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Thursday, 29 May 2003
Page: 15530

Ms HALL (11:38 AM) —Madam Deputy Speaker Corcoran, as always it is a pleasure to speak when you are in the chair. In this parliament, I represent an electorate with a proud maritime history. The electorate of Shortland has an extensive coastline and its constituents recognise the importance of it being pollution free. It is an electorate with golden beaches and a pristine coastline that is closely linked to our heritage and very important to Australia as a whole. The Maritime Legislation Amendment (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Bill 2003 will lead to the protection of that pristine coastline in my electorate. However, I believe that other initiatives of this government, particularly in the area of the maritime industry, will jeopardise that; but I will concentrate on those a little later.

The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, known as annex IV of MARPOL 73/78: Regulations for the Prevention of Pollution by Sewage from Ships, and the Protection of the Sea Legislation Amendment Act 1986 need to be given effect so that we can be party to the convention. MARPOL was actually agreed to in the time of my predecessor, Peter Morris. I see that representatives of the department and the minister's office are acknowledging that. He is a person who put in a lot of work in this area and who has been very dedicated to the maritime industry and the shipping industry. I will touch on that a little more as I proceed with this speech. The provisions relating to annex IV have not yet been proclaimed. It is great to see that they are finally coming to this parliament. We on this side of the House are going to be supporting this legislation.

The nature of the amendments is fairly technical, reflecting the number of the regulations contained in the annex. The thing in those amendments that I would like to highlight is the way this will impact on our environment and what it means for Australia. It relates to the provision of new power for the survey authorities to issue international sewage pollution prevention certificates; it amends the name of the international sewage pollution prevention certificate; it reflects additional requirements set out in the revised annex IV, including conditions whereby a ship will be maintained in order to conform with the provisions; and it also sets out where and when ships can discharge sewage, untreated, disinfected and fully treated. It had in place a four-nautical-mile limit where no disinfected sewage could be discharged, and this was initially a barrier to the ratification of annex IV. The four-nautical-mile limit was one barrier to the necessary level of support. While there is a reduction, it is only a nominal one. That comes into effect as the distance from the shore that dumping of treated sewerage can take place. The Queensland Minister for Transport, I notice, has expressed no concern about that particular matter.

As I was saying, the legislation sets out that untreated sewage may only be discharged at a distance of more than 12 nautical miles from the nearest land; that disinfected sewage may only be discharged at a distance of more than three nautical miles—there was an agreement that that would change from four to three—and that effluent from an IMO approved sewage treatment plant may be discharged at any location, providing the effluent does not produce visible floating solids and does not cause discolouration of the water. This legislation puts in place something that we in this parliament should be supporting.

I mentioned my predecessor, the previous member for Shortland, Peter Morris. In doing so, I said that he has made numerous contributions in this area of protecting the coastline and protecting shipping. He was involved with the report Ships of shame, which I notice was mentioned by the member for Newcastle—and I am sure many other members have mentioned it—and which identified some of the real problems in the maritime industry. He then went on to be involved in an international report by an international commission on shipping, ICONS. They put together a report called Ships, slaves and competition. Once again, it identified many of the problems that are facing the maritime industry worldwide.

There is currently another review taking place, the independent review of Australian shipping—IRAS. The interesting thing about it is that two former transport ministers—former Minister Sharp and former Minister Morris—are chairing that inquiry, and it is my understanding that they will be in this parliament building next week. The Hon. Peter Morris has emphasised time and time again to me the importance of protecting our environment and ensuring that ships that operate in our coastal waters are safe and that they are crewed by suitably trained and experienced crews. We are an island nation; we have got to transport goods long distances and the sea provides a road just like the roads that traverse our land. It is really important that we protect our sea roads, and in doing that it is important to protect our environment. This legislation puts in place a protocol to do that.

But what concerns me is that unfortunately proper surveillance is not in place; we do not have the proper resources to ensure that this actually happens. We all know that while annex VI of MARPOL deals with the dumping of oil at sea, it still happens and we are not able to determine which ship dumped that oil. That is because the protocols that were in place to test and record the oil of all ships so you would be able to identify which ship actually dumped that oil have been removed, and also we do not have enough people to actually enforce these annexes. This lack of resources has the potential to undermine this very important legislation that is before us today. Unless the government acts to deal with that issue, it will be culpable for the damage that can be wreaked on the Australian coastline and coastal environment. That is a very important message for the government to take on board: to ensure that there are proper resources to actually police this annex once it comes into being. This is something that, as all speakers on this side of the chamber have said, it is important for us to support because it is about ensuring that our coastline is protected. It disappoints me that it has taken so long—I think it was 1985 when the Hon. Peter Morris was the minister dealing with this—although I know there have been some problems from an overseas point of view as well as a little bit of tardiness on behalf of the government.

The government's shipping policy unfortunately has been driven by its ideological hatred of the Maritime Union, and this has been one of the things that has underpinned all the changes and all the legislation generally that this government has brought in, although I am not referring to this piece of legislation. The Howard government is more interested in creating profit for people who are involved in the shipping industry than protecting the jobs of all those Australian maritime workers. It is determined to destroy the Maritime Union and, in destroying the union, it has actually led to the destruction of our Australian shipping industry—an industry that employs many people in our country and an industry that is of vital importance to this country. It is not only the shipping of goods around Australia; there are also numerous onshore employment benefits that involve insurance, lawyers, managers—it creates all these different jobs within Australia.

So I think that the government is being short-sighted in focusing just on the union. Issuing continuous voyage permits and single voyage permits to flag of convenience ships has really jeopardised Australian jobs. It has seen the end of many Australian jobs and it has also had an enormous impact on the environment. In my own electorate we had the MV Wallarah that was taking coal from Newcastle and had been operating since 1873. It had the effect of keeping 200 coal trucks off the road. The MV Wallarah is no longer operating there. There are 200 coal trucks on the road going between Catherine Hill Bay and the coal loader in Newcastle. That is having an impact on other transport infrastructure. That ship, which was purpose-built to carry the coal to Newcastle, is now owned and flagged in Tonga. The people of my electorate that had jobs on that ship no longer have their jobs. It is crewed by Tongans and it is now called the Ikuna. It is still operating within Australia carrying wheat around the Australian coastline. I feel this is really sad, because people in my area who are good, hard-working, skilled people are now unemployed. I really think that some of the actions of this government, particularly in this area, have had enormous implications for the shipping industry and for Australians.

Earlier this year I was talking about flag of convenience ships—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms Corcoran)—Is the member for Flinders seeking to ask a question?

Mr Hunt —Yes.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Is the member speaking prepared to answer a question?

Ms HALL —No, simply because I do not have enough time. If I were given an extension of time I would answer your question, but I know I will not be. Earlier this year I went aboard the Angel III, a Greek ship sailing under the Maltese flag which was crewed by Burmese people. The only two people on the ship who were Greek were the captain and the first officer. We were not allowed into any of the quarters where the crew lived. The crew appeared quite frightened. One thing I noticed was that none of the crew could speak English. When I said to the captain, `All the signs are in English,' he said to me, `They can read English; it's an international language.' It was not true. The implication for us here in Australia is that it is creating unsafe conditions. These ships are going round and round our coastline and there is a potential for an enormous environmental disaster. The government needs to thinks very carefully about what has happened in the area of shipping, because the consequences can be enormous.

I will mention the Great Barrier Reef and the potential for a disaster there. I have some figures that I wish to quote. On the PM program of Thursday, 21 November 2002 at 6.35, Mark Colvin said:

In the past seven years there have been around 35 collisions and groundings of more than 50 large commercial ships in the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait waters.

Since 1995 there were the Corolla, which is a German ship, a Danish ship, a Panamanian ship, an Egyptian ship, an Indian ship, a Singaporean ship and a Malaysian ship. It is interesting to see the variety of countries that these ships came from. I will leave my comments on that particular aspect there.

I would like to take a bit of licence now and refer to something else. As I mentioned earlier, Shortland is a coastal electorate. We have one of the most accessible lighthouses on the eastern coast of Australia—the Norah Head lighthouse—and 15 November this year will be the centenary of the commencement of operations of that lighthouse. The trustis arranging a program of celebrations leading up to that centenary day. I am writing to the minister at the moment asking him to facilitate an RAAF fly-by on that day. I am putting that on notice here in the parliament. It is a very important area as far as the RAAF is concerned. Nearby Bird Island was used for bombing practice in the 1940s, and the MV Nimbin was struck by a German mine some eight miles off Norah Head. We have a maritime service every year recognising the significance of that area in the maritime history of Australia. The residents of the local community have had a strong association with the operations of the RAAF, shipping and the defence of Australia. I want to put on the record how important it is to the people of the area I represent that the government assist with this and provide that service.

In conclusion, I return to the legislation and say yes, it is about time annex IV was ratified by the parliament. It is important that it become part of the legislation of this parliament. We need to remember that Australia needs a viable and vibrant shipping industry and at the same time we need to ensure the protection of our environment. I believe that many of the changes that have been brought in by this government have led to situations that endanger our environment and have most certainly undermined the shipping industry.