The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of Peter Costello

Peter Costello

Treasurer

11 March 1996 - 3 December 2007

Transcript of 16/05/2006

Doorstop Interview with Senator Eric Abetz, Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation & Mr David Tollner, Member for Solomon

Berrimah, Darwin

Tuesday, 16 May 2006
12 noon

SUBJECTS: Combating illegal fishing, Labor leadership

TREASURER:

In this years’ Budget the Government allocated another $389 million, the largest amount ever, in order to combat illegal fishing in Australia’s northern waters. We have seen today the work of the Royal Australian Navy and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority where they have already apprehended boats, boats that represent a quarantine risk to Australia and of course a stealing of precious resource. I can assure anybody who is thinking of boarding a vessel which will engage in illegal fishing in Australia, that the surveillance is now greater than ever. Your boats will be confiscated and burnt. We are constructing new detention facilities where people will be held and those responsible prosecuted. Australia is serious about stopping illegal fishing in its waters and with an additional $389 million of surveillance, of detention facilities, of boat destruction facilities, of resources for prosecutions and convictions the message is going out to illegal fishermen, do not try and enter Australia’s waters.

I want to pay tribute to David Tollner the Member for Solomon in the Northern Territory who has been very, very influential in the Government in raising this issue and also Senator Eric Abetz, the Minister responsible who has put together the biggest package in Australia’s history and we look to him and the AFMA to make the message go out from this place that illegal fishing in Australia will not be tolerated.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Costello, do you think that the courts are backing up the actions in the capture of these people? Are the penalties severe enough for those who have been caught?

TREASURER:

Well, I have had some discussions with the Minister about that and there have been some disappointing penalties which have been imposed and as a consequence of that the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions is undertaking appeals. We want the courts to back up the message which the Government is sending and which I have no doubt the Australian people want us to send. Illegal fishing will not be tolerated. You will not profit from it, the risks are too great, you will lose your boats and you will incur heavy penalties.

JOURNALIST:

But there are 13,000 incursions every year, I think you are looking at doubling the catch so that takes it to about 400, that is an awful lot that are slipping through the net.

TREASURER:

Well the Minister will say something about this in a moment. But let me make this point, the object if this is to have no incursions, the object of this is to so send a message that nobody wants to try it on. The message is that even if you get in your boat will be burnt. You will not make a dollar out of this. Then I think we will see some of those people take the wise action and not try it in the first place. Do you want to say something about…

ABETZ:

The 13,000 sightings, a lot of those are double, treble and quadruple sightings so that figure is rubbery. Having said that clearly there have been way too many incursions, hence the money that is being spent. This year alone we have already apprehended 150 fishing vessels and we are looking at doubling that number. So, on the current trends we are looking at about 350 per annum and we are hoping to get 600 to 700 when this is fully operational and that is going to hurt the illegal fishers where it hurts the most and that is in the hip pocket.

JOURNALIST:

But how does this message get through to Indonesia though and I guess China as well?

ABETZ:

Well undoubtedly the message will get through to the illegal operators when they find that they have less and less of their assets returned to them. They will know that the beginning of the end of illegal fishing is now with them and it is up to them, they can either withdraw from our waters or we will keep withdrawing their assets from our waters until they have none left.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Costello, you mentioned more detention centres or new detention centres, are they designed to discourage the crews? Some of these crews do of course, are repeat offenders.

TREASURER:

These are designed to hold the crews so that we have the capacity to do that to send a message to them and also to ensure that we have got a very efficient and economic way of dealing with the problem. At the moment there have been large costs involved in moving some of the people and bringing them to trial. With new state of the art detention facilities, with new patrol vessels - and you saw one of those patrol vessels today, one of the Armadale class patrol vessels - with holding cells on them , with five dedicated boat destruction facilities, with increased Coastwatch, with rangers that are going to be giving us information of people who are using inland waters, this is the biggest response we have ever had and it is going to be coordinated with the Royal Australian Navy and it is going to send a clear message.

JOURNALIST:

What do you think the Indonesian Government is going to think when they see our Treasurer setting fire to one of their boats?

TREASURER:

Well the Indonesian Government believes that it has the right to patrol its own waters and stop illegal fishing, and does, and recognises the right of the Australian Government to patrol its waters and stop illegal fishing and it will. And lets make this clear, illegal fishermen come from lots of different countries, from lots of different countries, and it doesn’t matter which country you come from, there is no particular country that we are targeting we are just targeting illegal fisher-people, illegal fishermen who shouldn’t have been there in the first place. This is what we do in Australia to send a strong message.

JOURNALIST:

You say they won’t profit from it but the operators of the Chen Long had a refrigeration unit at a cost of $60,000 to taxpayers, what sort of signal does that send out?

TREASURER:

Well the operators have got to know this, that they are going to be prosecuted, their boats are going to be seized and that their catch will not bring them a net return. Don’t try it, it won’t work. It is like all criminal activity. There are people that are always temped by criminal activity, to break in to houses to steal money and the message you send to them is you will not profit from it, don’t try it, don’t risk it, it won’t pay.

JOURNALIST:

But $60,000 is a bit rich isn’t it, for a boat that…?

TREASURER:

Well $60,000 is too much, any illegal fishing is too much and the bigger it gets the more determined we are to stamp it out.

JOURNALIST:

There is a dispute over the marine rangers.

TREASURER:

Last question.

JOURNALIST:

…about how the money is going to be spent, our Minister of Fisheries says it is going to be spent between 14 ranger groups and Warren Snowden says in fact the ranger groups are going to get nothing, it is going to go to the quarantine strategy, where is the money going to go?

TREASURER:

You take that Eric.

ABETZ:

There have been different messages from the Labor Party, the most important thing to remember is that the Treasurer mentioned the scourge of illegal fishing is being important enough for the Budget Speech, Kim Beazley and the Labor Party failed to mention it at all so what they are now doing is trying to play catch-up by trying to nit-pick around the edges. The simple fact is that we do have $6.9 million available for a range of programmes, indeed as we are meeting here some rangers from Torres Strait, the Kimberly region are meeting at Gove or Nhulunbuy to discuss how our best method can be adopted to ensure that the sea ranger programme does work.

JOURNALIST:

So the money will go to the rangers?

ABETZ:

That is the purpose of it to ensure that the local communities benefit from this sum of money, what we want them to do is undertake the quarantine work and the surveillance work, but at the end of the day let’s not forget what this exercise is all about. It is about keeping them out of our waters, out of the 200 nautical mile zone and by the time they come within the sphere of the sea rangers they would have already travelled about 180 nautical miles and in my estimation that is 180 nautical miles too many. And so what our real task is is to apprehend them out at sea not when they are right on our coast line.

JOURNALIST:

Just ask a question re Bill Shorten, a bit of pressure is in the Labor Party to push Bill Shorten, do you think he will be a tough leader if he was ever to get Leader of the Labor Party?

TREASURER:

Well I welcome the fact that Labor is now thinking about its leadership with the elevation of Mr Shorten. It is of course of concern that there is no one in the Parliament that is up to leading the Labor Party at the moment and they would be worrying Labor hard-heads and they are now thinking of getting Bill Shorten in because they don’t have confidence in any other person in the Parliament. I point out however that he in not a Member of Parliament, he hasn’t been elected, he won a preselection in circumstance which are now going to be referred to the law enforcement authorities in Victoria. The activities of one of the key numbers people in the Victorian Parliament are now going to be referred to the authorities and let’s see whether the authorities can get to the bottom of the corruption in the ALP and the connection to Mr Shorten’s preselection.

JOURNALIST:

Tougher than Beazley do you think?

TREASURER:

Well, we take whoever the Labor Party throws up. They had Beazley then they had Crean, then they had Latham, then they had Beazley and now they have passed over Gillard, they have given away Rudd and they are on to Shorten. There is probably a teenager out there somewhere who they are working to get into the Parliament as the person after Shorten.

JOURNALIST:

Could you beat Mr Beazley?

TREASURER:

Thank you for your question Dennis.

JOURNALIST :

Would you be comfortable with Peter Costello replacing the PM?

TOLLNER:

Look, I think Peter Costello is a fantastic man and more than capable to run the country.