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Thursday, 13 October 2011
Page: 7410


Senator SHERRY (TasmaniaMinister Assisting on Deregulation and Public Sector Superannuation, Minister for Small Business and Minister Assisting the Minister for Tourism) (16:17): I move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—

MARITIME LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2011

On 3 April 2010, while traversing a well known shipping route south of the Douglas Shoal in the region of the Great Barrier Reef, the Shen Neng 1 ran hard aground just east of Great Keppel Island.

The vessel's grounding caused damage to the coral reef on the Douglas Shoal and there was a spill of oil.

The impact caused the ship's fuel tanks to rupture and released approximately four tonnes of fuel oil into surrounding waters.

Fortunately, this oil spill was not severe and was broken down by the elements, chemically dispersed or contained and recovered.

While this incident was considered relatively minor, there was the potential for a significant oil spill.

If the salvage operation had been unsuccessful or the vessel had been more severely damaged as a result of the impact with the reef, the Shen Neng 1 incident could have resulted in a spill of up to 975 tonnes of heavy fuel oil and around 65,000 tonnes of coal causing significant environmental damage and requiring an extensive shoreline clean-up.

But the Shen Neng 1 is not the only example of environmental damage by a vessel in recent times.

A year earlier, on 11 March 2009, a Hong Kong China registered general cargo ship, the Pacific Adventurer, lost 31 containers of ammonium nitrate overboard east of Moreton Bay while enroute to Brisbane from Newcastle.

The fallen containers caused damage to the ship that resulted in the loss of more than 270 tonnes of heavy fuel oil.

This oil impacted significant portions of the south-east Queensland coast, in particular the eastern and northern beaches and headlands of the Moreton Island National Park, the eastern beaches of Bribie Island, the beaches and foreshores of the Sunshine Coast and small areas of the Brisbane River.

The majority of oiling occurred on sandy beaches in areas that have high tourism and community amenity value.

Clean-up operations continued for two months, with a total of about 2,500 people deployed for the entire clean-up, including workers from many State and Commonwealth agencies and community volunteers.

At the height of the response operation 400 personnel were working on Moreton Island each day.

Approximately 3,000 tonnes of sand contaminated with oil was removed from Moreton Island.

Considering the size of the oil spill very small numbers of wildlife were affected but the potential existed for many birds, turtles and sea snakes to be injured or worse.

These two incidents highlight the impact that pollution from ships can have on Australia's coastline and coastal waters.

At that time, I committed the Federal Government to improving safe navigation through the Great Barrier Reef marine park.

In April 2010 AMSA issued its report into the Shen Neng 1 grounding, titled Improving Safe Navigation in the Great Barrier Reef.

The Report made four recommendations:

Extend the coverage of the Reef Vessel Traffic Service (REEFVTS) to the southern boundary of the Great Barrier Reef,

Strengthen regulatory arrangements including modernising the penalty and offence provisions available to the Commonwealth,

Enhance navigational aids in the Great Barrier Reef, and

Develop a whole of government management plan.

Since April last year we have implemented these recommendations.

On 1 July this year I launched the extension of the REEFVTS to the southern boundary of the Great Barrier Reef.

As part of the REEFVTS extension navigational aids within the Great Barrier Reef have been enhanced.

For example, the North Reef Lighthouse north of Gladstone has been refurbished with new vessel tracking equipment.

There is also a new under keel clearance management system for the restricted waters of the Torres Strait.

This technological advance will show the best times and safest speeds for vessels to move through the area, making sure that there is a minimum level of water beneath the keel at all times.

I understand this is the first time such a system has been developed for open water.

In developing a whole of government management response to prevent such incidents in the future we have re-established the Great Barrier Reef Shipping Management Group.

It has members from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, Maritime Safety Queensland, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Department of Infrastructure and Transport.

This group plays a vital role in monitoring the new safety measures.

Finally, the Bill I am introducing today delivers on the last element of the Government's commitment at the time of the Shen Neng 1 grounding.

Large incidents are relatively rare however; the number of reported oil spills in Australian waters has averaged over 250 per annum over the last 10 years.

While the majority of these oil spills are relatively minor, the potential impacts of these spills on the maritime industry, the environment, the tourist and fishing industries and the broader economy needs to be recognised.

That is even before we consider the economic impact to some of Australia's most important export ports.

99 per cent of Australia's international trade is carried by ships.

Our ports manage 10 per cent of the world's entire sea trade.

$200 billion worth of cargo is moved annually.

There are over 25,000 voyages by ships to and around Australia each year.

All this means that we need strong safety regulations and penalties when shipping companies ignore their responsibilities.

This Bill will:

create an offence for negligently operating a vessel in Australia's waters in a manner that causes pollution or damage to the marine environment;

increase the level of penalty for failure to report by a ship in a mandatory reporting area such as the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park; and

increase the level of penalty for reckless or negligent discharge of oil or oil residues by ships in Australian waters.

There is a widely held view that Commonwealth penalties are too low to discourage violations.

Currently, Commonwealth penalties for incidents like the Shen Neng 1 and Pacific Adventurer are inconsequential when you take into account the economic capacity of modern shipping companies.

This Bill will amend Commonwealth legislation to ensure that our regulatory regime is strong enough to provide sufficient deterrent for shipping companies and their crews from engaging in unsafe and irresponsible actions at sea, particularly near environmentally sensitive marine ecosystems.

Penalties for a corporation will be increased from $1.1 million to $11 million.

This brings Commonwealth penalties into line with the States.

This Bill brings in changes that will have a significant positive impact on our environment by influencing better practice in navigation and vessel operation in Australian waters.

In April 2010, I said the Government's aim here is simple “to further deter shipping companies and their crews from engaging in unsafe and irresponsible actions at sea, particularly near environmentally sensitive marine ecosystems.”

This Bill achieves that.

VETERANS' AFFAIRS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (PARTICIPANTS IN BRITISH NUCLEAR TESTS) BILL 2011

I am pleased to present legislation that further improves the operation of Australia's repatriation system and provides improved access to compensation and health care for former Defence force members.

This Bill will amend the Veterans' Entitlements Act and the Australian Participants in British Nuclear Tests (Treatment) Act.

The Department has received claims from a small number of personnel who should be, but are not currently, eligible for compensation and health care under the Acts as a result of their participation in the British nuclear test program.

The personnel were involved in the maintenance, transporting or decontamination of aircraft used in the British nuclear test program outside the currently legislated nuclear test areas or time periods.

These amendments will facilitate and streamline access to compensation and health care for these Australian personnel, and any future claimants, who participated in the British nuclear test program conducted in the 1950s and 60s.

This streamlining will be achieved by enabling the Repatriation Commission to determine, through a legislative instrument, additional eligibility criteria relating to participation in the British nuclear test program under both the Veterans' Entitlements Act and the Australian Participants in British Nuclear Tests (Treatment) Act.

The quality of the records from the test period, and the secrecy surrounding the operation, means that it is impossible to rule out the likelihood that new information may come to light which warrants further extension of coverage to additional groups of participants.

Streamlining will enable the Department to be more responsive to new information regarding personnel associated with, and tasks undertaken as part of, the British nuclear test program.

The Bill will benefit Australian personnel who participated in the British nuclear test program, and their dependants, by enabling compensation and health care to be provided with a minimum of delay.

These amendments are a demonstration of the Government's commitment to continually improve the services and support we provide to our current and former military personnel.

Ordered that further consideration of the second reading of these bills be adjourned to the first sitting day of the next period of sittings, in accordance with standing order 111.

Ordered that the bills be listed on the Notice Paper as separate orders of the day.