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Wednesday, 8 October 2003
Page: 20807

Mr CIOBO (12:24 PM) —I am pleased to speak to the Maritime Transport Security Bill 2003. At the outset of this debate I would like to put it into a broader contextual framework. I have listened intently to the comments made by the member for Batman. I agree with elements of his speech and some broad connotations, but in large part I disagree with the central thrust of his argument. It seemed to me that the member for Batman premised his arguments on the basis of saying that because the Howard government was willing to take a stand, because the Howard government was willing to make a decision, because the Howard government in broad terms speaks as one and has a forward momentum and policy direction with respect to not only domestic security events but international security events, that has somehow burdened and placed unfair constraints on those Australian businesses that would like to engage in international trade and commerce.

The member for Batman implied that, as a consequence of this government's activities, we had put at risk the viability and commercial interests of Australians seeking to engage in international trade and commerce. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is that, as a consequence of this government's actions—which stand in very stark contrast to the opposition's inaction and inability to make a decision and, more importantly, to their complete lack of unity on any specific policy footing—we have provided what is one of the best seasons ever for Australian companies wanting to engage in international trade and commerce. The highlight of this to me—and this is not tied directly to our activity in Iraq—is the fact that we are now further along the path of developing a free trade agreement with the largest market in the world: the United States of America.

Let it be very clear to all of those that read or witness this debate that we as a government stand in stark contrast with the opposition in terms of the relationship and the friendship that we have with the United States and some 30 other countries that contributed to our involvement in the Middle East. Let it also be very clear that, at a time when we were progressing and building on the solid friendship that this nation has with our strongest ally in history—that is, the United States—the opposition were only keen to engage in personal ridicule, and they have done it again this morning with respect to the President of the United States. If anybody in this chamber jeopardises the future commercial interests and activities of Australian businesses, let it be very clear who it is. It is not the Howard government. The real risk comes from the opposition. The real risk comes from an opposition that seems to be hell-bent on sabotaging any true and strong relationship that we have with the United States.

In addition to this, I listened intently as the member for Batman made all sorts of spurious comments about this government's commitment to waterfront reform from some years ago. The fact is that because again of the strong and decisive actions of this Howard government we now have world's best practice on our waterfronts. The container movement rates that are occurring in Australian ports are so far ahead of what they were prior to Peter Reith's courageous stand with respect to waterfront reform. It was the opposition that once again stood in the way of trying to make any reforms on our waterfront. It was the opposition who said it was as good as it gets, that it could not get any better than that. We took a different point of view. We and Australian businesses recognised that there was a lot of scope for Australian waterfront workers to be more productive and to work in closer collaboration with their employers, to the benefit of all Australians and Australian waterfront and shipping activity.

I turn now to the core of this debate. Unfortunately, we now live in uncertain times. The world that we grew up in—the world in which we live—has changed. Post September 11, Afghanistan, the Bali bombings and the war on Iraq, terrorist activities now, unfortunately, have a much greater impact on the way in which we live. The Maritime Transport Security Bill is a very important aspect of Australia's national interests abroad. It properly identifies the importance of shipping tasks to the Australian economy and, simultaneously, the importance the government has placed on bringing to account terrorists and terrorist networks.

We did not choose—nor do we want—to have a life and society based on fear and terror, but we will do all we can to fight it. The maritime industry's strategic importance to Australia and to world trade, as well as to the safety and security of Australians both on Australian soil and in international waters, is something this government gives the utmost priority to.

In choosing to speak today on the Maritime Transport Security Bill 2003, I spoke at length with the member for Cook about what this bill proposed and the advantages that would flow to Australian industry as a result of this bill being passed. I am pleased that the opposition, to their credit, are supporting this bill, recognising that it is an important safeguard for the future of Australian industry. I knew that the member for Cook represented an area with a very large shipping interest, so I turned to him for some insight into the ways in which this bill would, in large measure, assist Australian companies in international business. I know that he would have liked to have spoken on this issue but unfortunately he is in a committee meeting and is therefore unable to do so. So I stand in this chamber not only because of interests in this area on the Gold Coast but also, very importantly, because of the member for Cook's interest in this area.

Australian shipping is one of the major contributors to our economy and it plays a major part in the collective wellbeing of our economy. At present, there are more than 88,000 ships in operation that are charged with the mandate of transporting millions of tonnes of raw materials, goods and services around the world. They form a major part of the economy and are fulfilling the obligations of international trade. The fact is that we punch above our weight. For a small nation, Australia represents over 12 per cent of world shipping tasks. In pure fiscal terms, this translates to over $100 billion per annum of Australia's export trade being carried by sea.

The value of the products that these ships move and the speed at which they move highlight the sheer devastation that an attack could cause and, regrettably, highlight that they are key terrorist targets. The International Maritime Organisation is the peak body of international shipping and, as such, is charged with delivering the mandate for the necessary safety outcomes. Its role is not to operate ships but rather to set the benchmarks with which ships and shipping companies must comply. Its role has taken on increased significance since September 11 and, more recently, since the French oil tanker Limburg was rammed by a boat packed with explosives off the coast of Yemen. The security of ships and their position as terrorist targets are unfortunately not new phenomena. This bill further strengthens the stance taken by the International Maritime Organisation in the 1980s following the October 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro when a resolution was passed by the IMO to prevent acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships.

Late last year, the IMO held a diplomatic conference to review the security regime of international shipping tasks, with the aim of further strengthening the global resolve against world terrorism. Specific emphasis was placed on broadening the International Convention on the Safety of Life at Sea, SOLAS, and the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code, the ISPS code. With respect to the SOLAS convention and the fact that compliance is required by 1 July next year, as the member for Batman pointed out, the bill currently before the House is an indication of this government's commitment to this very important issue. Following the December diplomatic conference, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the resolution on oceans and the law of the sea. Specific emphasis was placed on SOLAS and a new chapter on regulation 11.2—control and compliance measures—with 1 July next year being the final day for implementation.

We are obviously under a tight deadline to have these amendments operational by that time. It will not be easy, and it will require the cooperation of all industry participants, as noncompliance will have industry wide ramifications. Let it also be clear that when the member for Batman claims that this government is imposing these new security measures as a consequence of this government's activities in Iraq, he is being entirely deceptive with those comments. These are international standards that we are applying in order to ensure that Australia is consistent with international requirements. So for the member for Batman to conveniently claim that all these costs are being incurred by industry as a consequence of this government's decisions—in particular he highlighted the fact that we were involved in the war on Iraq and, I presume, he means in broad measure the war on terror—is entirely wrong; it is false. The reason these measures are being imposed is to ensure that Australian shipping complies with international conventions and requirements, and the government simply seeks to facilitate the broad thrust of the international changes that are taking place. It is this government's task to implement preventative security arrangements and that is what we seek to do.

Noncompliance will have serious economic and commercial effects. It is fair to say that the United States has been at the forefront of the global fight against terror. The United States is also one of Australia's key trading partners, and their government have indicated that they will be adopting a zero tolerance policy with regard to noncompliance. We cannot—and indeed must not—risk the damage that would be caused to industry by noncompliance with these measures.

As part of its remit to ensure a safe, efficient, sustainable, accessible and competitive transport infrastructure, in May this year the Commonwealth, state and territory transport ministers met as part of the Australian Transport Council forum, where they `agreed to the principles for the development of a national transport security strategy.' Ministers agreed to the national maritime transport security framework as developed by the Commonwealth with the states, the Northern Territory and industry stakeholders. Further, with Australia being a signatory to the SOLAS convention, ministers committed themselves to ensuring that Australia meets that 1 July 2004 deadline I spoke of earlier. The Department of Transport and Regional Services has been charged with the responsibility of maritime security regulator.

With respect to the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code that I mentioned earlier, the bill that we are debating provides the basis for the legislative framework for the ISPS code in Australia. The code itself is very detailed, but it is in essence a risk management policy. It contains details and requirements on security related issues for government, port authorities and shipping lines to operate within. It comes with guidelines for implementation of these requirements and the maintenance of some basic minimum functional requirements. This code will provide a consistent and hopefully standard framework from which to evaluate and further respond to maritime risk. The legislation will require that ports, port facilities and ship operators successfully demonstrate that they have the necessary skills and experience to complete the security assessment.

Obviously, different crimes will incur different penalties. However, there will be a nationally consistent policy. Penalties will need to be fair but firm in order to ensure that important trade through the maritime industry is undertaken in a manner that is professional and not likely to bring the industry into disrepute or harm's way. The federal government has announced that $15.6 million will be made available to develop new legislation and to ensure that all operators affected by these changes will be compliant.

This bill will have far-reaching effects on Australia as well. At present, it is estimated that 70 ports, 300 port facilities and 70 flagged vessels will be affected. The ramifications will be extensive and the costs to industry operators will be high. However, any stated costs at present are subjective and purely conjectural. In the general scheme of things, the costs may well be negligible. In a recent study, it was estimated that an attack on maritime transport in the United States might cost the industry as much as $US58 billion. Up-front costs would surely be preferable. Indeed, this goes to the core of the arguments that this government is putting forward with respect to some of the costs that will, regrettably, need to be borne by industry. These costs, when compared with the costs that could potentially flow from a terrorist strike, are small—they are infinitesimal compared with the costs that could flow were an attack to occur.

This underscores the point that, as much as we possibly can, we must be vigilant in the protection of our shipping interests. We could be paralysed by an action with respect to Iraq or countries that harbour and indeed aid terrorism, but costs like those are absolutely swallowed up when compared with the substantial costs borne by countries, communities and companies and also the loss of life that results from terrorist strikes and attacks. So, quite frankly, something has to be done in terms of being a responsible global citizen. That is what this bill does. With world affairs as they are, unfortunately, security costs have to be added to normal business expenses as part of this changing global environment in which we live.

Foreign ships in Australian waters will need to be prepared most stringently in order to have a right of passage in Australian waters and at Australian ports. Compliance with this bill will in many cases mean the installation of new security equipment including, for example, 24-hour closed-circuit TVs, X-ray machines, more barrier controls, dedicated satellite communications systems and automatic identification systems. If we are expected to uphold the benchmarks as set by the IMO and this legislation, we must expect and demand no less from foreign ships coming into Australia. With respect to maritime environmental safety, Australia has an international reputation for being tough but also fair. This will continue. Noncompliance or suspected noncompliance with our laws will result in potential expulsion from Australian waters of those non-complying vessels.

In conclusion, this bill represents the government's commitment to being a responsible global citizen. Unfortunately, we know all too well that terrorism and terrorist attacks know no real boundaries. They are devious in the extreme, ubiquitous in nature and indiscriminate in their targets. Shipping tasks are a natural target due to their importance in world trade and global economics. Everything that can be done must be done to prevent these acts of terrorism that threaten the security of passengers, crews and the safety of ships. This bill does exactly that and I commend it to the House.