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Thursday, 23 June 2011
Page: 7213

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (10:45): I join the debate on the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Amendment (Oil Transfers) Bill 2011. I say from the outset that the coalition regards this as a non-controversial piece of legislation and we will be supporting the bill in its passage through the parliament. I also acknowledge my good friend the Leader of the Nationals, who is the shadow minister for infrastructure and transport and indeed a former minister in this place. He is unable to join the debate today, but he would like me to highlight that the coalition has a strong record of public policy with regard to these matters. It is certainly an area where I believe the wider community expects us as members to ensure that there are appropriate environmental safeguards for this type of activity. Obviously, Madam Acting Deputy Speaker Livermore, in your electorate of Capricornia you are blessed with some extraordinary marine biodiversity and the community values it very highly. To take appropriate measures in providing sensible safeguards and sensible reforms to accommodate activities in the marine environment is something that the coalition does support.

Australia has been a member of the International Maritime Organisation since its establishment in 1948 and we have played an active role in the development of conventions and treaties over many years. As I said, the coalition and the current government—which I commend for it—have a long history of supporting sensible reforms. This bill amends the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act 1983 to implement amendments to annex I of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, known as MARPOL, to prevent marine pollution during ship-to-ship oil transfer operations. These requirements entered into force internationally on 1 January 2011, and this bill will bring Australia's legislation into line with this scheme.

The bill requires that all oil tankers with 150 gross tonnage and above involved in ship-to-ship oil transfers have an operations plan prescribing how to conduct those transfers. It is designed to ensure that consideration has been given to the processes involved in the ship-to-ship transfer and that hazard prevention safeguards are in place to prevent an oil spill. These plans will be checked by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority to ensure they meet with their requirements. As you would expect, Madam Acting Deputy Speaker, the bill also stipulates that ship-to-ship transfers must be undertaken in accordance with the approved operations plan and that ship-to-ship transfers must be overseen by the master of a ship involved or a suitably qualified person.

I believe that that is an important safeguard. The master of an oil tanker involved in such a transfer will be required to notify the administration of the country in whose waters the transfer will take place at least 48 hours prior to the oil transfer operations to ensure that response equipment is available in case of an oil spill during the transfer. That is a very reasonable consideration. We need to ensure that, in what it is fair to say would be the unlikely event of a spill occurring, it is conducted in a proper and correct manner with the appropriate safeguards. But, in any case, we need to ensure that the appropriate equipment is available on the mainland to deal with any unfortunate or unforeseen events. A record of such transfers needs to be provided at least 48 hours prior to the transfer to ensure that the Australian authorities are in a position to respond. Whilst the measures in this bill are important, it should be noted that, to date, there has been only one ship-to-ship transfer, which I am aware of, in Australian waters. In March this year, Caltex conducted a successful transfer off the coast of Sydney. I note from the minister's second reading speech an expectation that, in the future, this will become a more common event, particularly in the sense that Australian ports will not be able to cope with the supertankers that are becoming more commonplace and so there will be a need to provide these transfers to smaller vessels that can access Australian ports. Quite simply, it does not really matter how much we do in terms of dredging some of our ports they will not be able to cope with these vessels of enormous capacity, so these ship-to-ship transfers will become more frequent in the future.

I understand that Caltex operates using world best practice standards and carried out the transfer earlier this year in compliance with the requirements of the MARPOL convention even though it had not been officially enacted in Australia at that point. I understand that the transfer was carefully planned and carried out in close consultation with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and it is my understanding that it was a well-conducted operation. Whilst at this point ship-to-ship transfers of this type are not commonplace in Australia, as I have said, I think it is reasonable and prudent of the government to adopt this amendment to the MARPOL convention into Australian law.

I am pleased to support the bill to implement the amendments to the MARPOL convention annex 1 in Australia. It is important that we take these measures to ensure appropriate safeguards are in place to protect our environment when undertaking these potentially hazardous operations. I thank the House.