Communique 12 December 2022 – Meeting 7

Objectives of the Vessel Tracking Working Group (from Terms of Reference):

To provide operational advice and recommendations to:

  1. Support the review of the implementation of vessel tracking.
  2. Support the review of the effectiveness of the current administration of vessel tracking.
  3. Provide options and advice to improve the ongoing management and administration of vessel tracking.

Key Feedback from Meeting 7:

Post Implementation Review (PIR) Consultation Report:

Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) prepared a PIR consultation report, approved by the Minister for public review and comment closing on 14 December 2022. The report is available through the Vessel Tracking Engagement Portal.

The consultation period is for any individual or group to provide submissions and input for consideration before a decision PIR (incorporating feedback from submissions received) is developed and a decision ultimately is made by Cabinet.

PWC gave a presentation covering the consultation report including:

  • The purpose of the PIR is to assess the impacts, effectiveness, and continued relevance of the regulations in relation to vessel tracking in Queensland.
  • The PIR is being conducted by PWC in accordance with the Office of Better Practice Regulation within Queensland Government requirements using a prescribed process.
  • PWC held targeted stakeholder consultations, including with VTWG members, to gather feedback on the impacts of the legislation.
  • PWC has attended all VTWG meetings and considered input from this, as well as interviews with stakeholders and other inputs received.
  • The presentation gave overview of the PIR consultation report: the PIR process, problems addressed by vessel tracking regulation, assessment of vessel tracking legislation, impacts of vessel tracking – costs, benefits and unintended consequences, recommendations – options considered, options analysis and recommendations with action items, and preliminary analysis of survey respondents.

VTWG members then discussed and provided feedback on the PIR consultation report. The following key issues were discussed:

  • PWC was asked to consider key information and/or learnings from other jurisdictions including the extent to which other jurisdictions have experienced similar concerns to those experienced by commercial fishers in Queensland (and reported in the PIR consultation report) and how these have been addressed.
  • Industry members suggested that other jurisdictions do not use vessel tracking on small open boats like in Queensland, so there are material differences in experience. Also, that other jurisdictions have a different make up of fleets and range of vessels to Queensland and this should be noted and considered. This includes that smaller businesses (of which it was submitted there are many in Queensland) are more impacted by vessel tracking costs than larger ones. Therefore, PWC should consider these differences in comparing Queensland with other jurisdictions and the implications of this for operating vessel tracking.
  • The cost of vessel tracking was raised extensively during the meeting. It was noted that it was one of the top two concerns of commercial fishers in the consultation report. However, the actions recommended by PWC in the consultation report do not seem to address cost concerns for fishers in a material way.
  • PWC acknowledged the report suggested some minor savings may be made by fishers through possible reduced polling.
  • PWC was asked if options such as vessel tracking being Government funded had been considered. Industry members noted that feedback had been given that fishers did not want to bear the costs for vessel tracking, but no options of increased government funding were raised in the consultation paper. Fisheries Queensland noted that there are costs to government currently (through managing vessel tracking and rebate) which are not cost recovered from the industry.
  • PWC submitted that vessel tracking costs which are not met directly by fishers would be met through the community and by taxpayers generally. Alternatively, it was noted that other jurisdictions recover some vessel tracking costs through fishing licenses/other fees.
  • Industry members put forward a view that it is not unreasonable for the wider taxpayer group to pay for vessel tracking costs through the Department / Government as the public (and not only commercial fishers) receive benefits from a sustainable fishing industry.
  • The costs of vessel tracking being borne across the Queensland commercial fishing fleet was discussed. It was noted that the composition of the Queensland fleet runs from small businesses with small boats through to larger businesses with a fleet of boats. This cost impost may be greater on a small business compared with a larger one. PWC was asked to consider this.
  • It was noted by industry members that there have been considerable material cost increases to businesses such as quota impacts and increasing fuel costs, and that vessel tracking adds pressure to particularly small operators seeking to earn a living in a tough economic environment. PWC was asked to consider different cost impacts of vessel tracking on different sized operators.
  • Industry members submitted that a ‘one size fits all’ pricing and costing model may not be fair recognising the diversity of Queensland commercial fishers and that there are many ‘cottage businesses’ in the sector. PWC was asked to consider this.
  • It was put by industry members that Government could be more supportive of the commercial fishing sector especially smaller operators and that all costs including vessel tracking are material for particularly smaller operators who are also facing increased fuel and other costs.
  • Industry members challenged the claim in the consultation report that vessel tracking provides a benefit to commercial fishers as it enables access to fish in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP).
  • There is not a regulatory or legislative requirement for commercial fishers to have a vessel tracking unit to operate in the GBRMP.
  • GBRMPA has a stated preference for this, but this is not currently underpinned by a formal regulatory requirement.
  • Therefore, industry members submitted the benefits of this stated in the consultation report are misleading.
  • PWC was asked to consider the number or proportion of operators who access the GBRMP for commercial fishing and suggested that any possible benefit from accessing the GBRMP is not shared across all operators.
  • Industry members suggested that at best access to the GBRMP is a potential future benefit, not an actual realised and current benefit and PWC was asked to consider this.
  • As fisheries manager, Fisheries Queensland has mandated vessel tracking for operators including within the GBRMP, it therefore contends that State rather than Commonwealth regulation is relied upon.
  • Industry members challenged the cost benefit identified in the PIR consultation report associated with obtaining EPBC Act approvals on the basis that this benefit accrues to a subset of commercial fishers and not all commercial fishers.
  • Industry members submitted that the majority of commercial fishers do not seek or utilise fishing export status. PWC was asked to identify the number of commercial fishers who utilise this benefit and to reconsider how benefits are stated to reflect that this does not apply to all (and potentially not the majority) of commercial fishers.
  • Industry members queried the basis of cost savings to fishers from vessel tracking suggested in the consultation report.
  • Industry members noted that the consultation report identified commercial fishing profits as benefits from vessel tracking and queried the validity of this. Industry members stated that those profits existed before and apart from vessel tracking. Industry members submitted that vessel tracking, and profits are independent variables and not linked as suggested in the consultation report.
  • Industry members expressed the strong view that vessel tracking should be applied to both charter and recreational sectors. PWC noted that this is out of scope of the PIR.
  • Industry members asked PWC to consider the value of the intellectual property created by the database being developed by Fisheries Queensland from the individual and combined data of fishers. Industry members asserted that Government and the public rather than individual fishers are the beneficiary of this database.
  • Industry members raised ongoing concerns with protocols to help fishers to continue to work when units are malfunctioning. Industry members asserted that vessel tracking needs to work better for fishers, so they don’t lose time fishing because they have to come back to port.
  • Fisheries Queensland pointed to the manual exemption process and commercial fisher app as measures that have been put in place to assist this problem. It was acknowledged that there is continuing opportunity for improving the commercial app and that Fisheries Queensland wanted to continue improve this over time with input from fishers.
  • Concerns were expressed that Fisheries Queensland has been slow to act to help fishers. Fisheries Queensland feedback was that the malfunction procedure developed through the VTWG had been put in place relatively quickly.
  • It was noted that Action 1 identified in the consultation report recommends actions to be undertaken to ensure that a process continues to be available (similar to the protocol worked on by the VTWG and adopted by Fisheries Queensland) to enable fishers to fish when units are malfunctioning. It also identified the need to continually review and update this process.
  • Industry members said they did not support the proposition that the malfunctioning procedure would be subject to sunsetting – the view was put that there will be a long-term need for a work around procedure.
  • Other items discussed in less detail in the feedback to PWC included: questions around use of modelling data from vessel tracking, unit supply concerns, safety (PWC noted this is outside the scope of the PIR), and the complexity involved to understand vessel tracking requirements – it was requested that these be more easily accessed and described in layman’s terms.

Actions for after the meeting

The consultation period for the PIR remains open until 14 December. The Chair noted that submissions and feedback continue to be open through the Engagement Portal until that date. The inputs will then be considered before a final Decision PIR is prepared which will be put forward within Government for a Cabinet decision. Fisheries Queensland intend to communicate the results including through the VTWG when available.

The VTWG ran out of time to consider the second agenda item which was an update from Fisheries Queensland on the Ombudsman actions. The Chair noted that a status paper had been circulated to VTWG members before the meeting. Fisheries Queensland will make arrangements to update and get comment from VTWG members on this item.

Next Meeting

The next VTWG meeting will be a date to be determined in the New Year.

Some industry members expressed concern that the meeting time was insufficient to deal with the full agenda and have sought an extended period for future meetings.