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Thursday, 15 October 1970

Mr NIXON (Gippsland) (Minister for the Interior) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time. This is a short Bill, the principal effect of which will be to permit the States to enact legislation requiring the licensing of premises used for processing fish for either domestic consumption or export.It also omits Nauru from the scope of the Fisheries Act following the granting of independence to that country. The Government believes that the effects of this Bill have significant importance for the Australian fishing industry. In particular, it will provide a path not at present available for the Commonwealth and States to cooperate in the rationalisation of the secondary sector of the industry in so far as it will clear the way for any State to enact legislation requiring the licensing of premises used for the processing of fish. This process of licensing would not be possible without the enactment of this Bill for reasons to which I shall refer later in this speech.

The need for rationalisation of fish processing facilities is particularly indicated in the more lucrative fisheries, such as prawns, rock lobsters and scallops etc. where the creation of a total processing capacity in a particular area in excess of the ability of the fishery resources to supply would lead to overcapitalisation. Indeed, two prawn processing companies in northern Australia have already failed because of their inability to secure a share of the total catch sufficient to make their operation economically viable. An important consequence of rationalisation of processing capacity will be to reduce the risk of excessive pressures being placed on the resources in situations where processors are urging fishermen to increase their catches at any cost in order to keep the processing facilities in operation. In many of our fisheries, the sustainable yield from the resources is not yet fully known and the Government is taking all possible steps to carry out research with the objective of providing this information. Under these circumstances some pragmatic management decisions have had to be made and the Commonwealth has taken action in the Northern Territory to limit the number of prawn processing opportunities and has held regular consultations with the Queensland fisheries authorities on the desirability of extending this kind of control to the Queensland sector of the fishery. 1 believe it is appropriate to emphasise to honourable members and the fishing industry, that the Commonwealth is not by this Bill proposing itself to enter the field of licensing fish processing plants for reasons of fishery management. Whether or not processing plants are to be licenced will depend entirely on decisions by the several State governments to enact suitable legislation for this purpose. I should also make it clear that the operations of the Exports (Fish) Regulations which provide for standards of hygiene, sanitation and product quality in respect of plants processing fish for export and for registration of plants meeting those standards, will not be affected in any way either by this Bill or by any State legislation that may subsequently be enacted. The Bill has a secondary purpose connected with the Government's decision to establish under the Fishing Industry Research Act 1969, a matching fund for research education, extension and development for the benefit of the fishing industry.

At the time that negotiations were proceeding with the States on the establishment of this fund it was agreed that each State would collect the contribution from the fishing industry in which ever manner was considered most suitable to the structure and organisation of the fishing industry in the State concerned. Queensland authorities took the view that in that State the most suitable form of levying the contribution would be by way of fees collected from the licensing of fish processing plants. However, the Queensland Government felt some concern for the validity of legislation to give effect to this proposal in view of the judgment in O'Sullivan versus Noarlunga Meat Pty Ltd, where the High Court held that State legislation requiring the licensing of premises used for processing meat for export was invalid. Accordingly, in1969 fisheries and legal officers of the Commonwealth and Queensland conferred with a view to devising a legal course of action which would offset the effect of this judgment. The result of this conference is embodied in the Bill now before the House. It has the concurrence of the Queensland Government and of the Australian Fisheries Council.

Accordingly, the Bill has a secondary importance for the development and conduct of research into our fisheries by making the way clear for any State, which desires to employ the device of licensing premises used for the processing of fish as a means of collecting money from the fishing industry to be matched by the Commonwealth under the Fishing Industry Research Act, to do so without fear of the legislation concerned being ruled invalid in the light of judgment in the Noarlunga case. The provisions of the Bill are brief and to the point. I believe that I have adequately outlined them in my opening sentences. This Bill is part of an overall review of Commonwealth fishery legislation which has been undertaken in the Department of Primary Industry and which will form the basis of more extensive amendments of the Fisheries Act and Continental Shelf (Living Natural Resources) Act during a subsequent session of the Parliament. I commend the present Bill to honourable members.

Debate (on motion by Mr Stewart) adjourned.

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