Fisheries Amendment Bill (No 2) - first reading
Hon Pete Hodgson, Minister of Fisheries
Mr Speaker I move that the Fisheries Amendment Bill (No 2) be now read a first time.
It is my intention to move that the Primary Production Committee consider the Bill and that the Bill be reported back by the end of February 2004.
This Bill seeks, firstly, to validate and implement a settlement agreed between the Crown and Industry concerning the under- and over-recovery of costs by my Ministry and the Department of Conservation since 1994.
The costs of fisheries services and conservation services incurred by the Crown in the management of New Zealand's fisheries have been recovered from the fishing industry since 1994.
Section 265 of the Fisheries Act 1996 requires the Minister of Fisheries to have regard to any under- and over-recovery of costs in a previous financial year when recommending a new levy order. Since this obligation was established in 1996 there has been no adjustment.
A Joint Working Group of industry representatives and Ministry of Fisheries officials was established in December 1999 to determine the extent of under- and over-recoveries of costs since October 1994. It was also asked to develop a process for dealing with under- and over-recoveries in future years and make recommendations to me on methods to resolve these historical issues.
The Joint Working Group unanimously recommended that a negotiated and agreed sum of $24.6 million, which includes interest, be returned to the industry by the Crown by way of a non-discretionary reduction in future levies.
In return for this reduction in future levies, and to ensure that the settlement is durable, this Bill validates the settlement, the historic levy orders and the cost recovery rules. It confirms that as Minister of Fisheries I have fulfilled all obligations to have regard to costs under- and over-recovered from 1 October 1994 to 30 September 2002. I have agreed to the recommendations of the joint working group.
Mr. Speaker, this Bill validates and implements through legislation the settlement of a long-standing issue, to the satisfaction of all parties. I am grateful for the hard work and effort of all those involved in the Joint Working Group process, both from the New Zealand Seafood Industry Council and from the Ministry of Fisheries.
This complicated issue has taken some time to resolve, as it concerns levies recovered up to eight years ago. Implementing the settlement at the fishstock level will take two years to complete for the majority of levy payers and up to seven years for other fishstock categories.
Having this Bill reported back to the House no later than the end of February next year will enable the implementation of the new levy regime from 1 April 2004.
The second function of this Bill, Mr Speaker, is to amend section 233 of the Fisheries Act 1996, in response to a recent Court of Appeal decision, to ensure that the law reflects the original Parliamentary intent.
This section contains the Act's highest band of offence provisions, aimed at poaching and black market trading. Offending of this nature poses a serious risk to the sustainability of high value fish stocks, undermines the integrity of the quota management system and impinges on the rights of recreational and customary fishers.
In March 2002 the Ministry of Fisheries undertook a large undercover operation to detect and prosecute this type of offending. Fishery Officers were successful in identifying offenders throughout the poaching and black market chain, from the offenders on the beach to the foreign exporters of illegally taken fish.
Recently the Court of Appeal has concluded that the imprisonable offence designed specifically for this type of offending was largely ineffective due to a drafting error. The original provision made it an offence to knowingly contravene the Act for the purpose of obtaining a benefit under the Act. The Court of Appeal held that the commercial gain was not a benefit under the Act.
The proposed amendment would ensure that people who knowingly contravene the Act and obtain a benefit, or intend to obtain a benefit, commit an imprisonable offence. Benefit is defined to include all types of economic gain. This proposed amendment has been developed promptly to ensure that Parliament's original intent is reflected in the law and offenders can be prosecuted effectively.
Finally this Bill includes a technical amendment to place it beyond doubt that the word "Act" throughout the Fisheries Act 1996 includes rules and regulations made under the Act. This is the applicable definition in the Interpretation Act 1999. Including it in the Fisheries Act should ensure that legal challenge to the current interpretation of the word "Act" cannot render offences against fisheries rules and regulations unenforceable.
I move that the that the Fisheries Amendment Bill (No 2) be referred to the Primary Production Committee for consideration, that the Committee report the Bill by the 27th of February 2004, and that the committee have the authority to meet at any time while the House is sitting, except during oral questions, and during any evening on a day on which there has been a sitting of the House, and on a Friday in a week in which there has been a sitting of the House, despite Standing Orders 193 and 196(1)(b) and (c).