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Thursday, 29 May 2003
Page: 15524

Ms GRIERSON (11:11 AM) —I rise to speak in support of the Maritime Legislation Amendment (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Bill 2003. This bill seeks to amend two Commonwealth acts, the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act 1983 and the Navigation Act 1912. The purpose of this bill is to align Australia's legislation for the prevention and management of pollution from ships with the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, commonly referred to as MARPOL. Australia is a party to the international convention, the MARPOL convention. As is too often the case, MARPOL was an international agreement that arose from a major disaster. The real challenge for governments is to put in place proactive legislation that prevents disasters from occurring. With MARPOL, the disastrous event was the grounding of the Torrey Canyon oil tanker in the English Channel in the late 1960s. That accident resulted in the spillage of her entire cargo, 120,000 tons of crude oil, into the sea, causing massive environmental damage.

MARPOL was developed by the International Maritime Organisation, of which Australia is a founding member, and it includes six technical annexes, each dealing with a different form of marine pollution. Australia has already implemented annexes of the convention dealing with the prevention of pollution by the discharge of oil, chemicals, harmful packaged substances and garbage from ships. This current bill relates to annex IV, which deals with ship-based sewage. In March 2000, the IMO reached agreement on changes to annex IV that have resulted in a sufficient number of countries ratifying this particular annex, which will come into force internationally in September 2003. Under the changes, annex IV now applies only to ships of certain tonnages travelling on international voyages. Specifically, it applies to new ships of 400 gross tonnage and above, and new ships of less than 400 gross tonnage certified to carry more than 15 persons. For existing ships within these limits, it will apply five years after the date of the annex's international entry into force—not until September 2008.

Over 3,000 international trading ships visited Australian ports in 1999-2000. These range from large cruise liners that can discharge approximately 100,000 litres of sewage per day, to bulk carrier vessels such as the coal ships that dominate shipping in my electorate of Newcastle, which might only discharge approximately 300 litres per day. As is understood by most seaside communities, such sewage, if discharged too near to land, can have a major impact on coastal water quality. Sewage released into the sea promotes elevated levels of nutrients which contribute to algal blooms, blocking light from the ocean floor and affecting the growth of natural seagrasses. Oxygen depletion from sewage breakdown also removes the oxygen required by fish and other marine life to breathe and flourish.

If you asked east coast dwellers who frequent our beaches if algal bloom seems to be increasing, they would tell you they do have that impression. In my own case, the beaches of Newcastle and Port Stephens have been leisure spots for me and my family for many decades. I note some real concerns as development and population increase along our beaches and as shipping vessels become larger and more frequent visitors.

Under annex IV, the discharges of sewage from ships on international voyages will be restricted so that untreated sewage may only be discharged at a distance of more than 12 nautical miles from the nearest land, provided that sewage held in holding tanks is not discharged instantaneously but at a moderate rate when the ship is proceeding at a speed of not less than four knots. It will be restricted so that disinfected sewage may only be discharged at a distance of more than three nautical miles from the nearest land, provided that the system meets technical standards set by the IMO. Also, effluent from an IMO approved sewage treatment plant may be now discharged under this legislation at any location, provided that the effluent does not produce visible floating solids nor cause discolouration of the surrounding water.

The bill will also allow Australia to implement the full range of enforcement measures available under MARPOL, including regular inspections to ensure compliance and boarding of suspect vessels to obtain evidence of possible violations. Annex IV also places an obligation on Australia to ensure that ports provide facilities adequate to meet the demand for the reception of sewage from international trading vessels if they cannot properly discharge it at sea within the restrictions mentioned above. In almost all Australian ports where there is a demand for such facilities, this obligation is met through the use of private contractors dealing directly with ships through shipping agents. The bill also removes the need for ministerial approval in some operational matters such as the issuing of an International Sewage Pollution Certificate and gives this power to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

The main interest of this bill to ordinary Australians is its significance in protecting Australia's marine environment and the effectiveness of this government in enforcing such legislation in regard to ships visiting our shores and ports. Given the Howard government's anti-Australian shipping policies, any legislation regarding shipping has to effectively cover the worst flag of convenience ships and the ships of shame that are still found on the Australian shipping scene; so the assessment and application of this bill must be rigorous. My interest in this bill on behalf of the people of my electorate in Newcastle is to ensure that these measures give sufficient protection to our port and to those living on the coast.

We are an island nation and we very much depend on our shipping industry. That cannot be any more strongly felt than in the port of Newcastle, where we have known incidents in which pollution has fouled our waters. In September 1997 a mysterious oil slick blackened hundreds of metres of the beach in front of the township of Stockton. It was said to be highly likely that the slick came from an oil tanker well out to sea cleaning its tanks while travelling. Fortunately, following that spill, plans aiming to provide an effective system for reporting, assessing and responding to marine pollution spills and to ensure that district and state resources are integrated in a way that minimises impacts and confusion were implemented by the New South Wales state government.

The Newcastle Port Corporation now retains responsibility for the assessment of, and response to, marine oil spills along the entire mid-North Coast but it also plays an important role with regard to other pollution from ships. Under the Port Safety Operating Licence, the port corporation has to facilitate the removal of wastes, fuel, sewage and any other discharge from shipping from the Queensland border to Catherine Hill Bay south of Newcastle. This usually involves the ship hiring a contractor who brings a pump-out truck to the ship. The port corporation then does an inspection and issues a permit, and audits also occur.

This is particularly relevant to us because, over the past year, the port of Newcastle has hosted two cruise ships as well as several naval vessels in addition to the daily coal fleet. This legislation supports the measures that the port corporation are taking and strengthens the powers of our local Australian Maritime Safety Authority to enforce and regulate pollution management and prevention. I am pleased to report to the chamber the excellent performance of the port corporation in this regard and draw attention to the exemplary cooperation that exists with AMSA, and indeed all port users in the port of Newcastle. This was the situation when the cruise ships I spoke about were in the port of Newcastle and it is the situation for the berthing of naval and merchant ships.

I take this opportunity to acknowledge the Cruise Hunter project, which is coordinated by the Hunter Economic Development Corporation. The Hunter Area Consultative Committee and the HEDC funded a study into our region identifying infrastructure and tourism needs to target cruise and Navy ships. It has been a very successful venture so far. The MV Europa, the world's most luxurious cruise ship, visited the port of Newcastle on Friday, 24 January this year. The captain, Hagen Damaschke, stated, `The Hunter welcome was unbelievable and this is the best port we have ever visited.' At the time, thousands of residents lined the foreshore to greet the ship, which was carrying 170 passengers and 300 crew. Those passengers then took part in shore excursions across the region, and the Europa captain recommended that the cruise operator include Newcastle in future itineraries for its other ships.

A similar result was achieved in relation to the recent visit of the cruise ship theWorld to the port of Newcastle. I register my appreciation to the Honeysuckle Development Corporation, the Newcastle Port Corporation and Newcastle City Council, as well as 40 volunteers from the community, who assisted these very successful visits. In the port of Newcastle we have also recently hosted visits by two warships, one American and one Australian. These visits were a major boost for the local economy. More than half a million dollars is estimated to have flowed into the local economy over the five days of the simultaneous visits, with restaurants, hotels and all manner of retail and accommodation providers benefiting.

The benefits of visits like this demonstrate the value of the tourist niche market open to Newcastle, where we have a deepwater port, a fun and exciting city, and a range of attractions to suit many tastes. The Cruise Hunter project is supported by Newcastle City Council and the Hunter Economic Development Corporation, and has also received funding from the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations and some facilitation by the Hunter Area Consultative Committee. The Cruise Hunter project is aiming for at least five visits a year, representing many millions to local tourist operators. I congratulate them on this initiative and encourage the Honeysuckle Development Corporation to take the success of this venture into account when planning further harbourside developments.

Obviously, legislation like that before the chamber today is important to ports like Newcastle taking on new ventures and initiatives to attract more cruise ships and naval vessels. Fortunately, in the port of Newcastle we are proactive with regard to the monitoring and regulation of maritime safety and preventing pollution from ships. Striving for high standards is fine, as long as the government departments and minister responsible have the same desire for high standards. But I remind the chamber of the 1992 Ships of shame report and its sequel of 1995, which drew attention to the lack of statistical safety data collection in Australia. The reports reinforce concerns held by me and my opposition colleagues that the government's failure to protect the Australian shipping industry puts our ports and those who work in them at risk. I praise the continuing and determined efforts of the Maritime Union of Australia and the International Transport Workers Federation to keep our ports safe.

The Maritime Legislation Amendment (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Bill 2003 will need to be enforced. Having visited a flag of convenience ship in my port, I have serious concerns about the willingness of some operators and that of the officers of some ships to fully commit to international or Australian safety and pollution laws. Flags of convenience ships are notorious for being unsafe. Crews are often untrained and are put to work in the most hostile of environments on ships that frequently are in very poor condition. There is no doubt that flags of convenience ships are the scourge of the international maritime industry. At a time when the USA is moving towards outlawing them, it is alarming that the Australian government has adopted the opposite agenda—driven, perhaps, by its obsessive determination to destroy the maritime unions.

The battle is ongoing to save our Australian shipping industry, which is not helped by the destructive policies of this government. Therefore, I condemn the Minister for Transport and Regional Services for failing to protect or promote the Australian shipping industry. The Australian people are also becoming very concerned about the ability of government regulators to get it right. I cite the HIH and One.Tel collapses and the Pan Pharmaceuticals fiasco. So, whilst the legislation before us seems straightforward, it can only be as effective as the government's attention and the resources it makes available to regulators to enforce and implement it. With those points made, I support the amendments to the motion for the second reading that were moved by the member for McMillan. They began:

Whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:

(1) is of the opinion that Australia needs an efficient, viable and effective fleet to reduce the risk of our marine environment, defence readiness, maritime and port security.

That amendment also condemns the government for its total lack of interest in the future of the Australian shipping industry and calls on the government to develop policy to level the playing field for the Australian industry to ensure it can be saved as an efficient, viable and effective fleet. Newcastle has a proud history of shipbuilding, and the industry is at serious risk at the moment. Fortunately, though, the safety record of our port—managed by the Newcastle Port Corporation in excellent cooperation with port users and workers and unions—is outstanding. This is not matched by the safety record of the shipping industry in Australia. I support the Maritime Legislation Amendment (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Bill 2003 and the amendment moved by the member for McMillan.