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Thursday, 26 May 1983
Page: 1092

Mr PETER MORRIS (Minister for Transport)(10.52) —in reply-I thank the honourable member for Hume (Mr Lusher), the honourable member for Sydney (Mr Baldwin) and the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Connolly) for their thoughtful and constructive contributions in this short debate. Unfortunately, the debate has been truncated because of time and because it has been the desire of both the Government and the Opposition to get this legislation passed and on the statute book. This is one of those occasions which does not draw the headlines, but it is an important occasion when the Parliament is at one on a very significant international convention that has major implications for our marine environment. I just want to note the point that there are occasions when the national interest supercedes the short term party-political interest, and tonight is one of those. There has been a bipartisan approach to the legislation .

My colleague the member for Sydney mentioned the oil discharge in the Persian Gulf, which was also referred to by the honourable member for Bradfield. In the reporting of that incident, there has been some exaggeration of the level of discharge of oil that has occurred in the Gulf. It seems to be what can probably be described as a deal of misinformation on the quantity of oil discharged. My understanding, without referring to specific notes, is that one well is on fire and that that arose as a result of war action, one well is discharging as a result of collision by ship, and I think that one other well is discharging for other reasons. But the amount of oil discharged to date, I think, has been about 216,000 tonnes, which is equivalent to not a supertanker but to a large tanker quantity of oil. But still, that is not to decry the potential for damage both to the marine environment and to the littoral environment. In those circumstances the comments made by both honourable members still hold good.

The honourable member for Bradfield raised the matter of the toxicity of the dispersants used in the event of oil spill. I am advised that modern dispersants used in combating oil pollution are biodegradeable and that great care was taken in the selection of dispersants that have been used and particularly those that have been stockpiled. I can give the actual details to the honourable member on a later occasion, in respect of the national oil plan.

The other matter to which I want to refer is that whilst the legislation picks up annexes I and II of the MARPOL convention, there still remain annexes III, IV and V. They cover, respectively, packaging materials, sewage and garbage. There are a number of main ports around Australia, resource export ports such as Newcastle, Port Kembla and Port Hedland, where waiting vessels, in the course of their normal transit times, discharge materials that come under those categories . In some cases they are bound to be materials and garbages of organic origin which carries with it the potential for foot and mouth disease and the transmission of other diseases. So until such time as we develop a system of collection of such discharges from vessels, there remains a danger, more so to Australia than to a number of other ports that I can think of in similar circumstances around the world. I mention that because there is a danger and because we intend, as a Government, to give prominence to that danger, and to try to stimulate greater activity internationally in bringing into force those annexes III, IV and V.

I thank honourable members for their contribution to this important legislation . As I have said, it is a marked improvement on the existing arrangements. Its passage will place Australia in the international forefront in the field of international marine pollution convention implementation.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.