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Wednesday, 8 August 2001
Page: 29540

Mr WAKELIN (12:21 PM) —I will speak briefly on the government amendments to the International Maritime Conventions Legislation Amendment Bill 2001. I reiterate the member for Petrie's surprise and express a little bit of sadness at the member for Batman's rather erratic second half of the speech. I think we can all agree around the environmental issues and that sort of thing, but I have to reject the attack on the government.

To come back to the purpose of the amendments to the Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims Act 1989, the Protection of the Sea (Powers of Intervention) Act 1981 and the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act 1983—the pollution prevention act—it is worth noting that, in the New South Wales Court of Criminal Appeal, between two parties the interpretation of damage in the New South Wales act was similar to the pollution prevention act and included fair wear and tear. These government amendments intend to limit the interpretation of damage to the original intent—that is, damage as a result of an accident—making it clear that damage does not include deterioration, failure to maintain the ship or equipment, or defects that develop during normal operation of the ship or equipment. That seems pretty commonsense and everyone I am sure would welcome that.

To address the issues as discussed by the member for Batman and the member for Throsby, the Australian economy is very strong. It is said to be I think in as strong a growth mode as anywhere in the Western world and it is based on exports. We all agree about the importance of exports to our economic wellbeing, and exports travel mainly—certainly our bulk commodities—within our shipping fleet.

Mr Hollis —That is why we should have an Australian fleet.

Mr WAKELIN —We need an internationally competitive shipping industry. We can go back to the history. I have been around long enough now, member for Throsby, to remember the ANL debacle. There is nothing stopping investors investing in an Australian shipping industry, other than the fact that they do not believe they can make it work—and there are a whole range of reasons for that. So we are reliant on a competitive international industry. There is no impediment that I know of to people putting up their money and investing in a shipping industry other than that they do not think they can be viable and they have certain responsibilities under the Companies Act not to raise money and then go broke.

Australia is left relying on an internationally competitive shipping fleet. We are well served throughout the world by a number of these companies, and that is what our Australian economy and our Australian exports very much rely on. As far as the cabotage regime goes, I understand it is exactly the same cabotage regime that was in place under the previous Labor government. So let us put that on the table as well.

Australia's performance on the waterfront has improved significantly, and that is very much welcomed by every Australian. We now have a more competitive waterfront which allows the international shipping industry to think much better of us than they did in the past. The member for Batman talked about Australia being the laughing-stock or being not well regarded. I have been around long enough to remember when Australia was the laughing-stock in terms of some of its industrial practices—ships were kept tied up or they were not able to be tied up. We were the laughing-stock of the world.

Mr Hollis —Yes—dogs and balaclavas.

Mr WAKELIN —I could say a bit about violence on the waterfront. There has been a bit of history there, member for Throsby, but I would not want to indulge in that unduly because it takes two to tango. I will not be unduly distracted by that. I welcome the comment from the member for Batman that globalisation is a fact of life. If a country like Australia is to be in the business of globalisation, it will rely on exports and it will have to have efficient shipping. That is what this is all about, as well as the obvious improvements in environmental standards that are very much needed in this modern world.

Going back to international respect for Australia, the member for Batman regularly mentioned East Timor in his contribution. Going into East Timor in the way that we did has probably added to Australia's reputation more than any other act in modern history. It was high risk; we were committed to righting a wrong. That is very important. I could indulge myself and remind others of the history of this debate over the last 20 years. Australia is respected partly because of its role in East Timor—the member for Throsby has left. The Ships of shame report has been much quoted. I have a high personal regard for the former minister Peter Morris and for the work that he did and his continuing commitment in this area.

To rebut the issue of disease coming into this country, I remind the Main Committee that the last budget committed something like $600 million over four years to AQIS. That is an unprecedented effort by the federal government to make sure that we are better protected from disease coming into this country and threatening the export industry and any other issue of that nature in this country.

To conclude, I welcome the legislation. It tidies up certain things that needed to be done as history moved on. I mentioned earlier the New South Wales Court of Criminal Appeal, where it was quite clear that the interpretation of damage, which could be from fair wear and tear, was totally unacceptable. I did not mention the Submarine Cables and Pipelines Protection Act 1963. There are some issues there that are dealt with in the amendment.

In terms of the future for Australia, its exports and its work force—and I would like to think that includes all of us and does not depend on some narrow definition of whether you are in a union or not; I would like to think of the Australian work force as including everybody who is usefully employed, whether they be self-employed, an employer or an employee—we will continue to rely on an efficient international shipping industry. I welcome the further development of an Australian shipping fleet, if that is at all possible. I am not optimistic about that, but if there is any way it can be done viably, economically and in the best interests of Australia I would be delighted to see it happen. I simply welcome these amendments to the bill and wish them a speedy passage.