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Tuesday, 23 June 2009
Page: 4083

Senator IAN MACDONALD (7:19 PM) —Tonight I want to talk about an exciting Australian industry that I think practically everyone loves; that brings great enjoyment, pleasure and a sense of wellbeing; that employs many Australians and, indeed, many other people from around the world who would otherwise not be gainfully employed to support their families; and that promotes tourism and economic wealth for Australia and the Pacific island nations and, indeed, increasingly promotes tourist destinations in Queensland, Tasmania and other places around the coast of Australia. The industry I am talking about is, of course, the cruising industry. The largest industry operator in Australia is Carnival Australia, which operates branches such as P&O Cruises, Princess Cruises and the Cunard Line.

An Access Economics report shows that the number of Australians on cruises grew by nearly 17 per cent a year from 2002 to 2007, and the industry leaders expect that 2008 figures will show similar growth. I want to speak on this industry tonight for a couple of reasons. One is to share with those who might be listening the magnificent trip which my wife and I had over last Christmas on the MV Pacific Dawn, a P&O ship built in 1991 which has a capacity of some 2,076 passengers and a crew of 710—that is one crew member to every three passengers. Our 10-day cruise saw us dock at Noumea, Ouvea, Port Vila, Mystery Island and the Isle of Pines. Cruising ships visiting Noumea and Port Vila obviously contribute significantly to the economies of New Caledonia and Vanuatu and provide employment for people in those nations who might otherwise not have the opportunity for gainful employment.

The contribution, however, that cruise ships make to smaller islands like Ouvea, Mystery Island and the Isle of Pines is very significant. I well remember our day at Mystery Island. Mystery Island is an uninhabited island, but local folk from an adjoining island visit the island to service the tourists landing there. In speaking to some of the locals at Ouvea, I was informed that the money that they raised from the feast of lobsters which they provided at a very reasonable price for passengers, and from the island trinkets which they had handcrafted, goes to support the education of their children. This in some way assuaged the guilt that I think many of us had in overindulging in fresh lobster, knowing that in some way we were providing an education for some young people of the South Pacific islands who perhaps might not otherwise have had the opportunity for a good education.

Mystery Island is the European name of an island called Inyueg, and it is very near a much larger, mountainous island called Aneityum. Aneityum once supported a thriving sandalwood and karri timber industry, and its present population numbers approximately 1,000 inhabitants. Inyueg was the site of a military airstrip during World War II. There is a long-held superstition of some local Ni-Vanuatu—that is the term for the people of Vanuatu—that the island is haunted at night, and that is why it has remained uninhabited.

The Isle of Pines was named by Captain James Cook on his second voyage through the Pacific, in 1774. In 1853 the Isle of Pines was annexed by France, and in 1872 the French deposited the first 3,000 convicts on the island. The island is now run by the Kunies people, and the main industries now are fruit growing, exporting of edible snails, sandalwood forestry and, of course, tourism.

The other reason I wanted to talk about the cruising industry tonight was to dispel some of the impressions which the media create unintentionally—and I hope that I am correct when I say ‘unintentionally’—about ships in the Australian cruising fleet. If you had heard the media at the height of the hysteria about swine flu, you would have thought that the Pacific Dawn was solely responsible for the introduction of swine flu to Australia and was indeed perhaps even the cause of the disease itself, so over the top was the reporting at that time involving the Pacific Dawn. News bulletin after news bulletin spoke of the Pacific Dawn in ways that could not help but cause concern to would-be passengers of the future.

I say to the Senate that the Pacific Dawn is a magnificent ship and very well run. Everywhere you went on the ship, there were people with hand-cleaning gel encouraging you to wash your hands regularly. The handrails and other public areas of the vessel—and, indeed, all cruising ships—are continual scrupulously cleaned, and staff do everything possible to ensure a safe, happy and healthy experience for those on board. The extraordinary lengths to which P&O went recently, when it was discovered that some people on board had contracted swine flu, I think were typical of the care and effort put into the safety and comfort of passengers aboard P&O cruises.

A couple of years ago my wife and I and a couple of friends also travelled the South Pacific, on the MV Pacific Sun, a sister ship of the Pacific Dawn, and it was equally memorable and pleasurable. The Pacific Sun, senators might recall, had achieved some media attention because of a quite horrific rape and murder that occurred on board. Again, somehow it was suggested in the media that it was the fault of the Pacific Sun that this occurred rather than it being the actions of individuals you would find in any facet of life anywhere in the world. What people do in their own cabins in their own time is really a matter for them. I always think it is particularly unfair to suggest that the Pacific Sun was in any way at fault in what occurred on that particular occasion.

P&O has a very responsible policy on alcohol, and certainly alcohol on board ships is no longer cheap, as it was on the old Arcadia during the honeymoon cruise that my wife and I took to Fiji back in the 1970s. What I particularly noticed, on both the Pacific Sun and the Pacific Dawn, was the number of security people who abound at all times in every part of the ship. The work of the security guards is unobtrusive, and many passengers would not even notice that they were there, but, when you work around this place and around prime ministers, you can pick the security guards. I was very impressed with the extent to which P&O had taken action to ensure that the safety of all of its passengers was paramount. Sometimes I wonder if companies like P&O do not in fact go overboard in trying to protect people from themselves. I guess they do it to ensure that the vast majority of passengers are not discomforted by the actions of a very small minority of passengers.

In spite of the unwarranted bad publicity at times given to cruise ships, I want to assure all senators and any listeners that all would-be travellers on cruise ships generally around Australia and the South Pacific are safe and can be assured of a magnificent, exciting, relaxing and ‘do anything you want to do’ type of cruise. Everything that you might possibly want in the way of entertainment, relaxation, eating and drinking is all there.

As Captain Lorenzo Paoletti—who, curiously, captained both of the ships on which my wife and I have travelled in recent years—said: ‘A cruise is undoubtedly one of the best ways to travel in comfort and safety and at the same time provide an environment in which to enjoy the experience with compatible fellow travellers.’ My congratulations to P&O Australia, Carnival Australia, the captains of all the cruise ships operating around Australia, their deck crews and the hundreds of people from many nationalities who look after the ships, look after the people on board and make cruising an experience and an event to remember.