16 September 2012

Chairman of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority Commission, Michael Egan, said today 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 Ombudsman’s office.

He said that neither Mr Wilkie, nor the Ombudsman’s 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 AFMA’s staff — but rather the independent AFMA Commission.”

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

“I am sorry also that the Ombudsman’s 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 Ombudsman’s 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 Ombudsman’s ‘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 Ombudsman’s office had stated that its investigation of Mr Wilkie’s 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 Ombudsman’s office.

“Given the recent controversy over the Ombudsman’s 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 Australia’s maritime environment and the sustainability of Australia’s fisheries.”

 

Contact Sophie Dening, AFMA Communications (02) 6225 5541 (W) or 0447 942 840 (M) or sophie.dening@afma.gov.au