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Thursday, 23 June 2011
Page: 7225

Mrs PRENTICE (Ryan) (11:41): Australia is fortunate to be home to some of the most spectacular environments in the world, in particular our marine life. Being the world's largest island, our coastline boasts hundreds of beautiful islands and reefs and each of these provides support to their unique ecosystems. From whale sharks in Western Australia to the heritage listed Great Barrier Reef, our marine environment is worth protecting. The bill we are debating today, the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Amendment (Oil Transfers) Bill 2011, relates to safety measures which are to be implemented by oil tankers during ship-to-ship transfers. They are important. Imagine the damage an oil spill would cause to our marine environments.

We saw the devastation caused last year by the massive deepwater oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Yet even spills on a smaller scale can have hugely detrimental effects on an environment and can occur from ship-to-ship oil transfers. One of the most serious cases of a ship-to-ship oil transfer spill occurred off Texas in 1990, which resulted in 4.3 million gallons of crude oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico. Oil spills are hugely destructive. We saw for ourselves a major impact on our islands and coastline north of Brisbane from a relatively smaller oil spill from the Pacific Adventurer, as detailed previously by my colleague the member for Longman. I commend Brisbane City Council and the then Lord Mayor, Campbell Newman, for their response and for the subsequent campaign by Brisbane Marketing to reinvigorate the region. Oil spills damage the environment for marine wildlife and cause stress to the complex ecosystems which exist along our shore lines. As well as the environmental harm they cause, the economic repercussions of a clean-up can be quite drastic. We do not want to see this happen in Australian waters. That is why the coalition is supportive of today's amendments.

As a nation we have always valued our unique biodiversity and have been a member of the International Maritime Organisation since its establishment in 1948. It has always been acknowledged that the best way of increasing safety and reducing pollution at sea is by developing international regulations that all shipping nations adopt. Australia has played an active role in the International Maritime Organisation over the years, helping to develop conventions and treaties. It is wonderful that our nation is part of such a successful, multinational organisation that continues to adapt to the changing conditions of the world in which it operates.

As part of the IMO, the MARPOL convention is part of the main international convention covering prevention of pollution of the marine environment by ships from operational or accidental causes. All of its six annexes have been implemented over the years by both coalition and Labor governments to ensure that Australian standards are in line with international conventions. Today's amendments, which deal with protecting the sea from pollution caused by vessels engaged in ship-to-ship transfers of oil, were adopted by the Marine Environment Protection Committee of the IMO in July 2009 and came into force internationally in January this year. Amendments to the annexes of the MARPOL have consistently received bipartisan support, reflecting the importance of those sensible measures as well as the value Australia places on protecting our marine environments. The amendments today bring Australia's legislation in line with the relevant MARPOL convention annex and, therefore, in line with international standards.

This bill will implement safety measures which will require all oil tankers of a gross tonnage of 150 or more involved in ship-to-ship oil transfer operations to have a ship-to-ship operations plan on board. This plan will prescribe how to conduct oil transfers, the implication being that the fact that a tanker does not have this plan on board indicates that it may not have sufficient safeguards in place to avoid an oil spill. The scheme is designed to ensure that oil tankers give due consideration to the ship-to-ship transfer practices and that their hazard prevention safeguards adequately prevent an oil spill. These ship-to-ship operation plans will be checked by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and if they are found to comply with the bill's requirements they will be approved for use. These requirements will apply to ship-to-ship transfers carried out from April next year. After this time, a record of ship-to-ship transfers occurring near an Australian state or territory must be kept, and a 48-hour notification of a transfer must be given to the country in whose waters it will take place.

Given the disastrous effect an oil spill could have on the Australian coastline, it is important to note that ship-to-ship transfer is uncommon in Australian waters. In fact there has been only one ship-to-ship operation conducted near Australia in our history. That case occurred in March of this year and was administered by Caltex, as they have advised that this method of transfer is a cost-effective way of transporting oil from distant locations in Africa. This transfer was completely successful and in full accordance with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. This method of ship-to-ship transfer is important for companies such as Caltex as they can use a large vessel or supertanker to transport the oil over great distances, but they need to be able to transfer to smaller vessels which can then take the commodity to port.

Another environmental benefit of this is that it reduces the number of oil tankers travelling on the sea, thus reducing the increased pollution that multiple vessels travelling large distances would cause. For the foreseeable future it is likely that Caltex will be the only company engaged in the ship-to-ship process. As they already operate under best practice, the company believe that they are already compliant and the amendment will have no negative effect on their business. So whilst a current company already employs these standards, today's amendments will ensure that the standards are already in place to protect our marine environment from any future tankers that use ship-to-ship transfers.

The coalition will always support sensible policies which deliver real outcomes for Australia. Both sides of this place have given support to MARPOL amendments over the years to ensure that Australia upholds international standards wherever possible. It is said that the best defence is a good offence and these measures will help to protect our precious marine environment from the disastrous effects an oil spill would cause. I am pleased to support this bill.