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Thursday, 19 June 2008
Page: 2889

Senator McLUCAS (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Ageing) (4:04 PM) —I thank senators for the consideration of the Fisheries Legislation Amendment (New Governance Arrangements for the Australian Fisheries Management Authority and Other Matters) Bill 2008. I acknowledge Senator Macdonald’s comments made in support of the legislation. In his contribution he complimented elements of the legislation aimed at better managing Australia’s response to illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, particularly illegal foreign fishing.

Senator Macdonald pointed to provisions that aimed to minimise the opportunities for conflicts of interest on the AFMA commission. The holders of Commonwealth fishing entitlements and entitlements under the Torres Strait Fisheries Act will be ineligible to be AFMA commissioners under this legislation. The legislation implements findings of the Review of the corporate governance of statutory authorities and office holders of June 2003, conducted by Mr John Uhrig. Mr Uhrig noted that independence and objectivity are important attributes of good governance. He concluded that, while it is possible to manage perceived and real conflicts of interest, it is preferable to minimise the circumstances in which they arise. I would have thought that minimising the circumstances in which conflicts of interest may arise is an objective that all of us in this chamber would support.

Senator Macdonald indicated earlier that he failed to get the support of his own party on his views on AFMA reforms. It would appear that moves to minimise conflicts of interest is one of the areas where he is out of step not only with his party but also with community expectations. I say this because this bill implements arrangements commenced by the previous government and agreed to by Labor in opposition. The changes to the eligibility criteria for AFMA commissioners contained in this legislation minimise the possibilities for conflicts of interest while establishing a skills base for commissioners. The fishing industry will have confidence that it has a set of appropriately skilled commissioners appointed on merit to manage Australia’s valuable fisheries resource.

The Australian government is committed to ensuring the sustainable management of fisheries and marine resources into the future. This bill forms an important step in furthering this goal. Senator Macdonald made the comment that some of the elements of this piece of legislation were begun under his watch, which I understand was over some three years ago. I take the opportunity to commend Minister Burke for his prompt action in bringing this legislation to the chamber, with only six months of being in office.

As the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry identified in the House when the bill was introduced, the legislation contains amendments to improve the governance of AFMA. The changes are in line with good governance practices and will improve AFMA’s resource management and accountability to government. The bill also contains measures to deter illegal foreign fishers. Strong forfeiture and offence provisions in our fisheries legislation reflect the Australian government’s commitment to protecting Australia’s important fisheries. They ensure that Australia continues to support international efforts to address illegal fishing and give a strong message to foreign fishers about the consequences of fishing illegally in our waters.

In closing, I emphasise the importance of this bill. It will equip the Australian government with a more robust compliance regime to address illegal fishing. The improved governance arrangements of AFMA will minimise opportunities for conflicts of interest to arise and will make AFMA more accountable to government for how the authority’s resources are managed. Together, these measures will help secure sustainable fisheries for future generations. I commend the bill to the chamber.