Fisheries Management Amendment Bill 2015

18th November 2015

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) [12.04 p.m.]: I make a brief contribution to debate on the Fisheries Management Amendment Act 2015, and I will be a little more positive. This is a very complex bill and it is broad in its application. I do not doubt that the examples of concern raised by the Opposition are genuine. I do not doubt that there are many different views on different aspects of the bill. However, as we know, in any avenue of life—but particularly in this area—it is almost impossible to please everybody. I give my broad support to the measures in the bill, most of which seem to be common-sense amendments. While Lake Macquarie has been closed to commercial fishing for some time, many charter and tourism-related services still operate out of the lake area. The main aim of most of the bill's provisions is to streamline processes, reduce red tape, transfer cumbersome paper processes to an optional online platform, and allow more flexibility in the application of regulations for licensing and other relevant matters.

I am pleased also to see in the bill environmental provisions, particularly those that strengthen the department's ability to seek compensation from people or companies who show disregard for the environment—for instance, those who engage in unapproved reclamation or dredging, which impacts on ecological systems. I have seen evidence of the environmental damage that these actions can cause, when people take it upon themselves to alter waterways for their own benefit. Thankfully, it does not happen all that often. But it does happen, and when it does the impact is felt well beyond the confines of the offending property. Complex and expensive action through the Land and Environment Court may be the appropriate course of action, but it may not always be the best fit for the circumstances. Whereas in the past these sorts of matters had to be prosecuted in court, the legislation outlines significant fines that will now apply for people who do the wrong thing, and I commend this action.

I am also happy to see that licensing provisions for charter and tourism activities will become more flexible as a result of this legislation. Aspects of the previous legislation were unnecessarily restrictive in this regard. I have consulted with the Minister's office on this issue and I thank his officers for their assistance over time. I gave the example of the case of a constituent who bought a kayak fishing business, only to find that under the State law his clients were not allowed to cast a fishing line from the kayaks because they were not licensed fishing vessels. I understand it could be argued that my constituent did not exercise due diligence but, regardless of that, anybody taking the matter at face value would know that that was not the intention of the legislation and thus it needs some correction. Because kayaks are not, under existing legislation, a recognised vessel for the purpose of issuing fishing licences, the business owner could not secure the appropriate licence that would allow his clients to fish from a kayak. Interestingly, he would be able to take them fishing in a freshwater environment, but not in estuarine waters.

In any case, one of the many provisions in this omnibus bill is that manually operated craft such as kayaks and canoes may now, for the first time, be recognised as legitimate vessels for charter fishing services. Hopefully my constituent will now be able to negotiate a solution to his problem of being a fishing tour operator with no fishing capability. There are many other provisions in the bill that will smooth out such wrinkles in the existing legislation and allow for a more sensible approach to the management of the State's fisheries resources. Another practical approach to charter fishing services is to remove the provision that ties a licence to a particular boat.

Under the new legislation the licence will be transferrable between vessels, and operators will be able to seek additional capacity to grow their business by buying additional licence capacity rather than having to trade in their licence completely and buy another that allows for extra seats on their boat. This shift away from a vessel-based approach to a business-based one is common sense and provides flexibility to the industry. I know some measures in this bill will create some disquiet in the fishing community. Among them are the provisions to allow urgent fishery closures and to allow such closures to prevail over commercial fishery share management plans. I expect those powers will not be used frequently but unfortunately we have seen with the recent incident in Williamtown the sort of situation in which they might be warranted.

There is a need to move quickly in such situations but also to have public accountability because livelihoods are at stake. I trust that decisions will be made not just with the appropriate expediency provided for in this bill but also with transparency. Clearly the closure in Williamtown has not been resolved satisfactorily, with commercial fishers yet to be compensated for their losses. I acknowledge that this is a Federal responsibility and outside the remit of this legislation, but I mention the issue to illustrate that closures, however infrequent, have significant implications and we need to be mindful of that in changing the previously legislated checks and balances. However, on balance, this is clearly an appropriate measure.

The bill is quite comprehensive and complex, and I therefore thank the Minister and his staff for their time in briefing my office and me on its detail—even though it was a little towards the end of the process. It is impossible to please all parties and I am certain that flaws will be found as the legislation is applied. Indeed, there will always be emerging issues or oversights that need to be addressed. I trust that the Minister and his staff will be mindful of and responsive to those needs. Overall, I believe this is good legislation that will strengthen and streamline many aspects of fisheries management. I support the bill and commend it to the House.

Website: Read full Parlliamentary debate

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