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Tuesday, 19 October 2010
Page: 804

Mr ADAMS (5:19 PM) —The purpose of the Protection of the Sea Legislation Amendment Bill 2010 is to implement revised measures to reduce air pollution by ships in accordance with changes agreed to by the International Maritime Organisation in October 2008 and to ensure that persons and organisations who provide assistance following a spill of fuel oil from a ship are not themselves likely to be exposed to liability for showing assistance. The bill amends the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act 1983—the prevention of pollution from ships act—to give domestic effect to recent amendments to annex VI of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973, as modified by the protocol of 1978 relating to MARPOL. The bill also amends the Protection of the Sea (Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage) Act 2008—the bunker oil act—to provide protection for persons or organisations who act reasonably and in good faith when assisting in a clean-up following a spill of oil from a ship. This comes about because somebody who has become involved has unintentionally caused a little bit more oil to spill when they endeavoured to do things in good faith. So we need to tidy that up.

This bill implements the operational requirements of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, or MARPOL. MARPOL is the main international convention covering prevention of pollution of the maritime environment by ships. It has six parts which cover oil, bulk noxious liquids, harmful substances carried by sea in package form, sewage from ships, garbage from ships and air pollution by ships. I think this last one comes into the area of ships engines and the need to make sure that their emissions are at a standard of modern acceptability, as we do with car engines. I think this is tidying that up and bringing it to a better, higher standard.

The air pollution part was adopted by the Maritime Environment Protection Committee of the International Maritime Organisation on 10 October 2008, but it needs some revision. It was intended to limit emissions of ozone-depleting substances such as sulphur oxides and nitrogen oxides from the exhausts of ships. So part of this bill was implemented during this revision. The Protection of the Sea (Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage) Act has established a liability and compensation regime to apply in cases of pollution damage resulting from a spill of fuel oil from ships other than oil tankers in respect of which there is a separate liability and compensation regime. There is concern that persons or organisations providing assistance following a spill of fuel oil may become liable to pay compensation if their actions inadvertently lead to an increase in pollution damage. The amendments in schedule 2 of this bill add a ‘responder immunity’ provision to the bunkers act to protect such persons who act reasonably and in good faith.

I believe this bill to be mainly an explanatory one that helps make clear some of the provisions but also clarifies some definitions such as the meaning of fuel oil. Fuel oil is being defined as any fuel being delivered to and intended for combustion purposes for propulsion or operation on board a ship, including distillate and residual fuels. Gas fuel is another one that requires definition because of the new definition of fuel oil. In the revision, annex VI covers gases which are used as fuel on ships. There are different requirements applying to fuels that are gases and others which are not gases. So there are some of the changes in this bill. The way we drive ships may be changing into the future.

Although this is not a controversial bill—and I just heard the opposition speaker, the member for Gippsland, say that the opposition will be supporting the bill—it does cover some very important areas if we are to attempt to control world emissions from ships. Our ships and the ships of other nations are on the high seas for many months of each year. Obviously, many possible polluting incidents occur and we need to try and ensure these are minimised. There are provisions to allow ships that visit more than one country at a time and have different findings of fuel oil to come within the standards. They can notify that country, particularly if they are coming into Australia, that they have taken all reasonable steps to obtain fuel oil with a sulphur content no more than the prescribed limit but cannot find a source of supply from the last destination.

Australia has a responsibility for its own environment, but it also has the opportunity to encourage and promote responsibility for the environment at sea. Most people who have never been in a boat see these telltale colours in the water as oil or other pollutants following the wake of some visiting ships. The practice of dumping bilge water at sea can mean not only fuel gets expelled but also microscopic small animals that can float to our coastal zones and become established as a pest in our waters. We must be vigilant to try and stop the invasion of foreign species such as seastars. Mr Deputy Speaker, you would be well aware of those in Tasmania where they have played havoc in some of our areas, including in the Derwent. Seastars make the bottom of the seabed totally barren. They eat the seagrasses and the seaweeds and anything else of a size that they can devour. I have seen over the years where divers have gone down to collect thousands in bags to try to eliminate some of them from the Derwent River. We have also had invasive species of seaweeds, especially on the east coast in Great Oyster Bay in the electorate of Lyons, from ships coming into the Triabunna port from bilge water. It has set up a different species of seaweed, a small red species, which clings to the shore and sometimes gets onto the beaches. These things need to be eliminated and I think with modern practice and processes they can be.

This bill gives the power to fine these people who do not do the right thing, and there is also a power to check record books for these vessels that carry ozone-depleting substances. There are penalties for owners or masters of a ship for the failure to carry and keep an ozone-depleting substances record book.

Under the bunkers act, a new section provides that no civil action, suit or proceeding lies against a person who has acted reasonably and in good faith in trying to prevent or minimise pollution damage in Australia or in Australia’s exclusive economic zone. However, a shipowner will continue to be generally liable for pollution damage resulting from a spill of fuel oil and the proposed new section 24A will not affect that liability. As I understand it, we want our shipowners and masters to be responsible for their ships admissions; however, there are times when, through no fault of their own, omissions occur and there are some provisions to assist them to sort that out. Going to sea and dealing with all the complexities of weather and large ships is not an easy task. There are often things which are not easy to control.

I also remember, when dealing with ships that pollute and are not safe—the ships of shame—in my early days in this parliament, learning a considerable amount from Peter Morris, who was a very active member of the House of Representatives, and his brother Alan. They were two very fine parliamentarians. Peter was chairman of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Transport, which handed down a report titled Ships of shame. This report highlighted the unsafeness of some ships around the world. It went worldwide—conferences were held all over the world to try to bring change to the way that ships were put to sea. Many ships that were registered in obscure countries of very little plate, unsafe and unseaworthy, put many seafarers to the bottom of the ocean because there were no standards that could be applied. It was a very good report that highlighted that these ships not only put seafarers’ lives at risk but also, I am sure, polluted the seas and oceans of the world not only because of their leakages and bad practices but because they were bad ships. I remember the Australian Maritime Safety Authority playing a role in stopping some of these ships that came into Australian ports from going back to sea until they were safe to do so. The Maritime Union of Australia certainly played a role as well.

It is important to get these things right. There is another bill in the parliament dealing with offshore petroleum safety regimes. The Montara commission of inquiry into the problems of pollution at sea recently handed down its report. The oil pollution in the Gulf of Mexico led to issues for the wetlands of America. There was a social cost to people through loss of jobs, which in turn led to despair. The economic losses to fishing and tourism were enormous. That is a slightly different matter, but it is a difficult issue that needs to be dealt with.

The big picture is to regulate against damage to the sea or the air. We need to sheet home the responsibility for damage as a result of neglect or thoughtlessness. It is important to have a penalty regime. The minister seems to have that right in this bill and is certainly going to take care of that for our nation. Australia can help to lead the world in this important area. We are making sure that we limit emissions in our waters and those that do occur can be noted and dealt with in the most appropriate way. This is a very good bill to have in the parliament, and I am glad the opposition is supporting it. I commend the bill to the House.