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Friday, 5 December 1986
Page: 3552


Senator GIETZELT (Minister for Veterans' Affairs)(6.17) —The Government believes that the legislation is timely and evolutionary. We are moving in accordance with international standards and with support from the International Maritime Organisation. It is a major step forward for the Parliament to be debating and passing this piece of legislation. It is the eighth action taken by the Government in either legislative or ratification form. It puts on the public record our acceptance of the principle of preventing marine pollution. As the Minister for Transport (Mr Peter Morris) said in his Press statement, we have constantly kept the problem of marine pollution under consideration and taken whatever steps are necessary to fulfil not only our national obligations but also our international obligations.

Senator Vigor referred to this piece of legislation coming in late in the session. There always has to be some legislation before the Parliament at the end of the session. That does not mean that it does not have importance. Because the Government had a timetable to get legislation associated with its Budget passed to give Commonwealth benefits to people, the Budget legislation had to have priority. I remind Senator Vigor that this important legislation is better late than never. That is the approach the Government has taken. The Bill is designed to control ship pollutants of all types. The Minister is aware of the problem that has been raised by Senator Vigor about nuclear waste and he is keeping it very much under control. He has authorised me to give an assurance to the Parliament that should there be any problem flowing from nuclear waste-not that this is discernible or immediately on the agenda at this stage-it will receive urgent consideration by the Minister. But we have a timetable problem. We need to have this legislation passed. The Government is appreciative of the Opposition's positive approach to this legislation.

The Protection of the Sea Legislation Amendment Bill will make it illegal to discharge sewage in the Great Barrier Reef area. Honourable senators will recall that, as was said on the last occasion this legislation was debated, there was common ground not only about the protection of the Barrier Reef but also about the protection of our beaches. Australia's environment is a very important part of our outlook, our makeup and our way of life. There should be no misunderstanding. The fact is that the Government accepts that the disposal of garbage in the Great Barrier Reef area will be totally prohibited by this legislation. I remind Senator Vigor that the Government has the support of the Australian Transport Advisory Council. It is our intention to have this legislation in operation so that it will receive international ratification and support by April 1987. That might be a little way down the track but if we were to postpone consideration of the legislation until late February we might get into some technical difficulties. The Government recognises its responsibilities and obligations to Australia. It also recognises its responsibilities and obligations internationally.

Honourable senators would know that Australia is a major trading country and that we have many ships operating from our shores. The purpose of this legislation is to amend four Commonwealth Acts which we believe will enhance our international reputation. It has to be said that Australia is well recognised and accepted internationally as a leader in the area of the eradication of marine pollution. We believe that our strong policies will enable us to maintain our leadership role and our position. Of course, it might well be necessary for me to reiterate that the Australian Government has a strong environment policy. That applies not only on the land but also at sea, hence we do not have any difficulty in coming to the Parliament with this legislation. I am sure that that is why the Opposition has taken the view that it has. As I recall it, previous governments have adopted a somewhat similar bipartisan view.

Whilst Senator Vigor has expressed some of the genuine concerns that he and his Party have, I have been authorised by the Minister to say that those matters cannot be accommodated in the current situation in which we find ourselves. But should they eventuate the Minister is prepared, very early in the autumn session, to take on board any of the problems that might exist. Of course, we will be opposing the amendments to be moved in the Committee stage, but we are expecting the Senate to support the second reading motion and to oppose any suggestions or amendments in the Committee stage.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.