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Thursday, 8 February 2007
Page: 8

Mr MARTIN FERGUSON (11:44 AM) —I rise to support the Maritime Legislation Amendment (Prevention of Air Pollution from Ships) Bill 2006. In doing so, can I say that I thoroughly agree with the answer given by the Minister for Trade in the context of the navigation bill. I know that is also important to employment in the navigation industry with respect to coal exports. This bill is about amending the Navigation Act 1912 and the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act 1983 with regard to implementing annex VI of MARPOL, which came into force internationally on 19 May 2005.

I note that it is nearly two years since this amendment came into force and nearly 10 years since it was adopted by the IMO. I suggest this is, unfortunately, more than ever, typical of this government’s laziness and arrogance with respect to its legislative requirements. It is a disgrace that it has taken so long to bring implementation of this legislation before the House. The bill also makes some other interesting minor amendments unrelated to annex VI, including a change in the description of ‘pilot’ to ‘licensed pilot’; amendments to better implement the revised annex I of MARPOL; and the removal of the limit on the amount of penalty for regulatory breaches. Even so, this was not a controversial or difficult bill to bring into the House. I simply say that I believe the minister owes the Australian parliament and Australian people an explanation as to why the government is more than ever becoming so tardy with its legislative program.

I have just come from the House, where I also spoke on the AusCheck Bill, which is important in terms of maritime and aviation security. This legislative requirement, which is about tightening the provisions going to the security of people working in the aviation and maritime industry, was promised two years ago. Yet, again, it took the government two years to get this simple proposition, which is so important in our fight against terrorism, before the House.

Nevertheless, the opposition believes that the bill is a welcome step. We are finally here. This bill is about meeting Australia’s obligations as a party to the important MARPOL convention of the IMO to reduce pollution from ships. Australia has always closely aligned its legislation with the international conventions of the IMO. Australian shipping is a leader in the field when it comes to maritime security, safety, pollution prevention and contingency planning. This bill will set limits on sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from ship exhausts and will prohibit deliberate emissions of ozone-depleting substances. There is also a cap of 4.5 per cent on the sulfur content of fuel oil.

The opposition believes these are the kinds of emission regulations that the land transport sector has faced for many years—because this is about preventing air pollution—and it is time that they were extended to the maritime sector as well. However, it appears to me that the focus of the bill is on oil-fired shipping. Perhaps we may have more to do to address emissions from coal-fired and gas-fired shipping when it comes to air pollution prevention in the future. It will also be important that floating production storage and off-take facilities which are covered under the Navigation Act only when they are disconnected from the riser maintain the currency of their air pollution prevention certificates.

I also note that the bill applies to vessels greater than 400 tonnes, whereas most other IMO conventions apply to vessels greater than 500 tonnes. Therefore, I point out to the House that some ships which have not been used to operating under IMO conventions will now be brought under the act and into this net, at least for this convention.

There is one other anomaly I noted, in relation to two definitions of ‘Australian ship’, which I seek clarification on. In one case an ‘Australian ship’ is defined as a registered Australian vessel while in another it is defined as a vessel having Australian nationality. I believe that the legal framework is complex enough without introducing ambiguities in these definitions. I for one am unclear as to what the definition actually means. I therefore seek clarification from the minister with respect to those issues.

As I said earlier, Australia has always and appropriately closely aligned its legislation with IMO conventions and therefore sought consistent and high international standards when it comes to maritime safety, security and protection of the environment. The environmental protection measures in this bill are welcome, but much more needs to be done when it comes to maritime security, which is a huge concern to the opposition and to the Australian public generally.

I refer to the fact that some changes were made last year, which the opposition supported, including simplified procedures to make changes to security plans and shorter statutory time frames for approval of security plans that are so vital in the fight against terrorism. But I remain to be convinced that the government can actually manage to implement these changes.

Let us take the issue of maritime security, for example. In doing so I refer to the failure of the government to ensure that, as required by law, all ships advise of their cargo and crew 48 hours before they reach an Australian port. I would have thought that that would be fairly fundamental if we are serious about maritime security in the fight against terrorism. I refer to this because last year information was given to the Senate which told us that just 67 per cent of ships coming into Australian ports actually comply with this requirement. A third of ships do not comply with the law. I wonder why this government has failed to be more rigorous with respect to the application of this law. Of those ships, half do not inform authorities about their cargo and crew until they have actually entered the port. I simply say that it is all too late to be doing it after they are in the port. There are rules and regulations and it is about time they were adhered to by ships coming into Australian ports, because they are potentially a time bomb for the Australian community.

Another area of concern and, in my view, a dereliction of duty on the part of the government, relates to its failure to carry out comprehensive security checks on foreign crews. This is an issue that I have been raising throughout the great majority of my years in parliament, having first raised it when I was shadow minister for immigration and employment prior to the 1988 election. It has been an ongoing problem. There have been some changes by government, but I simply suggest that the checking of foreign crews is totally inadequate. This is an important matter that will consistently be raised by opposition members and senators, both publicly and in the parliament, so as to try to press the government to get serious about this issue.

For example, when it comes to foreign crews, the names on the manifesto are checked against existing databases, usually after the ship is berthed. That is about seeing if any of these persons are not wanted in Australia. Surely we should be making sure those checks are done before ships with foreign crews enter Australian shores. The fact is that there is no way of knowing whether the people on the ship are who they are, and no security checks are done on any of them anyhow. This is inadequate and, frankly, a dereliction of duty by the Howard government, specifically by the minister for transport in association with the minister for immigration and the Attorney-General.

Conversely, let us have a look at our own seafarers. They are correctly and appropriately required to undergo the most rigorous and thorough security checks by the Australian Federal Police and ASIO. This matter is currently the subject of debate in the House with respect to the Attorney-General’s AusCheck legislation, which the opposition is supporting. These people have to have a maritime security identification card similar to those used to clear workers in our airports—requirements that the opposition has always supported. Aviation security identification cards and maritime security identification cards certify that the holders of the cards are people of good character and good background who can work in security-sensitive areas for the betterment of the Australian community. Why is it different for foreign crews?

We believe that this is a very important security measure. It is a measure that the Australian public appropriately expects, because they want to be assured that they are in safe hands when it comes to our airports and our ports. The same just cannot be said with respect to maritime security. As my colleague the member for Brisbane put very well recently, the Howard government hands out permits for flag of convenience crews like it was a Friday night chook raffle at the local pub in the port of Brisbane. None of the checks that are carried out to give us confidence in Australian seafarers are carried out on any of these flag of convenience vessels.

The use of ships of convenience was a measure originally introduced to handle peak periods of demand, but since 1996 the Howard government, in its extreme campaign against the rights of Australian workers and maritime unions, has used these measures to replace Australian ships and Australian crews on a regular basis. We believe that they are not only causing unemployment for Australian seafarers and the destruction of our own maritime seagoing industry but also potentially sacrificing the safety of Australian sea lanes, our environment and our ports. They are exposing our maritime points of entry to the hazards of foreign crews handling dangerous goods, like explosive-grade ammonium nitrate, to the potential for tourists to smuggle explosives and weapons into this country and to the potential for other criminal activities to run riot.

I am also very concerned about the lack of commitment by the government to working with industry, including the maritime unions and the workers in the industry and their families, to ensure that well-trained, highly skilled Australian seafarers maintain their pre-eminent role in the LNG shipping trade, which is going to become more important to Australia with the growth of our exports to China. I point out that for over 25 years we have had in place a highly successful continuity of operations agreement between the North West Shelf venturers and the maritime unions which has ensured the safe, reliable, on time delivery of LNG cargoes to customers around the world and notably to Japan. This agreement has served Australia well. The agreement has served us well not only because it is about making sure that we guarantee security of supply to receiving nations but also because we can rest easy in the knowledge that LNG tankers will operate safely in the sea lanes and ports under the control of highly skilled, security-cleared Australian seafarers.

The Japanese, Chinese and Korean LNG receiving terminals also regard this as being important because it means they have a high degree of assurance that their cargo vessel and onshore terminal facility will be secure when an Australian crewed LNG carrier is in port. They expect it to be secure. But, alternatively, when it comes to foreign crews and foreign vessels coming to Australia, we do not apply the same high security standards in our own ports, many of which are in key capital cities and provincial cities.

We can be sure that pollution prevention measures, like those addressed in this bill, will be properly carried out as well. It is about making sure that, with respect to the important debate about emissions, we are doing everything possible to pull our weight both domestically and internationally. I refer in passing to a report produced by Sandia National Laboratories, under contract to the US Department of Energy, entitled Guidance on risk analysis and safety implications of a large liquefied natural gas (LNG) spill over water, which made mention of the fact that Australian LNG risk management strategies are world’s best practice—and so they ought to be. I raise this because I believe this is one of the strengths of the Australian LNG industry and its reputation, which is important to the issue of trade and export earnings, as a reliable, safe and environmentally responsible supplier in the global marketplace. One of the principal reasons Australia has been able to maintain this important position in a very tough global community is that we are a reliable shipper of LNG.

It also goes to the fact—I raise this today because the Labor Party, as the opposition, have some fears—that currently the system is that shipping contracts have been written on a delivery ex-ship basis, meaning that the seller controls the shipping. The opposition would be concerned if there were any move away from ex-ship contract terms to free-on-board shipping contracts, where the seller generally controls the shipping. In our view, a move to free-on-board shipping contracts weakens Australian involvement in the LNG transportation task, introduces more flag of convenience shipping into the LNG trade, risks Australia’s reputation as a reliable LNG supplier and creates potential and serious new security risks here and in the ports of our customers. They do not want it; nor do we want it in Australia.

I firmly believe the same level of commitment to risk assessment and high-quality risk management strategies cannot be guaranteed if ships contracted to carry Australian LNG are drawn from second-rate flag of convenience registries with crews whose identity and security checks are unknown to the Australian authorities. As I said earlier, we are already exposing our maritime points of entry to the safety, security and environmental hazards of foreign crews handling dangerous goods like explosives grade ammonium nitrate. I obviously do not want this extended to the LNG trade because this trade is so important to the future economic prosperity of Australia and it is of exceptional importance to key regional economies—for example, the state of Western Australia.

This aside, on behalf of the opposition I indicate that we support the step forward embodied in this bill, which is correctly about improving the prevention of pollution from ships, but I also ask that the minister and the department do more than is currently being done to tackle equally important issues like maritime security. In conclusion, in the opposition’s opinion, Australia deserves better when it comes to our national security and the protection of our maritime borders and entry points. I commend the bill to the House but also remind the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Transport and Regional Services that I have raised a couple of issues of clarification with respect to definitions, which I will seek assistance on. Thank you for the opportunity to address the House.