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Wednesday, 8 October 2003
Page: 20815

Ms GRIERSON (1:03 PM) —The Maritime Transport Security Bill 2003 reflects, more than anything, the changing times we now live in—times when the threat of terrorist activity can no longer be confined to other less stable or less developed countries; times when we know that the threat of terrorism is a real one that can strike any nation at any time. Today, as we approach the anniversary of the Bali tragedy, where many Australian lives were lost through an act of terrorism, we can reflect on what Australia has done to respond to this threat. This legislation, the Maritime Transport Security Bill 2003, is one of those responses.

So how good is it? The opposition will be supporting this legislation, but with specific amendments put forward to draw attention to the government's failure in protecting the Australian people by dismantling Australian shipping and favouring foreign vessels—vessels which frequently fail the safety, security and labour standards that most Australians would expect. The opposition's amendments also draw attention to the poor process the government has applied in developing and finally introducing this legislation to the parliament.

This bill deserves very close scrutiny because, as a security measure, it reminds us that, although we live in a globalised world of change and uncertainty, we can deal with that best by taking our national strengths and building on them to protect the quality and way of life we have become used to. One of our strengths was, historically, a tradition of a strong maritime industry—a tradition born of historic necessity; an island nation, as we are, separated from the world by vast oceans, dependent on maritime trade for our survival. Although aviation now complements our international trade, shipping remains vital to our nation's prosperity.

At a time when other nations like the United States of America are re-securing their maritime industry and developing policies that favour their own national shipping lines and operations, this government continues to favour the cheapest price and the highest profit-supporting foreign vessels of dubious integrity instead of finding the appropriate balance between competition and national and industry security. That balance, if effected properly, would see a modern Australian fleet participating competitively in both global and domestic trade, supported by highly skilled Australian seafarers operating through efficient ports that are manned by skilled waterside workers and strengthened by associated industry—engineering, marine design and maritime training, with efficient freight and logistics operations, and adequate port and transport infrastructure. Applying these criteria to the current state of the maritime industry shows that this government has failed miserably.

Securing the Australian maritime industry is not a priority for this government, but let us see how sincere it is about providing security within the maritime industry. If this legislation is effective we anticipate that it will bring about security regulations that encourage and facilitate best practice in port security and in onboard security for vessels in Australian waters. It will also provide high standards of security protection that give confidence that security incidents will be minimised, thus ensuring the safety of Australians. So let us look at this legislation. The purpose of this legislation, as stated in the bill, is to:

... enhance maritime transport security by:

establishing a maritime transport security regulatory framework, and providing for adequate flexibility within this framework to reflect a changing threat environment ...

Importantly, it also has to implement the mandatory requirements of the International Ship and Port Facility Code of the Safety of Life at Sea Convention 1974 to ensure that Australia is aligned with the international maritime transport security regime. That is vital. Without that, our vessels will not be able to operate in other ports around the world.

The bill also has the purpose of ensuring that identified Australian ports, port facilities within them, and industry participants within those ports operate with approved maritime security plans. It also aims to ensure that certain types of Australian ships operate with approved ship security plans. It will also bring about the issuing of international ship security certificates to Australian ships which have been security verified, so that these ships will be able to enter ports in other countries that also ascribe to these requirements.

Another purpose of this legislation is to undertake control mechanisms to impose control directions on foreign ships that are not compliant with the relevant maritime security requirements in this bill. You would think they would not be allowed to operate here without compliance, but apparently they will still be allowed to trade here.

This legislation will not apply to naval vessels or those vessels operated by Commonwealth maritime agencies such as Customs, Quarantine and AMSA. I have no problem with these exemptions, having seen first-hand the professionalism adopted by the Australian Defence Force and the Australian Navy and having observed the high standard of activities carried out by Commonwealth agencies that operate in Newcastle harbour—my home port.

Looking more closely at the many parts to this legislation, part 1 details a security level system that will come into effect, starting at the default level 1—all ports will start at that default level—and progressing to level 3 security status according to imminent threats. These levels, though, to be ascribed to specific ports will be at the discretion of the DOTARS secretary—a great responsibility to be given to a head of a department. For that to be effective, it will depend upon excellent communications between port authorities, shipping operators and the department; yet the legislation does not detail any additional support for those communication and information systems.

Through the legislation, the Secretary of the Department of Transport and Regional Services may also give other specific directions if he or she considers unlawful interference with maritime transport could be imminent or probable. Having stood on the docks at Carrington in Newcastle with the MUA members during the Patricks dispute, I can only hope that this provision can never mean that the department secretary can invoke these provisions to prevail over industrial disputes. That is not the way we do things in Australia. Arbitration and conciliation comes from other legislation. This may not be the intention of this legislation, but few of us trust this union bashing government not to distort the legislative process to advance their own industrial relations agenda. That is one reason that we in the opposition want this bill to go through a Senate committee process and be scrutinised correctly.

A major part of this bill is the requirement for the industry—that is, every port and all port users—to develop security plans. These plans are to be approved by the secretary and reviewed over time. I note that this review process is not defined or detailed in the bill but, apparently, the same will apply to individual ships, with foreign vessels required to provide pre-arrival information as well as their international ship security certificates to demonstrate their compliance with the provisions of this bill.

I have seen such a port security plan. In Newcastle we have a well-established and effective port users group as well as a seafarers welfare committee that meet regularly to advance the interests of the port of Newcastle and the users of our port. In fact, the Newcastle Port Corporation has developed its security plan and has had a proactive and continuous improvement culture that promotes an efficient and safe port. As a member of these organisations, the Newcastle Port Corporation knows the benefits of collaboration across the industry. It understands that the success of any security plan will depend on the goodwill and attitudes of people associated with the industry. Security depends on people noticing breaches, risks or possible incidents. It requires people to constantly scan the port environment and it requires an established risk management culture. Perhaps this culture is not well established yet within DOTARS—given recent aviation security breaches—however, I congratulate the Newcastle Port Corporation on its foresight and professionalism.

I also take this opportunity to congratulate the Newcastle Port Corporation on its efforts in finally persuading the New South Wales Premier, Bob Carr, that container traffic from the port of Botany must eventually expand to the port of Newcastle. This is a very welcome announcement and, although it will not see immediate benefits delivered to Newcastle, it gives certainty to freight operators that they will eventually have to plan for future expansion on the east coast through the port of Newcastle and of course, to some extent, through Port Kembla. It gives certainty that the environmental concerns regarding the continuing expansion of the port of Botany—which have been expressed by every local government council located around Port Botany and also located on the transport routes from the port through Sydney—are now being acknowledged by the state government. It makes sense to locate out of Sydney.

I also mention, as my colleagues have, the independent review of Australian shipping which was prepared, as the member for Shortland said, by her predecessor Peter Morris and another former minister for transport, John Sharp. That review says that one of the most important things for the industry is certainty. That certainty has now been delivered in New South Wales.

The move to develop a multipurpose freight terminal on the cleared BHP site in Newcastle has been an endeavour strongly supported by the Newcastle City Council, the Hunter Economic Development Corporation, the Newcastle and Hunter Business Chamber and the Newcastle Trades Hall Council. This unity of purpose not only has been based on the desire for further maritime activity and job growth but also has been assessed as advantageous to the industry because of our skilled work force and our port efficiency as well as the availability of an outstanding site, having deepwater access and excellent transport links to Sydney, within New South Wales and interstate. I remind the House that Newcastle harbour is the largest and most efficient exporter of coal in the world.

I note that today in the Newcastle Herald the CEO of the Newcastle Port Corporation is reported as saying how important additional staffing and security equipment would be to the port of Newcastle when those developments occur. The screening of containers is now under way and the scanning process has been introduced elsewhere. Those ongoing improvements will be watched very closely before Newcastle's participation in a multipurpose terminal.

When I mention the high volume of trade for Newcastle, I think it is important to note how extensive trade is through our port. In the last financial year, the Newcastle port had 2,806 shipping movements of 76.8 million tonnes of trade. It exceeded that of the port of Brisbane, which had about a third of that, with 23.2 million tonnes of trade and 2,297 vessels moving through it. Obviously, the port of Newcastle is a vital one to our economy and will certainly require careful consideration in the security plans.

I also thank and acknowledge the support of the member for Batman, the shadow minister for transport, for his support of the MPT project in Newcastle. But, in praising the forward planning of Newcastle Port Corporation, I also note that the development and implementation costs of all the security plans proposed in this legislation will be passed on to the industry itself. There is no financial support in this legislation for the industry or for port authorities to develop security plans. If the government were serious about maritime security or shoring up the Australian maritime industry, it would take some responsibility and perhaps cost share instead of passing the full burden on—but we are getting used to a mean-spirited government that quite frequently passes the buck.

When we look at the funding for this legislation, the only funding included is to assist the department to enact these measures—a budget allocation of $15.6 million over two years. Given that the department was on the brink of insolvency, it seems it is getting a much needed handout to keep trading or, should I say, operating. However, it seems that set-up costs to the industry will be in the order of $300 million, with estimated ongoing costs of up to $90 million per annum and no handout at all from the Howard-Anderson government. So how do we remain competitive with these costs, one may ask? As long as foreign mates and monopolies do okay, this government does not seem too worried about the sustainability of the Australian shipping and maritime industries.

The legislation also speaks of the importance of information gathering and processing. That means data management and information management systems will be crucial to the success of this legislation. They certainly do cost money, but sadly my experience on the Joint Public Accounts and Audit Committee suggests that, within our Commonwealth departments, there is a systemic problem with agencies not yet devoting enough resources to this massive task in an information dependent age.

I share the industry's expressed concerns about the level of prescription anticipated in this legislation. If that level is not realistic and bears no relevance to actual practice within the industry then success will be very difficult. So one would expect that consultation would have been extensive. But, sadly, that has not been the case. Apparently DOTARS have failed not only to consult with the industry but also to coordinate these proposals with the major associated Commonwealth agencies, such as the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, Customs and AQIS, which are on the job constantly. The Maritime Union of Australia and the Australian Institute of Marine Power Engineers have been completely sidelined in the Howard government's approach to consultation. Apparently the bureaucrats know best about our ports and maritime transport industry; those who actually work in the industry are totally ignored.

We in the opposition also have concerns about the double standards in this legislation, which include different provisions for local and foreign ships. One would think that the government would be tougher on foreign ships, but that does not appear to be the case, with some considerable trust being extended to foreign ships. As the previous speaker, the member for Shortland, mentioned, she and I did visit a flag of convenience ship in Newcastle harbour, and trust was not something I felt I could extend to the captain or his first mate—whom I found sinister and quite intimidating. They seemed committed to concealing rather than revealing. Concealment does not support good maritime security.

Our other concerns are for the restrictions that this legislation could place on freedom of association. That is why the seafarers' welfare committees set up around our ports by the International Transport Federation are so very important—and I praise the ITF's efforts and endeavours to establish these in all our ports. Seafarers have needs to be met when visiting our ports, and already some on foreign ships face major restrictions from their ship operators. Frequently, they are confined to the ship throughout the whole visit. If security is to be handled correctly then movement around ports and security checking of everyone is vital. I remind the House of the failure to correctly security check visitors at Sydney airport recently which resulted in the theft of computer servers belonging to Customs.

Enforcement of the security provisions may also be a problem. I think it is a considerable one for Newcastle, given that in my city this government closed down the Australian Federal Police office and reduced its presence to one officer collocated with the Centrelink office. Apparently debt recovery from the Australian people is a major priority but not port security.

Experience with this government also shows that, whilst they will not fund the new security measures, they cannot be relied on to police them or to be proactive with resourcing regulatory bodies that have the enforcement oversight role. You might remember how APRA failed to foresee the insurance crisis or the medical indemnity crisis. And remember, too, how the Australian Securities and Investment Commission did not foresee the collapse of One.Tel. Although many financial advisers did raise concerns with the government, they apparently did not listen. This government do have a hands-off policy when it suits. Maritime security is not an area where it should suit.

Although there are 13 parts to this legislation, the regulations to support them have not been developed or shared with the House. Too often, as we all know, the devil is in the detail, but we have not seen the detail yet. In the meantime, the industry has just got to get on with it—and so will DOTARS. Given that we need to comply with the International Maritime Organisation's requirements by the end of the year, there is no time for delay. However, this is also not the time for slipshod legislation. With the majority of our population residing in cities attached to ports, the security of our maritime transport industry is vital to Australia's prosperity and safety. Those ports host grain terminals and oil terminals—places where security would obviously have to be very high given the possibility of explosions.

A major incident in the port of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane or Newcastle could affect hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people. If this government cannot get it right for securing our Australian maritime industry, it has to get it right in protecting maritime transport security. The Maritime Transport Security Bill 2003 must be scrutinised and hopefully improved. That should be done by submitting it to the Senate committee process so that it has the consultation and rigour applied to it that would certainly lead to success. Although I support the bill, my comments express my reservations about the process, the content and the resourcing required to bring about the maritime security we need. I also support the amendment moved by the member for Batman.