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Tuesday, 19 June 2012
Page: 7028

Mrs PRENTICE (Ryan) (17:36): I rise today to speak on the Navigation Bill 2012, the Marine Safety (Domestic Commercial Vessel) National Law Bill 2012 and cognate bills. These measures are an important step at streamlining, modernising and clarifying existing laws to reflect contemporary maritime industry practice. They are also a necessary step to legislate the extensive Council of Australian Governments, COAG, reforms and will give effect to international agreements incorporating the conditions from the International Labour Organisation's Maritime Labour Convention. It is a curious incident in the history of Australian parliamentary democracy that the primary bill governing Australian navigation is the oft-amended Navigation Act 1912, now a 100-year-old act that still contains a jumble of both archaic and modern concepts. The initial act was based on provisions contained in the British Merchant Shipping Act 1894, which included laws such as the offence to take a lunatic to sea without telling the master. The act is Australia's primary piece of legislation with regard to the regulation of ship and seafarer safety, employment conditions for Australian seafarers and some aspects of marine environment protection. As such, the coalition welcomed the announcement at the 2009 Natship conference by the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport to review this legislation and rewrite the act. Following the passage of the coastal shipping reforms, about which I have spoken in this House previously, and the consequent introduction of the Australian international second register, the conditions of the International Labour Organisation's Maritime Labour Convention have been codified into law, and this rewrite will give effect to that convention.

There are provisions in this bill for significant penalties for breaches of the conditions of the bill, which are included as a deterrent effect and which also provide for redress through the court system to respond proportionally to any breach. It is very important to note that any breach of the Navigation Act 1912 can have very serious consequences for the Australian marine environment, as well as for the community and the lives of seafarers themselves. From this premise, the industry must accept their duty to follow the provisions which protect these stakeholders, for which there are three key categories of offences: offences involving intentional misconduct, which carry the highest maximum penalty under these measures, and reckless or negligent conduct, which attracts relatively lower penalties. In addition, as an alternative to criminal prosecution proceedings, the bills creates civil penalty provisions.

Following a considered process to rewrite this act, I trust that these bills will be a meaningful step to reform Australian navigation. These bills reflect Australia's commitment to international cooperation by giving effect to a range of international conventions which cover many areas including safety of life at sea, the prevention of ship collisions, the regulation of watertight integrity and reserve buoyancy of ships, determinations about gross and net tonnage of ships, and of course training and certification of seafarers, which I will touch on in more detail later.

The coalition supports the passage of these bills through parliament as they are a necessary modernisation of navigation regulations. However, I do note that there are still significant concerns within the industry relating to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, and with these bills making that organisation the overarching national regulator—which will apply to all of Australia—these concerns must be addressed.

The Marine Safety (Domestic Commercial Vessel) National Law Bill 2012 and cognate bills serve to establish a national maritime regulator to streamline Australian intergovernmental regulation of marine safety, which aims to provide constituent regulation of domestic commercial shipping across the nation.

The primary intentions of the bill are to establish the existing Australian Maritime Safety Authority as the so-called national regulator for the express purpose of performing necessary functions and exercising powers of the provisions of the bills; establish a national system for the identification of vessels and the issuance of certificates; establish offences for noncompliance with certificate requirements or for where appropriate certificates are not held; determine general safety obligations for those involved in commercial vessel operations and for those who may use the vessel to ensure proper safety procedures are followed; create a system for compliance and enforcement activities; and have provisions for consistent application of nationally agreed standards across the country.

At present, there are currently eight separate marine safety regulators when you consider the Commonwealth, the six states and the Northern Territory. These bills will mean that there will be only one regulator, AMSA. Moreover, these bills will supersede 50 pieces of legislation across seven jurisdictions which currently govern maritime safety law. This means that interstate vessels which are currently regulated under the Navigation Act 1912 will be covered under the national law. On the ground, the responsibility for the effective day-to-day operations of the law will lie with the state and territory agencies. Of course, each jurisdiction will still be responsible for paying their fair share in order to fund AMSA, such that the Commonwealth will pay the most, with each respective state donating an appropriate amount.

I recently had a meeting with a constituent who is very concerned about the watering down of conditions under Marine Order 3 for marine engineers. This process is still ongoing, with the consultation draft being released on 8 December 2011, which preceded information sessions and 202 written submissions. There were concerns that the new issue of Marine Order 3 would come into force on 1 July 2012. However, the Chief Executive Officer of AMSA, Mr Graham Peachey, has indicated that they will delay the implementation, and, importantly, further consult with industry before declaring a new issue of Marine Order 3. This enables any remaining issues to be addressed, and I would like to update the House on the grave concerns held by marine engineers.

My constituent made a very considered submission to the Maritime Operations Division of AMSA regarding these changes. In his submission, he outlined his experience: he has completed a Bachelor of Naval Architecture with first-class honours, completed a three-year marine engineering cadetship and passed very difficult AMSA oral exams, steam and motor class certificates, as well as realising many other qualifications and expertise through many years in the Royal Australian Navy and merchant navy. Clearly, this constituent is very experienced and knows the industry back to front. He is extremely concerned on three fronts. Firstly, that the significant reduction in sea time to 26 weeks for a trainee marine engineer will produce trainees with a serious lack of necessary experience. This reduction is also relevant to the lack of distinction between diesel engines on small near coastal craft and a variable speed bluewater vessel, which may run on diesel or gas turbines or be steam propelled. As a result, there are concerns that, in failing to distinguish between an engineer's training on one or both of these ships, they may lack the necessary experience in maintenance—which can only be achieved through an adequate amount of seafaring experience with other qualified marine engineers. Secondly, he is concerned that an oral safety exam will no longer be mandatory. Fundamentally, theoretical knowledge and the ability to sit written examinations does not translate to operational knowledge. He notes that a three-hour long written exam is very stressful for a candidate, but such stress reflects how a candidate may react in an emergency situation on board a vessel, should one occur. This is absolutely crucial to ensure the safety of the candidate, their shipmates and the machinery for which a candidate is responsible. Today's measures will make AMSA the national regulator. I trust that for all issues that will fall under its purview AMSA will take at face value all concerns from industry, workers and unions. I am confident that it will retain its commitment to constructive relations with stakeholders in government, industry and the community.

I and my coalition colleagues will always consider the merits of a bill on a case-by-case basis to ensure that the general welfare of Australia and its citizens is maximised. These bills today are a step to increase efficiency in the regulation of navigation and maritime safety national law by streamlining and modernising the existing law. It is expected that these reforms should provide productivity benefits of $30 billion over the next 20 years. It is of course not for that reason alone that I support these bills, but certainly I am confident that all stakeholders in this area—seafarers, industry, the environment and the community—will benefit in many ways.

However, I point to the lack of consistency and I would suggest that that is the confused way this government has introduced other purported reforms into this House, in particular from the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. Fortunately, the Transport Workers Union has not managed to destroy the substantial intent of these bills.

On 14 March 2012, I spoke on and opposed the introduction of the Road Safety Remuneration Bill 2011 and its consequential amendments bill. I opposed those bills because, as I said at the time, they would create a new layer of bureaucracy and add to jurisdictional creep between state and federal legislation, decreasing flexibility in the industry and increasing red tape. Those bills did not streamline or modernise regulation; they merely added another layer with which companies and employees had to comply. Further, on 28 May 2012, I spoke on and opposed the Shipping Reform (Tax Incentives) Bill 2012 and associated bills. I said that they were yet another example of this Labor government using the long arm of governmental bureaucracy to intervene in and overregulate an industry to the detriment of the Australian economy.

So you can imagine my surprise that the Australian Labor Party has actually introduced bills that attempt to genuinely reform the industry, bills that will implement measures for the future health of our economy. The point is this: those on the opposite side of the House try to claim that we on this side oppose bills unnecessarily or that we are more interested in opposing for political gain. This is patently not true. The coalition will always consider the details of every bill. We always assess whether the seen and unseen consequences of a bill are beneficial to our country. And we have followed this process today.

These bills should decrease the level of bureaucracy, will ensure a more effective and appropriate national law and enforcement process, and will not only be beneficial economically but further act to protect our community and environment. For these reasons, I support the passage of these bills.