Fisheries Management Amendment (Enforcement Powers) Bill 2022
(Bills - Second Reading Debate, 9 November 2022, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
The Fisheries Management Amendment (Enforcement Powers) Bill will reinstate the interpretation of enforcement powers used by fisheries officers prior to a court ruling earlier this year so that officers can continue to search areas that are not structures, including beaches, riverbanks, ramps, eskies and backpacks. We need to protect fish and invertebrate stocks for future generations. Fishing and overfishing in no-catch areas is unsustainable and I support enforcing unlawful fishing. But unlawful fishing should not extend to Aboriginal cultural fishing, which is a part of a tradition and way of life that has been practised for thousands of years. It covers fishing from personal or communal needs to ceremonies and educational needs. The Parliament recognised that in 2009 when the Act was first introduced by including a schedule to make Aboriginal cultural fishing lawful, but that schedule was never proclaimed. I have been told that since the Act was introduced, 80 per cent of people imprisoned for fishing offences are First Nations people.
The Legislative Council Portfolio Committee No. 4 has just delivered a report on the failure to proclaim schedule 1. The inquiry reported stories of Aboriginal people being harassed, prosecuted and fined for practising cultural fishing. It found that the current regulatory model does not differentiate between trade and barter, which is part of the cultural fishing practice, and commercial fishing without a licence. The report recommended that schedule 1 commence after regulations are drafted. The New South Wales Bar Association and the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties have warned that going forward with this bill would result in more First Nations people ending up in prison, reducing our chances of achieving Closing the Gap incarceration targets.
The Government has said that those powers are necessary to protect fish populations and that if they are not in place, particularly over the holiday period, there will be a great risk to sustainability. That would not be a good outcome. Regarding reinstating those powers, I ask the Minister to inform the House how the Government will stop over‑policing fishing practices of First Nations' people and what it will do to proclaim schedule I. Without a new approach, the bill will see more First Nations' people incarcerated, which I cannot support.
I point out that at the same time that we are being told those changes are vital to protecting fish stocks, the Government has refused to expand the marine park estate, eroded existing protections with moves like authorising illegal fishing at Batemans Marine Park and indicated it might wind back no‑take zones. There is overwhelming evidence that a comprehensive, adequate and representative network of protected marine parks with sanctuary zones is the best way to increase the abundance, size, diversity and overall biomass of sea life. The Hawkesbury Shelf bioregion that spans across Sydney remains entirely unprotected and a Sydney marine park has massive community support. I look forward to the Minister's reply on the bill.