Thursday, 15 May 2008
Questions without Notice
I thank the member for Solomon for the question, acknowledge his engagement with both the recreational and commercial fishing sector off the coast of Darwin, and note his commitment to the fight against illegal fishing. I wish to advise the House in response to that question that between 17 and 30 April the Australian Fisheries Management Authority apprehended some 33 vessels off the coast of Northern Australia suspected of illegal fishing. Following investigations, I am advised that nine of the vessels and 55 of the fishermen were not engaged in illegal fishing. I am further advised that the vessels were apprehended in accordance with the Australian government guidelines dealing with vessels operating north of the provisional fisheries surveillance and enforcement line under treaty arrangements between Australia and Indonesia with respect to the south of the seabed boundary area.
In this area, as opposed to many of the other areas where we patrol for illegal fishing, we have control of the seabed, whereas Indonesia has control of swimming species, and jurisdiction there. As could be the case for any law enforcement activity, suspicions that form the basis for apprehension do not always amount to evidence of actual wrongdoing. When that happens law enforcement officials act promptly to release the individuals they have apprehended, and that is exactly what has happened on this case.
I am further advised that, of the nine vessels that were not engaged in illegal fishing—they were fishing legally—when they were apprehended, four of those vessels were destroyed at sea because they would have presented serious risks to safety had they been towed. Another vessel was destroyed in Darwin Harbour because it did begin to sink, and two of the remaining vessels are not seaworthy. In accordance with the international law of the sea, the government will compensate the fishermen—those who were fishing legally—for the loss of their vessels and their fishing equipment.
My colleague the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, from the other place, has advised that six of the 55 were minors and that they have all been accommodated appropriately by his department at a local motel. He also advises that his department is promptly working towards the relocation of the crews of the affected vessels from the Northern Immigration Detention Centre to alternative accommodation in Darwin, with a view to expediting their return to Indonesia at the earliest possible time. It is expected that those remaining in detention will be relocated today from the immigration facility and accommodated under community based detention arrangements, which probably will be motels in and around Darwin.
These crews, all of whom were involved in legal fishing, will be kept together and accompanied by a detention service provider officer until Saturday when the fishers will be returned to Indonesia. The minister also advises that his department is developing a management strategy for the remainder of the illegal fishermen detained at the centre. This will include the engagement of additional staff to expedite the number of illegal foreign fishers at the detention centre as quickly as possible.
The government does not resile from its tough stance on illegal fishing. However, as can be the case in any law enforcement activity, genuine errors can be made. Given the numbers of people involved, I felt it was important to inform the House directly of these matters. I also note, with our gratitude, the cooperation and assistance of the Indonesian authorities, and the work we do together with Indonesia to combat illegal fishing. The Indonesian consulate is expected to provide travel documents for this group by noon tomorrow to assist their return to Indonesia.