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Thursday, 6 March 2003
Page: 9402


Senator O'BRIEN (1:41 PM) —I am pleased to rise to speak to the Maritime Legislation Amendment Bill 2002 and, on behalf of the opposition, to indicate our support for its passage. Labor has a strong record of support, both when in government and in opposition, for improvements in maritime safety regulation. It is important in the context of a debate about maritime safety to address the Howard government's dismal record on maritime matters. It has failed to support the Australian shipping industry and has demonstrated no leadership on maritime policy.

Under Labor, Australia was an international leader on maritime policy and an active participant in international forums such as the ILO and IMO. That leadership has dissipated under the coalition, particularly under the current Minister for Transport and Regional Services, Mr Anderson. Reforms introduced by the current government have nearly always been in response to international requirements or, worse, in response to a maritime disaster. The Australian fleet has been hung out to dry by this government. In so doing, the government has failed to defend our national interests, and it is a disgrace.

As an island nation, and a nation that relies on export income for its prosperity, Australia needs a safe and efficient Australian fleet. We need such a fleet to protect our natural environment, to protect our economic wellbeing and to support our defence forces, and for these reasons I want to note the following points. The Howard government has failed Australia's national interests and security by failing to support an Australian shipping industry, maritime jobs and coastal communities that rely on a viable, efficient industry for jobs, security and tourism; and it has risked our marine environment by not showing international leadership to ban from our coastline single-hulled vessels like the Prestige, which caused devastation off the coast of Spain.

I now turn to the specific provisions of the bill. The bill amends four acts and repeals one other. It proposes amendments to the Protection of the Sea (Civil Liability) Act 1981 and the Protection of the Sea (Oil Pollution Compensation Fund) Act 1993. Passage of this bill will increase the amount of compensation payable in respect of damage caused by oil spills from ships. Labor supports these changes because they strengthen the role of the maritime industry and ensure that when damage is done to our environment there is the capacity to cover the clean-up costs and punish those responsible.

Amendments to the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act 1983 expand the definition of plastics so that there is an absolute prohibition on the disposal from ships into the sea of incinerator ashes from plastic products which may contain toxic or heavy metal residues. These amendments are also designed to allow garbage disposal placards, which are required to be displayed on a ship, to be written in Spanish as an alternative to the existing requirement of English or French. They convert penalties currently expressed in monetary terms to the equivalent in penalty units. Schedule 2 of the bill will amend part 10 of the Trade Practices Act to make it clear that stevedoring operators are not permitted to collude when setting stevedoring charges. This amendment clarifies concerns expressed by the ACCC about earlier amendments to the act. Schedule 3 of the bill will repeal the Bass Strait Sea Passenger Service Agreement Act, which no longer has any application.

On behalf of the opposition, I advise the Senate of our support for the provisions of this bill. I note that a second reading amendment standing in the name of Senator Allison has been circulated in the chamber. This amendment shows us that the Democrats have come quite late to the maritime debate in this chamber and to transport matters in general. Measures which are administered by other agencies relate to the introduction of exotic species into our environment, and I think it would be proper for Senator Allison to have a good look at the appropriate pieces of legislation that deal with those matters. For example, measures which have been put in place recently require the discharge of ballast waters before vessels arrive at the Australian coastline. I understand that this second reading amendment is calling for the government to do more. I do not think that we would disagree that the government needs to do more, but perhaps this is not necessarily the most appropriate way to deal with that and, as this amendment has appeared late in the debate, I do not think we can support it on the run today.