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Thursday, 8 November 1973
Page: 1656

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Media) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

This Bill amends the Fisheries Act 1952-1970. A Bill substantially the same as this was introduced into the Parliament by the previous Government in April 1971, along with a Bill to amend the Continental Shelf (Living Natural Resources) Act 1968. However, they were not proceeded with then because, I believe, of problems that Government was experiencing in relation to offshore legislation, since reintroduced by this Government as the Seas and Submerged Lands Bill. Most of the provisions of these Bills were considered by the then Government to be essential to permit the proper management of Australia's fisheries resources. They can only be regarded as even more urgent now.

I believe it is well known, but it is certainly worth repeating, that the Australian fishing industry is one of the fastest growing of our primary industries. Just a few figures will illustrate this. The gross value of production of marine produce has risen from $3 1.7m in 1961-62 to $9 1.8m in 1971-72, an increase of 190 per cent. The rate of exports has risen at an even faster rate. In 1971-72 exports of marine produce were valued at $75.7m compared with $ 15.2m in 1 96 1 -62, an increase of 398 per cent.

It is axiomatic that an industry of the size and viability of this one needs sensible planning to ensure its continued growth and viability. I would like to say something about the present Government's policy in relation to fisheries before discussing the Bills themselves. I might first refer to the second reading speech of the then Minister of Commerce and Agriculture when introducing the original Fisheries Bill in 1952. During the course of that speech he said:

The purpose of this bill is to legislate in respect of swimming fish in Australian waters beyond territorial limits, in order that fishing in such waters can be so regulated that existing fisheries resources will be conserved for regular commercial development, and excessive exploitation of our fish resources will be prevented.

The policy spelled out then of management and conservation of existing fisheries has been pursued in the administration of Australian fisheries since. Honourable senators will be well aware of the emphasis the Australian Government places on conservation matters generally. However, the Government believes that its role in regulating the fishing industry should not stop at the conservation of the resources but should extend to rational utilisation of existing fisheries and the development of new ones.

In regard to the future of the industry, we have already financed a number of projects designed to explore and develop new fisheries and new fishing techniques. Since the beginning of the year I have announced the allocation of almost $lm for such projects in the south-eastern and western Australian waters. The Australian Government has also allocated with the Victorian, South Australian and Tasmanian governments in excess of $350,000 to develop new fisheries for shark fishermen adversely affected by the Victorian ban on catching and marketing large school shark containing mercury above permissible levels. Another aspect of our expansionist policy is to be seen in our support at the Law of the Sea negotiations for a 200-mile preferential fisheries zone. Given this policy of expanding our fisheries and extending the area of Australian jurisdiction over fisheries, it will be apparent that it is necessary to have legislation which permits giving effect to policy requirements. The amendments which these Bills introduce are partly designed to this end, and partly designed to overcome difficulties which have become apparent in administration of the existing legislation. I would add that rapid expansion of Australian fisheries as we give effect to our policies, and a favourable outcome with respect to our claim for a 200-mile fisheries zone, may well warrant a further overall review of our fisheries legislation in the future. However, the Government considers at this time that we should make only necessary amendments to existing legislation and undertake an overall review in the light of experience and results in the matters I have just mentioned. Honourable senators will be aware that the existing Australian Government legislation is administered in proclaimed waters by the States as delegates of the Australian Government. A considerable Federal/State machinery has grown up for this purpose. These Bills do not in anyway affect the operation of that machinery except to facilitate it.

I now turn to the provisions of the Bill. The first substantive clause is clause 5, which empowers the Minister and the Secretary to delegate their powers under the Act, subject to the reservation of licensing powers in relation to foreign vessels, fish processing and fish carrying vessels which may be delegated by the Minister or Secretary for Primary Industry only to officers of the Department. Power provided in clause 9 to cancel or suspend a licence may not be delegated at all. Clause 5 also gives effect in the Act to the principle that an official upon whom statutory powers are conferred should be subject to the directions of the Minister in the exercise of those powers. It further provides for the Minister. as defined, to delegate all of his powers under the Act to a Minister of the Papua New Guinea Government, who is further empowered by this clause to exercise those powers independently. The Bill above all provides practical machinery for regulating the quantity of fishing effort in fisheries requiring such regulations.

Clause 6 empowers the Minister to close an area to the taking of a specified kind of fish except by vessels with licences endorsed for that fishery in that area. Selection of vessels entitled to work in a controlled effort fishery will be made in accordance with principles and policies publicly announced by the Minister in each case. To complement the control over the number of vessels, the existing provisions relating to registration of fishing gear are repeated and a new power is provided to regulate the quantity of fishing gear permitted to be used from a vessel and to require that such gear be registered under State or Territory law before it may be used in proclaimed waters. This latter provision will prevent fishermen from using one full set of gear in State waters and another in proclaimed waters and so defeating the purpose of the effort control policy. To deal with the situation of 2 fisheries in the same area using similar gear but having different management regimes, power is provided to prohibit carrying one or other kind of gear on a vessel in the area unless that gear is stowed and secured.

Clause 7 provides for licensing machinery to implement the foregoing principles. Henceforth, a boat licence will authorise the use of a vessel to process and carry its own catch only. New classes of processing and carrying boat licences are provided for in respect of vessels that perform those functions for other vessels ' catches. A new power is provided for endorsing a boat licence to authorise its use in a controlled effort fishery. The discretionary power to grant or refuse a licence is reenacted. This power will continue to be exercised in accordance with the principle that unless there is good reason, consistent with the purposes of the Act, for refusing a licence, it will be granted. To simplify licence issuing procedures, clause 7 provides for a licence to be issued so as to expire on the same date as the State licence held by the applicant and for both Commonwealth and State licences to be printed as a single document if the State concerned so wishes.

Cancellation of a licence for contravention of a condition, or if the holder has been convicted of an offence against this Act, the Continental Shelf (Living Natural Resources) Act or a State or Territory fisheries law, is provided for in clause 7. That clause also provides for suspension of licences. If a condition is contravened, suspension may be involved for a month or until legal proceedings- to be commenced against the older within that time- are determined. If the licence-holder has had a State or Territory fishing licence cancelled or suspended, the Minister or the Secretary may, if he has consulted the State or Territory and if he is satisfied that suspension is desirable for the management of the fishery concerned, suspend a licence under this Act for such period as may be necessary. Suspension may be general or in relation to a specified fishery. The Government has sought to protect the rights of individuals in relation to cancellation or suspension of licences by providing the qualifications in clause 7. At the same time, it considers that those provisions are necessary for proper management of the fisheries and for protecting the rights of law-abiding fishermen.

The Bill repeals the offences provisions of the principal Act and re-enacts them in clause 9 subject to the new principles to which I have referred. Past experience has indicated a need for extending liability in certain circumstances. The holder of a boat licence henceforth will commit an offence if he permits anybody acting on his behalf to contravene a condition of that licence. The person contravening the condition is also liable as if he were the holder of the licence. An act done by an employee or agent of a person charged with contravention of a notice under section 8 of the principal Act is deemed to have been done by the person charged. While the person who commits the contravention remains personally liable, the Bill, by extending liability to the master or owner of the boat, clears the way for courts to order forfeitures if such penalties are considered appropriate.

Clauses 9 and 12 strengthen the forfeiture provisions in cases of offences involving foreign vessels. Clause 9 provides that if a conviction is recorded, the court is obliged to order forfeiture of the catch and the fishing gear. Clause 12 provides that a foreign vessel used or involved in the commission of an offence- that is, fishing without a licence in the 12-mile declared fishing zone- is forfeit to Australia. The boat may be seized by an officer in such a case. If the owners give a security to the value of the boat in the event that it is subsequently condemned, the Minister may release it. Condemnation may be effected in a number of ways. The master or owner may bring action for recovery within 60 days. If such an action fails, or if no such action is brought, of if a conviction is recorded against a person involved in the offence of if the Minister brings a successful action for condemnation, the seized and forfeited foreign boat is condemned. It may then be disposed of by the Secretary acting under the general proviso that the directions of the Minister will apply to the disposal. 'Boat' in clause 12 includes all its equipment other than its fishing gear which is subject to the forfeiture provisions of clause 9. The Government considers that since the value of a catch and a vessel will almost invariable exceed the amount of any fines provided by the Act, penalties of this sort are appropriate to prevent the owners of foreign boats infringing the Act from profiting thereby.

The reinforced penalties are designed to serve as a deterrent against actions which although committed outside Australia are nevertheless offences against Australian law. In the last year, or a little more, 6 foreign trawlers have been apprehended in the declared fishing zone. A large foreign fleet has been operating off the northwest coast in recent months. It has been there since early February, to the Government's certain knowledge. We are keeping them under surveillance and will take action against any which are observed infringing the declared fishing zone.

Clause 11 provides for liability, in cases of offences detected on a vessel without direct evidence of the person who committed them, to devolve upon the master of the boat. The Government considers that this is a reasonable provision having regard to the possibility of evasion of due penalties by persons who have colluded to conceal evidence in the isolated conditions that prevail at sea.

Clause 13 simplifies the giving of evidence of certain matters by empowering the Minister, the Secretary or a delegated person to give certificates of nationality of a boat, the juridical status of an area of waters, whether a licence was or was not held at the time of an offence or whether a licence was issued subject to conditions.

Clause 20 applies the provisions relating to forfeiture of foreign boats, retroactively. That is, if a foreign vessel is apprehended infringing the Act and is under the control of an officer at the time the Bill receives royal assent, it is at that time forfeited.

The Bill does not provide for extending Australia 's fishery jurisdiction over foreigners beyond the existing 12-mile declared fishing zone. As I have already said, the whole question of the Law of the Sea is under international examination in the United Nations. Australia will be represented at the Law of the Sea Conference to be held in 1974. At this conference, the question of the fishery jurisdiction of coastal countries will be considered. The clauses of the Bill to which I have not referred are either formal or machinery provisions for the effective administration of the principles I have outlined. I commend the Bill to honourable senators.

Debate (on motion by Senator Cotton) adjourned.

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