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AFMA Chair Hits Out at Unlawful Quota Claims

18 September 2012, at 1:00am

AUSTRALIA - Chairman of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority Commission (AFMA), Michael Egan, said he was very confident that the catch limits set by the Commission for the Small Pelagic Fishery were legally set.

Mr Egan was responding to recent claims by Andrew Wilkie MP and an update letter sent to Mr Wilkie by the Commonwealth Ombudsmans office.

Mr Wilkie stated that has been advised by the Commonwealth Ombudsman that AFMA did fail to comply with the Fisheries Administration Act when it set the quota relevant to the super trawler.

This is a dramatic development and a thumping win for proper process and the rule of law, Mr Wilkie said.

No less than the Commonwealth Ombudsman has agreed AFMA has acted unlawfully, and this should rule a line under the whole sorry super trawler saga and compel the Senate to kill the project forever.

Mr Egan said that neither Mr Wilkie, nor the Ombudsmans office, seemed to understand that the total allowable catches for this fishery were not set by the South East Management Advisory Committee, nor were they set by AFMA management or staff.

It is the responsibility of the AFMA Commission, a completely non-partisan, independent statutory authority, to set the total allowable catches for Commonwealth fisheries, Mr Egan said.

In setting these catch limits the Commission considers the advice of AFMA staff, together with scientific advice from our relevant resource assessment group and the advice of the relevant management advisory committee, which is set up to gather the opinions of various interest groups, including environmental and recreational fishing groups, fishing industry participants, scientists, economists and the states.

The views of members of these groups are not always unanimous, and the Commission takes into consideration all views expressed by their members in the full knowledge that they will have different perspectives, different interests and different agendas. Ensuring that all interests are heard is the very purpose of the laws that require these groups to be established.

I emphasise, however, that none of these groups set the catch limits not the resource assessment groups, not the management advisory committees, not the CEO of AFMA or AFMAs staff but rather the independent AFMA Commission.

Mr Egan said he was disappointed that the Ombudsmans office had not made this clear in its update letter to Mr Wilkie.

I am sorry also that the Ombudsmans office did not point out to Mr Wilkie the representational role of management advisory committees. If it had, Mr Wilkie and others may have been less ready to assert the commission of a capital offence by SEMAC, rather than an unintentional slip-up.

I am even more concerned, however, that the Ombudsmans office provided Mr Wilkie with its update in time for his protest rally on Saturday, but has so far not corresponded with either AFMA or the AFMA Commission.

I would have expected this not only as a matter of courtesy, but also to provide us with a fair and reasonable opportunity to remedy what I believe are significant oversights in the Ombudsmans update. In fact, we would not even have had access to the update if Mr Wilkie had not attached it to his media release.

Given that the Ombudsmans office had stated that its investigation of Mr Wilkies complaint was to be conducted in private, I believe that AFMA and the AFMA Commission are entitled to a full explanation.

It is vitally important that the Australian public, complainants and government agencies and officials should always have confidence in the bona fides of the Ombudsmans office.

Given the recent controversy over the Ombudsmans office preparing questions for Greens senators, I would have expected it to be exceedingly careful not to behave in any way which raised the slightest concerns about its impartiality and objectivity.

Mr Egan said the AFMA Commission had nine members appointed during the terms of fisheries ministers Burke and Ludwig.

They include five who are fisheries and scientific experts, four who are current or former heads or deputy heads of Commonwealth, state and overseas agencies, a current chief executive of a national professional association and myself, a former NSW Treasurer and Minister for State Development.

All of us, together with the AFMA staff, are committed to the well-being of Australias maritime environment and the sustainability of Australias fisheries.

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