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Thursday, 10 October 1985
Page: 1045

Senator BOSWELL(10.23) —Tonight we are debating three Bills-the Northern Prawn Fishery Voluntary Adjustment Scheme Loan Guarantee Bill, the Foreign Fishing Boats Levy Amendment Bill and the Fisheries Agreements (Payments) Amendment Bill. Foreign fishing vessels must pay a levy on the grant of a licence unless they fall under an exemption in the legislation. At present, exempted vessels are those licensed under an agreement with the governments of Japan and the Republic of Korea and those deemed to be Australian vessels as they are temporarily imported for use by and are under the control of Australians. Also excluded from paying the levy are those foreign vessels which, by formal agreement, are required to provide other benefits to Australia. The amendment of section 4 of the Foreign Fishing Boats Levy Amendment Bill simplifies the process for exemption from the levy of foreign vessels conferring benefits on Australia and also boats operated by or on behalf of Australian residents. This new process will involve a notice from the Minister in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette of those boats exempted from the levy, a copy of which will be laid before the Houses of Parliament within 15 days of publication.

The second significant amendment alters the levy imposed so that the amount payable is then clarified. The levy is calculated by dividing the total access fee by the agreed number of boats to be licensed. This amendment closes the possible loophole which arises when fewer boats are licensed, leaving a portion of the total sum unauthorised.

The Fisheries Agreements (Payments) Amendment Bill which is being debated cognately today also relates to the Foreign Fishing Boats Levy Amendment Bill. It amends the 1981 Act of the same name by extending the right of refusal of licenses for foreign boats for non-payment from agreements with foreign governments to agreements between Australia and one or more foreign parties which are not foreign governments. The amount must be paid before the Minister or Secretary grants the licence.

The Northern Prawn Fishery Voluntary Adjustment Scheme Loan Guarantee Bill relates to the Fisheries Levy Act which became law in 1984 and to the voluntary adjustment scheme of fishermen in the region of the northern prawn fishery. Fishermen working in the northern prawn area have shown a tremendous sense of responsibility by proposing a self-help scheme to allow the buy-back of the northern prawn fishing fleet. Overfishing of the northern prawn area occurred when a number of boats had to fish in the Gulf area because of poor seasons. I believe the fishermen deserve a lot of praise for bringing up this very positive fleet buy-back project. I commend the Government for its involvement because this project has been foremost in the fishermen's minds for, I believe, four or five years. The Government has come to the party and brought down this legislation. All fishermen in the northern area welcome this legislation.

The fishermen are doing this off their own bat; this is a self-help scheme. Fishermen have not resorted to Government handouts as many other members of the community do. It is interesting to note that the licence fees for foreign fishing boats amount to some $3m. The fishing industry says that this should be passed on to support the northern fishing fleet, whereas now it is going straight into the Department of Primary Industry and Consolidated Revenue. The Government is guaranteeing a loan at purely commercial rates of, I think, around 20 or 21 per cent. This loan will be guaranteed by the Commonwealth Government but it will not be in the Commonwealth Budget. The loan will be paid back by the fishermen.

This boat buy-back scheme will involve about $13m. The Government has imposed a levy on boats to pay for this. The levy has been calculated on various factors, such as the width of the net drag, the horsepower of the boats, the length of the boats and, I think, the crews of the boats. All the boats were unitised and an amount per unit was established to allow a buy-back price. The fishing industry endorses this scheme as the accepted scheme of future management of their resources in the Gulf area but acknowledges that it will be footing the bill totally for the rationalisation of this industry. It appreciates the Government's guarantee that this Bill proposes and accepts that commercial rates of borrowing do not go as far as the more direct government funding that other industries often receive. In other words, the fishing industry is not getting any government assistance at all, despite the $40m tax that it pays on fuel.

Fishermen are doing their bit for the fishing industry. They are putting their money where their mouths are and they are putting their industry on a very good path for the future. The fishing industry contributes something like $450m through export earnings. It also employs a great number of people in country towns outside the metropolitan area right up and down the Australian coast. The $5m self-help program is what the industry asked for. Out of this $5m, however, has to come the cost of management. That is not within the control of the fishing industry. Management charges amount to 38 per cent of the entire cost of the program-a very substantial amount-which is for public service administration.

I note that the fishing industry is very happy with the way public servants administer the whole of the fishing industry. Dr Bain certainly has the support of the Queensland fishing industry and I think he has the support of the fishing industries in all Australian States. He has a wonderful rapport with the fishermen and they totally respect him. The rationalisation for the industry paying for management is based on the user pay system. The fishermen do not have the advantage of running their own industry, as do people in the wheat industry which has the Australian Wheat Board or people in the wool industry which has the Australian Wool Corporation or people in similar rural industries.

Debate interrupted.