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Wednesday, 1 June 2005
Page: 119

Ms HALL (5:57 PM) —While supporting the Maritime Transport Security Amendment Bill 2005, which is before us in the House tonight, I believe it is imperative that I detail some of the concerns I have in relation to both this legislation and maritime security generally—particularly in relation to port security and the implications that single and continuous voyage permits have for maritime security.

Shortland, which I represent in this parliament, is a coastal electorate. The port of Newcastle is in very close proximity to the electorate. Many of the residents of Shortland actually work at the port of Newcastle and have a very strong association with the industry. I believe shipping is a very important industry to Australia. I concur with the reports that have been presented in this parliament—Ships of shame, by the former member for Shortland, the Hon. Peter Morris, and the subsequent report he was involved in, Ships, slaves and competition. These are all issues that I believe go to the security of ports. But I would like to turn first to the legislation. I will detail some of my concerns in relation to that legislation and also highlight what this legislation is about.

The bill amends the act by extending its coverage to offshore oil and gas facilities located in the territorial seas within Australia’s exclusive economic zone and on the continental shelf, ensuring that all regulated offshore oil and gas facility operators and other prescribed offshore industry participants develop and comply with an offshore security plan based on the security assessment of each regulated facility. I do not think anyone within this parliament could disagree with that very important change that will go towards ensuring the security and safety of those offshore facilities. The other aspect of this legislation is maritime security identification cards. I bring the House’s attention to the fact that there are already aviation security identification cards and that there have been some problems associated with those. In question time today the member for Swan asked the Deputy Prime Minister a question that really raised some serious issues as to whether or not aviation security identification cards are effective. I would argue fairly strongly that there are some weaknesses associated with those and, with the maritime industry being a lot more diverse and a lot harder to police, there will be even more problems associated with maritime security cards than there have been with aviation security identification cards.

The government need to be very careful about their implementation. As a previous speaker stated, it is not only the legislation that is important but also the policing of that legislation that is important. At present there is no regime in place that requires background checks on people working in Australian ports or on ships, offshore oil and gas facilities, contrary to the case of the aviation industry. Therefore, the cards are a good move but, as there are serious problems associated with the cards within the aviation industry, I am not confident that the situation will be any better in the maritime industry. I also understand that some people working in the maritime industry are concerned that some privacy issues might arise. I hope the government will address those. Also, in my research I have read that some employees are concerned that they may have to bear the cost of getting a maritime security card.

The consultation that has been involved in this has probably not been as good as it could have been. The consultation process highlighted the fragmented nature of our maritime border control arrangements. A recent issue that has been raised by us on this side of the House regarding the transfer of the Inspector of Transport Security and his staff to an inquiry that is taking place really highlights to me concerns as to the government’s commitment to security and monitoring and looking after our borders.

In line with that, I would like to now turn to the issue of continuous voyage permits and single voyage permits and their implications for port security, as I feel the crews on those ships will not be subject to the same scrutiny as people working within our ports. Any member of this House who has ever visited a flag of convenience ship would understand the implications for security. One such ship that I have visited was sailing under a Maltese flag and had a Greek captain and a Burmese crew. I think it would be really difficult to do adequate security checks on such crews, and I know they are not currently subject to them. Some of the cargoes that these ships carry, such as ammonium nitrate, really jeopardise the safety of our nation. It is not good enough for us to have one set of rules for workers that are employed in Australia and a different set of rules for the crews of these ships. There is absolutely no guarantee as to where they have come from and no background checks are made on them. This really undermines the whole point of this legislation.

This is a very important issue to me because mine is a coastal electorate that is affected by these ships going up and down the coast and carrying cargoes into a port that is very close to my electorate. The government really needs to revisit the issue of these ships sailing under flags of convenience. It needs to revisit the issue of continuous voyage permits and single voyage permits. It needs to look at the implications of overseas flagged ships for our Australian shipping industry. I really believe that these foreign ships pose a greater security risk to our Australian ports than any of the things that we have highlighted today.

I believe that the Australian government needs to put aside the ideological problems that it has with the Maritime Union of Australia. It needs to sit down and look at what an Australian shipping industry means to this country, at the security implications associated with these foreign flag of convenience ships and at the implications of these foreign crews for our port and border security. All those things need to be addressed. I support the legislation that is before us today. I support the position of the shadow minister and I urge the government to revisit the issue and really consider the implications for the security of this country.