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Thursday, 23 August 2012
Page: 6250


Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (13:51): The Greens support the Maritime Legislation Amendment Bill 2012 and the work that the government and many others have put into improving our national oceans law framework. I put on the record my concern about the comments of the previous speaker, Senator Joyce. He has again disgraced himself, his party and his coalition partners with vile language about people who have every right to seek refuge here. Misusing this piece of quite important legislation in that way has been a low point in my time in this chamber.

Senator Bernardi interjecting

Senator Joyce interjecting

Senator RHIANNON: I acknowledge the interjections. There is still much scope for reform to better integrate planning for ecologically sustainable development and marine ecosystem management. This legislation, if enacted, hopefully will make a real difference to the health of our oceans, the richness of the biodiversity of our marine environment and also our own health.

This legislation implements amendments to annexes of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships. I note that this convention came down in 1973 and it did come out of the first great global environmental movement that was raising concerns about the effects of pollution on all aspects of our environment. It is important now and a little bit overdue, but it is good that it has happened. Now we have these amendments that cover many aspects, as do the regulations for the prevention of pollution by oil, noxious liquid substances in bulk, harmful substances carried by sea in packaged form and the sewage, garbage and air pollution that come directly from so many of the ships that ply our oceans.

One aspect that really did mean a great deal to me, as I am a very keen birdwatcher, is that hopefully it will make a real difference to the plastic pollution which is causing so much harm in our oceans. The United Nations Environment Program has estimated that around 13,000 pieces of plastic litter are found in every square kilometre of sea, with the problem being particularly bad in the North Pacific. For those who have watched marine birds when they fly across our oceans, it is often said that they 'vacuum' up food from the surface. That means that they are actually swallowing huge amounts of plastic. There have been a number of studies carried out about how damaging this is. Some birds have been found to have 15 per cent of their body weight made up of plastic pollutants. It has been found that these plastics concentrate toxic pollution within the ocean. Because of the design of the birds' gizzard in terms of how they digest the small marine animals, the plastics get embedded and make it difficult to eat. This disrupts their own hormonal systems and their breeding patterns can be thrown out. There has been a 75 per cent drop in number of a number of marine birds—attributed to this global pollution. That issue is addressed in this legislation and it is most important that it is followed through.

I was also pleased to see that the legislation does cover the pollution that comes directly from many of the ships—not just the garbage but also the sewage and the air pollution. When I was very young I had the opportunity to go on a cruise, and I remember being quite shocked as a little girl watching all the garbage being thrown overboard. We have now come to realise how damaging that is. There is also huge potential with regard to energy efficiency measures. An energy efficiency design and management plan will now be mandatory for ships with gross tonnage over 400 tonnes that are involved in international trade.

The pollution aspects very much need to be dealt with. I note one example that I dug out when I was reading about this legislation. The Baltic Sea, a fairly enclosed sea, has about 350 cruise ships each year, with thousands of port calls. That is really putting a burden on the Baltic Sea as well as the surrounding area, with a huge tonnage of nutrients going into that sea from the sewage and other pollution that is put in there. It is estimated that about 113 tons of nitrogen and 38 tons of phosphorous go into the sea, and this throws out the balance in our ecosystems and results in many species getting close to extinction.

There is also some very important work being done under the international convention that this legislation picks up, covering energy efficiency and the all-important issue of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It has been estimated that shipping emits more than 1,000 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, and this was in 2007. That corresponds to about 3.3 per cent of the global emissions. Now, with the Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan, that should change. If implemented, it is estimated that these measures could increase efficiency and reduce emissions by 25 per cent to 75 per cent below the current level. When you consider the increase in the shipping trade, every effort needs to be made to reduce emissions and pollution from our ships. That is very relevant to Australia, because with the resources industry there is a huge increase in shipping along our coasts. So we need those measures in place.

We have had some damaging developments in Australia with regard to our own environment. In 2010 the bulk coal carrier Shen Neng 1 sliced into the reef off Gladstone in Queensland and damaged three kilometres of coral reef—which could take 20 years to restore. It is another reminder of why, with the marine highway that is developing along the northern east coast of Australia, we need these measures in place to ensure that protection of the environment and reduction in the pollution that goes into our oceans is given a top priority. With the Maritime Legislation Amendment Bill 2012, we are getting closer to achieving that. I look forward to the government tightening the regulations surrounding the discharge of so much of the pollution that goes into our oceans.

Debate interrupted.