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Monday, 25 October 2010
Page: 683


Senator JOYCE (Leader of the Nationals in the Senate) (8:12 PM) —This issue, if I may be so bold, is slightly more important than the previous one. The Protection of the Sea Legislation Amendment Bill 2010 gives effect to resolutions of the International Maritime Organisation, which I will refer to as the IMO. Firstly, it amends the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act 1983 to reflect recent amendments to annex 6 of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, known as MARPOL, that was adopted by the IMO on 10 October 2008. Secondly, the bill also amends the Protection of the Sea (Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage) Act 2008 to provide protection for persons taking reasonable measures to prevent or minimise the effects of bunker oil pollution in Australia or the Exclusive Economic Zone of Australia, in line with a resolution of the diplomatic conference of the IMO. I will return to that issue later on because it is important.

As an island trading nation, Australia has an enormous shipping task. Ninety-nine per cent of our imports and exports by volume come by ship. The industry is a vital connection for our beef, wheat, coal and iron ore—industries which are going to be absolutely vital in repaying our massive debt. Without a competitive shipping industry, we do not have a competitive agricultural or mining industry. It is therefore proper that Australia plays a prominent role in the establishment and implementation of global standards relating to the shipping industry. Australia has been a member of the IMO since its establishment in 1948 and has played an active role in the development of conventions and treaties over many years. The six annexes of MARPOL deal with different aspects of marine pollution and all six have been implemented by both Labor and Liberal governments over time. Indeed, the previous, coalition government adopted the initial version of annex 6, which entered into force in Australia in November 2007 via the Maritime Legislation Amendment (Prevention of Air Pollution from Ships) Act 2007.

At that time, the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Transport and Regional Services, and good friend, De-Anne Kelly pointed out:

This bill continues the government’s efforts to prevent pollution by ships and maintains the close alignment Australia has with the International Maritime Organisation’s international conventions.

I welcome this bill, but, to give you an example of its implementation, I want to recall the Pacific Adventurer—or ‘Misadventurer’. On 11 March 2009, the Hong Kong-China registered general cargo ship Pacific Adventurer lost 31 containers off the coast of Queensland—off the Sunshine Coast. This resulted in a major oil spill. It was around about the time of the election, so it was extremely topical. It cost in the vicinity of $30 million to clean up. The reality is that probably the vast majority of it was cleaned up by nature itself and bacterial breakdowns, but it was a very good photo opportunity for those who wanted to wander along beaches and try and scrape up oil.

The owners of Pacific Adventurer are the Swire group, which provides an interesting segue into the water debate, because the Swire group are also the owners of Toorale Station, which the Labor government bought off the Swire group for $23.75 million, without actually inspecting the place.

Under its obligations under the IMO Convention on Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims, to which Australia is a party, the owners of the Pacific Adventurer were liable to pay $17.5 million. However, Swire Shipping agreed to pay a total of $25 million. But because the Queensland government was short of cash, the federal Labor government decided that the decision by the owners of the Pacific Adventurer to go beyond its obligations in meeting its liabilities and responsibilities was not enough. Instead, the federal Labor government decided that, from 1 April 2010, it would increase the tax on Australia’s international shipping industry by increasing the protection of the sea levy by 3c per registered tonne in order to recover the clean-up costs of the oil spill. This increase brings the levy to 14.25c per registered tonne. In other words, the entire sector has to pay an increase in costs, even though the party responsible in this situation more than met its liability obligations through a convention to which Australia is a signatory. If the government was not happy with the limits provided under the convention then it should have approached the IMO to increase them.

Nonetheless, this is a fairly non-controversial bill. It is just interesting that the Swire group seems to be involved in water in many ways. Maybe they thought that the money that they were asked to pay out would be money somehow recouped by the Labor government in another misadventure, the sale of Toorale Station.