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Thursday, 29 May 2003
Page: 15527

Mr HUNT (11:25 AM) —It gives me great pleasure to speak on the Maritime Legislation Amendment (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Bill 2003. It gives me pleasure because I rise to speak wearing two different hats and carrying two different interests. The first is as the representative of the area of Flinders and the second is as a student of environmental history. I will turn to the first of those. I come from a coastal seat. I grew up on the Mornington Peninsula and I travelled as I was growing up throughout the Port Phillip and Westernport areas. With the extraordinary expanse of coastline, both of these areas run the risk of fouling by discharge from ships, whether they be cargo ships, container ships, bulk goods ships or cruise ships. So this legislation directly addresses a concern which has been a reality.

Only last year we saw an environmental catastrophe which has not received the coverage it deserved. A great number of the colony of penguins on Phillip Island were killed as a result of discharge from a ship passing through Bass Strait. That is something which had a direct, practical and real effect on the lives of people who depend upon the tourism industry and on the ecology of the area. This bill is not about a theoretical situation; it is about a reality. Neither is it the final word. It is a step along the way to protecting our oceans, our coastlines and our marine ecology. It is a step—a positive and important step—but it is not the final step. There is much still to go.

I now turn to the second perspective from which I view this legislation: as a student of environmental history. If you read Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and Garrett Harding's Tragedy of the Commons—two seminal texts which focus on the collective failures which result when we do not cooperate on environmental issues—you will realise that these failures of cooperation build a significant problem, not just for us but, most importantly, for future generations. The actions we take in long-leading environmental issues have an impact on our children, our grandchildren and the generations beyond them. Let me give you an example from my own area. At Westernport, which takes in the coastline from Flinders to Somers, Balnarring, Hastings, Koo Wee Rup, all the way around to Phillip Island—

Mr Brendan O'Connor —It is a lovely area.

Mr HUNT —It is a beautiful area. It is also an area with a significant problem, and it is a problem bequeathed by previous generations. It has run-off from the catchment areas and run-off of agricultural products, and we have failed collectively to take action. The result is that there is significant silting, overly high levels of nutrients and, as a result of that, death of the seagrass. The seagrass dies, firstly, as the nutrient levels are out of balance and, secondly, as the silting smothers it. As the seagrass dies, so goes the marine ecology. The result is twofold: we lose a natural environment and a natural heritage and we also lose the economic impact from tourism and from fishing. The capacity to fish is dramatically decreased by the damage that we have done.

I view this both as a local representative and as a student of environmental history. This bill implements one of the important acts of international cooperation on the environmental stage. We work towards a common set of international standards, though not to a lowest common denominator. We work towards a common set of international standards which help across the range of environmental activities. In addressing the bill, I will speak briefly about three things: its background, its importance and its implications for the protection of Western Port, Port Phillip, the Mornington Peninsula and the Bass Coast. Regarding the bill's background, the bill is designed to achieve three things: to protect waters from pollution by the discharge of sewage from ships, to meet new international maritime environmental standards and to improve the administration of maritime environmental compliance.

How does the bill work? Through the bill, Australia will implement annex 4 of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, which is otherwise known as MARPOL Convention 73/78. Significantly, the convention is already in force in 103 countries. In 2000, the International Maritime Organisation amended annex IV of the MARPOL convention to address concerns from some countries that had delayed its acceptance. That means that these laws which apply to the discharge of sewage from shipping apply to ships of over 400 gross tonnes that are on international voyages in international waters and new ships of less than 400 gross tonnes which are certified to carry more than 15 people. Those are the steps. I say that there is more to go. We have to push beyond the boundaries enshrined in MARPOL. We have to push for a much more rigorous approach to sewage discharge. But the bill is about continuing to implement laws in accordance with the conventions of the IMO.

Moving forward, we see that it has importance in a series of ways. Effectively, it achieves four outcomes. It helps to protect Australia's natural marine environments. In particular, it will give additional protection to the Great Barrier Reef. As the member for Newcastle discussed, and as we see in Western Port within my own electorate of Flinders, marine sewage can be the cause of a series of environmental problems. The sewage from the ships can have an impact on the quality of a marine environment through the level of nutrients. This can cause algal blooms that disturb the growth of seagrass. Algal blooms can also block sunlight and, when the algal blooms begin to spread, they consume the oxygen within the water, which again harms marine life. Together, all of these effects which can come from the large-scale dumping of sewage, whether from ships or shore, create a huge problem.

This leads to a second important development. In addition to the protection of the marine environment, the bill protects and enhances human health. Safer sewage disposal is something which is a concern in all Australian states. It has an impact on our beaches. If there is any doubt about this, we saw this with the destruction of part of the penguin colony at Phillip Island. It is real, practical and tangible. We see the results where these problems go unchecked.

The third important step forward is that the bill demonstrates the Australian government's commitment, through the Prime Minister, the Minister for the Environment and Heritage and the Minister for Transport and Regional Services, to international cooperation on maritime environmental issues. That is a tremendously important role for Australia, given that Australia is a coastal nation with an extraordinary length of coastline exposed to the flow of discharge from ships. As I said at the very outset, unless we cooperate internationally, we simply cannot act alone and hope that we will be protected.

The fourth important development is that the proposed amendments will contribute towards a streamlined national approach to environmental maritime legislation. Without a national approach in the future, the states and the Northern Territory may potentially develop different legislation from one another. This creates extraordinary difficulty for shipping; it creates the potential for weak links in the chain. Without a national approach, we risk some areas of our coastline being affected.

I said at the outset that I would also address how this bill fits in with the protection of Western Port, which is in my area. I have been arguing elsewhere that it is time to develop a `save Western Port' strategy. For the reasons outlined before, Western Port is suffering from severe environmental degradation. There are three causes. Firstly, there is the unchecked run-off from agricultural lands. That can be addressed without harming the farmers. Around the world there are programs dealing with that. There was the Western Port catchment management authority, but that was abandoned by the Victorian government. It should be reinstituted in a modern form to address that region as a whole. Secondly, there is land based outfall. The Gunnamatta outfall at Boags Rocks on the Mornington Peninsula discharges 420 million litres of secondary stage sewage every day. That is simply unacceptable. I am seeking to compel the state government to work towards a program of closure by the year 2025 for zero outfall through a process of reuse and recycling, which has been achieved in many other parts of the world. We can do it. The arguments against it are simply not substantial.

The third area of protection for Western Port is in those provisions outlined in this bill—that is, we protect against the run-off and the land based sewage and by this against threats from the sea. Ultimately, against that background, because of its practical and international impact, I am delighted to support and commend to the House the Maritime Legislation Amendment (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Bill 2003.