriginal Affairs could use for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people one of the four trawlers which were anchored in various harbours and which had been seized and forfeited to the Crown. I said that this could be done. I arranged with a former member of this House, Captain Sam Benson, to examine them. We chose one which was anchored in Darwin. Strangely enough, we ran into a great deal of resistance. The Department of Aboriginal Affairs at that time said that the vessels were not appropriate and that the people could not use them, as if the people who lived by the sea could not be trained in this way. The Department of Transport intervened. I am talking about a ship called the Yung Yuan No. 21 which was apprehended in late 1 972. If my memory is correct this vessel was a little over 100 feet long. It had a cruising radius of some 1 1,000 miles. It had approximately 250 tonnes freezing capacity. It was a Taiwanese ship which had been made in

Japan. As far as Australian general conditions were concerned it was inadequate because the between decks area was built for people smaller than the average Australian.

I made arrangements for this ship to be transferred to the Torres Strait Islanders. It was to become a kind of mother ship, a fishing and training ship. It was eventually taken to Walker's shipyard in Maryborough. The shipyard was very anxious to get to work on it. We took all the necessary administrative steps. At about that time, and for reasons which I will not debate here tonight, I became the Minister for the Capital Territory. Having happily got rid of me, the Department, or somebody within the Department, decided that that ship ought to be diposed of. I find here a figure, which I knew, by the way, but now that it has been published I feel free to talk about it. The vessel was sold to the Big River Shrimp Company, South Grafton, for $35,000. At the time Walker's shipyard told me that the value of the vessel was at least $500,000. 1 know that that ship became a very solid money earner for its owners. It recently sank in the Gulf of Carpentaria. It was known as The Northern Pearl. I am suggesting that if what happened in that case happened to all the ships which have been disposed of to private citizens- and a number of them have been given to various people; the Torres Strait Islanders in Cairns received one as a gift- there is something wrong with the system. I must admit that I feel a great deal of indignation in that regard. The Torres Strait Islanders were the losers and the community lost an asset. If a vessel is to be disposed of in some way one might as well return it to its original owners.

There are several interesting points that arise out of the answer to this question. In one case, under the heading: 'Owner' it says 'Unknown'. Under the heading ' Purchaser and Price ' it states Former Owners'. The vessel was returned to the former owners for an unknown amount. How can something be disposed of by the Commonwealth and be paid for, yet the price remain unknown? A good deal of detail has been put into this question but I still think it is inadequate. It is time that we had a good look at the disposal procedures for Commonwealth property. A number of people have been able to get very cheap vessels in these instances. That was certainly a very valuable ship which was taken from the Torres Strait Islanders, although they had great need of this vessel, and disposed of at a ridiculous price to someone in an advantageous position.

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