Thursday, 16 August 2012
Fisheries Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2012; Second Reading
I rise to speak on the Fisheries Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2012. The coalition supports this bill, which implements a number of small amendments to the Fisheries Management Act 1991 and the Fisheries Administration Act 1991 to facilitate the implementation of electronic monitoring, or e-monitoring, in relation to Commonwealth fisheries; require AFMA to write to all fishers if a fishery or part thereof is closed or reopened or otherwise varied; remove the obligation for AFMA to consult with fishers prior to closing a fishery or part of a fishery to fishing in an emergency; clarify the meaning of 'part of a fishery', as it is used in relation to directions to close a fishery or part of a fishery; allow AFMA to waive levies applicable to statutory fishing rights when they are surrendered—and some conditions apply; and specify liability of corporations and other principals with regard to unlawful conduct. The bill is recognition by the government that their policies are driving our commercial fisheries to the wall. Recently, the government unilaterally decided to lock up another 1.3 million square kilometres of our seas. More than doubling the number of marine reserves, from 27 to 60, has nothing to do with sustainably managing marine environments or fisheries and is not based on science. It is just another occasion for the Greens to demonstrate that they are running this government and to ensure that Labor continue to rent Green support at the next election. It has real consequences for Australian commercial and recreational fishers and the regional communities which support them. When 'lock it up' is the government's approach to vast areas of Australia's territorial waters, is it any wonder that our supermarkets are overflowing with imported seafood?
Remarkably, Australia imports a massive 72 per cent of the seafood we eat. There is no doubt that we must conserve our oceans and be conscious of the breeding grounds and the seasons so that they can be sensibly harvested. However, our fishing industry understands this only too well and is at the forefront of managing sustainable fisheries. Our recreational fishers and our marine tourism industries understand that the value of their entire industry is dependent on having a sustainable environment, but they have been ignored.
The government, as well as increasing the area of marine parks without justifiable science, also continues to cut the quotas of our commercial fishers, forcing many out of the industry. And, to add insult to injury, the government expects the few remaining commercial fishers to pay vastly increased costs for the management of the fisheries, sending even more to the wall. This bill is a token attempt by the government to reduce costs of the struggling commercial fishers who are being regulated out of existence.
The amendment to allow electronic monitoring is welcomed by industry and, although expensive to set up, it allows the fishers to save money and not be required to carry and fund human observers, which costs over $1,000 a day.
AFMA requires data to inform its decision making to fulfil its legislative responsibilities: environmentally sustainable use of fisheries resources; effective and cost-effective fisheries management; research into the fisheries and the marine environment; and investigation of possible breaches and enforcement activities. Traditionally, this information is gathered through logbook returns, vessel-monitoring systems and human observers positioned on vessels. E-monitoring involves electronic recording of fishing and related activities and includes use of cameras, GPS and vessel-monitoring systems. E-monitoring will complement other monitoring techniques.
The decision regarding whether to use observers or install e-monitoring equipment is made by AFMA, in consultation with the relevant management advisory committee for the fishery. MACs are made up of members from commercial industry, fisheries management, the scientific community, the environment-conservation sector and, in some instance, state governments. The decision to introduce e-monitoring would be based on the fishery specific monitoring requirements of, as well as the costs and benefits to, each fishery.
The bill will make several minor amendments to the FM Act to make provisions clear and consistent, to help ensure that provisions operate as intended and to simplify the administration of the Fisheries Management Act.
The bill will clarify the meaning of 'part of a fishery' as it is used in relation to directions to close a fishery or part of fishery to fishing. The provision will avoid doubt by providing that 'part of a fishery' can be defined in any way, consistent with the FM Act's definition of 'fishery'.
The bill will make it a requirement that all fishers are given written notification of a direction to close a fishery or part of a fishery to fishing or of any variation to or revocation of such a direction. The bill will also remove the requirement for AFMA to consult before making a direction to close a fishery or part thereof in an emergency. A requirement upon AFMA to consult in an emergency is inconsistent with the need to take urgent action. Because emergency closure directions are legislative instruments, they will still be subject to parliamentary scrutiny and AFMA will be required to notify fishers of the emergency closure as soon as possible. Examples of an emergency include where water becomes contaminated by an oil spill or algae bloom and where consumption of the affected fish poses a health hazard.
The bill will also make it possible for AFMA to waive levies payable in respect of a statutory fishing right that is surrendered and any penalty amounts payable for non-payment of the levy where no fishing has been undertaken under the statutory fishing right in the period to which the levy applies. The Fisheries Management Act currently provides AFMA with this power in respect of fishing permits but not in respect of statutory fishing rights. The amendments will remove this inconsistency to ensure that the same ability to waive levies can be applied to statutory fishing right holders.
The coalition recognises the important role fishing plays to hundreds of coastal and river communities in bringing employment to millions of Australians and to the national economy. The commercial fishing sector has a value of more than $2 billion, making it the sixth largest primary-producing sector. In addition, it is estimated that 3½ million Australians participate in recreational fishing, spending over $3 billion each year in charter hire, fishing and boating equipment, travel, accommodation and bait. The coalition are keeping a close eye on the fisheries portfolio as we are concerned that Labor continues to threaten the sector to keep the support of the Greens and to allow fringe environmental groups to unilaterally influence policy. The issue of no-take zones has caused great uncertainty for businesses that are directly and indirectly reliant on access to fishing resources right around Australia.
In conclusion, the coalition supports this bill, which will provide small, sensible measures to improve fisheries management and to cut ever-increasing costs imposed by the government that are crippling the sector.
The Fisheries Legislation Amendment Bill (No.1) 2012 will amend the Fisheries Management Act 1991 and the Fisheries Administration Act 1991. The purpose of this bill is to facilitate the implementation of electronic monitoring and to upgrade the acts to provide modern administrative processes to use electronic opportunities of e-monitoring in a positive way. That is consistent with the direction of most government agencies in making administrative and regulatory processes of any industry more efficient and more effective and probably bringing down the costs associated with the regulatory process.
The bill will provide for a system of e-monitoring of fishing and fishing related activities undertaken by Commonwealth fishing concession and scientific permit holders. Other amendments to the bill will increase the effectiveness of the provisions of the Fisheries Management Act that make corporations and other persons responsible for unlawful conduct engaged in by their employees, agents or directors. The amendments will also improve consistency and clarity by amending the obligations that AFMA has when making and notifying fishers of directions to close a fishery, including in emergencies. If information comes to hand, then they can get information out quickly and notify fishers at sea or on land on what their decisions are.
The bill will also clarify 'part of a fishery,' which sometimes might be affected and needs to be dealt with. It brings the act into line with that. It also permits AFMA to waive levies which apply to statutory fishing rights. I understand that consultation has taken place with other agencies. Large sections of the fishing industry have also been consulted and involved in trials of e-monitoring. The Commonwealth Fisheries Association, the peak industry representative body, has been consulted on these proposed amendments. So we are moving forward, modernising the opportunities for managing fishing regulations and fishing management in Australia. Of course, fisheries management in Australia is seen as probably one of the best regimes in the world, and AFMA seems to be operating a stand-out process. The collection and organisation of data, and being able to get it together in a very efficient and effective way, is very important for regulation. Knowing what is coming out of the fisheries, what the take is, what the conditions are et cetera, helps us manage fisheries in a modern and positive way. Of course, that data goes into research and assists in maintaining our wild fish stocks in a sustainable and proper manner.
I want to go to an issue about fishing which has come up in the Commonwealth's small pelagic fishery. A large trawler is being considered for fishing off Australian waters. I have had a considerable number of people seeking information from me—some, I must say, in a very poor manner, in a very nasty manner. I do not mind people seeking information and letting me know their views but we all should endeavour to make those things operate in a proper manner. If anybody wants information from me, I do not mind them seeking it, but they should do that in a proper manner. My staff have to deal with emails and texts and other things. The first question related to the number of people in the fishery. From the information I have been able to get in relation to this fishery, from the list of the SFR holders for this fishery, I have counted 169 separate quota in both the eastern subarea and the western subarea for the species including blue mackerel, jack mackerel, red bait and a small group in sardines. Of these, Seafish Tasmania has six quotas, three in each, and these are the only fish for which they have sought a quota.
The second question related to whether the ship the Margiris attracts an EU subsidy. At this stage there is no evidence that the fuel used by this boat while fishing in Australia will be subsidised by the EU. One question related to the estimates of global fuel subsidy and figures not specific to this vessel. It would seem unlikely that an Australian registered vessel would qualify for a subsidy from the EU. But there is no evidence either way that I can find.
The third question related to whether the trawler catch will result in fewer fish for the top predators in the ocean. The role of small pelagic fish in the food chain is an issue of concern for recreational fishers who argue that fishing on AFMA sustainable level terms will impact on the top predators, for example, tuna and billfish. AFMA has indicated that the top predator fish are not as dependent on the fish species as targeted by the SPF as they are on similar fish in other areas of the world. There is a wider variety of prey species in Australian waters. It might be useful to look at the 2011 report, Impacts of fishing low-trophic level species on marine ecosystems, which studied ecosystems in various currents in California, Northern Humboldt, North Sea, Southern Benguela, and south-east Australia. It talked about the relationship of the abundance in the ecosystem with the connectivity of the group in the food web. So it appears that from the study the impact of fishing both species was low in the Australian and Californian current ecosystems. There are other factors that influence the ecosystem effects. Therefore it has been argued that it is highly unlikely that local depletion will occur because the fish species are highly mobile and vary with the ocean fronts and currents. However, there is no specific research on stock movements for the SPF species. There has been research done on the stock structure and location and it does back up some of the other findings that there is sufficient stock available to move more than to fill the quota.
From the various documents I have sourced to try to answer concerns, it is very hard to argue that this ship will cause any impact on the fishery. AFMA has found no evidence that large boats pose a higher risk to either commercial species or the broader maritime ecosystem when total catches are limited and the limits are enforced.
The other issue is that there are a number of other companies that are fishing in this fishery, and whatever decision is made for one ship has to apply to the others. By the same token, all conditions that have been put on the commercial fishers apply to any new entrants into the fishery: all are scrutinised for their catches and fishing methods. So my concern is to try to deal with the real issue that we are looking at here, that preventing this ship from operating on the grounds that it might overfish or act illegally in some way would be unfair to the business operator and may leave the government open to legal challenge on various grounds. Every application for a licence has to be treated equally. That is the way our system works. That is the way the fishing regulations in Australia are structured.
Although I understand totally the concern of recreational fishers across the country, I think some of the concerns have been mischievously blown up and used to try to stop fishing everywhere—that might apply to recreational fishers too, especially into the future. I really want people to understand that I am very pleased that people are taking such an interest in the sea and are concerned about fish stocks and fishing sustainably, both commercially and recreationally. I think that is a very good thing for the country. We need to be able to show that we are fishing sustainably and that we know what is coming out of the fishery, what fish are left, the age of those fish, what the egg counts are, that it is sustainable and when to change quotas either down or up.
This bill is trying to deal with modernising the efficiency of the Australian fishing industry and the regulatory processes through AFMA by getting it onto an e-monitoring process, so that AFMA can use modern processes to communicate with the fishing industry. All boats that go to sea now are registered, they all have monitors on them that transmit where they are, where they are fishing, the fish that are taken and the bycatches. That is all recorded so that we know and we can build up very good data for making good, sustainable fishing decisions into the future. It is in the interest of everybody, including the fishers, people who work on the fishing boats and recreational fishers who take fish from some of these fisheries as well, that we have a sustainable fishery and that we have information recorded for research, and that we continue to monitor and to make the right decisions about sustainable fishing in Australia. I am very pleased to support this amendment bill which will modernise and make more effective the process that we use in Australia, which is seen to be among the best in the world for managing wild fisheries.
I rise to speak on the Fisheries Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2012. The bill before us today implements some important amendments to the Fisheries Management Act and the Fisheries Administration Act. These amendments are designed to help facilitate more efficient data reporting through electronic monitoring, or e-monitoring, and in doing so potentially realise cost savings to the industry. The amendments will also help clarify interpretations of the Fisheries Management Act and the Fisheries Administration Act. Accountability of corporations, concession holders and their employees, directors and agents in relation to compliancy and liability will be clarified within the bill. The amendments to the bill will allow for emergency powers to be introduced to partly close or close a fishery without stakeholder consultation in case of emergency. The term 'part of fishery' as it relates to fishery closures will be defined. AFMA will be required to write to stakeholders if the fishery or part thereof is closed. Amendments further contained in this bill will also allow AFMA to waive levies applicable to statutory fishing rights when they are surrendered.
The Australian commercial fishing industry is an important economic driver for Australia, contributing billions of dollars to the national economy and employing and supporting thousands of people and families in communities right across Australia. Not only is Australia's fishing industry important to the economy but it is also an important sector for Australian food security now and into the future. The effective management of Australia's wild fisheries is essential to guarantee an economic and environmentally sustainable future for the industry.
Australia has a marine area or Exclusive Economic Zone of approximately 10 million square kilometres, two million of which are located in the Australian Antarctic Territory. To put this into context, Australia's landmass is approximately 7.69 million kilometres. Commonwealth fisheries are all fisheries in the zone outside three nautical miles to the 200-nautical-mile zone. Management of this vast resource in its geographical nature has been problematic, to say the least. For example, there are some fisheries jointly managed between the states and Commonwealth, such as in the Torres Strait. Then there is the issue of migratory pelagic species that travel inside and outside our territorial borders—for example, southern bluefin tuna and yellowfin tuna, to name but two targeted commercial species. These fish are not subject to our management plans until they reach the Australian Exclusive Economic Zone.
There is an ongoing need to consult and work with other countries to ensure a uniform management plan for sustainability. Back in 1997, I attended the South Pacific fisheries forum at the time of the introduction of the superseiners into the Federated States of Micronesia. The superseiners all but wiped out large-scale migratory pelagic species. That country needed income and took the licence fee off the then American-flagged boats. The impact of that fishery was felt not just in the immediate area but across the broader Pacific.
The monitoring of vessels and collation of real-time data to better manage the fishery and regulatory enforcement have been inherently difficult and resource intensive. The difficulties of interception, detection and apprehension of vessels fishing illegally, both domestic and foreign, have been exacerbated with the deployment of assets to deal with all the arrivals of illegal immigrants.
Australia quite deservedly is globally considered a leader in fisheries resource management and training. As an island nation, we acknowledge the importance of fisheries resource management. We have achieved this through the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, AFMA, and state fisheries bodies. The Australian Fisheries Management Authority was established in 1991 to take responsibility for the efficient management and sustainable use of Commonwealth fish resources on behalf of the Australian community.
This bill will give provision under the Fisheries Administration Act 1991 to enable e-monitoring of vessels in certain fisheries. The collection and collation of catch statistics has been difficult and in many cases antiquated, relying on participants to report fishing activity. Traditionally information has been gathered through physical logbook returns, vessel-monitoring systems and human observers positioned on the vessels. This is an expensive exercise, costing the operator around $1,000 per day per vessel.
The e-monitoring system is an integrated data reporting system that will allow for a more concise, expedient and uniform management and compliancy tool. The e-monitoring system will also include electronic recording of fishing related activity and includes the use of cameras, GPS and vessel-monitoring systems. Types of data that will be generated by e-monitoring include video footage of fishing and fishing related activities on the decks of boats, in the processing areas of boats or in the water, and data showing the location and identity of boats and the time that fishing activities take place. The cost of purchasing, installing and maintaining an e-monitoring system will be borne by the fishers. It is expected the proposed system, compared to observer programs that cost in excess of $1,000 per day, will prove more cost effective and reliable. I would like to see the ongoing cost-benefit of this system as it relates to the imposts on the fishery stakeholders. The cost impost of management on fishermen through licensing and compliance must be balanced and cost-effective.
The bill expressly authorises AFMA to collect e-monitoring data and creates offences for hindering the operation of e-monitoring equipment or modifying, damaging or destroying data without the written authority of AFMA. The ability to collect comprehensive real-time information as it relates to individual fisheries will prove invaluable in the better management of Australian fisheries.
As alluded to by the member for Lyons, with this Labor government's plan to allow the FV Margiris, the world's second-largest supertrawler, into Australia to fish, these issues will be critical. Seafish Tasmania is bringing in this 142-metre trawler to Devonport and plans to have it fishing by the end of the month. Seafish has an 18,000-tonne redbait and jack mackerel quota which will be harvested in Commonwealth waters from Western Australia to the New South Wales coast. I am particularly concerned about the volume of bycatch that will be taken by this vessel. With monitoring systems, sounding systems and an understanding of fish migratory patterns, fishing can be much better targeted, but there is always the incidental bycatch, and that is what concerns me. As alluded to by the member for Lyons, there are concerns when you disrupt the food chain of fish up-line and down-line of that particular species. We remember very well the pilchard kill that occurred due to a virus, and there were impacts up the food chain from that. I do not think we need to create that purposely with our fishing, so e-monitoring, controlling and managing our fishery are critically important.
On that, I personally, along with the recreational fishing community—with whom I have regular discussions because they fit in as part of my tourism portfolio—and my constituency in the Hunter Valley remain to be convinced that the science is up to date and accurate. I refer to the impact of the orange roughy fishery, where the initial science was fundamentally flawed. The fishery was overfished, which had devastating impacts. Fish are not like sheep or cattle, which are on the land and you can herd them up and do a direct headcount to know exactly what is there. There are a lot of assumptions in fisheries management, and, no matter how detailed the assumptions are about fish stock, at the end of the day they are still assumptions.
With regard to compliance and enforcement, the bill before us today will allow for expedience in dealing with compliance breaches and allow AFMA to use e-monitoring certificates as prima facie evidence in court proceedings. There have been great technological advances in GPS, surveillance and reporting technologies in terms of their reliability and their accuracy, but it would be remiss of me not to draw attention to the importance of the ongoing validation of these technologies, not only in assuring reliable and accurate data collection but also in preventing misuse and/or criminal activity.
The bill seeks to amend the Fisheries Management Act so that corporations or other persons can be held responsible for the unlawful conduct of masters of the vessels and the crew unless company directors demonstrate that they have exercised precautions and due diligence to prevent breaches. Like any industry, there is a component of criminality that exists. This criminality can jeopardise not only the fishery, through unreported takes, but also the long-term economic sustainability of stakeholders. This amendment will hopefully act as a deterrent for unscrupulous operators, owners who might have otherwise conducted illegal fishing practices but avoided prosecution. I, along with all of my community, fully support any measures that can bring those engaging in illegal fishing activities to account. That includes directors, corporations and masters. If AFMA is to use evidentiary certificates generated by e-monitoring, the legal implications must be considered. Systemic inaccuracy and system anomalies could invalidate the monitoring system—therefore posing a legal recourse for breaches in compliance and potentially negate pending and past convictions or actions—and corrupt scientific data. The e-monitoring system has been trialled in the gillnet, hook and trap sector and has been used as evidence. However, at this point the prosecutions have not been completed and therefore we are unsure how the system data will stand up to legal scrutiny.
The bill will make provisions for AFMA to close or partly close a fishery in the instance that an emergency is classified. The bill will allow for this closure to be enacted without the consultation of industry stakeholders. As I said, a good example of that was where masses of pilchards were killed, affecting the food chain overnight. I raise my concern that the removal of industry consultation must only be considered in the extreme. The ongoing consultation of industry stakeholders is an essential part of developing a strategic plan that the industry will embrace and work with. This mechanism is designed to ensure the economic and ecological viability of the said fishery where an ecological, biological or man-made threat jeopardises the fishery. This could manifest itself as an oil spill, or an unexpected biomass crash, as I said earlier in relation to the pilchards.
I support this measure in the context that this power enacted by the bill will be used by AFMA and the minister in the spirit that it was designed for. Careful consideration must be given to the impact of a closure or part thereof on relevant stakeholders. Closures must be based on validated and unbiased scientific data, and the power to close a fishery without consultation must be based on an imminent threat to or catastrophe suffered by the fishery. This provision cannot be used as a divisive political tool, as occurred with the closure of our live beef exports.
Statutory and discretionary powers to close or limit commercial activity in any sector should be administered with extreme caution and only be entered into with a fully informed understanding of the implications that such closures can have. Unfortunately this has not been the case, as was clearly demonstrated when Minister Ludwig made the decision to shut down overnight the live cattle export industry to Indonesia. I do not need to remind anyone that that is the same minister who has responsibility for the fisheries portfolio. The impacts on cattle growers and associated industries and communities have proven catastrophic. The industry had taken years to develop, employed thousands of people in rural and remote areas and was a key economic driver for regional Australia. The long-term impacts to rural Australia and the ongoing viability of the industries involved are still being felt and are yet to be fully realised.
The knee-jerk closure of the cattle export industry has demonstrated the initiation of similar powers to these fishery measures based on political agendas and not on impartial consideration of the facts or the economic and social ramifications. The Australian fishing industry has copped it hard through disjointed and inconsistent policy and management at both state and federal levels. The economic potential and development of the industry are yet to be realised. Many world fisheries are suffering or are unviable due to historically poor management practices, lack of enforceability and in some cases the total absence of management altogether.
The interpretation of emergency and protocols warranting emergency closures needs to be clarified. The implementation of emergency closure directions should not be used as a policy mechanism without up-to-date and accurate scientific evidence. Even though emergency closures would be subject to parliamentary scrutiny, the implementation of these discretionary powers could have adverse economic implications for affected stakeholders. I would like to be assured that AFMA as the independent regulatory body will develop strategies based on factual information and will not be manipulated by political agendas that are not in the best interests of fisheries. The Australian fishing industry is facing many challenges, and these and other issues need to be considered. (Time expired)
While the coalition does not oppose the Fisheries Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2012, I personally do have some concerns about it. Those concerns are partly about what the legislation contains and partly about what it does not contain. My concerns arise from this government's highly negative approach to fisheries management. It is about control and it is about contraction. It is about stifling people's livelihoods and squeezing freedoms to shape the Australian lifestyle to fit the government's own misguided perceptions—and the misguided perceptions of their fellow travellers, the Greens.
The government's approach is partly evident in this bill. I do not know that there is one piece of legislation that has come to this House under this government, in the life of this parliament, that promotes growth in the fisheries sector, either in wild catch or in aquaculture. Actually, I am not sure that this government has brought any legislation to this place that promotes growth in any industry. Instead, this bill provides another level of red tape, complete with its own financial and compliance burdens which this time include criminal sanctions. It is another law that is going to impinge on not only recreational but also commercial fishermen, those who are trying to make a living and are really struggling under the current amount of legislation and green tape that already oppresses the sector. I know that this concept of moving to e-monitoring is about better data collection, and in one sense that is a good thing. But I do worry about what AFMA will do with the data, where else this data might end up and what it might be used for in the long run.
To the Liberal-National coalition's great shame, we presided over the closure of many great commercial and recreational fishing spots in the Great Barrier Reef. If I had been in this place at that time, I would have crossed the floor when that decision was made because of the impact that it had on the economy and the lifestyle of North Queensland. That decision was made by government agencies after getting hold of data that the fishermen provided in good faith to those agencies. The fishers provided information on where the good fishing spots were, where their catch was coming from, and that information was promptly used to lock out those very same fishermen from those very spots.
The Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the member for Braddon, who introduced this legislation into the House, recognised the importance of the fishing industry in his second reading speech. He said:
Commercial fish catch contributes more than $2 billion per year to the Australian economy. Processors, marketers, retailers, consumers and many allied small businesses benefit directly or indirectly from the industry and increase its contribution to the economy.
And he is right. He is completely right: it is an important part of the economy, particularly regional economies. We have towns like Bowen, in my electorate of Dawson, and Cairns where fishing plays a big role in the local economy and the local community. But then, in the parliamentary secretary's speech, came the big green fist:
… Australians expect species that are valuable to the economy will not be over exploited. Accurate scientific data is essential to set catch limits on species to protect their status and maximise the economic returns to Australia. Furthermore, Australians expect that threatened, endangered and protected species, such as sea lions, dolphins and albatrosses, as well as the marine environment, will be protected from damage.
That is fine that Australians expect that. But this government should not be further adding to the problem that we already have in the community, and that is the problem of false perceptions. At this point, I want to quote the Chair of the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, the Hon. Harry Woods. This is taken from the transcript of his evidence to the inquiry into the role of science for fisheries and aquaculture which is currently being conducted by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Agriculture, Resources, Fisheries and Forestry. I will quote him at some length:
Fishing in Australia is vibrant in some areas and pretty depressed in other areas. We think as a board that in overall terms the fishing industry in all its forms is at a sustainable level. It is well managed—not that there cannot be improvements—and, more than that, we believe the people of Australia want to eat fish. They want to eat Australian fish. We consider there is a bit of a disconnect—and I think this is one of the big issues—between the consumer and where the stuff comes from. There was some evidence more recently that kids at school did not know where yoghurt came from—it was grown on trees—and it is a similar story with fish. You get people in Glebe in Sydney or the inner suburbs of other cities eating fish but saying they do not believe it is sustainable. We have had some surveys that say that there is a large percentage of people who do not believe the fishing industry is sustainable, which is not in accord with what we think.
He means the Fisheries RDC. He goes on:
They are the sort of issues we are confronting. We do have a new strategy this year promoting the research, not the product, so that people have a better understanding of some of the issues and are not as easily believing of some of the myths that might appear in the media. We are actively trying to counter some of those myths.
This is what the Chair of the Fisheries RDC, the government funded and government backed research and development body for the fishing industry in Australia, says. He represents scientists who are in the field in this industry. They say that every wild catch stock in Australia is sustainable, and the perception that it is not is as false as the perception that yogurt tubs grow on trees. But any disconnect with the general public is no excuse for the government to be completely out of touch with reality and to perpetuate the myth. The Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Resources, Fisheries and Forestry is playing on those same false perceptions in the community that are detrimental to our fishing industry. Not only does the Fisheries RDC think that the current level of fishing is sustainable but also they believe that fishing production can grow. Mr Woods said at the same inquiry:
We think there are opportunities to increase production in all the sectors of the fisheries.
All sectors. So why are we not growing this industry? Faced with this so-called two-speed economy, this government wants to tax the strength of the economy to death rather than foster growth in the slower lane, even when the opportunities are there. What stifles growth in the fishing industry is the government reacting to these false perceptions, in fact fostering these false perceptions in the community, that stocks are somehow under threat. Dr Patrick Hone, the Executive Director of the Fisheries RDC also spoke to the standing committee's current inquiry. He said:
… we have the situation now where the bottleneck is not necessarily around the science; it is around some of the policy decisions around how that science can actually be implemented.
To paraphrase him, he said it is not the science, it is the policy interpretation of that science. More science, more data—yes, that would be helpful to have, but it is not what is required to grow the sector. What is required is better understanding, better policy decisions and better and less punitive use of the data when it does come out from the industry.
One of this government's policies that will have a great impact on the livelihoods and lifestyles of both recreational and commercial fishermen in this country is the marine park closure plan. In particular I refer to the Coral Sea Marine Park plan. It is an absolutely insane proposal that will lock up vast tracts of water from our fishing industry when the government backed research body says no unsustainable practice is taking place.
This is an absolutely insane proposal which is to do with the legislation. We are talking about monitoring the fishing industry and the data we can get from the industry. Yet this proposal we have is not based on any data whatsoever. It is going to lock up vast tracts of water from our fishing industry when the data, the science, the people from the government backed research and development body, say there are no unsustainable practices taking place in this country. Locking up the Coral Sea, an area half the size of Queensland, is a perfect example of dumb policy that has ignored science, ignored data and reacted to misguided perceptions about the sustainability of our fisheries.
I was at the Australian Institute of Marine Science the other day talking to a few scientists, including Dr John Gunn who heads the research facility there. I said to him: 'John, tell me about this Coral Sea proposal and what the science behind it is from your point of view.' His view is that there is very little, that we do not have a great understanding of what is out there and therefore we do not know what needs to be conserved, and therefore any push to conserve it is based on no information whatsoever. That was the view of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, another government backed body. What has driven this policy is not science but the radical green American group called Pew. That is where this government is getting its policy advice from. The lockout is not proposed because the fishery in any area of this country is unsustainable. It does not come because species are endangered; there is not one single species that is endangered. It does not come because there is any damage to any reef or any impact on the marine environment at all. In fact, in promoting the closure the government itself says the area is in pristine condition. This closure comes only because the American green organisation Pew said they want the government to do it. They would not do the same thing in American waters, I notice. In Fishing World magazine there was an article on 29 June this year which said:
The US-based anti-fishing organisation Pew has admitted that it pressured the Australian Government to lock anglers out of vast areas of the Coral Sea but would not take the same action in American waters because it would harm the US economy and disadvantage local fishermen.
I tell you what, they came to the right government if they wanted to harm local fishermen here and disadvantage our economy. Confirming that what was good for Australia was not good for America, Pew's director of federal fisheries policy, Lee Crocket, went on to say that closing the Gulf of Mexico to fishing would not make sense because those waters were 'a major US economic driver'. So it really does not matter how much e-monitoring you have, the facts are on the table for the government to see in relation to fisheries management.
I quote another scientist here, marine biologist Walter Starck. I want to talk about the Coral Sea for a split second. He says that the fishery harvest rate we have here in Australia is actually one-30th of the global average. He points out that Australia has got the largest per capita fishing zone and the lowest fisheries harvest rate in the world. We have got the most restrictive and costly marine resource management in the world. No marine species in Australia is threatened with extinction by fishing, and that is backed up by the Fisheries RDC, and there are already some protections in place for a lot of Coral Sea islands and reefs. When you look at the Coral Sea itself, again quoting from Walter Starck in the report he has done, he says that the Coral Sea is one of the world's prime yellowfin tuna fishing grounds. We produce a few hundred tonnes from the Coral Sea where Japanese fishermen have previously produced around 30,000 tonnes annually for many years. The border of this Coral Sea is in conjunction with PNG's EEZ, the exclusive economic zone they have. Fish, as has been said before, are not like cattle where you can herd them into a certain area. They swim and they do not see lines on maps, so they swim right across the line that the government might want to put on a map and they swim into PNG waters. PNG license Asian fishing companies to fish those same migratory stocks in their waters. They currently catch about 750,000 tonnes of tuna while all of Australian tuna fisheries amount to about 15,000 tonnes. We import some $165 million worth of canned tuna into this country every year. We save our fish so that the fishermen in other countries can catch it and sell it back to us. It is crazy.
So it does not matter how much data you collect, it does not matter how much you have or how much science, because this government simply will not take it into account. Rather than listen to the science, rather than look at the data, they listen to extremist organisations from the other side of the world and their mates in the Greens.
In addressing the Fisheries Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2012, I am delighted to offer the opposition's support. This bill essentially does two things. Firstly, it opens up the potential for comprehensive electronic monitoring of fisheries catch and processes. What that means in practice is that it offers the potential (a) for better knowledge, (b) for faster knowledge, but (c) for decreased costs for the fisheries community. People would say, 'How can that be the case?' It is because of the cost of observers who will be on board vessels, which ultimately is largely passed through to individual fishers. That means, at a cost of potentially $1,000 a day for an observer, we can, in relatively short order, remove and rebate the effect of having to build in the e-monitoring capability. Therefore there is greater reliability and reduced costs in the medium term at the very least and certainly in the long term for fishers, and that is a good thing. So we have better, faster information and ultimately a more efficient approach, which should be good for fishers.
The second thing the bill does is to give AFMA the potential to waive levies for fishermen under certain circumstances. That is a good thing. It is all about recognising the circumstances of individual fishers. I have dealt with AFMA on behalf of my local shark fishers at San Remo over a number of years. There have been elements of process where, frankly, I have to say that I think there has been a great degree of inflexibility and lack of recognition of circumstances on the ground. In particular, Steve Brockwell has been a community leader in the fishing community at San Remo and his work ought to be commended. On some occasions it has been a little bit like The Castlehe has been taking on the great authorities and on most occasions he has won. At the moment he has concerns about activities which would allow for a change in net size, which would disadvantage local fishers and potentially have impacts on the environment.
That brings me to two other issues which are absolutely fundamental to our approach to this bill. In good faith, we give our support to the Fisheries Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2012. However, we feel there has been bad faith towards the recreational fishing community with the way the government has dealt with its wholesale blanket bans on fishing in certain marine protected areas, or the plan to list all marine protected areas. Dean Logan of the Australian Marine Alliance has spent a lot of time working with the government and the opposition. He is a very credible spokesperson. His view has been that there has been no real opportunity for the fishing community to have a say. There has been a sham consultation but no dialogue, no engagement where their views are taken on board. I saw this with the blanket bans that were applied to the New South Wales coast under the previous minister for the environment. They were subsequently removed, and I can see the same mistakes occurring again. In government, we would review this process on a science-based analysis looking to the areas where we need to protect breeding grounds rather than wholesale lockouts of the fishing community. Let me be clear, precise and absolute on that.
The flip side, of course, is the diversity—this brings me to the third point—where recreational fishers are being locked out, but the super trawler Margiris is being invited in. I have looked pretty closely at this issue and I know there is a healthy debate. But what we see there—whether it is the Tasmanian tuna fishing association, Professor Daniel Pauly of the University of British Columbia or Dean Logan of the Australian Marine Alliance—is a deep concern that the intent of this bill is being undermined by the Margiris decision and the Margiris decision is in completely the opposite direction from the treatment of domestic recreational fishers.
The facts are that there will be a 300-metre-long net, 80 metres by 35 metres wide at the opening. When a smaller version was used in 2004, 14 dolphins were caught. There is still a risk to dolphins and seals, even though there has been an improvement in the technology. We say that there needs to be an independent scientific panel to assess the impacts over and above what has already occurred. This should be an independent scientific panel to assess the sustainability of the Margiris super trawler in Australian waters. It comes as the same time as recreational fishers are being locked out.
Against that background, we are happy to show good faith and support this bill, but we do not believe that the government is showing good faith to recreational fishers. It must appoint an independent scientific panel in relation to the Margiris.
Firstly, I thank those people who contributed to the debate: the member for Flinders, who is leaving the chamber, the member for Paterson, the member for Calare, the member for Lyons and the member for Dawson. I cannot say that I agree with much of what the member for Dawson said; I am not sure if he is actually supporting the legislation or not. Really, the remarks I heard from him did not address any aspect of the legislation. Some people use this place to go on a frolic, and that is what he did.
The Fisheries Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2012 is an important step in improving data collection for fisheries through the introduction of electronic monitoring, e-monitoring, on Commonwealth fishing vessels. Australian fisheries are a valuable natural resource, as you would know, Mr Acting Deputy Speaker, and must be carefully managed to ensure sustainability. After all, the commercial fish catch contributes over $2 billion annually to our economy. E-monitoring is a cost-effective way of collecting high-quality data on fishing and related activities, which was quite effectively summarised by the member for Flinders. It includes the impact of fishing on target and non-target species and on the maritime environment. E-monitoring will also generate data with which to monitor compliance with relevant laws. I am sure that is something upon which we will all agree, even the member for Dawson. E-monitoring will complement other monitoring techniques such as observers and logbook reports. We expect it to reduce the cost to fishers and to the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, AFMA, of monitoring and managing fisheries.
The bill will allow AFMA to fully utilise e-monitoring as a monitoring and data collection tool and includes a number of provisions to make sure that the e-monitoring scheme is effective, transparent and administratively efficient. The bill also makes minor amendments to make the legislation clearer, more consistent and simpler to administer. This includes amendments to state clearly the obligations upon AFMA when making directions to close fisheries. Given the comments of those opposite, I would have thought that would be very important. It will also help to ensure that corporations and other principals can be held responsible for fisheries offences committed by their directors, employees and agents. Again, something I would have thought would be universally applauded across this parliament. Finally, it will allow levies to be waived when statutory fishing rights are surrendered—an issue that I would have thought would have common support. I might say that it was not addressed by the member for Dawson, although it was addressed by the member for Flinders.
The measures introduced in this bill are important steps in bringing modern monitoring technology to Australia's fisheries and in enabling AFMA to implement efficient and cost-effective fisheries management.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
Ordered that this bill be reported to the House without amendment.