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Thursday, 29 May 2003
Page: 15520


Mr KING (10:54 AM) —The Maritime Legislation Amendment (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Bill 2003 represents a further important step in the protection of the marine environment that has occurred throughout the course of the current government. In December of last year, I spoke in this place on the introduction of the Maritime Legislation Amendment Bill, which itself produced a further important reform relating to marine pollution with respect to plastic bags and other materials discharged from ships—materials which might otherwise pollute the environment or harm marine life. The proposal which is now before the House deals with the issue of sewage emanating from ships of certain sizes. I am pleased to hear that the opposition supports the amendments.

I will not go into the proposed legislation in great detail, but it is worth recording that MARPOL, the marine pollution convention, underpins the legislation—the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act 1983 and the Navigation Act 1912—which needs to be amended. The proposals now before the House are significant indeed. Annex IV, which contains the ship based sewage convention, was originally proposed in a slightly different form in 1986 but, for reasons involving the failure of the IMO to obtain international consent from a sufficient number of supporting nations, was not put into effect. However, in March 2000, the IMO did reach agreement on changes to annex IV that resulted in sufficient countries ratifying it, and it will come into force in September 2003. That has the result that the sewage convention which governs the discharging of sewage from certain ships will operate with respect to new vessels greater than 400 gross tonnes or vessels of less than 400 gross tonnes so long as they are certified to carry more than 15 persons on board. Those ships will now be governed by the sewage limits contained in annex IV of the MARPOL convention.

There are three requirements in relation to international voyages for these vessels. One is that untreated sewage may be discharged only at a distance of more than 12 nautical miles from the nearest land, so long as the vessel does not have holding tanks for sewage and is proceeding at a moderate speed—that is, at not less than four knots. Another requirement is that disinfected sewage may be discharged at a distance of not less than three nautical miles from land, subject to meeting certain technical standards set by the IMO. The final requirement is that effluent from an IMO approved sewage treatment plant may be discharged at any location, so long as certain limits relating to solids and the discolouration of surrounding water are complied with.

This bill establishes consistent national standards for international trading ships. It permits the Australian authorities—and, in particular, AMSA and departmental authorities—to enforce measures available under the MARPOL conventions contained in the statute, including regular inspections to ensure compliance on board and, indeed, the boarding of vessels in the event of feared violations. One of the important aspects of the legislation as amended is that it imposes a general obligation on the Australian authorities to ensure adequate port facilities to meet the demand for the reception and disposal of sewage from such ships. It is true to say that major Australian trading ports and most smaller Australian ports are very well catered for in this regard, and private contractors, generally speaking, do deal through their shipping agents to ensure that both sewage treated on board vessels and untreated sewage can be disposed of through shore facilities. Australia has done well both through the commercial community and through government regulation in dealing with this important problem of disposal of onboard sewage.

Linked to the proposed amendments to the legislation, which I welcome, are a number of provisions which have the effect of conferring or transferring power to AMSA—the Australian Maritime Safety Authority—with respect to the regulation of the MARPOL convention, especially with respect to annex IV and sewage type matters, including the issuing of international sewage pollution prevention certificates and their cancellation or surrender in the event that ships fail to comply with the relevant standards. As I have said, this legislation is part of an ongoing program put in place by the government, which last December saw further amendments dealing with, amongst other things, the banning of the disposal at sea of plastics, incinerator ashes from plastic products and other toxic or heavy metal residues that might emanate from ships or from rubbish disposal.

In that context, it is also significant that on and from 1 November this year, 2003, following the earlier legislation introduced in 2002, the civil liability convention and the fund convention compensation limits will be significantly increased so that they are updated and anybody who is injured or damaged in their property or otherwise through pollution will be properly compensated. These measures illustrate—and I do not wish to go back any further than the two most recent pieces of legislation in this regard—that the government is completely committed to ensuring that our coastal environment is cleaned up and is maintained at an environmental standard insofar as the marine environment is concerned, which is one of the best in the world.



The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Mossfield)—Is the honourable member seeking to ask a question?


Mr Danby —I am.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Will the honourable member for Wentworth allow the question?


Mr KING —I will allow a question under rule 84A for Mr Danby—in his case, with some pleasure.


Mr Danby —I thank the member for Wentworth. I wonder what you think about Labor's proposed amendment and other amendments from the Labor Party dealing with matters of environmental pollution and concern arising more out of foreign ships and the dramatic increase in the single-voyage permits of some of these ships that have been described as ships of shame and the environmental problems that may arise from them.


Mr KING —I am very glad that the member for Melbourne Ports asked that question, because that gives me an opportunity to say a few words about the proposed amendment put forward by the member for McMillan. From the look of it, it seems to have been drafted in a hurry and seems to suggest that the member for McMillan, if he did draft it himself—unless someone from the leader's office gave it to him—really did not know what he was doing. That is typical of the opposition in relation to matters of shipping policy in this country.

The first paragraph of the opposition's proposed amendment suggests that the House should be `of the opinion that Australia needs an efficient, viable and effective fleet to reduce the risk of our marine environment' et cetera. I suspect what was really being proposed was that steps need to be taken to ensure that risks to our marine environment need to be addressed by proper measures. But that is not what the proposal says in its terms—indeed, it is almost nonsensical. I suspect that what the opposition was really aiming at was to suggest that Australia does not have a proper shipping policy—that there is, as the member for McMillan suggested, a balaclava approach to Australia's shipping policy, a bias against local industry and a paralysis.

The first suggestion made by the member for McMillan in that regard was that the system of cabotage, which he inferred had been introduced by this government, was in some way responsible for this shipping paralysis. Nothing could be further from the truth. The coastal licence provisions contained in part VI of the Navigation Act 1912 provide an appropriate balance between the interests of ship operators and shippers and have remained unchanged for the past 25 years. They were put in place during Labor's term of government. For the member for McMillan to suggest that this in some way has led to a policy paralysis in relation to shipping is complete nonsense.

What has happened is that the provisions that were put in place and operated as such by Labor have continued to be operated by the minister. That is done in a way which ensures that foreign ships are permitted to carry coastal cargoes only in circumstances where Australian licensed vessels are not available. It is the usual practice for foreign vessels to carry coastal cargo as part of an international cargo. There are some circumstances where foreign ships remain on the coast for an extended period under a single or continuing voyage permit, but they do so only in instances where Australian operators of licensed vessels have indicated that their vessels are not available to carry the cargoes. It really is nonsense for the member for McMillan to assert, as he did, that there is some sort of policy vacuum when the policy underpinning the legislation was introduced and supported by the Labor Party when it was last in government.

So far as the environment is concerned, Australia has a rigorous ship inspection program aimed at ensuring that all vessels visiting Australian ports meet international standards of ship safety and environmental protection. Indeed, AMSA requires all foreign flag vessels to be eligible for inspection under port state control arrangements. I have had some experience with port state control arrangements, and they are an important protection for our marine environment.

With respect to shipping standards, we have heard about Mr Peter Morris and Mr John Sharp coming up with a report about the future of the Australian shipping industry. Let me say this about shipping standards. When Mr Morris wrote his report Ships of shame, it is true that detention rates for ships coming into Australia were in the region of 8.5 per cent—or 248 of some 2,900 ships—in those years. But that is not the case now. In 2001 only 127 vessels were detained under the ship detention regime in respect of substandard vessels. In other words, the standard of foreign vessels visiting Australia has significantly increased as a result of the policies of the government and the more rigorous inspection regimes that have been put in place. I suspect that what the member for McMillan is really talking about is an agenda that has been fostered by the MUA, which he comes into this place to put before the parliament as a comprehensive and appropriate legislative program. It is nothing of the sort. It is the direct interest program of the MUA.

What I suggest to people such as Mr Morris and others who have a direct and proper interest in a healthy shipping industry in this country is that they move on from the Ships of shame report. It is time that the tired clichés and abject criticisms of the international shipping industry were put behind us by those commentators and by the union. It is time that they started working with the international industry. It is time Australia became truly competitive with international industry, as it is in other areas. Since the Howard government came to office in 1996, this country has embraced change through globalisation. The one area where industry has not embraced it, but has rather sought to go around it, is the shipping industry.

I will be saying something about that later this year at an important conference: the Ausmarine East conference. It is being organised by the Asia-Pacific office of Baird Publications and will be held in Brisbane at the convention centre on 28 October this year. I would encourage anybody interested in the shipping industry and the future of that industry in this country to attend that convention. As those who have attended the Ausmarine West conference and other conferences of that type in the past know, they really do set a very high standard. Ship operators, shipowners and others interested in good outcomes from the shipping industry in this country realise and understand that this conference will be a highly informative event for everybody involved.

Subject to that little announcement and promotion of the shipping industry, and taking into account the totally misguided comments of the member for McMillan and his inappropriately worded proposal, I would endorse the amendments that have been put before the House. I would say to the House and to those in the shipping industry who are interested in these matters that this legislation is yet further evidence that the government is committed to a clean marine environment in this country. It is an important consideration, but the government is also committed to a strong shipping industry. We have to work with the shipping industry, we have to work with the unions and we have to work with owners and operators. In that way, we will ensure that Australia's contribution to the broader economy—especially the economy in invisibles in the area of shipping—remains strong and indeed returns to the halcyon days of the 19th century, when the Australian home-grown industry was one of the strongest in the world with regard to the size of the economy. I support the legislation and endorse the bill.