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Thursday, 23 August 2001
Page: 30193

Mr ADAMS (10:15 AM) —The purpose of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Legislation Amendment (Application of Criminal Code) Bill 2001 is to amend provisions within the Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry portfolio to harmonise them with the Criminal Code. The amendments will apply the Criminal Code to all offence creating and related provisions in the portfolio and will delete reference to some general provisions in the Crimes Act and replace them with references to the relevant provisions in the Criminal Code where appropriate. This is all very well and probably needs to be carried to ensure that those who offend in these areas are made liable and can be charged under the correct provisions, and also that some of the outdated provisions are revised. Within the fisheries portfolio, there are many incidents for which there is a need for such provisions.

Fisheries in Tasmania have suddenly come under threat, if not through general poaching— and this was recently in the headlines because a Victorian in a very fast speedboat continually comes to Tasmania and makes off with some of our prized and very lucrative abalone stock, but we have got him now on the basis that he will be put in jail if he comes back—then through a more insidious poaching in the form of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority. You may say that they cannot be seen as being poachers because they are the regulatory authority, but what they have done to the south-east non-trawl fisheries in Australia is tantamount to poaching. AFMA have ignored and disregarded a memorandum of understanding between the state and the federal government which was set up to protect the sustainability of the blue-eye trevalla hook fishery. This MOU has just been forgotten and removed, and it now allows the trawl sector to target blue-eye and to have access to quota which was previously available only to the non-trawl sector. This will just destroy the fishing grounds.

This is a fishery that could go on in a sustainable way and provide a series of fish, such as gemfish, orange roughy, barracouta, ling and blue warehou fish. This fishery was doing well, but then the fishers were suddenly faced with a quota that had been introduced. Returns proved that Tasmanian catchers were getting in excess of 80 per cent of the total allowable catch taken in this fishery. But when they dished out the quotas, Tasmania only received 43 per cent of the quota. That was the first blow that we received in this area.

Now the industry faces extermination by AFMA because they have set a precedent by transferring 10 tonnes of quota from the non-trawl sector to the trawl sector. This second blow means that the fishery is likely to be decimated in a very short time. The blue-eye hook fishers rely heavily on leasing the quota through the year from within the non-trawl sector. This extra competition for the limited quota will send hook operators out of business.

This means no year-round fishery for what is becoming a premium table fish in Tasmania. If you go to a Tasmanian restaurant they sell you blue-eye trevalla. It is the prime fish on the table and on the menu. Taking this out means that we will lose the full year-round supply, although we have the little fishers of Tasmania fishing in a sustainable way all year round and being able to supply fresh fish out of the sea on the same day it is on the menu for tourists and Tasmanians. With the trawl sector, it means fish will be dragged out, taken to New South Wales, maybe frozen, and then sent back. That is going to destroy the fishery as it has been structured.

AFMA has placed too much emphasis on the legislative objective of economic efficiency to the detriment of its ecologically sustainable development objective. It has no legislative objective that takes into account the social aspects, such as what it means to employment and the small niche market that Tasmania has developed for this fishery, which I just spoke about. To my mind, this is criminal and the federal government ought to be brought to task for not even being aware of what is going on.

I know that the state minister was shocked to hear the decision by AFMA. There has been no consultation with the state government of any kind. He told me that he was greatly concerned about this. He said that, quite frankly, this kind of transfer is not allowed under the terms of the MOU between Tasmania and the Commonwealth. These have played a very important role in getting on top of the scientific management of our fisheries in Commonwealth and state waters. He said his department has not been formally advised of the decision by AFMA, which is peculiar because management arrangements relating to blue-eye trevalla were included in the MOU between the two parties that supplements the OCS arrangements for fin fish resources in waters relevant to Tasmania. The state minister has already shot a letter off to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the member for Wide Bay, Mr Warren Truss—who has just joined us here—seeking an urgent review of the situation due to the enormity of the action. The minister must act quickly to ensure that the Tasmanian fishery is not wiped out for good. It is extraordinary that, in AFMA's apparent eagerness to depart from the management arrangements developed in good faith by the two governments, this has been done without pursuing a more sensible approach in consultation beforehand.

Does the minister not have any control over these people? It appears that AFMA is at times more interested in the pursuit of its economic efficiency legislation objectives than in the best interests of the fishery. I understand that there is a policy review being undertaken of the Commonwealth fisheries policy which would provide a good starting point to have such issues raised. I would have thought that we might not have been making these decisions before we had the results of the review. But this decision by AFMA must be revoked so that proper consultation can take place and a proper decision can be made as to the sort of approach that should be taken in the best interests of Tasmanian fisheries and their fishers.

I do not blame the South East Non-Trawl Association for their motion of no confidence in AFMA's handling of the non-trawl fishery. This expression of doubt is a shame because a lot of information and trust that have been built up over the years have just gone out the window. Australian fisheries must have information from those who fish to build a scientific picture of the stocks available and the sorts of problems facing the fisheries. There have been a few recommendations put into place to try to do this following a report on the industry from a House committee, which I was a part of, entitled Managing Commonwealth fisheries: the last frontier. It had many recommendations dealing with whole aspects of building up relationships between fishers and AFMA, especially on by-catch, so that we were not wasting resources and were getting truth into those logbooks, so those logbooks became a very good scientific base of catches and there was goodwill on both sides.

Now we are starting to destroy all those sorts of things with this sort of action. We have a body that wants to make arbitrary decisions that have absolutely no relationship to the health and welfare of the Pacific fishery. To my mind, that is a crime and the minister should sort it out. No-one likes the regulator of anything, but they can earn respect and understanding if they act in a way that is in the public interest. The decision by AFMA is definitely not and should not be agreed to. I use this legislation to raise this terrible state of affairs and ask the minister to get onto this issue quickly to prevent any further damage.

Going back to the bill, I feel that this government has failed to take the opportunity to bring up to date the provisions of the portfolio legislation relating to criminal responsibility. Once again, the minister is asleep at the wheel—we have Mr Truss here. The other bloke who runs around the country acting as minister does not seem to get a berth in this equation at the moment. I do not have a problem with the legislation as such, but I will be keeping an eye out to address any of the problems that might arise from it.

I wish to go back to a couple of things. I got a fax from Mure's Fish Centre at the Victoria Dock in Hobart. George Mure was one of the people who set up the blue-eye trevalla fishery in Tasmania and champions it through his restaurants. He also smokes the fish and does other things with this fishery. The last paragraph in his fax to me said:

The non-trawl sector will be fighting tooth and nail to save their industry. They will be looking closely as to which party supports environmental sustainability and which party will fight for a fair share of Tasmanian resources.

I hope they will. Mr Mure helped start the industry in Tasmania and has been treated extremely badly. I have seen the press release from the state minister. His great concern, as I have mentioned previously, is the destruction of the MOUs between the state and the Commonwealth. This is a tragedy which is not going to assist anyone. These MOUs play a critical role in helping us to understand and manage our fish stocks on a scientific basis—because fish swim between state waters and Commonwealth waters—and to get an understanding between the state ministers and the Commonwealth ministers in managing different fisheries. That has been a major thing, and I believe we have been able to achieve a lot with that. This decision is serving to destroy the MOU system between Tasmania and the Commonwealth. That is a tragedy, it should be reversed and the minister should get on and do something about it instead of being asleep at the wheel. As I said, it is good to see that Minister Truss is here. The other bloke, Mr Tuckey, runs around the country masquerading as the minister for fisheries. No-one has any faith in him. Let us hope that this minister can take some action and sort this mess out.