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Thursday, 23 August 2001
Page: 30195

Mr TRUSS (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (10:28 AM) — This legislation, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Legislation Amendment (Application of Criminal Code) Bill 2001, makes some changes to agriculture, fisheries and forestry legislation in relation to the Criminal Code, but the debate has obviously been exceptionally wide ranging, as evidenced by the comments of the previous speaker. The member for Parkes spoke about some very significant issues concerning salinity in his electorate and in other parts of Australia and about the major initiatives that the government is taking to address these problems and to ensure that the quality of water in our nation and environmental issues are appropriately addressed. No government has done more than this one through the NHT and now through the national action plan to put in place a very significant national program of action to address these matters. In fact, the NHT is now the biggest environmental program anywhere in the world. It will extend over 11 years and has a budget of $2.5 billion. It has already assisted over 10,000 projects around Australia and has certainly provided wonderful impetus to harness the enthusiasm and the skills of local communities in relation to environmental projects to achieve real and very worthwhile outcomes at the local level.

The previous speaker, the honourable member for Lyons, spoke about the trevalla fishery in Tasmania and the actions of AFMA in relation to those issues. Yes, AFMA are the regulatory authority, so it is not surprising that they do make decisions about management of particular fisheries. I was somewhat amused to see the honourable member endeavouring to defend the integrity of memorandums of understanding between Tasmania and the Commonwealth. Tasmania has an incredible record as being the state that is prepared to thumb its nose at MOUs whenever they do not suit Tasmania. Tasmania prefers to run its own course, irrespective of the content of any agreement it has signed with the Commonwealth. It is rather curious that Tasmania should be seeking to defend the letter of this particular one. Nonetheless, I do believe that MOUs should be honoured. The Commonwealth government enter into these things in good faith: we seek to implement faithfully the contents of those arrangements.

In relation to these issues, I noted the uncharitable comments—let me put it that way—of the honourable member about the Minister for Forestry and Conservation, who is taking a lot of fisheries responsibilities and doing an excellent job. The 10-year review of fishing policy is a major government initiative. It has been 10 years since there was a review of the fisheries policy. I was happy to announce this review because I think that at least once a decade we should have a good look at whether we are heading in the right direction on industry affairs. Mr Tuckey has been driving that review and having important meetings around the nation to make sure that everybody associated with the industry has an opportunity to have input. It is a significant policy development period for the fishing industry. The industry is one in which there are always tensions and competing interests in relation to how particular stocks should be harvested in a sustainable manner. It is obviously of fundamental importance both to the fishing industry and to our nation. Our fishing policy should be based on sustainable practices, and that must always be given priority. That is the background under which decisions need to be made in relation to trevalla in Tasmania or, for that matter, in any other fishery in Australia.

The particular piece of legislation before the committee does not specifically deal with fish or salinity, although those issues may be covered by some of the elements of the legislation. Firstly, the legislation deals with the application of the Criminal Code. There has been some criticism that it has taken a while for this legislation to come before the parliament. The reality is that these changes have been progressively implemented from portfolio to portfolio, and the AFFA portfolio is one of the last ones to have its legislation dealt with. It is routine in that context. I welcome the fact that the opposition have indicated their support for it. It essentially maintains the status quo. It ensures that criminal offence provisions in agriculture, fisheries and forestry will continue to operate in the same manner as at present following the application of the Criminal Code to all Commonwealth offence provisions on 15 December this year.

Secondly, it ensures that the offence provisions are consistent with the principles of criminal responsibility and the standard approach to the formulation of offences contained in the Criminal Code, and that language used in offence provisions is consistent with the language of the Criminal Code. Further, it clarifies the principles that will apply to each offence. In particular, it specifically identifies any offence which is a strict liability offence and makes it clear whether the prosecution or defence has the burden of proving particular matters. These changes will provide certainty, clarity and consistency as to how the offences in agriculture, fisheries and forestry legislation operate. They will also make the prosecution of offences more efficient. I commend the bill to the Main Committee and thank honourable members for their participation in the debate.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered that the bill be reported to the House without amendment.