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Thursday, 23 June 2011
Page: 7224

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON (Werriwa) (11:34): I support the provisions being put forward in the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Amendment (Oil Transfers) Bill. This legislation derives from changes internationally through the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, or MARPOL, which commenced in 1983 and itself derives from UN activity through the International Maritime Organisation, established in 1948.

As many speakers will indicate, there is a very real reason for trying to avoid oil spillages at sea. Obviously for this country there would be a threat to our tourism industry and to fishing, but more particularly there is the impact on wildlife, particularly birds but also whales, otters et cetera. Those impacts include hypothermia, the poisoning of animals and birds as they try to clean themselves, the effect on reproduction, the problem of blinding which makes them vulnerable to predators, many birds become too heavy to fly, oil bubbles in the fur of some animals lead to their inability to float, and whales' blowholes become plugged so they basically cannot breathe. That is another reason why we should be very vigilant and very active in this area. We hear people denigrating international activity and international cooperation through organisations such as the UN, but the fact is that trying to overcome national self-interest and corporate power to reach agreements such as this and have parallel legislation in countries is a worthwhile human endeavour.

Perhaps the most extreme example of what can occur is demonstrated by the 1989 Exxon Valdez incident. A quarter of a million birds are believed to have perished as a result of that leakage—it was more than a leakage; 25 olympic pools of oil were lost, spreading over 28,000 kilometres. This case was also indicative of corporate power in the world, because in one of the most infamous examples of corporate power and doubts arising over the US Supreme Court, the initial penalties resulting from the Exxon Valdez were reduced from $2.5 billion to $500 million, and court cases were stretched out over a decade. Despite efforts by the US Congress to ensure there were measures to counter disregard, disinterest and negligence by corporations in regard to the carriage of oil, we had an example where the political nature of members of the US Supreme Court led to a massive reduction in punitive damages.

Whilst it is estimated that the contribution of oil spillages to the overall problem is of a lower order—estimates go between five and eight per cent of the oil pollution in the world—it is still important. If we can take action internationally and as a nation to reduce the possibility, it is a worthwhile venture. It is of interest that 70 per cent of oil pollution comes from consumer use—run-off, et cetera. As I say, that five or eight per cent is important when we are trying to ensure that we move in the right direction. As well as Exxon Valdez, there has been a focus on the Gulf of Mexico over the last year or so. That certainly gained international attention because of the huge media coverage and the impact on Louisiana's wetlands and fishing and shrimp industries. There was the image of a US President not acting strongly enough. It focused international attention, in the globalised world of media presence, on making sure we all have some indication of what can occur. There have been multiple examples—Exxon Valdez, the Kuwaiti oilfields, whether it involves spillages through ship crashes or negligence in ship maintenance or, as I say, the search for oil itself.

This legislation includes a commendable series of measures designed to reduce the problem. It includes penalties for ships not having plans of action for problems that might occur; equally, there are penalties of up to $6,000 for inappropriate qualifications of people on ships, with some leniency depending on how much notice the ship operators have had. There is a penalty of $22,000 for failure to report incidents and strict liability in regard to a ship-to-ship plan. So there is a series of measures here to bring Australia into line with international provisions. This is as a result of international action. While I heard one speaker saying that Australian waters have not been affected by this many times, there is always the possibility. Who would have foreseen 20 years ago what is happening in international transport? Who knows what is going to occur with oil shortages over the next few decades—how it will be transported, in what kinds of vehicles, the nature of Australian ports? The degree of caution, vigilance and action early on are commendable. We are, through this legislation, moving on the threat of spillage from ships transporting oil, chemicals and other substances.

In conclusion, I commend this as a necessary measure and stress again both the threat to the environment and an indication of this country being involved in international organisations, and the very positive outcomes which occur through international cooperation.