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Friday, 28 November 2003
Page: 18408

Senator O'BRIEN (2:36 PM) —The Maritime Transport Security Bill 2003 is a significant bill for the security of Australians and for the sustainability and stability of our critical international trade. The maritime industry is the linchpin in the import, export and domestic shipping tasks necessary for our economy and jobs. This debate is not just about highly skilled seafarers and waterside workers in a modern Australian fleet but also about the flow-on to support industries like engineering, maritime training, freight forwarding and the like. Labor will support this bill but, in doing so, we take the opportunity to make it crystal clear that we have a very different view on the value of our shipping industry.

For too long, the Howard government have claimed that Australia is a shipping nation, not a nation of shippers. For too long, they have had their heads in the sand about the importance of shipping to Australia as an industry in its own right. It has been one of the most ideologically driven areas of Howard government policy. There has been a total focus on cheaper shipping costs achieved by busting the unions and sacrificing the Australian industry. The Howard government show their contempt for Australian shipping by refusing to level the playing field.

The Australian Shipowners Association has regularly highlighted 10 pieces of legislation that discriminate against the Australian industry in favour of foreign shipping operators. The single and continuous voyage permits have been manipulated to undermine the legitimate cabotage provisions, which are by no means unique in the world. The United States fiercely protects its domestic coastal trade for security, environment and employment reasons. So too has the Australian parliament endorsed legislation to protect our domestic trade. Those provisions are the cabotage provisions in the Navigation Act.

Labor has continued to identify the security and environmental risks associated with foreign flag vessels and their crew being given unfettered access to Australian coasts and ports. But the Howard government continues to open the door. It was only last year, after years of turning a blind eye to the abuse, that the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs took some notice of Labor's calls and placed some restrictions on continuing voyage permits. The situation is still not good enough. The bill before this chamber is about maritime security, but it is only one element of the picture. It makes a good start to putting in place a consistent national and maritime security framework, but the reality is that the stability and sustainability of this industry are also fundamental to our maritime transport security.

The Australian Labor Party and the maritime unions are not lone voices on these matters. The Australian Shipowners Association recently released an independent review of Australian shipping. That review was conducted by two former transport ministers: former National Party minister John Sharp and former Labor Party minister Peter Morris. These former ministers spoke to an extensive cross-section of government and industry players. The foremost priority issue identified by that review was the need for policy clarity. The report states:

If all sectors of the industry are unanimous on any single issue, it is the need for Government to enunciate a clear, certain and consistent policy towards the industry, and for regulatory activities to be carried out in a consistent way.

That review heard concrete evidence from industry players that uncertainty was stifling investment decisions. Specific new and existing projects were at risk, and are at risk as we speak, because the government is not doing its job to provide regulatory certainty. The Minister for Transport and Regional Services should be minded to listen to the findings of his former colleague and predecessor.

The Morris-Sharp review also came to some specific, damning conclusions on security. Conclusion VIII stated:

The Review notes the apparent inconsistency between the Government's policy for coastal shipping, ie to obtain the cheapest priced shipping services by accessing foreign ships, and its policy of strengthening border protection.

The Review notes measures to be undertaken by the US Government to limit access to its coastline to those vessels and crew from nations regarded as having a high degree of security. The review received evidence that Australia risks losing access to US markets due to the use of foreign flagged vessels and crews that do not have the high degree of security required under their strengthened border protection regime.

That, I stress, is the finding of the review from two former transport ministers, one from the coalition side of politics and one from my side of politics. As we consider this maritime security bill, there are chilling findings and conclusions from extensive discussions Labor has held with Australia's maritime industry players. Also pertinent to this bill is the conclusion and warning of the review in relation to the cost of maritime security:

Evidence was provided confirming that increased security would result in increased costs that will be borne by the shipping task. Australia faces the challenge of remaining competitive, as some competitor's governments will meet all or a portion of the increased security costs. Therefore any new measures would need to be pursued within competitive bounds.

This issue was also brought before the Senate committee.

Australian business and other tiers of government will pull their weight, but it is not acceptable for the Australian government to walk away from all responsibility. The Executive Director of the Association of Australian Ports and Marine Authorities, Mr John Hirst, reminded us in the press that in the United States the federal government had allocated $US1 billion to port authorities to upgrade security. The US government will weigh in the equivalent of $A1.53 billion to batten down the security hatches, and the Australian government will weigh in nothing.

The costs in Australia are not insignificant. The explanatory memorandum advises a conservative estimate. We are informed that the total set-up costs to security related ports, including port facilities within these ports, could be up to $300 million, with ongoing costs of up to $90 million per annum. With the US and other countries subsidising these costs, the level of disadvantage to the Australian industry is high, given that this government is not providing any assistance. To be correct, the government has allocated a sum of $15.6 million over two years for maritime security. It will be spent within the department to put in place a regulatory regime. The Senate committee has agreed that these concerns about costing are reasonable. The committee also suggests the government discuss these funding issues with the states and with the industry.

As I said at the outset, Labor supports this bill. The bill will deliver a national, consistent security framework for the industry. It will enhance maritime transport security in a number of ways. It will establish a maritime transport security regulatory framework, and provide for adequate flexibility within this framework to reflect a changing threat environment. It will implement the mandatory requirements in chapter XI-2—the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code—of the Safety of Life at Sea Convention of 1974 to ensure that Australia is aligned with the international maritime transport security regime. It will ensure that identified Australian ports, port facilities within them and other maritime industry participants operate with approved maritime security plans. It will also ensure that certain types of Australian ships operate with approved ship security plans; issue international ship security certificates to Australian ships which have been security verified so that these ships will be able to enter ports in other SOLAS contracting countries; and use mechanisms to impose control directions on foreign ships that are not compliant with the relevant maritime security requirements in this bill.

This is a large and complex bill that has had to be finalised in a miraculously short amount of time in response to the events of 11 September. The maritime industry is a global industry. The regulatory regime therefore has also to be a global one. The processes of global rule making have historically been long and protracted. It is a credit to the International Maritime Organisation, its member nations, the industry, the unions and the departmental officers that the ISPS Code and framework enshrined in this bill have reached such an advanced stage in the time frame that has been allowed.

The shadow minister, the member for Batman, has been involved in extensive negotiations with the Minister for Transport and Regional Services to facilitate passage of this bill. We hoped that it would be passed today, but that appears unlikely. To continue to operate in the industry, each operator must have approved security plans and an approved ISSC by 1 July 2004. Labor have been fully cognisant of this deadline and its importance. When the bill passed the House of Representatives, the shadow minister advised of Labor's qualified support for the bill and set out a range of concerns. The Senate committee has extensively reviewed those issues in the bill and the draft regulations. I can advise that the shadow minister, Mr Ferguson, has finalised negotiations with the government to attend to Labor's concerns.

I understand that government amendments will be moved to reflect the outcome of these negotiations. On that basis, I can signal Labor's support for them. The important amendments for Labor are those that address the definition of unlawful interference in maritime security. They are important to Labor. There has been a concern that the bill undermines these established rights. With these amendments to the purpose of the bill and the definition, the bill will now be very clear that this is not the case. When this bill returns to the other place, assuming that it is passed here with those amendments, the shadow minister will outline other understandings reached with the minister to assist passage of this bill and ensure the effective implementation of this new security regime. I commend the bill to the Senate.