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Thursday, 18 November 1976
Page: 2871

Mr NIXON (Gippsland) (Minister for Transport) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

This Bill is similar to the Navigation Bill 1975, which lapsed with the termination of the 29th Parliament. Because of the Government's recognition of the rights of the States, however, legislation regarding off-shore industry vessels and collision regulations has been excluded from this Bill. All honourable members would agree that the States have a substantial interest in both offshore industry vessels and collision regulations. It was the Government's view that in accordance with our policy the States should be able to discuss their interests with the Commonwealth before any legislation was introduced. I have therefore given the States this opportunity principally through the forum of the Marine and Ports Council of Australia.

This Bill contains sets of amendments for several specific purposes as well as a number of miscellaneous amendments. Because of the complexity of the subject matter of the Bill, explanatory notes on the clauses are being circulated for the information of honourable members. The Bill contains several important amendments which I want to outline briefly to the House. The first such group of amendments concerns the limitation of shipowners' liability. Clause 34 of the Bill gives effect to the International Convention relating to the Limitation of the Liability of Owners of Sea-going Ships, 1957. This Convention came into force internationally in 1968, but the relevant law in Australia still consists of the Merchant Shipping Acts of 1 894 and 1 900 of the United Kingdom. One of the main practical effects of this group of amendments is to increase the amounts to which a shipowner will be able to limit his liability, unless he is held to be actually at fault himself, in respect of claims arising out of the specified occurrences to which the Convention applies. The existing very low limits of about $20 per ton for personal claims and $11 per ton for property claims provided for in the Merchant Shipping Acts are to be increased to the equivalent of the Convention limits- about $ 1 89 and $61 per ton respectively. Even these limits are quite low and the Government is participating in work being done in IMCO- the Intergovernmental Maritime Consultative Organizationto increase these limits and generally update the Convention.

In giving effect to this Convention Australia, like a number of the European shipping countries, will at the request of the Austraiian States exercise the option provided for in the Protocol of Signature to exclude the application of subparagraph (c) of paragraph (1) of Article 1 of the Convention. This means that shipowners will not be able to limit their liability m respect of damage to harbour works, or for wreck removal. At the same time as Australia gives effect to this Convention, it will absolve shipowners from liability in respect of certain property claims set out in the new section 338 of the Navigation Act. New section 59a, however, will prevent shipowners from limiting their liability for claims by crew members serving under Commonwealth articles of agreement. This was sought by the unions, and is also a practice followed by many maritime nations.

Another main group of amendments relates to visiting British ships . Part II of the Act deals with crewing matters, and until recently was in line with similar provisions in the United Kingdom Merchant Shipping Act, with both laws applying to a visiting British ship whilst in Australia. The United Kingdom Merchant Shipping Act has recently been very substantially changed and it would create administrative problems for the master and crew of a ship and the staffs of mercantile marine offices, who administer the relevant provisions of the Navigation Act, if those provisions were to continue to apply to such ships. The Bill makes the necessary adjustments in this regard. These are explained in the notes on clause 5 that have been circulated.

An important feature of the Bill, because of its positive contribution to safety of life and property at sea, is the legal effect given to the ship movement reporting scheme that was introduced following the loss of the Blythe Star. This scheme has been operating on a voluntary basis for some time. The scheme ensures that positive action is taken to search for a ship in the Australian search and rescue area if more than 24 hours have elapsed since the ship last indicated that all was well. It will also, in the event of a ship being in distress, enable the Marine Operations Centre of the Department of Transport to know immediately what ships are in the area and which of these would be best suited to assist in the emergency. In addition to improved safety, the system brings about significant economies in the use of search and rescue resources by providing a datum on which to concentrate a search in the event of a ship becoming overdue. It appears that no such legislation exists anywhere else in the world. Australia is therefore leading the world in this important development. Information about the system has been circulated to members of IMCO, where it has aroused considerable interest. In addition, Australia has proposed to IMCO that a uniform ship movement reporting system should be an integral part of any internationally-agreed search and rescue plan. Details of how the scheme works in practice are given in the explanatory notes on clause 23.

The other subject involving a group of amendments is that of historic shipwrecks. An Historic Shipwrecks Bill for the protection of shipwrecks of historic significance in the Australian territorial sea was introduced in the Senate by the Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Withers) on 20 October 1976. that Bill will empower the Minister for Administrative Services to declare particular shipwrecks and related relics of historic significance to be 'historic shipwrecks', thus bringing them under the protective provisions of the legislation. This necessitates related amendments to Part VII of the Navigation Act dealing with wrecks and salvage. The Historic Shipwrecks Bill requires the finder to give notice of his discovery and does not prohibit salvage operations until the wreck is declared historic, at which stage strict controls come into effect. The finder may acquire salvage rights under the Navigation Act, the United Kingdom Merchant Shipping Acts, or at common law before the wreck is declared historic. Clause 26 of the Navigation Amendment Bill therefore provides that various provisions of the Navigation Act that deal with wreck and salvage matters do not apply to a wreck from the time that it is declared historic and while it remains so declared.

As salvage rights or liabilities under the Navigation Act acquired before a wreck is declared historic are to be preserved, clause 26 also makes express provision for this purpose. It will be open to a person whose proprietary rights are affected by the operation of the Historic Shipwrecks Act to claim under the compensation provisions of that Act. Clause 29 ensures that, for reasons of safety of life and navigation, the provisions of the Navigation Act giving the Minister powers regarding removal will still apply to any wreck, whether declared historic or not. The Minister is not to exercise any of those powers unless it is necessary to do so for purposes of safety or environmental emergency. Another clause ensures his powers to deal with oil pollution threats arising from damaged ships continue unrestricted.

The remaining amendments can best be classified as 'miscellaneous'. Some of them are of a purely drafting or machinery nature and are set out principally in Schedule 5. Others, which are of more importance, are explained in some detail in the notes that have been circulated. One important amendment extends the references in the Act to the owner of a ship to include a reference to the operator, except in a few special circumstances. This is to ensure that where a duty or liability is imposed by the Act on the owner in cases where the owner is only remotely concerned with the operations of the ship- for example, if he has executed a bare-boat charterresponsibility for ensuring that that duty or liability is discharged is imposed on the person who is directly concerned with the relevant operations, as well as on the owner. Conversely, a benefit conferred on the owner will also, in appropriate cases, be available to the operator.

Another amendment is to empower the Minister to make orders in relation to detailed technical requirements to be applied under the Act, so that such requirements can be quickly implemented, or varied without delay, in the light of ship casualties, equipment failure investigations, or technical developments. The Bill also includes a number of provisions relating to the engagement and discharge of seamen and certain of the conditions of their employment, mainly to cater for modern developments in the industry. Apart from prescribing penalties at appropriate levels for newly-created offences, the opportunity has been taken, where sections are otherwise amended, to update some maximum monetary penalties for existing offences against provisions of the Act and regulations and to increase some general penalties. Other penalties will need to be brought into line later.

I might point out that this Bill does not purport to effect a general revision of the Navigation Act. This will be a matter for consideration in the light of the report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Maritime Industry. As I indicated at the beginning of this speech, the Bill now before honourable members is very much in line with the Navigation Bill 1975 except that it omits 2 important aspects- aspects, however, which I think are rightly omitted until such time as I have reached agreement with my State counterparts on how we should cover these matters legislatively. I commend the Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Morris) adjourned.

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