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Thursday, 2 November 1967


Mr FULTON (Leichhardt) (2:14 AM) -I do not want to detain the House at this late hour. Within 2} hours the fish will be biting on the Great Barrier Reef. 1 would sooner be there than here. But I feel that I must say something about this Bill because I had a talk with the Attorney-General (Mr Bowen) concerning it. It was only a short talk, but I learnt a good bit from the Minister regarding the legal aspects of this Bill. The Bill extends the limits in which Australia has exclusive rights over fisheries from 3 to 12 miles. This proposal would be acceptable by everybody in Australia, particularly our fishermen. As the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) said, the Bill may not go far enough. 1 would like to say a good deal about this Bill if the hour were not so late. The action taken under this Bill is in line with action taken by many other countries. I think the Government should look carefully at the position of Queensland in relation to the Barrier Reef. The Barrier Reef is 12, 18, 20 and up to 30 miles from the coast, lt is an area that should come under the control of the Commonwealth because it is really a breakwater to the east coast of Queensland. The Barrier Reef acts as a buffer against the monsoons that sweep in from the Pacific Ocean. It breaks the high seas before they get to the Queensland coast.

I wonder how this legislation will be policed, because even the existing 3-mile limit has not been policed. How will the 12- mile limit be policed if the Government could not police the 3-mile limit. Many fishing vessels come down the Queensland coast from the north. They trade all along the coast, pulling in to replenish their supplies of water. There is not a large population on the parts of the coast visited by these ships, although there are plenty of Aboriginals there who mix with the crews. There are some whiles prospecting in the area. They have seen these vessels. I have seen as many as six foreign vessels fishing within the 3-mile limit north of Cairns to Charlotte Bay. But as soon as a boat comes into sight they are off. They have good diesel engines and they get away as quick as lightning. They fish on the coast, replenishing supplies of water and firewood from the mainland. If the 12-mile limit is made law, how will it be policed? Will it be a Commonwealth matter or a State matter? The State Government does not have the finance to police this limit. It does not have the ships to do the work, except the old Belvedere' which plies among the Torres Strait Islands and which could not catch even a rowing boat.

I am concerned about this matter because a fair amount of fishing is done off the Queensland coast by mother ships as well as dories that bring the catch to the mother ship. This fishing is being done by other than Australian interests and is having an adverse effect on the Australian fishing industry. The 12-mile limit would not take in the Barrier Reef. Most of the fish caught by ships operating out of Townsville and Cairns and serving the Brisbane market would be caught outside the Barrier Reef. All around the reef are to be found reef fish such as red emperor and coral trout, the best fish in the sea.


Mr Nixon - What about barramundi?


Mr FULTON - Barramundi does not compete, and some day I will prove it to the Minister. The fish will be biting now in Cairns harbour, and I would like to be there. If the Government passes this law 1 hope that it will be policed. If the Commonwealth Government claims that policing the law is not a part of its responsibility, will it make sure that the State Government has sufficient ships and personnel to police the area 12 miles off the coast? Even that will be a help.

Like the honourable member for Dawson, I think the area should extend outside the Barrier Reef. There has been a lot of talk on the radio and much has appeared in the Press about the Japanese fishing vessel which pulled into Green Island to take on water. The newspapers and the radio stations were screaming about quarantine regulations. I saw the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) about this matter and he told me that there was no danger because this was only an isolated case. The Japanese had not mixed with the people. They had called in for water and had taken it back to the mother ship.

I know that they are on the coast around Oyster Bay digging up clam shells and taking birds eggs, and possibly birds. There has been a lot of talk - it has been substantiated by people with scientific knowledge - about the Reef being destroyed by various things. The Reef is being destroyed more by the people who are digging the clam shells and tramping all over it, destroying the bird life and the eggs on the islands, than possibly by the starfish and the crown of thorns, as it is called.

I again appeal to the Minister. If the Commonwealth Government will not take action to police the area, will it assist the Queensland Government to do so in order that the fishermen may retain their fishing rights along the whole of the north Queensland coast, particularly in the region of the Torres Strait islands? I know that matters relating to the Torres Strait islands raise legal questions. I mentioned to the AttorneyGeneral the two islands of Saibui and Bougui which are in my electorate and only 35 miles from the New Guinea coast. Those two islands are on the other side of the trade route so I do not know how the legal difficulties will be overcome.

I ask the Minister to consider placing the Barrier Reef under the control of some authority, if not Australian then United Nations, so that its wonders can be preserved as a tourist attraction and the whole Queensland coast protected.







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