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Tuesday, 15 March 2005
Page: 26

Senator SCULLION (2:17 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation, Senator Ian Macdonald. Will the minister outline to the Senate the Howard government’s global leadership role in the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing? How is this strengthening the protection of Australia’s borders? Is the minister aware of any alternative policy approaches?

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation) —Senator Scullion, through his long leadership in the seafood industry, would be well aware of the damage that illegal fishing causes to national economies and also to our very fragile world marine ecosystem. In large part due to the Howard government’s leadership in protecting its own borders and its fish stock, there is at last movement internationally to recognise the worldwide-scale serious criminal activity involved in illegal fishing.

As honourable senators will know, I have recently returned from a meeting in Europe of the ministerial High Seas Task Force, which involved nine ministers and some non-government organisations, including the heads of WWF, IUCN and Greenpeace, who, like me, are frustrated at the slow pace of international action against illegal fishing. As a result of this task force of ministers, we have agreed to extend and better resource the international global monitoring control and surveillance network into illegal fishing. We are going to establish a list of vessels permitted to fish on the high seas. Some people might say, ‘So what?’ about that. There is a list of all vessels allowed to carry cargo and oil on the high seas, but there has never been one for fishing vessels. That has enabled illegal fishing to expand.

We are also going to do work to benchmark and highlight the performance of flag states and port states with a view to naming and shaming flags of convenience so that the incident which happened in the Southern Ocean last week, where an Australian patrol vessel was unable to deal with vessels that were fishing not illegally but in an unreported way in areas that were closed to fishing, will not be repeated. As well, as a result of this meeting I will be getting the Attorney-General to advise me on whether we can actually, as a nation and with like-minded nations, take legal action against flag states who do not honour their international obligations.

I was delighted whilst in Paris to meet with two French ministers, Mme Girardin, the Minister for Overseas France, and M. Bussereau, the minister for maritime and fisheries matters. I am delighted to say that the French are very keen to assist us, not only in the Southern Ocean as they are now doing but also, importantly, in the Pacific Ocean, where we share many interests with the French.

I then went to Rome to the FAO ministerial meeting. I had the very great honour to chair this ministerial council. Over 121 nations were present. More than half of them were represented by ministers, and it was really an honour for me to be able to chair that meeting. We presented our national plan of action and we dealt with and joined in completing a ministerial declaration on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. I table that for the benefit of the Senate.

I am asked by Senator Scullion whether I am aware of any alternative policies. It is very easy for me to answer this because the answer is no. Before the election the Labor Party actually had five different policies on border control and illegal fishing. But since the election they have no policies at all. The Labor Party is a policy-free zone. Their leader has indicated they are not even going to look at any new policies. It is with some regret that the Labor Party has withdrawn from policy debate on border control and fisheries control. (Time expired)