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Monday, 3 April 2000
Page: 15076


Mr CAMERON THOMPSON (9:17 PM) —I have quite a bit to say in my short contribution here about some of the issues concerning the question of water pollution, but seeing as the issue of parliamentary secretaries in the Northern Territory was raised by the member for Batman I thought I might have my two cents worth on that. It is continuingly ridiculous to see a debate going on in the parliament of the Northern Territory and that debate being duplicated down here in Canberra. When the member for Batman compared the Northern Territory legislature to his local council I think that was an interesting comparison in terms of the number of voters. But his council is not stuck on the other side of Australia in the way that the people in the Northern Territory are; but, then again, they do not have to put up with the Commonwealth government appearing every five minutes and interfering in their affairs either. If we do what the member for Batman wants us do, we will be setting out to interfere in those affairs again.

We keep on setting up situations in Canberra where, I think, we shield the Northern Territory from the impact of its own decisions. If you want to have a government in a remote place like the Northern Territory it should be allowed to govern. There is a great tradition up there, just as there is in my home state of Queensland, of Canberra-bashing. Whenever the evil bureaucrats in Canberra set out to interfere in activities of the Northern Territory, it provides, I think, a cushion for democracy in that state, and I do not think it is appropriate for us to continue to do that. We have put training wheels on that government up there and I think it is time those training wheels were taken off. I am aware that they had a vote against self-government. I think that was because there is an element of people up there who like to have their cake and eat it too. I think, fair dinkum, we ought to hand over self-government to them and let them be totally responsible for the decisions that they take. It is of course the responsibility of a democratically elected government to reflect the needs of its people. If those issues, like mandatory sentencing or anything else, become so significant that people want to vote the government out, they should. There should not be the opportunity for a democratically elected government to go and blame another government in another place for what might be seen as their misfortune. I think it is wrong of us to keep setting up that situation, and I think we should desist.

Meanwhile, one of the provisions of this bill is to look after the Antarctic environment, as has been discussed by the member for Throsby, in relation to the pollution of the sea from garbage, sewage and those sorts of things from passing vessels. This raises an issue about the sea and the environment and how much they contribute to the worth of our great nation. I note that when it comes to the issue of garbage, for example, there have been two successful prosecutions of vessels in other parts of Australian waters for polluting the sea with garbage. One of those involved the cruise ship Fairstar and another one, earlier on, in the Cocos Islands, involved a yacht that dropped garbage bags over the side. In fact in the case of the Fairstar, when garbage was dropped over the side, a lot of that garbage involved luggage labels. So they were in fact labelling their garbage, indicating whom the polluter was and where they could be contacted. Those prosecutions are definitely something that we need to undertake, but I think we need to review the value of the sea and access to the sea in all parts of Australia.

I would like to bring to the House's attention the value to Queensland of the Great Barrier Reef in terms of the amount of Australian trade that passes through those waters and the potential for Australian trade to be severely hampered if ever there were an incident in which those trade routes were affected by, say, an oil spill or something like that. A situation in which trade through those Great Barrier Reef ports in Queensland was restricted because of an oil spill and the natural public outcry that would follow such an eventuality are things that we should bear in mind.

I have done a little bit of digging on that. If we look in Great Barrier Reef waters, there are several important points. I am indebted to the Department of Transport in Queensland for these figures, which have just been released. I will take it port by port. There are currently 10.2 million tonnes of coal going out each year through Abbott Point, 1.6 million tonnes of silica going out each year through Cape Flattery, 53.9 million tonnes of coal through Hay Point and 468,000 tonnes of sugar going out from Lucinda. Unfortunately, I do not have figures on the port of Mourilyan. Quintell Beach is handling 3,178 tonnes of general cargo. Thursday Island handles 70,292 tonnes of general cargo, and the port of Brisbane has 20.7 million tonnes of cargo of all sorts. There are 42.8 million tonnes going out through the port of Gladstone, and that in itself has a value to the economy of $3.1 billion. The port of Mackay is handling 2.3 million tonnes. I do not have figures on the port of Rockhampton either. Townsville has 8.1 million tonnes, including 4.8 million tonnes of imports and 3.3 million tonnes of exports. There are 1.1 million tonnes coming through Cairns.

Those are all significant figures and show that the industry is absolutely the basis of the Queensland economy and a very large proportion of the economy of Australia as a whole. Many articles have been printed and warnings have been repeated regularly by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, for example, that it is not a matter of if but when some kind of incident happens, whether it be a major oil spill or something of that ilk, in Great Barrier Reef waters. We could lose access to it. It is time that governments started making plans to arrange our shipping and our activity to tread more lightly in those waters and to protect that important asset, just as we are protecting the important assets that have to be exported and imported through that area.

I would like to remind the House that there is a developing port at Karumba, which is outside Barrier Reef waters, and the ports of Brisbane and Bundaberg are outside Great Barrier Reef waters in Queensland, but it is important that we keep in mind the need to look for development in those areas so that some of the current weight is taken off reef waters. I have looked up the value of trade going through those areas. If we take exports through ports in Queensland, $15,322 million worth of products in the year ending December 1998 went through all Queensland ports. Of that, $10.3 billion worth or 67.7 per cent of Queensland's trade went through Great Barrier Reef ports. I think that is a significant situation, and the state of Queensland ought to be addressing that and making preparations, just as the Commonwealth should, for the development of alternative ports. It is not that you would want to strip development out of that area, but we need protections for safety in that area and development in other areas to provide a more balanced level of trade.

We should remind ourselves in the process that in the past significant oil spills have occurred in Australian waters. Members would remember the Kirki incident in 1991, when 17,000 tonnes of oil were lost from a particular tanker over in Western Australia. In Queensland waters themselves, the Oceanic Grandeur in 1970 lost a total of 1,067 tonnes of oil in reef waters. I think it is something that we need to bear in mind. Just recently, in November 1997, there was the grounding of the Nol Amber, a Singapore registered container vessel. It was fortunate that the vessel was refloated from the area in the Torres Strait in which it ran aground without any leakage of oil. But it is a situation where we need to protect safety and, as the member for Throsby has said, it is an issue where we have to be on the lookout for ships of shame.

I will go over some of the situations in relation to those vessels. In 1999, 145 foreign vessels and one Australian ship were required to undergo detention as a result of Australian officers inspecting vessels for safety. In February this year alone, there were 241 inspections of foreign vessels and eight of Australian vessels. There is quite an effort going into identifying ships that have a problem and that may well cause a problem in our waters. The sorts of things we are talking about are vessels operating with holes in hatches and bulkheads or with inoperative oil valves. I think members from Sydney would recall that inoperative oil valves were a serious part of the recent incident in which the Italian oil tanker polluted the harbour of Sydney. That vessel had sailed through the waters of North Queensland with those valves inoperative, and a little while later it was the centre of an oil spill in the centre of Sydney. Other problems are that some ships are sailing the waters of the world with no radio, no distress flares and inoperative lifeboats. In one celebrated case, a ship was sailing along with a main engine that would not operate in reverse. Heaven knows what they would have done if they had encountered the Great Barrier Reef. Their only option would have been to crash into it.

In closing, I would like to mention the value of the coal export industry alone to Queensland. The value of exports of coal from Queensland in 1998-99 was $5.39 billion. The amount of employment created in Queensland through the coal industry was at 30 June last year 6,133 jobs in the open-cut mining industry and 2,428 jobs underground. This is an industry that is totally reliant on being able to export effectively through Queensland ports. We must make adequate preparation for the servicing of those industries. There will certainly one day be a problem in relation to shipping, just as AMSA keeps warning. We must make sure that preparations are made. Just as we are preparing through this legislation for the protection of the Antarctic environment, I think we should be making sure that we are protecting other important parts of the environment as they relate to Australia, not only in an environmental sense but also in an economic sense.