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Tuesday, 13 September 2011
Page: 9954

Ms OWENS (Parramatta) (19:43): I am pleased to speak on the Navigation Amendment Bill 2011, which proposes to amend the Navigation Act 1912 to ensure consistency between the act and the Maritime Labour Convention in order to provide for the implementation of that convention in Australia. The convention is part of a range of conventions developed by the International Maritime Organisation aimed at improving the safety of ships at sea. There are four pillars, and this convention is the fourth. The first three—safety of life at sea, prevention of pollution from ships, and the standards of training certification and watchkeeping—are already in place.

This fourth pillar is often referred to as the seafarers' bill of rights and it can be described as an objective benchmark to ensure that people working and living on the ships that ply international waters have decent working conditions. The convention deals with the minimum requirements for seafarers to work on a ship: conditions of employment; accommodation, recreational facilities, food and catering; health protection, medical care, welfare and social security protection; and compliance and enforcement. As we consider this bill today we should understand that there are people currently working on ships around the world in some of the worst working conditions we would find anywhere. I know from many conversations with colleagues and friends in the Maritime Union of Australia their concern for the conditions that they find some of their international colleagues working in, even in our own waters here in Australia.

The Maritime Labour Convention will come into effect when at least 30 member states, accounting for 33 per cent of the world's gross tonnage, will have signed up for the convention. Once that has been achieved, the convention will come into force some 12 months later. It is worth considering who currently has ratified the convention. There are currently 12 member states, which account for 48 per cent of the world's gross tonnage of ships. They are the Bahamas, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Liberia, the Marshall Islands, Norway, Panama, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Spain and Switzerland. The convention applies to all ships engaged in commercial activity but excludes traditional-build vessels such as fishing vessels and warship or naval auxiliaries. Ships of 500 GT or over are required to be certified and must carry a maritime labour certificate as well as a declaration of maritime labour compliance. Ships below 500 GT are subject to inspection at intervals not exceeding three years.

It is important that Australia ratifies this convention because once it comes into place Australian ships will be subject to inspection in any country that has ratified the convention and will be subject to possible detention if they do not meet the minimum standards of the new convention. The reality for Australia is that ratifying the convention will not result in significant changes for us, because Australian ships generally already provide good working conditions. But the passage of this bill will help to ensure that the good working conditions are maintained on Australian ships and that seafarers working on other ships that enter Australian ports will have good working conditions. It will also have the effect of reducing the likelihood of accidents that may result in pollution, damage or loss of life or injury to seafarers.

The Maritime Labour Convention modernises a wide range of existing international labour standards that go back over eight decades. There has been considerable work done to bring us to this point. It modernises a wide range of existing standards and consolidates and updates more than 60 earlier ILO conventions and recommendations. It sets minimum requirements for seafarers to work on ships. It addresses conditions of employment, accommodation, recreational facilities, food and catering. It promotes compliance by operators and owners of ships by giving government sufficient flexibility to implement the convention's requirements in a manner best adapted to their individual laws and practices. It strengthens enforcement mechanisms at all levels, including provisions for complaint procedures to be made available to seafarers, for shipowners' and masters' supervision of conditions on their ship, the flag states' jurisdiction and control over their ships, and port state control inspections of foreign ships. So it is quite a comprehensive convention and, coming on the top of the first three pillars, makes a substantial difference to the safety of ships and their crews at sea.

This is, of course, an important area for us all. In Australia, shipping carries 99 per cent of our trade by volume. We are a very large part of the entire world's seaborne trade. In fact, Australia's shipping task makes up 10 per cent of the entire world's seaborne trade. If we expect cargo to be transported efficiently around the world without loss of life and vessels, and without pollution, injury or death, we need first-class, qualified world shipping services. We cannot expect seafarers who are subject to Third World living conditions—and many are—to deliver a First World shipping service.

I am pleased to say that the implementation of the convention is strongly supported by all sectors of the maritime industry. The unions and the employer associations are well and truly behind this convention and have expressed their support. You can tell the strength of the support for this convention by the nature of the tripartite Australian delegation which participated in the meetings leading up to the adoption of the convention. It included representatives of the Australian Shipowners Association as well as Australian government officials and representatives of the Maritime Union of Australia. The composition of that delegation reflects the unique bargaining arrangements for International Labour Organisation meetings, and it is great to see the various elements of the maritime industry coming together for the betterment of international shipping.

The convention will apply in Australia to ships of 200 gross tonnes and over, whether they are engaged on international voyages or engaged domestically. Those in excess of 500 gross tonnes will have to carry documentation of compliance on their voyages. Those under that tonnage will be subject to inspection every three years. The maritime labour certificate will be issued after a ship has been inspected and found to meet the requirements.

This is a comprehensive convention which will make a substantial difference for seafarers and for the international shipping trade. I know that my friends and colleagues in the Maritime Union of Australia have for many years been concerned about the conditions that they see in some of their seafaring colleagues' ships around the world and in our own waters, and I join with them in satisfaction that, finally, this convention will come into play and make a real difference around the world and in our own waters. I commend the bill to the House.