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Wednesday, 12 October 2011
Page: 11711

Mr NEVILLE (HinklerThe Nationals Deputy Whip) (10:35): I would like to make a contribution to the debate on the Maritime Legislation Amendment Bill 2011 today. It is all about amendments to the Navigation Act 1912 and the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act 1983. In short, these amendments set out to achieve three ends: to introduce an offence for negligent navigation in a manner that causes pollution or damage to the marine environment; to create an offence for failure to report in a mandatory reporting area—for example, the Great Barrier Reef; and to increase penalties for reckless or negligent discharge of oil or oil residue products by ships in Australian waters.

Why do I take an interest in this particular matter? I do so for four reasons. Like my colleague here, the member for Dawson, I am one of the Central Queensland members. To us, especially in ports like Gladstone, Mackay, Abbott Point and so on, navigation is a very important part of our lives and our economies. So, as a Central Queenslander, having represented Gladstone for 14 years, also now representing the entire water mass of Hervey Bay, a pristine environment, and having previously represented the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef, these matters are important to me. That is the first reason.

The second reason is that I was associated with some of the dramas around the Shen Neng 1 when it went aground back in April 2010.

The third reason is that I am one of the angels who stands before the throne of God on your committee, Madam Deputy Speaker Bird, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications. That committee has had many manifestations over the 18½ years I have been here, but largely it is the transport committee of the parliament. It has a proud record of intervening in matters of navigation. My mentor on that committee when I first came into the parliament was the Hon. Peter Morris, a former minister and a very distinguished chairman of that committee, whose reports on maritime matters are part of the international lexicon on matters of the sea. So that is a third reason.

A fourth reason is that I have a big fishing industry in my electorate, based on Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. There are 30, 32 or 33 trawlers in each centre, and of course there are the associated fishing industries of Tin Can Bay to the south and Gladstone to the north, which intertwine in that area. Anything that affects one of those shipping or trawling environments affects all four fishing industries.

In New Zealand last week, the Liberian flagged Rena ran aground on a reef off the North Island in the Bay of Plenty, a beautiful area of New Zealand. So far, 350 tonnes of heavy fuel oil have leaked into the Bay of Plenty, and authorities have been unable to successfully prevent the leak because of the inability to salvage the vessel due to large swells. The Rena had 1,700 tonnes of heavy fuel oil on board. So should the ship be unable to be salvaged and should the weather deteriorate further, a major spill of significant proportions could occur. While the lasting impact and total clean-up costs will not be known for some time, dead seabirds and fish are already being washed up on local beaches and penguins are being treated in wildlife rescue centres. It is New Zealand's worst maritime pollution disaster and highlights the need for vigilance in this area.

By way of an aside, I congratulate the minister for making 30 AMSA officers available to the New Zealanders. I think that is international cooperation of the best sort. It is yet another reflection of the sort of work that we did with the New Zealanders during the Canterbury earthquake. Having said that, I note that while this is not in Australian waters it illustrates the sort of danger that can occur. I was associated with the Shen Neng 1, not that it actually went aground anywhere near my electorate as it was 38 nautical miles east of Great Keppel Island. As the member for Fowler said, it was taking a shortcut through the southern Great Barrier Reef. What was interesting about that was that fortunately it was able to be refloated and fortunately it lost only about four tonnes of fuel oil, which created a two-nautical-mile slick. In terms of the potential spillage that could have occurred, we were fairly lucky. It became a worry to me when the vessel was shifted into the main area of Hervey Bay to do the transfer—and this is also illustrated at present by what is going on in New Zealand. If you are going to transfer fuel oil from one vessel to another, you need somewhere fairly quiet. So they took it into Hervey Bay, and I must say I was absolutely nervous because a spill in the bay would have been disastrous. I remember flying over the vessel while that was going on. I could see the delicacy of the operation. Anyway, thank heavens it was done successfully. But we should not have been put in that position by the Shen Neng 1and its crew and its parent company. Australia should not have been put at risk.

I also had a bit to do with the Pacific Adventurer. It lost 31 containers of ammonium nitrate about seven nautical miles off Cape Moreton. As if losing ammonium nitrate was not bad enough, the containers damaged the vessel and it lost a lot more oil—270 tonnes of it. You would all remember the photos of the oil being washed up on Moreton Island, on Bribie Island and on the beaches of the Sunshine Coast. I remember one particularly ugly photo—and I was critical of this because I did not think we got the booms out quickly enough—of fuel oil going up pristine creeks on the Sunshine Coast. Once oil gets up those creeks it takes years to get the stuff out again. As other speakers have said, the clean-up was quite massive. There were 2½ thousand people, including a lot of volunteers, and they had to remove 3,000 tonnes of contaminated sand.

As the shadow minister has said, we have 250 spills on average a year. Most of them, thank heavens, are minor. But I think the things we have talked about today—these three vessels plus these minor spills—illustrate the fragility of the marine environment.

This bill implements a number of measures. It requires the master of a ship in Australian waters not to operate the ship in a manner that causes pollution or damage to the marine environment. It requires the master of any ship in Australian waters to ensure the ship is operated in a manner that does not cause pollution or damage to the marine environment. It requires the master of an Australian ship anywhere on the high seas not to operate a ship in a manner that causes pollution or damage to the marine environment. It requires the master of an Australian ship anywhere on the high seas to ensure that the ship is operated in a manner that does not cause pollution or damage to the marine environment. It creates criminal and civil penalties for contraventions of these requirements. It significantly increases the penalty, in the case of a corporation, for example, from $1.1 million to $11 million. That is quite significant.

With respect to the cowboys who operate on the high seas, I congratulate the current Minister for Infrastructure and Transport and predecessors from both sides of politics. We have tried to keep the cowboys out of Australian waters, although not always successfully. I think we need to send out a signal with this legislation to these people that we do not want that sort of thing to happen in Australian waters.

The coalition supports this legislation. As I said, because of the fishing industry and the work that this parliament has done through your committee, Madam Deputy Speaker Bird, and its predecessors, because of the pristine nature of Hervey Bay and the southern Barrier Reef, with which I am associated, and because of our experience with the Pacific Adventurer and Shen Neng 1 , we have good reason to be careful and we have good reason to take these sorts of matters seriously. I personally and my colleagues in the coalition support these measures.