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Thursday, 23 June 2011
Page: 7217


Mr BALDWIN (Paterson) (11:03): I support the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Amendment (Oil Transfers) Bill 2011. By way of background, Australia has been a member of the IMO since its establishment in 1948 and has played an extremely active role in the developing of conventions and treaties over many years. One of the good things about our engagement through the IMO is that it has always had bipartisan support in this parliament. The Marpol has six annexes which deal with different aspects of marine pollution, and all six have been implemented by Labor and coalition governments over time.

Relevant to this bill, annex 1 relates to the prevention of pollution by oil, and it entered into force internationally on 2 October 1983 and in Australia on 14 January 1988. Its introduction received bipartisan support, as I said before, and in 2004 the Marine Environment Protection Committee of the IMO adopted a revised version of annex 1 which entered into force in Australia and internationally in 2007. The current amendments to annex 1 were adopted by the MEPC of the IMO on 17 July 2009 and came into force internationally on 1 January 2011. They recognise the potential for pollution damage resulting from oil spills during ship-to-ship oil transfer operations. Amendments to other annexes of Marpol have consistently received bipartisan support. Most recently the coalition has supported bills which update liability provisions for oil spills, in 2008, and which implement improved air pollution standards for ships, in 2006. The most distressing things that I ever see on our televisions in our marine environment are large-scale oil spills. Whether they have come from submerged rig blow-outs or indeed from grounding of ships, the environmental damage they do is extreme, costly and of benefit to no-one. This bill seeks to put into place plans for ships above 150 gross tonnage to develop and submit an approved plan prior to any ship-to-ship operation. It also means that there is a responsibility of the master. Just by way of background, as far as I understand, there are only two people in this parliament that have held levels of ships master certificates and they are Senator Nigel Scullion and me. I have now rescinded my ticket because I had an inability—working in this place—to keep up my sea time. It was very disappointing.

I have been around boats and vessels for a period of years. Making sure that situations on boats are environmentally managed is extremely important. What is also important is that we have in place measures so that, if such spills do occur, they are addressed as rapidly as possible. Making sure that plans are adequate is a position that is coveted by the Maritime Safety Authority to make sure they meet their minimum requirements. As I said, this then becomes the responsibility of the master of the vessel. The master of the vessel can delegate that to a suitably qualified position but, as always, it is the master of the vessel that is responsible for the operations of their vessel.

Why do we need this bill to be in place given there has only been one, as I can recollect, ship-to-ship transfer? I think that was by Caltex vessels. It is because the increase in size of the tankers moving oil and fuels in and around our coastline may require a debunkering into smaller vessels to be able to access smaller ports as we see more growth into smaller regions. That said, it is important that this government, through its actions, is proactive in these measures. There is no point in waiting until an incident has occurred to work out what is going to be done.

One of the important things about being in and around the sea—as I said, I have spent a number of hours, days and weeks out on the water—is the people who help make sure that our seas remain safe. I would like, as I speak to this bill, to also recognise the work and support work that happens through organisations such as the volunteer marine rescue services. In my area at Nelson Bay and through areas in the Great Lakes, Foster, Newcastle and Lemon Tree Passage, volunteers support the marine environment through Marine Rescue NSW. Marine Rescue NSW is a newly merged body of all the various marine rescue organisations in New South Wales. One of the important things they do is maintain a radio watch 24 hours a day. They work with AMSA and other organisations to make sure the quality of the service they are providing, albeit a volunteer service, is up to scratch.

Having been out at sea, sometimes in less than favourable conditions as I have been doing delivery voyages and things like that, it is always refreshing to know that when you put out a radio call, even checking in your daily position, there are people there to receive those radio calls and acknowledge that you are there. It is all part of our maritime safety regime we have in Australia. In fact there are 56 unit bases along the east coast from Eden to Point Danger which provide that great service. A couple of weeks ago, on 5 June, I had the honour to attend a recognition ceremony for the volunteers from Marine Rescue Australia.I would like to point out to this chamber that these people are volunteers who will go to sea in the roughest of weather to save other individuals. The key point here is that they are volunteers, usually in their senior years, who are putting their lives on the line in atrocious conditions to provide safety at sea for others when most people should be at home in bed. They do it and they get away with what they do because they are highly-trained individuals dedicated to the pursuit of survival at sea.

In recognising these volunteers, some who have provided decades of service, I would like to put their names on the record in the Hansard. From the Lemon Tree Passage unit there was Ray Conibear and Alan Ford who both joined in 2001, Dianne Wilson who has been volunteering since 1995 and Richard Osborne who entered the unit back in 1982. From the Nelson Bay unit, Brian and Maureen Wheatley signed up in March 2001, Heather Harmer, June Toms, Colin Bain and Patrick Johnson have been members since 2000, Marshall Britts, George Lawson, David Fairless, Malcolm Milliken, Nigel Waters, Geoffrey Moore, Joe Kolossa, Louise Moore, Eryl Thomas and Arthur Heiler joined in 1999, Ken Ross-Sampson, James Benson, Yvonne and John Almgren joined in 1998, Barry Hayes and Ramon Calvert joined in 1996, Kevin Lanyon, Bruce Shade and Alvin Kemp joined in 1994, John Smith joined in 1993, Shirley Clark and Lloyd Cropper joined up in 1991, Peter Phillipson and Rod Reeson joined in 1987, Harold Gibson joined in 1985, Mary Penny joined in 1983, Kevin Clark and Peter Shevlin joined in 1982 and last but by no means least John Thompson, who has been helping keep people safe on our waterways since 1968. That is more than four decades of volunteering service.

I quite often say to Thommo, 'Mate, you've got to get a life.' But he is typical of all those people in Marine Rescue who put their lives on the line regularly, going out to save people who are in distressed vessels off our coastline. Quite frankly an oil spill coming from a yacht, a fishing boat or a large cruiser can be equally as damaging as a small spill from a ship. Even though one might be pumping crude and the others have pure dieseline or petrol they can equally be damaging.

These are the people who have an absolute commitment to our community. I will give you an example. In 2009 our local marine rescue unit performed 140 maritime rescues. That is 140 times; not all of them in bad and atrocious weather—the boat might have broken down on a perfectly sunny day. I have sat around and talked to these guys. They inherited a boat that was given to them called the Daniel Kane which came out of England and was a lifeboat there. It is a fully enclosed boat where the people who work on it are all below decks and strapped in and it will go out in absolutely atrocious conditions.

Our region is no stranger to ship disasters, and I would remind this chamber of the fate of the Pasha Bulker. It was only by sheer good fortune when she was beached in that massive storm that there was no massive oil spill. I know that besides the professionals there and the tugboat drivers it was the volunteers like the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service who got people onto the ship and evacuated the ship. It was people like our Marine Rescue units who were standing by ready to help in case they were needed.

Protecting our seas is important and that is why this legislation is another pathway forward to protecting that marine environment. We can remember things such as the Exxon Valdez and the devastation that that created up in the north Pacific. We can remember the Gulf of Mexico, that is only a year on, and the devastation on a very broad scope that had on the southern states of the USA. It was not just that the oils and crude got washed up in the rivers, it went all the way up through into the Everglades area and it affected the marine nurseries and the financial liabilities of those towns. That is why in conclusion it is critical to be proactive. It is critical to have plans that are evaluated by professionals independently and, as always with the master of the vessel, it is critical to hold the master of the vessel responsible for the operations and safety of the vessel. The coalition commends this bill before the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms K Livermore ): That was a lovely tribute to those volunteer organisations right around our coastline.