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Wednesday, 13 March 2002
Page: 1258

Mr BALDWIN (12:10 PM) —This Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Amendment Bill 2002 has a particular interest for my electorate of Paterson, which is truly one of the most diverse electorates represented here in Canberra. The electorate covers an area of approximately 9,600 square kilometres and includes the towns of Bulahdelah, Medowie, Dungog, Gloucester, Maitland, Morpeth, Paterson, Raymond Terrace and Stroud. It also includes one of the most magnificent coastal strips in Australia, stretching from the northern end of Forster-Tuncurry, coming through Pacific Palms, Seal Rocks, Nelson Bay, Port Stephens, Anna Bay, Fingal Bay to the Stockton Bight, which is the largest coastal sand dune in the Southern Hemisphere, and not forgetting the islands off Port Stephens: Broughton Island, Big Island, Cabbage Tree Island and Little Island.

The reason I want to join the debate on this bill is that there are five key industries in Paterson that require our waterways to be clean and free of pollution. These are commercial fishing, recreational fishing, oyster production, aquaculture in the way of snapper farming, and tourism. Do not forget, though, that the ports of Forster-Tuncurry, Port Stephens and Newcastle house very active fishing co-ops that support very strong commercial fishing fleets.

Unlike the farm paddock where we can go out and have a look at the number of animals on the paddock and the quality of the soil, see whether the fences are intact and look at what the weather conditions are doing to it, unfortunately with the ocean most things are hidden to us. These polluters threaten the very core industries that I have mentioned, and I welcome any amendment introduced by this bill that may deter polluters in the areas and enforce tough penalties. As a current ship's master class V, I know that previously only owners and masters of ships could be prosecuted for discharges of pollutants such as oil and noxious substances, including ballast or garbage, from their ships.

The government has made amendments to the International Maritime Conventions Legislation Amendment Act 2001 so that any person, not just the ship's master or owner, whose negligent or reckless conduct causes an unlawful discharge of pollutants from a ship into the sea is guilty of an offence. Owners and masters of ships remain strictly liable for discharges of pollutants from their ships whether or not other persons have recklessly, negligently or wilfully discharged pollutants, although owners and masters, because they are held strictly liable, are therefore subject to lesser penalties.

The bill that we are debating today provides that the offence provision in the pollution prevention act have an effect in the exclusive economic zone. This is the zone where many businesses in Paterson derive their income. Given the importance of fishing, oyster production, aquaculture and tourism to the local economies of Port Stephens and the Great Lakes, we must establish tougher penalties against people who can potentially devastate the livelihood of hundreds of people along the coastline. Heavy pollution could completely wipe out these industries, which have existed for generations and which have been the lifeblood of many families.

Two weeks ago, Port Stephens hosted the annual New South Wales Game Fishing Association's interclub competition off Port Stephens. It is estimated that, during the week of fishing competitions, around $5 million was injected into the local economy. People travelled as far as from the USA and from Broome on the western coast of West Australia just for the thrill of testing their skills against that big marlin on their line. Some were successful; some were not.

It is obvious that without the clean marine environment these types of events just would not exist. If there were a pollutant discharge of a serious nature in the waters off Port Stephens during this event, the effects would be devastating. It would mean the loss of income for local tourist operators and accommodation providers, but more importantly it would mean the area's reputation as one of the most beautiful beach side havens would be crushed. It would mean that future investments and events would be tarnished. We can all remember the effect of the Sygna being blown ashore on Stockton Beach many years ago. Whilst this wreck is now a tourist icon in the Hunter, the pollutant effect was serious.

This would be only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the potential of pollution in the area. The area is a gateway for imports and exports for so many industries in the electorate, as is the port of Newcastle. One of the famous exports of the area is the sand from Stockton Bight, which is now located on Waikiki beach, such is the quality of the sand in the local area. Millions of tonnes of goods go through the port every year and in turn have a direct effect on the livelihood of the people in the Hunter region. As many parliamentarians know, the port of Newcastle is one of Australia's largest, with over 3,000 shipping movements per annum and cargo handling in excess of 77 million tonnes per annum. The port of Newcastle is also the world's largest coal export port.

A major pollution spill in the port or in or around the surrounding economic zone would have, again, a devastating effect on our local environment. It is not just spills but the intentional discharge of ballast tanks, with the foreign marine creatures that can be introduced into our marine environment, that are a major problem. We have viable aquaculture and oyster industries, and the introduction of foreign species that attack these can be devastating. Newcastle, which for many has been known as a steel city, has begun a metamorphosis into a city that is embracing a new lease of life. The foreshore is going ahead with commercial and residential buildings, the cafe culture is booming, the development of a marina has received unprecedented interest and the desire for a cleaner Hunter image has permeated the old guard. A pollution disaster would have an enormous impact on the port and the businesses that use the port to move their products.

I remind the House that several years ago the Great Lakes, which is another vital part of the Paterson economy, was crushed by oyster contamination. I admit that it was not from a ship, but the effect of pollution is the same on the economy of an area. Hundreds of people who rely on oyster production were devastated by the contamination, and consumer confidence in the local seafood plummeted. Thankfully, the local industry has bounced back stronger than ever before and the delicacy of these industries has never been clearer or cleaner. We rely on the health of our waterways for the economic survival of the region. We are reliant on oysters, fishing and tourism for the livelihood of hundreds of families.

I welcome these amendments to the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution From Ships) Act, which will mean that any person—rather than just the ship's master or owner—whose negligence, reckless or wilful conduct causes an unlawful discharge of pollutants from a ship into the sea is guilty of an offence. It is paramount that we protect our waterways, and I would welcome any amendments that make polluting our waterways an offence. This is about protecting the livelihoods and incomes of the thousands of people in Paterson. We welcome the support of the ALP on this amendment.