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Wednesday, 12 October 2011
Page: 11713


Mr ALBANESE (GrayndlerLeader of the House and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (10:47): I rise to sum up the Maritime Legislation Amendment Bill 2011. I particularly thank the member for Hinkler, whose contribution to this debate I have had the opportunity of hearing. He is someone who takes maritime issues very seriously. As the Deputy Chair of both the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communication and the former House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, he played an important role in delivering a unanimous report on coastal shipping, which I have used to announce a revitalisation of Australian shipping in terms of policy development.

Quite clearly, the overall framework where we have gone from 55 Australian flag vessels, in 1996, to 22 today is unacceptable. It will reach a tipping point. To revitalise Australian shipping we need to have a comprehensive plan across the sector that deals with taxation issues, competition issues and workforce issues, including training and skills. I believe in the government's shipping policy announcements, and we have done just that.

Certainly the role that that committee played in the former parliament was important and certainly the member for Hinkler's approach to issues has also been one of cooperation when specific issues have occurred in his electorate. I was pleased to have the opportunity to listen to his contribution to the debate on this important legislation that is receiving support from across the parliament. I would encourage him to talk with his colleagues to ensure that the shipping policy legislation, which will be coming before the parliament later this year, also receives support from across the parliament. It is clearly in Australia's national interest to deal with these issues. One of the issues that is common to both the incidents off the Australian coast and the current incident off the New Zealand coast is that the vessels have not had Australian or New Zealand flags on them. We need to acknowledge that there are real issues here. Those people who argue the flat earth position that it does not matter whether you have a domestic shipping industry in countries which are island continents such as Australia and New Zealand make, I think, a very grave error indeed. On 3 April 2010 the grounding of the Shen Neng 1 just east of Great Keppel Island was a disaster but one that could have been a lot worse in terms of its consequences. The impact caused the ship's fuel tanks to rupture and release approximately four tonnes of fuel oil into surrounding waters. I visited the site with AMSA. We flew over on a Dornier aircraft and saw from the air the channel where the ship should have been travelling. It is beyond comprehension that such an incident could occur.

The potential cost of such an incident to the Australian economy in terms of damage to the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef could go into the many hundreds of millions of dollars. So the economic consequence of complacency when it comes to these issues is, I think, one that the parliament should resist. A year earlier, on 11 March 2009, a Hong Kong, China registered general cargo ship, the Pacific Adventurer, lost 31 containers overboard. The fallen containers caused damage to the ship, resulting in the loss of more than 270 tonnes of heavy fuel oil.

One week ago, the fully laden container ship, Rena, ran aground at speed onto a charted reef off New Zealand's North Island. I spoke to the New Zealand transport minister, Steven Joyce, yesterday. There is a very good relationship between the Australian government and the New Zealand government. The member for Hinkler is right to point out that our people, through the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, are regarded as the world's best. We have senior officials in New Zealand right now. My colleague Minister Joyce and Prime Minister Key have thanked Australia directly for the contribution we are making. We do have expertise in containing oil spills—although, unfortunately, it has been learnt in part through the incidents surrounding the Pacific Adventurer and the Shen Neng 1and we have acted in a way that has built on that experience, which our New Zealand colleagues are benefiting from.

This oil spill, however, will be New Zealand's most significant maritime environmental disaster ever. The Rena has been leaking oil and, overnight, 70 containers have been lost overboard, resulting in the rerouting of shipping in the area. This is very serious indeed. All of these incidents highlight the potential significant impacts on Australia's coastline and coastal waters as a result of pollution from ships and other ocean-going vessels.

I spoke about the direct costs of hundreds of millions of dollars that could have resulted from an incident such as the Shen Neng 1 if it had not been contained. But the cost of such an incident to the Australian economy could be literally in the billions if it were to disrupt or stop industry in ports which are important to the economy, particularly ports on the Queensland coast such as Gladstone and also those on the coastal regions of the west. So we need to be vigilant about this. Our industry and exports are important, but people will not support activity if it is seen to be threatening the natural environment, such as the Great Barrier Reef. So the consequences of this are very serious indeed. We know that large incidents are relatively rare; however, the number of reported oil spills in Australian waters has averaged over 250 per year over the last 10 years. The potential impacts of these spills on the maritime industry, the environment and the tourism and fishing industries are significant. There is a widely held view that the Commonwealth penalties are too low to discourage violations, and that is why we are acting. Currently, Commonwealth penalties for incidents are inconsequential when you take into account the economic capacity of modern shipping companies. This bill will amend Commonwealth legislation to ensure that our regulatory regime is strong enough to provide sufficient deterrent to shipping companies and their crews from engaging in unsafe and irresponsible actions at sea, particularly near environmentally sensitive marine ecosystems. The purpose of these legislative changes is to require the master of any ship in Australian waters not to operate or allow the operation of the ship in a manner that causes pollution or damage to the marine environment; to require the master of an Australian ship anywhere on the high seas not to operate or allow the operation of a ship in a manner that causes pollution or damage to the marine environment; to create criminal and civil penalties for contraventions of these requirements; to create an offence where the master of a ship fails to report in accordance with the regulations—for example, in relation to an incident in a mandatory reporting area such as the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park; and to increase the level of penalties in the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act 1983 for reckless or negligent discharge of oil or oil residues by ships. And the bill will increase the penalties by 10 times. This is a significant increase but one that is entirely justifiable and indeed necessary.

Australia is a signatory to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, known as the MARPOL convention. This convention places an obligation on all parties to ensure that the penalties prescribed under domestic legislation are adequate in severity to discourage violations and are also 'equally severe irrespective of where violations occur'. The high penalties are intended to be appropriate to discourage noncompliance and take into consideration the levels of cost saving that shipping operators may achieve through noncompliance and any perceived likelihood of non-compliant ships being identified and prosecuted. I thank all members who participated in the debate, and I thank the House for the support of this important legislation, which I commend to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered that this bill be reported to the House without amendment.