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Thursday, 18 March 2010
Page: 3062

Ms MARINO (12:18 PM) —I rise to support the Protection of the Sea Legislation Amendment Bill 2010. The coalition is committed to the sustainable growth of Australia’s shipping industry by ensuring that our maritime sector is as safe, competitive and efficient as possible. Our maritime history is a vital component of Australia’s national and international transport network. As we know, sea transport currently accounts for over 99 per cent of international cargo by weight and 26 per cent of freight. This legislation aims to amend two schedules. The first schedule implements the revision of the annex relating to air pollution of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, adopted by the International Maritime Organisation on 10 October 2008. The bill continues the coalition’s effort to prevent pollution by ships and maintains the close alignment Australia has with the IMO’s international conventions. Australia has been a member of the IMO since its establishment in 1948 and has played an active role in the development of conventions and treaties over many years.

The coalition believes that the changes to the annex will see a progressive reduction in sulfur oxide and nitrogen oxide from ship exhausts over time, with the sulfur content being reduced from 4.5 per cent to 3.5 per cent on 1 January 2012. It should also be noted that this alteration will have little practical effect on Australian ships which already use fuel with a sulfur content below this particular limit. This legislation will allow for the creation of emission control areas in which further reductions in emissions will be required. Also, due to the progressive nature of the changes, this bill provides for the establishment of regulations to set the maximum allowable sulfur content. These amendments will come into effect on 1 July 2010.

The second schedule of this legislation will give immunity from liability to persons or organisations acting reasonably and in good faith which provide assistance following a spill of fuel but inadvertently make the damage worse. The bunkers act, the Protection of the Sea (Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage) Act, which was introduced in 2008 with the support of the coalition, has established a liability and compensation regime to apply in cases of pollution damage which are the result of a spill of fuel oil from ships. Schedule 2 creates a responder immunity, meaning that organisations and persons assisting in the clean-up of a spill will not be held liable for the damage caused if they act reasonably and in good faith. This, however, does not affect a shipowner’s general liability for damages resulting from that spill. Immunity from actions, suit or proceedings will not apply in relation to actions or emissions that were intended to cause damage or which were undertaken recklessly knowing that damage would probably result.

In my electorate of Forrest, this legislation will have an impact on the Bunbury Port Authority, which, in 2008-09, had a total throughput of 13.3 million tonnes with exports accounting for approximately 88 per cent of that total trade and imports 1.5 million tonnes, which included caustic soda, mineral sands, coal, urea, methanol, potash, vegetable oil and petroleum coke. The port exported a record of nearly 9½ million tonnes of alumina in that same period, as well as exporting mineral sands, silica sand, spodumene and woodchips. The port authority is forecasting a 15 per cent increase in total port trade for 2009-10 to over 15 million tonnes and there are plans to expand trade through the port with exports such as coal, bauxite and, potentially, urea. Of course, there is a genuine need for expansion of the existing port and its facilities, part of an overall $750 million worth of work needed on infrastructure in the south-west area alone. This legislation will be an issue in practical terms for the Bunbury Port, which is expecting at least 392 commercial vessel movements in the current year.

The Bunbury Port Authority raised a number of questions in relation to the legislation. They questioned whether ships will require insurance certificates to be inspected and, if so, by whom. Is it incumbent on the port authority to ensure that the certificate is valid? Another area they would like clarified is whether the port is expected to provide certificates when it receives plastics and contaminated rubbish similar to the requirements for ships with garbage loads. From an environmental perspective, the Bunbury Port Authority stated that they see no detrimental outcomes from the proposed legislative amendments. For instance, the Bunbury Port Authority’s total revenue was nearly $29 million, which is significant for a regional port, particularly in the south-west of WA. A recent example relating to this piece of the late legislation is the Pacific Adventurer oil spill, which occurred in March 2009 and exceeded the $30 million in clean-up costs. Industry expressed their dissatisfaction with the government’s response to the Pacific Adventurer oil spill incident and, as a result, in August 2009 the Labor government announced that it had initiated proceedings at the IMO to increase the limit to shipowners’ liability for the future. However, there has been no further action on this to date.

During Senate estimates on 9 February this year, Senator Back questioned Mr Peachey from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority on the current status of proceedings to increase the limit for shipowners’ liability for clean-up costs. Mr Peachey stated in his response that the extent of the limitation is in fact too limited. However, the information on a suitable figure and the consultation processes were vague and, in certain parts, inconclusive.

The coalition takes the prevention of pollution by ships very seriously and, as I stated earlier, is committed to the sustainable growth of Australia’s shipping industry by ensuring that our maritime sector is as safe, competitive and efficient as possible. The coalition believes that the revised version of the annex and immunity from liability to persons or organisations acting reasonably and in good faith are positive steps to the further protection of the sea. I support this legislation but in practical terms seek clarification from the government on the issues raised by the Bunbury Port Authority.