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Tuesday, 24 June 1997
Page: 6172

Mr HOLLIS(8.45 p.m.) —My contribution will be brief, but I am pleased to make a short contribution to this important debate. The Carriage of Goods by Sea Amendment Bill is, in some parts, fairly technical but, as has been shown, it is a non-controversial piece of legislation. Indeed, as the member for Lyne (Mr Vaile) has said, we are not always at each other's throats in this chamber. There are many issues, far more than people outside realise, which go through this House with bipartisan agreement. The opposition, as has been pointed out by the shadow minister, is supporting this legislation.

The Carriage of Goods by Sea Act gives effect in Australia to an international convention—that is, the amended Hague Rules—relating to liability or loss to marine cargo. It contains an automatic trigger which brings into force an alternative international regime, known as the Hamburg Rules, on 20 October 1997. From that point of view, there is a small degree of urgency. These rules were originally to take effect on 1 November 1994, but in October 1994, as the member for Lyne said, the parliament resolved to defer acceptance or repeal of the Hamburg Rules for a period of three years.

As has been pointed out by other speakers in this debate, the Hamburg Rules are typically favoured by cargo owners whereas the Hague Rules are preferred by operators. The principal difficulty, however, with the Hamburg Rules is that only 22 countries have implemented them and most of those countries are landlocked states in Central Africa. The rules are used by countries that amount to about one per cent of our international trade.

The purpose of this legislation is to implement a package of enhancements to Australia's maritime liability regime. This legislation deals with liability for loss or damage to sea cargo. Herein lies my interest in this legislation: liability for loss or damage to sea cargoes. Mr Deputy Speaker, you should ask yourself: what causes damage to cargo on the high seas? What gives rise, therefore, to liability? So often it is the condition of the vessel and the competence, or the lack of competence, of the crew. This is an issue that many of us on this side of the House, no-one more than the honourable member for Shortland (Mr Peter Morris), have been arguing for some time. In fact, we have been arguing it for many years.

It must follow that, if you have a badly maintained vessel and a poorly trained crew, the possibility of loss and damage must be considerably enhanced. As is well known, the world's fleet is ageing. Few are building new ships and so often people are not attracted to the sea. There is no disputing the fact that shipping is a competitive business and that corners are being cut.

This has resulted in some very disturbing aspects in Australia. For example, the way some crews are treated has come to our attention. There is also the increasing occurrence of crews being of mixed races speaking many different languages. It often happens that you may have as a crew on a ship people of half a dozen different nationalities, all speaking different languages. This is, in effect, a way of controlling the crews, which has been shown in many cases recently.   Increasingly—and I have noticed this at Port Kembla—as my friends at the Mission to the Seaman also tell me—often when ships go there and pick up a crew there might be half a dozen different nationalities. Some of us suspect, indeed, some of us have evidence, that this is a method of controlling those crews.

On this point, too, I cannot understand why this government is so keen to do away with cabotage and to open up our coastal routes to the rust buckets of the world. We are told so often that this will bring the cost of shipping down but, as far as I am concerned, that is a nonsense. It will not bring the cost of shipping down. When people say that bringing rust buckets crewed by people on starvation wages to take produce around the coastline will bring the cost of shipping down, they never say what the cost of the damage will be to the environment when something goes wrong. When we have the inevitable environmental disaster, someone is going to have to pay for it, and it will most likely be the Australian taxpayer. Therefore, instead of bringing the cost of shipping around the coastline down, this will actually increase it.

In the long term, it is better to have well-maintained vessels crewed by well-trained seafarers. If people want to cut costs—and I know there is an argument about smaller crews; I have seen ships in Denmark where they say they are going to have only five crew and things like that—it seems to me that, when ships are carrying expensive cargo, it is much better to have a smaller, but much better trained, crew. Therefore, if you have a large crew, and even if you are only paying them starvation wages, costs mount up. But, if you have a small, very highly trained crew, a competent crew, I am sure that that is what will bring the costs down.

I might also indicate my total opposition to the suggestion of opening a second registry in Australia. I have never seen the benefit of this. It is more than a cost-cutting measure; it is a tax avoidance measure. I think it was the honourable member for Shortland who touched on the possibility of increasing the number of Australian flagships. That is something that I have always supported and will continue to support.

I did give the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Transport and Regional Development (Mr Ronaldson) my word that I would not go on too much about cabotage and ships of shame this evening. Having said that, I must say that I welcome this legislation. It is good that it is going through in a bipartisan way. It is important legislation, and I commend it to the House.