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Thursday, 31 August 2000
Page: 19803


Mr McGAURAN (Minister for the Arts and the Centenary of Federation) (9:40 AM) —I move:

That the bill be now read a second time.

The Maritime Legislation Amendment Bill 2000 will amend the Navigation Act 1912 to revise the division of responsibilities between the Commonwealth and the states and the Northern Territory for the safety regulation of Australian trading ships and foreign-flagged trading ships visiting Australia. It will also amend the Seafarers Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1992 and the Occupational Health and Safety (Maritime Industry) Act 1993 to ensure that these acts, as far as practicable, align with the coverage under the amended Navigation Act 1912.

The bill gives effect to decisions of Commonwealth, state and territory governments, through the Australian Transport Council and the Workplace Relations Ministers Council, to implement a division of responsibility for safety regulation that more appropriately suits contemporary requirements. It also meets the Commonwealth's commitments in this area as set out in Australia's oceans policy, which was released by the government in 1998.

The bill broadly aligns Commonwealth jurisdiction with international convention obligations for vessel safety. The Commonwealth will assume responsibility for safety regulation of trading ships of 500 gross tonnage or more wherever they voyage in Australian waters. This is the size of ship to which the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea applies. The Commonwealth will also continue to regulate vessel safety for all trading ships proceeding on overseas voyages.

The change to jurisdictional responsibility is not only sought by the states and territories but also supported by the shipping industry.

Australia has always played a leading role in the international arena for the implementation of standards and measures that promote safety of ships and protect the marine environment. This country particularly recognises the intrinsic value of our sensitive marine environments and the risks to safety of life and the marine environment that are posed by large ships and their cargoes.

The Navigation Act 1912 forms the basis of the Commonwealth's responsibilities for ship safety as well as the protection of the marine environment. The act currently applies to trading ships engaged in interstate and overseas voyages and authorises the Australian Maritime Safety Authority to apply international convention requirements and to make orders as the agency responsible for the performance of these functions under the act.

Presently, the Commonwealth's responsibilities for regulating vessel safety under the Navigation Act 1912 do not apply to trading ships involved in intrastate voyages, domestic fishing vessels, fishing fleet support vessels, pleasure craft or inland waterways vessels and offshore support vessels. These ships are primarily regulated under state and Northern Territory legislation unless their owners have elected to bring their vessel within the purview of the Navigation Act 1912.

This division of responsibility between the Commonwealth and the states and the Northern Territory was developed over 20 years ago. Practical experience in the intervening years has revealed a number of complications and duplications which this bill is designed to address. The present division of jurisdiction means that the Commonwealth does not have coverage for maritime safety regulation of all large trading vessels operating in Australian waters. Vessels on intrastate voyages fall within state and Northern Territory jurisdiction irrespective of the size of the vessel. Some large trading ships, such as bulk carriers and tankers—including foreign-flagged vessels—therefore remain the responsibility of a state or the Northern Territory. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority is clearly the expert in the regulation of these types of vessels, with the states and the Northern Territory having greater expertise in managing smaller craft, pleasure boats, fishing vessels and such like.

This bill is environmentally sound in that it will ensure that trading ships of 500 gross tonnage and above—arguably those that may have the most profound effect on safety of life or the marine environment in the event of an incident—will be subject to an internationally consistent safety regime administered through the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. The states and Northern Territory governments agree that it is more appropriate for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority to regulate large ships on intrastate voyages, such as bulk carriers and tankers.

On the other hand, the nature of the domestic shipping trade in Australia is changing significantly. Small trading ships, those under 500 gross tonnage, now more regularly operate on an interstate basis. It is important that businesses should be able to engage in this type of activity free from unnecessary regulation and certainly free from costly duplication.

Because the Commonwealth has jurisdiction over all Australian trading ships proceeding on interstate voyages, this inevitably includes some small vessels. This has resulted in undesirable duplication of Commonwealth, state and territory safety regulation applying to these vessels. Many of these ships make only occasional interstate voyages and, when they do so, they are required to comply with two and sometimes three sets of rules and incur the associated compliance costs.

By providing for the states and the Northern Territory to regulate vessels under 500 gross tonnage, including those on interstate voyages, the bill removes an unnecessary layer of regulation and cost to small businesses. It enhances economic efficiency and business competitiveness by providing for an owner of a vessel to reduce costs of compliance with multiple sets of regulations. A ship owner can now also have greater certainty of which regime their vessel will be subject to, rather than having to answer to several different authorities depending on the nature of each voyage undertaken. In relation to workers compensation, it will ensure that employers and employees do not find themselves with inappropriate or inadequate insurance cover.

The revised jurisdiction arrangements will also assist in reducing instances of non-compliance, and potential prosecution, of small trading ship owners who may inadvertently breach the existing regulations when undertaking an occasional voyage interstate.

Flexibility, however, is an important feature of these amendments. The current provisions of the Navigation Act 1912 allow owners of vessels to which the act does not otherwise apply to `opt in' and be covered by the act where it better suits their business purposes. This provision is being retained with appropriate amendments to reflect the proposed new class of trading ships that would not otherwise be subject to the act.

Similarly, the Commonwealth, state and Northern Territory governments recognise that there are likely to be some vessels of 500 gross tonnage or greater that would best remain within a state or territory jurisdiction. An example would be harbour ferries operating solely within state waters. The proposed new provision 8AC of the Navigation Act 1912 will allow the owner of a trading ship of 500 gross tonnage or more to apply for a declaration that the act does not apply to the ship. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority may make such a declaration, subject to compliance with established and agreed guidelines, allowing the vessel to revert to a state or Northern Territory safety regulatory regime. Guidelines to be prescribed for this purpose will be developed in consultation with state and Northern Territory governments and the Seacare Authority.

The main objective of Schedule 1 of this bill is that no vessel will fall within an inappropriate maritime safety regime and no vessel will avoid appropriate safety management. Complementary legislation on the part of the states and the Northern Territory will support this objective. In the event a state or the Northern Territory has not enacted complementary legislation, transitional arrangements have been included in the bill that preserve existing arrangements until appropriate legislation has been made by each jurisdiction.

The amendments to the Navigation Act 1912 are solely concerned with jurisdiction over trading ships. It is not proposed to change the current jurisdictional arrangements for Australian fishing vessels, fishing fleet support vessels, pleasure craft or inland waterway vessels and offshore support vessels. These vessels are most appropriately left with the states and the Northern Territory to administer.

This bill also does not seek to change the present arrangements connected with part VI of the Navigation Act 1912, which regulates participation in the coasting trade. The functioning of part VI has been quarantined from the changes described in this bill.

Consequential amendments

Both the Seafarers' Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1992 and the Occupational Health and Safety (Maritime Industry) Act 1993 currently apply to ships to which part II of the Navigation Act 1912 apply. In addition, both acts apply to ships that are the subject of a declaration under sections 8A and 8AA of the Navigation Act 1912—the `opt in' provisions. This bill will ensure the continuation and consistency of coverage for seafarers in this area.

The amendments to the Seafarers' Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1992 and the Occupational Health and Safety (Maritime Industry) Act 1993 are designed to align coverage under these acts, as far as is practicable, with the jurisdictional coverage for vessel safety regulation under the amended Navigation Act 1912.

The decision to align coverage of legislation regulating workers compensation and occupational health and safety for seafarers, with the revised coverage proposed by the Australian Transport Council for the Navigation Act 1912, was endorsed by the Workplace Relations Ministers Council in November 1999.

The Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business, Mr Reith, has indicated that he favours alignment by way of inclusion of a comprehensive application provision in both these acts rather than the current practice of these acts relying upon a reference to the coverage or application provisions in the Navigation Act 1912. As a consequence, the bill has been developed on this basis, necessitating a considerable number of definitional changes to these acts. These changes will make it easier for all stakeholders, but particularly employers, to use the legislation.

Given that the purpose and existing coverage of the Seafarers' Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1992 and the Occupational Health and Safety (Maritime Industry) Act 1993, when compared to the Navigation Act 1912, are different, it has not been possible to achieve complete alignment between all three acts.

The Navigation Act 1912 governs all aspects of vessel safety, which in many respects are determined by international maritime safety conventions and apply to both foreign and Australian ships. However, the Seafarers' Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1992 and the Occupational Health and Safety (Maritime Industry) Act 1993 focus on the occupational safety of the employees on board ships and are domestically determined and applied.

Accordingly, the bill does not seek to apply the Seafarers' Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1992 and the Occupational Health and Safety (Maritime Industry) Act 1993 to all foreign trading vessels entering or operating in Australian waters as the provisions of the Navigation Act 1912 do. It would not be sensible to apply Australian occupational health and safety and workers compensation laws to a foreign vessel engaged in ordinary international trade.

As a consequence, the draft bill limits coverage of foreign vessels by the Seafarers Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1992 and Occupational Health and Safety (Maritime Industry) Act 1993 to ships that may be licensed to engage in the coasting trade or where the majority of the crew are residents of Australia and the ship operator is a resident of Australia or has its principal place of business in Australia or is a company incorporated in Australia.

This maintains the status quo for coverage in relation to foreign ships under current Commonwealth occupational health and safety and workers compensation laws. It nevertheless represents a small deviation from complete alignment across all three acts.

To conform with the decision of the Workplace Relations Minsters Council to align the three acts, it is necessary to ensure that the Seafarers Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1992 and Occupational Health and Safety (Maritime Industry) Act 1993 do not apply to Australian fishing vessels unless they are proceeding on an overseas voyage. The current practice is that these fishing vessels are, by and large, covered by state and territory occupational health and safety and workers compensation laws. The bill will ensure that it is clear that this practical division of responsibility will continue.

The retention of an opt-in provision in the Navigation Act 1912 and retention of the current exemption provision in the Seafarers Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1992 will ensure, subject to agreed guidelines, that operators have an opportunity to identify the appropriate jurisdictional coverage to suit their operations. This flexibility is fair and appropriate in designing a modern maritime safety regime.

The Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business will be asking the Seacare Authority to undertake education and awareness raising activities to ensure stakeholders are aware of the new arrangements and to assist operators through the transition stage. The main objective is to ensure that no employee is without appropriate occupational health and safety or workers compensation cover.

Summary

This bill will bring about a significant improvement to the vessel safety and regulatory regime presently operating in Australia. It will maintain the already high standards of safety and environmental vigilance of which we are proud.

For the first time we will have easier identification of applicable regulation; responsibility for vessel safety will rest with either the Commonwealth or the states and Northern Territory according to the nature of the vessel and its size rather than its voyage pattern alone.

There will be greater transparency for vessel operators and owners through easier identification of applicable Commonwealth, state or Northern Territory maritime safety jurisdiction, clearly defined by vessel size resulting in less red tape and fewer compliance costs. Greater flexibility to move between Commonwealth and state or Northern Territory maritime safety administrations for businesses on the basis of suitability is a big plus for these operators and lowering their costs. Closer oversight of large vessels, in line with international standards, will provide benefits to the community through better protection of the marine environment.

The retention of an opt-in provision in the Navigation Act 1912 and retention of the current exemption provisions in the Seafarers Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1992 will ensure, subject to agreed guidelines involving consultations with the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business, that operators have an opportunity to identify the appropriate jurisdictional coverage to suit their operations. This flexibility is fair and appropriate in designing, maintaining and supervising a modern maritime safety regime. I commend the bill to the House and present the explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Mr McClelland) adjourned.