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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 5009


Mr McCLELLAND (Barton) (20:31): I fully support the Marine Engineers Qualifications Bill 2013, introduced by the member for Denison, and I support the comments made by each speaker. The bill is intended to prevent a reduction in standards that would apply to the engagement of marine and power engineers. We only have to think of the consequences of that reduction in terms of the safety of vessels, in terms of the impact on our environment and in terms of the health and safety of the other crew members of the vessels upon which marine and power engineers work. We should remember that Australian marine and power engineers are some of the most highly qualified and highly trained engineers in the world.

I have spend a considerable part of my professional life looking at working standards, including occupational health and safety standards. It has been a fundamental tenet of all the principles I have worked for—as it has been for all those I have been involved with in the sector, including on the employee side and on the employer side—that we are about raising standards and not reducing standards. The trouble with the proposals put forward by the department and by the minister, if I might say so with respect, is that it is adopting international standards that are less than Australian standards. What we are about in Australia is lifting standards—particularly in respect of occupational health and safety rather than having a race to the bottom. It is vital for Australian shipping and for the Australian environment that these standards be raised.

Let us reflect on the Exxon Valdez situation and what impact such an incident would have on the Great Barrier Reef. Should a similar accident occur, it would destroy for ever and a day that pristine environment that has international recognition—one of the natural numbers of the world. Think of ships coming through there and, because of a breakdown in machinery, a breakdown in navigational capability as the result of a breakdown in machinery, having an accident on the barrier reef. Again, if we are not working internationally to raise standards, that must be recognised as a possibility. But what we need to do is focus on maintaining Australian standards and, in maintaining Australian standards, lifting its national standards.

It has been a real concern of mine that we have not put enough attention into the security benefits that we obtain from having an efficient and safe functioning Australian maritime capability. We have again, through lowering of standards, through allowing the importation of labour that is not as qualified as we would expect in Australia, diminished the status. You cannot beat in a national security situation having Australian eyes and ears around your coastline. More than that, you cannot benefit from having vessels that are able to not only navigate safely but also to assist those who may become in distress in circumstances where they require Australian assistance.

We are an island continent. We are very much dependent on our sea lanes. To even suggest in this day and age that we reduce rather than lift standards, I think, is complete and utter folly. I commend the honourable member for Denison for moving this bill. I, with my colleague the member for Hunter, fully support it and we again call upon the minister and the minister's department to have regard to its substance.

Debate adjourned.