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Monday, 24 November 1997
Page: 11120

Mr BILLSON(8.10 p.m.) —Before us this evening are a few pages which represent two small bills—the Ballast Water Research and Development Funding Levy Bill 1997 and the Ballast Water Research and Development Funding Levy Collection Bill 1997 . I suggest to the House that they are probably two of the most significant bills that this House will consider. In my view they are one of the most significant environment protection measures that this parliament has discussed in recent times, and it deserves to be a headline grabber. I am disappointed that there are not more members of the press gallery present. I hope that many of those listening on PNN and through other avenues will take the time to acquaint themselves with what we are discussing tonight because it represents world's best practice in environmental management, happening in this country right now, being introduced by this government. Of itself, it is such a significant and constructive step for the protection of our environment and our marine ecosystems that it deserves more attention. It deserves to be one of those items that is the feature piece in weekend newspapers and magazines, because it is very exciting and it is very important.

It is also evidence that the coalition understands environmental management issues and has the wit and the commitment to actually develop and implement responsive strategies. What you are seeing tonight is a further demonstration of the coalition's will to imple ment these strategies. It builds upon the early work done by the former government—which I must compliment them on as a good start; a bit ad hoc but a good start nonetheless—and seeks to put in place a comprehensive action program and strategy to address this very significant issue.

As I mentioned earlier, in part through the work of the previous government Australia has had a role at the forefront of the development of international conventions relating to these sorts of issues through what is known as the MARPOL convention, surrounding the prevention of pollution from ships and the annexures that attach to and support the convention. I believe that what we are discussing tonight and what is facilitated through these bills will very much underline Australia's position as the world's leader in this area of ballast water management.

This proposal we are discussing tonight is part of the coalition's world-class environmental policy, saving our natural heritage. It is a pleasure to be here discussing it this evening as I had the good fortune of being part of the formulation of that policy and working alongside then shadow minister, Rod Kemp, during its preparation. The coalition's policy that it took to the last election clearly identified that the introduction of noxious marine species into our waterways and into our marine environment was a significant threat not only to the marine ecosystems themselves but also to many other activities that depend upon the ecosystems. These include the economic advantages of aquaculture and the fishing industry and also our simple enjoyment of our coastal waterways—and that is something that is very dear to my heart being a member that represents a coastal electorate. On 3 March, the Prime Minister (Mr Howard) highlighted the importance of this issue:

. . . oil spills can be dramatic, (but) foreign marine organisms are more insidious. By the time they are noticed, it is often too late to exterminate them—and they can do permanent environmental and economic damage.

In line with that sentiment, ballast water, used throughout the last century as a means of stabilising ships in transit, has been identified as a potential risk to our environment. Around 150 million tonnes of ballast water is discharged every year by more that 4,000 vessels arriving at the 40 ports around our country. Ninety-eight per cent of all cargo in and out of Australia is moved by ship. Almost without exception, all the jobs in our mineral and agricultural export industries rely on coastal shipping. More recently recognised, though, is the significant threat that this ballast water represents. There is an understanding that ballast water is not only a very important ingredient in the safe shipping and safe transport of our export goods but also a increasing recognition that the negligent discharge of it can place our marine environment under great duress and place at risk our natural ecosystems.

The coalition's coast and clean seas initiative recognised the need for action and the need to support a strengthened research effort. The Prime Minister announced $1 million to go towards strategic ballast water research and development for 1997-98. The bills before us tonight are a continuation of funding beyond 1997-98 for a further two years by the introduction of a levy which is to be paid by the industry. This levy, I would say, stops short of polluter pays, but does recognise that the industry sees that it has a role in helping to address this problem. It is an important issue not only for our environment but also for the continuation of safe coastal and international shipping.

The coast and clean seas initiative provides for a number of goals—the reduction, management and local eradication of introduced marine pests, the rapid response capability to stamp out new outbreaks where they are identified and strategies to prevent the spread of pests by coastal shipping. Those broad strategic goals are backed up by a strategic ballast water research and development program that targets efforts, research and resources. It has been developed by the Australian Ballast Water Management Advisory Council, which includes shipping and bulk exporting representatives.

So the industry has come on board and said, `We want to be a part of these solutions. We understand the role that coastal shipping plays. We understand the role of international shipping and the importance of ballast water in the safe movement of those ships.' But it has also recognised that our environment has been changed by the ballast water discharging some noxious pests, plants and animals into our environment.

The bill before us this evening talks about collecting, on average, a million dollars a year for each of 1998-99 and 1999-2000. It produces $2 million on top of that $1 million the Prime Minister has already announced for the strategic ballast water research and development program. The bill provides for the payment of a levy of $210 per bulk carrier and $140 for other ships, including tankers, that are greater than 50 metres in length per quarter. It is a levy that is payable quarterly, but it is only one levy payment per quarter per ship. So, if you happen to be a repeat visitor to this country or to our ports, you are not clocking up extra levies. You are paying one levy for the quarter, which, I might suggest, is actually a better deal than some of the frequent flier deals that are available for those who go by air.

The industry supports the bill. It has been active in the development of not only the bill itself but the research and development program that I have briefly mentioned. As active contributors, the industry is to be supported and recognised for this effort, an effort acknowledging that established marine practice gives rise to threats to our environment, and the industry has recognised that it has a part responsibility for ensuring that those threats do not turn into disaster for our marine environment.

The proposals that are being supported through these bills are very practical. They are a very sensible and responsible response to these concerns, concerns that the industry understands. They are the concerns of those who rely upon, or whose livelihood relies upon, the work the industry is doing. They are the concerns that have been recognised by marine conservationists, by recreational fishers, by divers, by natural resource managers, by public and animal health authorities, by seafood producers in the communities whose livelihoods depend on it and by ordinary folk in electorates like mine who could think of nothing more enjoyable than last weekend wandering down to Port Phillip Bay beach at Frankston and getting some relief from the very warm temperatures that surrounded us at the time.

The bill gives us the mechanism to raise those funds. But what is most exciting is not the raising of the funds themselves; it is what the money is being applied to. It is what the bill facilitates that is most exciting and fascinating, and it is something that I would encourage everybody to acquaint themselves with. With that industry cooperation, the strategic ballast water research and development program includes a number of very important elements to deal with the array of problems that are already appearing at some of our ports which have already been identified by speakers before me.

Marine organisms introduced into Australia through ballast water discharge include the yellowfin goby, the striped goby, Japanese sea bass and sobaity sea bass. We have some species of crabs, isopods and shrimps that are not native to our area and are competing with our native animals and plant life for the nutrients and sea space that are available. We have Asian mussels, sea slugs and the European fanworm, known as the sabella, which cause such concern in the Port Phillip area because it fastens itself to crustaceans and makes the scallop industry wonder where their future is when they have these what I call `underwater alfalfa'. Sadly, we do not have a market for them like we have for alfalfa, and they are causing great concern. The Northern Pacific sea star is well known to people in southern ports and, sadly, brown kelp is also rearing its head in more places throughout the country.

Those sorts of introduced species are competing with and, in many respects, compromising the marine ecosystems in the bays, coastal areas and waterways where they present themselves. In many respects, our native underwater flora and fauna cannot compete to establish itself. We are seeing a compromising of those natural marine ecosystems. So, at an environmental level, these measures that are before us tonight are extraordinarily significant. They are extraordinarily significant because they are about protecting an environment that, in my view, is an ecosystem that we know least about. The ecosystem on our planet that we least understand and has been least explored is our underwater world. So these are extraordinarily important measures that go to investing in our future because the marine environment is so important to this country and so important to many Australians who just absolutely adore it like I do.

Part of the strategic ballast water program that is seeking to respond to those threats that are already here includes baseline study reporting so we can understand what sorts of noxious species have established themselves at ports throughout the country. Let us understand what the problem is so we can tackle it head-on. Very exciting and world's best practice again is the decision support system, which I would like to come back to a little later, if I may.

Also, another part is a risk assessment methodology, which is at the heart of what we are doing. As you would well be aware, we in this country have traditionally addressed ballast water as a quarantine issue. That has been our practice. It has been the practice of countries like New Zealand. That is the strategy that we have adopted in line with AQIS strategies of risk assessment and harm minimisation. This is an important component of this program. Work and investment have also gone into port environment comparisons so that we can understand where the sensitivities are in these port areas, so we can get an understanding of what sorts of species fasten themselves and make one of our port areas home when we would really rather they were not there in the first place.

BHP has been very enthusiastic about management measures and is leading the charge on heat treatment of ballast water en route. The idea is a simple one that says that, since you are generating a lot of heat through the engines of those large ships, why not use that heat to increase the temperature of the ballast water and kill the organisms that are in that ballast water? So some very exciting work is going on in that area and, as the previous speaker, the member for Shortland (Mr Peter Morris), said, it is a relatively cost-effective way of dealing with it. There is also an awareness strategy just to make sure everybody is informed and understands the sorts of issues we are addressing here.

The ballast water sampling and testing trials are equally important too to help us detect and manage infected ballast water. We do not have the resources available to send out ballast water policemen onto every vessel that travels around our exclusive economic zone and comes into our coastal shipping channels. Why not look at ways of testing the ballast in ships to see what the risks are and then develop our strategies to respond to those higher risk areas? That is what I will come back to shortly also.

Then there is a project to understand what organisms survive ballast water movements in and out of ships and there are port contingency plans. What happens when a ship pulls in at port and finds the ballast it has is contaminated? How do we deal with that? How can we handle that so we can get rid of the ballast water in such a way that it does not present the environmental risks it may if it were disposed of recklessly? There is also community monitoring for marine pests. Many people talk about seeing unusual marine life popping up around their favourite swimming and diving areas, and that often is the first trigger that we have a problem. So that is a very important part of the package as well. I am hopeful the research proposals from tertiary students may lead to the next Jacques Cousteau coming from this country. There are also resources available in this package to tackle some research projects that should give us more insight into what we are dealing with here.

In the few minutes that are left available to me, I would like to particularly celebrate the work of our Department of Primary Industries and Energy and this government in the development of the ballast water decision support system. This is world-class work going on in this country which is leading the rest of the world in the management of ballast water. The idea is a very sensible one and it is borne out of the quarantine strategy I mentioned earlier. It is about understanding the risks that are associated with ballast water coming from different ships and from different parts of the world and then developing management strategies to ensure that problems associated with those risks are dealt with, that the ballast water is treated in such a way that it respects the likely nasties that are within it and that we can ensure a cost-effective regime is around to protect our waterways, our ports and our exclusive economic zone.

The decision support system seeks to identify what new marine species may be introduced to the port. There are the lessons of experience, being informed by the strategic research and development program I spoke of earlier, to determine what level of risk is posed by any particular vessel visiting an Australian port and the strategies to be put in place to deal with that. The decision support model has a risk assessment end point—that is, what is the likelihood of a nasty occurrence?—and it then sets in place a number of methodologies to deal with that prior to any release of the ballast water and the risks it may contain. This is world-class thinking. This is leading the world, and international bodies are looking at what this country is doing. They are celebrating our vigour in being prepared to do something about it, but also respecting those good people like Denis Patterson, Penny Lockwood and others from the department of primary industries who are putting a lot of effort into protecting our coastal waters and our marine environment.

In this decision support system, there are ways of checking whether people have actually managed their ballast water in the way they said they have. If we have these guidelines in place, informed by the research we have done that says that shipping from point A to point B may bring with it certain risks because of the ballast water it accompanies, we can put in place plans and strategies to deal with that ballast water to guard against that risk.

We are not out on every one of those 4,000 or more ships that enter our ports—we are not out there—so at times we have to ensure that the guidelines we have put in place, informed by the research that we and others are doing, are actually implemented. The beauty about the decision support system is that it actually has built within it a mechanism to validate that people have done the right thing—to verify how they have dealt with their ballast water and to test the water in the ballast itself to identify where it has come from, whether it has been taken on board in a manner consistent with the guidelines that seek to manage the risks and whether those risks have been overcome by ballast water that does not have those noxious organisms within it.

This is very exciting stuff. Should we discover through this decision support system that high risk people are not doing what is required of them, then we have identified that and we can deal with it through those contingency plans. Moreover, if people are not being fulsome in their advice to our officials about what they are doing to manage their ballast water, they immediately become a high risk ship and the contingency plans kick in because of that. There are exceptionally exciting things going on that I would encourage all members to acquaint themselves with and also the press to get excited about, because this is world-class technology being developed in this country for our particular circumstances.

The bills also seek to put an end life on the raising of this money. It is a two-year proposition, a million dollars a year for two years to carry out $3 million worth of research and development, including that extra million that the Prime Minister already announced from the Natural Heritage Trust. This is a package that has been supported by the industry and is being developed in consultation with the industry. The industry is actively involved in directing where those resources are spent under a strategic research and development plan. It is but one very important part of the coasts and clean seas package that this government is seeking to introduce. It is a package that recognises stormwater, effluent discharge and the way we handle our coastal areas—that their own popularity can be their worst enemy. The whole package that is embraced in the coasts and clean seas is about protecting the marine environment that I am sure all Australians love.

When you see images of Australia overseas, you see bronzed Aussies associated with beaches and coastlines. Have a look at the map of Australia. We all want to live near the coastline. But also have a look at our responsibilities that come with the exclusive economic zone—the enormous area of ocean this country is now responsible for the management of. What you are seeing is a government putting in place a comprehensive program not only to deal with those responsibilities but to seek to address some of the problems that have occurred in the past.

I commend these bills to the House. I am sure all the good folk of the electorate of Dunkley who like to go fishing on Port Phillip Bay and at Western Port would be delighted to know that there is activity going on here. So, when there is a bend in the rod and a tightening of the line when fishing off Mornington or somewhere like that, you will not bring up a European fan worm, called a sabella; you will have hooked a wonderful flathead or a snapper and can continue to enjoy that wonderful experience we all enjoy so much.