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Thursday, 24 March 1994
Page: 2198


Senator COULTER (1.33 p.m.) —Earlier on in the consideration of Transport and Communications Amendment Bill (No. 3) the Australian Democrats were seeking to amend the legislation because of our concern over ballast water. Although it is not certain, it seems reasonably clear that there have been at least two quite serious episodes of contamination of the sea around Australia as a consequence of the discharge of ballast water which had been taken on in the northern hemisphere.

  One episode involved infestation with the Undaria pinnatifida seaweed and the other the northern Pacific Asterias amurensis starfish. Whilst it is not absolutely certain this infestation occurred because of ballast water—it may have occurred because of the carriage of these organisms on the outside of hulls—there seems to be very good reason to urge that ballast water be cleaned, to be sterile in a biological sense, if possible, to protect Australia through that mechanism from the importation of organisms which could seriously devastate the marine environment.

  When we came to look at doing this by way of the sorts of amendments we might propose, it became somewhat difficult because some of the factors involved are uncertain. Therefore we have chosen the alternative method of appending to the motion that the report of the committee be adopted a set of conditions which in fact are exactly the protocol which is already being followed.

  It is our understanding that this amendment merely sets out those things which are already being done. But it further urges the government to deal with this matter as a very serious matter; to move forward as quickly as possible with the identification of the causes of this pollution of our environment with northern hemisphere species—or, indeed, with species which could be transmitted from one part of Australia to another in the form of the various algal blooms which can cause problems with the fishing industry and make fish quite toxic.

  Our amendment simply gives effect to what we understand is already the practice in Australia. In the last section we urge the government to give the highest priority to the development of on-board processing of ballast water. That follows an attempt to look at how ships might take on board pre-sterilised ballast water from onshore. That seems to be a difficult process, given the fact that many ships come to Australia in ballast, and then go out with material on board, so that there is not, as it were, a reciprocal movement of ballast water around the world. The final section of this amendment also requests:

. . . there be laid on the Table of the Senate, by the Minister responsible for shipping, on or before the last sitting day in February 1995—

roughly 12 months from now—

and thereafter annually until the Senate otherwise resolves, a report setting out how the Government has used its best endeavours to achieve the goals described in paragraphs (a) to (f), and what results have been achieved from those endeavours to prevent pollution from ships' ballast".

This is indeed a very serious matter. We understand that the government accepts that it is a serious matter and is attempting to deal with it. This merely urges the government to continue those best endeavours. I understand that this amendment has the support of both government and opposition. Therefore, I will move the amendment and urge its adoption on the Senate. I move:

  At the end of the motion, add "but the Senate, noting the proposed amendments in the bill to the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act 1983, calls on the Government to use its best endeavours, through appropriate legislative initiatives and consultations with the states, to ensure that:

  (a)the states accept their responsibility for the uptake and discharge of ballast water by coastal shipping;

  (b)vessels do not take on ballast water in any area where:

    (i)an algal bloom is present; or

    (ii)there is infestation of the seaweed `Undaria pinnatifida' or the Northern Pacific starfish `Asterias amurensis' ;

(c)Port Authorities assume responsibility for alerting coastal shipping to factors covered under paragraph (b);

  (d)where it is not possible to comply with paragraph (b) vessels fully exchange their ballast water only in deep ocean waters;

  (e)before discharge of any ballast water in any Australian port, the ship's master:

(i)informs the Port Authority of his or her wish to do so and provides details of where the ballast water was drawn from; and

    (ii)obtains the Port Authority's approval to discharge the ballast water and complies with any directions from the Port Authorities regarding location of the point of discharge;

  (f)the highest priority is given to the development of on board processing of ballast water; and

  (g)there be laid on the Table of the Senate, by the Minister responsible for shipping, on or before the last sitting day in February 1995, and thereafter annually until the Senate otherwise resolves, a report setting out how the Government has used its best endeavours to achieve the goals described in paragraphs (a) to (f), and what results have been achieved from those endeavours to prevent pollution from ships' ballast".