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Thursday, 22 October 1970


Mr CHARLES JONES (Newcastle) - This Bill was introduced to make provision for, and in relation to, preventing and dealing with the effects of pollution by oil off the Australian coast, Australian coastal waters and Australian reefs. It was introduced to correct some of the inadequacies and some of the things left out of a similar Bill hurriedly introduced on 18th March when there was an unfortunate incident in the Torres Stait. The Oceanic Grandeur' went aground and commenced to discbarge oil onto the sea. The Government at that time had to act hurriedly and, with the co-operation of the Opposition, a Bill was put through this House in a matter of a couple of hours and through the Senate in a similar period. The Opposition in this Hoiuse asked that another Bill be introduced within 6 months. The Government agreed to permit us to introduce an amending Bill within 6 months and to grant a vote on it. The Senate, on the other hand, gave that legislation a life of 6 months and this expired on 18th September. This Bill seeks to reintroduce the provisions of the earlier Bill together with a number of corrections or additions as the result of the experience gained on the occasion of the grounding of the 'Oceanic Grandeur*.

Once again, the Opposition supports the proposal. We believe that for too long the Australian coastline has been unprotected by the necessary legislation to ensure that, if a tanker should go aground, be involved in a collision or have some sort of accident which would result in a spillage of oil into the sea, inadequate legislation was available to cope with it. It was. obvious to us on this side of the House as it was obvious to everyone else that inadequate precautions had been taken and inadequate provisions made to ensure that no lasting damage would be clone.

As far as the constitutional powers or rights of the Commonwealth to act in such cases is concerned, I say that no doubt exists because nearly all shipping in Australian waters is engaged in trade and commerce with other countries and among the States and therefore can be made subject to Commonwealth laws. The Commonwealth has been most dilatory and diffident in enacting such laws. Little doubt exists that both under the trade and commerce powers and the external affairs powers in the Commonwealth Constitution the Commonwealth itself could have implemented the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution of the Sea by Oil of 1954. The Menzies Government, however, took the attitude that complementary State legislation was required. The Commonwealth itself did not pass the Act until 1960. The States, with South Australia bringing up the rear, took 2 more years to pass their Acts and, accordingly, Australia did not gain the benefits of the Convention until 29th November 1962.

On 11th April of that year amendments to the 1954 Convention were adopted by a conference of contracting governments. The Commonwealth still took the view that complementary State legislation was required. The Commonwealth passed the amending Act in 1965. Western Australia did so in 1964 and Queensland in 1967. The other States still have to act. Thus, Australia, after 8 years, is denied the benefits of the amendments. So one can see that as far as the Constitutional powers of the Commonwealth are concerned no doubt whatever exists that the Commonwealth has the power to act in this way. We support the Bill because we believe, as I said a moment ago, it will give all neccessary coverage to ensure and to protect the Australian coastline.

One of the things which does concern me following the passage of the legislation iri March of this year and the unfortunate incident of the 'Torrey Canyon' is a report which was tabled in the Queensland Parliament on 23rd July this year. The report tabled in that Parliament dealt with the grounding of the oil tanker 'Oceanic Grandeur' in the Torres Strait in March last. The report criticises both the Commonwealth Government and the owners of the tanker. Might I interpose for a moment that I have to rely on a Press report of this report because, when the official report was tabled in the Queensland Parliament, apparently the one and only copy was taken away, given to the Government Printer and, try as I may. I have been unable to obtain a copy of the original statement. Therefore, 1 must rely on a Press report of it. 1 have discussed this Press report with members of the Queensland Parliament who assure me that the Press report by the 'Australian' of 24th July 1970 is a factual report.

This report states:

The director of the State Department of Harbours and Marine, Mr A. J. Peel, said the general responsibility for overall planning to deal with offshore oil spills must rest with the Commonwealth.

Mr Peelsaid the Commonwealth had vacillated over decisions on who would control clean up operations and the tanker's owners had shown scant regard' for the coastal State of Queensland in its delays in transferring oil to another ship.

He said conferences convened by the Commonwealth with the States on oil pollution had been unduly protracted and the States should request that they be speeded up.

I do not propose to read all of the report because it deals with some of the facts about the incident - how much oil was spilt and all the rest of it, and how it took 24 days and 4i hours to relieve the tanker of its cargo of oil from the time when the 'Leslie J. Thompson' first went alongside. The other point which I believe is of importance in that Press report is this:

Mr Peelsaid it was essential that authority to take all necessary steps to deal with an oil spill should be clear cut.

There should be no repetition ot an instance where the Commonwealth, after agreeing that the State's Harbours and Marine Department coordinate all arrangements to deal with the spill, queried certain advice from the Department and rejected it 6 hours later.

In a moment or two I will deal with that statement. One of the other important matters in the report to which f draw attention is that the detergents used on the spill had no effect on oil which had been on the water for more than 6 hours. To me, these are some of the important features of Mr Peel's report to the Queensland Parliament. The thing that amused me was the way in which the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Sinclair) on the same day hastily raced into print and said:

The Commonwealth was well advanced in the preparation of a disaster plan to cover State and Commonwealth action in any incidents involving spillage of oil into the sea around the Australian coastline.

The disaster plan would be circulated in draft to all State governments within the next fortnight.

Conferences to discuss the plan would be held as soon as possible thereafter.

The plan would be put into operation in the event of another incident like that of the oil tanker 'Oceanic Grandeur' which grounded on a previously uncharted rock in the Torres Strait on 3rd March 1970.

He gave a little detail of how many gallons of oil were spilled, etc., and continued:

One weakness revealed by the incident was that neither the Government of Queensland nor the Commonwealth had the power to ensure that oil in the tanker was removed as expeditiously as possible.

We hope that the legislation will give to the Commonwealth the power to ensure that oil in a tanker is removed as expeditiously as possible and that when a ship runs aground, is involved in a collision or is in some accident which places it in danger the necessary precautions can be taken. We hope that the necessary legislative power will be available to ensure that the owners, through their agents - either the shipping agents or the ship's master - carry out the direction of the Department of Shipping and Transport. I hope that we do not have to have further legislation introduced to ensure that this is carried out. On that occasion the Minister said:

There had been a great deal of essential cooperation between the Queensland and the Commonwealth Governments is the 'Oceanic Grandeur' incident.

While the Minister may have been quite satisfied with the co-operation, it is fairly obvious that the people on the other side of the fence, namely, the Queensland Government and the Queensland Department of Harbours and Marine, were not oversatisfied with the co-operation extended by the Commonwealth Department of Shipping and Transport.

Once again we saw the Government run for cover when the Minister said that he was not sure whether the Queensland Government or one of its officials took that view. The Minister had the statement prepared. At least he had some responsibility for the contents of it. If he had not agreed with the statement, I do not think he would have released it. In the latter part of his statement of 24th July the Minister said:

It was deplorable at this stage that in order to make a querulous complaint and join in the game of kicking the Commonwealth the Queensland authorities had chosen to play down the high level of co-operation that had been achieved.

That is a shocking state of affairs. The Queensland authorities left the club and drew the attention of the public to the many shortcomings that existed in the arrangements between the Commonwealth and the State. I think that on that occasion the Queensland Government did a service to Australians by having brought out these facts. This is particularly so when one takes into consideration question No. 1441 asked by the honourable member for Brisbane (Mr Cross) of the Minister for Shipping and Transport about the preparedness of the Department to cope with situations such as the 'Oceanic Grandeur' disaster. This question was asked by the honourable member on 21st May 1969:

5.   Has his Department any plan to deal with a major disaster such as the wreck of an oil-laden super tanker on the Great Barrier Reef?

Perhaps the honourable member for Brisbane is psychic. He was at that stage concerned that something might happen regarding oil spillages. In reply to that part of the honourable member's question the Minister said:

5.   Plans for dealing with a major disaster have been discussed with the port authorities and at the Australian Transport Advisory Council. It is also intended that the Commonwealth Departments directly concerned with oil pollution will meet in the near future to develop this aspect further. The port authorities will, of course, be brought into this planning as it develops.

I ask the Minister, when he replies in this debate, to inform the House what planning was in existence at that time in 1969 and what plans now exist. The matter of planning is one of the things which concerns all honourable members. It is not much use passing legislation to fine people unless we have the organisation necessary to deal with them.

I sought information from the Department as to what action it had taken to prepare for a possible future disaster such as the grounding of the 'Oceanic Grandeur' or one of the numerous other accidents which have occurred with vessels overseas. We should bear in mind that in the last 10 years there have been more than 500 accidents in the world involving oil tanker spillages on the sea. It is of no use to say that oil spillages do not happen and that we should just go along in the hope that they will not happen near our coastline, as we have done so often in the past, not only in this field, but in many other fields. We have said in the past that 'it cannot happen here, it will only happen to the other fellow'. Our view has been that disasters such as the Torrey Canyon' in England and the oil leak in the Santa Barbara Channel will not occur here. The Oceanic Grandeur' incident is proof that it can happen here. Information has been conveyed to me from the Department of Shipping and Transport and it has, of course, the approval of the Minister. By way of summary this is what has taken place: Commonwealth and State officials have been working on a national plan to deal with marine oil pollution. Meetings have taken place over a period of1½ years, the last of such meetings being held on 29th-30th September 1970. Good progress has been made in reaching agreement on such important matters as basic responsibility to deal with accidents, control of clean up operations, resources available, communications, transport, technical advice, operational organisations and plans. All of these matters must be settled before a detailed overall planning document can be drawn up.

This is the part which disgusts me. The Department of Shipping and Transport has been aware of the problems of oil spillage on the sea for a long time. We have had numerous international conventions as far back as 1954, from which recommendations had been made to the Government. Accidents involving oil tankers have occurred all over the world. I will repeat what I said a moment ago on this: In the last 10 years there have been over 500 accidents in the world involving oil tankers and yet all that the Department of Shipping and Transport can talk about is that it is in the course of preparing a plan. I am particularly disappointed and annoyed because this information has been available to the Department for some years and it is now only at this stage preparing some sort of a plan. 1 regret that something more positive has not been done about this. Other countries have carried out a considerable amount of research and some countries have experimented with methods of collecting oil off the sea.

I read a very interesting article recently about what the United States Coast Guard is doing in this field. The article dealt with the work which has been put in to try to work out a means of controlling spillage of oil if a ship is involved in an accident. A new airborne equipment to prevent or reduce maritime oil spills around the east coast of America has been developed. It is called ADAPTS- the Air Delivered Anti-Pollution Transfer System. It is a rubber receptacle 135 feet by 35 feet by 8 feet and it holds about 145,000 gallons of oil. It weighs roughly 500 tons. When it is folded it is roughly the size of a car. It can be carried to the scene of an accident by a helicopter, dropped adjacent to the tanker and then towed to it or, if need be, it can be dropped and lowered on to the tanker, but because oil is to be pumped into the receptacle it is obvious that it should only be dumped or dropped alongside the tanker. There is a group of 4 of these rubber receptacles which include 4 pumps. They have been tested in winds of up to 45 miles per hour and with waves 8 to 12 feet in height. From those facts alone it can be seen that other countries are working on the problem. I have seen reports that other countries are working on the basis of machines which scoop up the water and the use of booms to contain the oi). I hope that the Minister can tell us that the Department has these things in hand. I received today a report from the

Department of Shipping and Transport which states:

The question of stockpiling material and equipment at strategic places throughout Australia and the types and quantities of materials and equipment which might be stored at locations are other matters being dealt with. For example, apart from the question of dispersants and detergents, the need to stock pile absorbing material is also being examined as well as such other aspects as spraying equipment (booms, stays, pumps and mixing valves for use on small aircraft, helicopters or boats), suction devices (head, motors and hoses), protection booms (for use in still waters) fire fighting equipment, storage tanks for chemicals (for use on small aircraft or ships) and other special equipment including storage facilities to take oil off marine casualties.

I have discussed the position with an officer of the Department and my understanding is that other than the storing of detergents or other such types of liquids for breaking up the oil when it is on the water, the Department has none of the things which have been mentioned. There are no booms for use in the sea; there is no machine to collect the oil should it be spilt; there is none of the equipment such as I just mentioned which the American Coast Guard has made available and which it can use in the event of an accident such as we had with the 'Oceanic Grandeur'. I come back to my previous statement. I am disappointed that the Department of Shipping and Transport has not done much more than has been done up to date. This statement goes on:

In addition, discussions are taking place with fisheries experts and marine biologists to ensure that any action to control oil spills will have due regard to effects on marine life.

Another thing which has to be borne in mind is that oft times the detergents which are used to break up the oil do more damage to the marine life, the fish and marine growth than the oil does. In the case of the 'Torrey Canyon' and the Santa Barbara oil leaks it was found that marine life suffered very little damage. Whales, seals and fish were found in the vicinity of the oil leaks. After the oil had been cleaned up it was found that they were still in the area and did not appear to have suffered any serious or permanent damage. Due consideration should be given to the fact that whatever detergents are used they should not cause more damage than the oil does. When one talks about the Santa Barbara incident I think an article in the

Australian' of 25th March 1969 by Jill Sanders is worth reading because we can then transfer our thoughts possibly to Bass Strait, the east coast of New South Wales, some other beaches in Australia or the Great Barrier Reef. I suggest that honourable members read this article and just stop, think for a moment, and transfer their thoughts to one of those places. There are the oil wells in Bass Strait and on Barrow Island off the coast of Western Australia. An oil leak from the wells on Barrow Island might not cause the same damage as would occur if there was an oil leak in Bass Strait or off the east coast near Sydney or Brisbane. The article in the Australian' reads as follows:

A boom was ready at the harbour and marina entrance to prevent the oil reaching the 700 boats inside and in the afternoon, it was pulled into place, but at 7 p.m. a portion of it broke and the oil slick moved relentlessly into the harbour and enclosed beaches.

Instead of the green and white surf, try to imagine a black, frothing mixture of crude oil and detergent breaking on Bondi beach; or walking along the beach with each step becoming heavier as oil accumulated on your shoes (a sensation probably comparable to walking through a puddle of chewing gum); or going to your favourite rock pool and finding it barren of life; or seeing thousands of sea birds washed up on the beaches either dead or so plastered with oil that they cannot move nor open their wings.

It happened at Santa Barbara.

Let us hope that it does not happen here. But if it does happen here, let us hope that at least the Government is more prepared to deal with it than it was on the occasion of the incident involving the 'Oceanic Grandeur'. In concluding on that point about the 'Santa Barbara' disaster, I mention the fact that it is estimated that approximately 1,400 birds were killed on that occasion.

One of the matters in this legislation which concerns me is the provision for the collection of damages from the ship owner. The Bill provides for damages of up to $12,600,000. This is set out in the concluding portion of the Bill. The amount is worked out on a formula with which I do not quarrel. The only point about it is that under the formula there is no coverage for a ship in excess of 105,000 dead weight tons. So the provision relates to ships up to a maximum of about 100,000 tons. To the best of my knowledge, up to this point of time no tanker in excess of 100,000 tons has come to these shores, and one of the matters about which I should like to have a grizzle in some other debate is the fact that so much of our oil is being brought to Australia from the Middle East and the Far East in very small ships. I believe that the operation is much too uneconomical and that we should be using larger ships. But, as I say, that is a matter for another debate.

The amount of the claim for damages which can be recovered is set out in agreement which was recently negotiated in Brussels at the International Legal Conference of Marine Pollution Damage. The agreement was made on 28th November 1969, but it is not yet operative and it will not become operative until 8 of the 15 countries which have over 1 million tons of tankers registered in them sign the agreement. When it does become operative, at least we will have an opportunity to recover damages under international law. But at the moment damages are recoverable only under an agreement which was entered into by the major tanker owners throughout the world who belong to an organisation called TOVALOP - the Tanker Owners Voluntary Agreement Concerning Liability for Oil Pollution. The agreement covers the major tanker owners thoughout the world today. They include BP Tanker Co. Ltd, Esso Transport Co. Inc., Gulf Oil Corporation, Mobil Oil Corporation, Shell International Petroleum Co. Ltd, Standard Oil Co. of California, and Texaco, Inc.

What I should like to know from the Minister, when he replies, is what happens if a ship or tanker which is not covered by this agreement is damaged off the coast and discharges oil which has to be cleared away or which causes quite a considerable amount of damage to the coast line. What facilities has the Government to recover from the owners of the ship or tanker damages which can be recovered under this Bill. I have in mind the fact that many of the tankers which operate today are owned by what I shall call single ship companies. A company is formed to cover the operations of not more than 1 or 2 ships. An example of what could happen is the 'Torrey Canyon' incident. The French and British governments were unable to recover damages from the owners of the Torrey Canyon' until such time as a sister ship of the 'Torrey Canyon' put into Singapore harbour and was impounded by the authorities. But what happens if the company involved operates only one ship? What facilities does the Government have available to it to recover damages if the owners of a ship are not covered by insurance or do not belong to TOVALOP? 1 am led to believe that only about 50 per cent of the tankers in the world are covered by this form of voluntary insurance.

The Government has to take precautions against a tanker which is not fully insured operating in Australian waters. I do not know whether the Government would be prepared to go to the extent of saying to the oil refineries in Australia: 'Unless you bring your oil to Australia in ships which are covered by TOVALOP we will not permit the ships to use our harbours'. I appreciate that there are certain international laws which would prevent the Government taking this action, but I think it is worth considering whether it would be possible to amend the Act or extend the agreement in some way to enable damages to be recovered from the owners of tankers.

Some tanker owners form single ship companies so that they will be excluded from damages claims. They find that it is better to have such a setup than to have one large company owning all of their ships. I believe that this is one of the tricks which the owners of these ships get up to. We all know about the lack of cooperation by the owner of the 'Oceanic Grandeur'. He could not be contacted by the Government for days. It tried to serve a notice on him to discharge the oil from the Oceanic Grandeur'. This man had an asset worth some $14m lying on the bottom of the ocean, but he could not be contacted. It is obvious that he deliberately kept out of contact. If an owner is prepared to do that in those circumstances, it is obvious what he will do in the event of a huge disaster involving millions of dollars. I believe that the Government should take all necessary precautions. I hope that a more effective and more positive statement will be forthcoming from the Government in the not too distant future as to the arrangements which have been made to cope with an emergency such as the 'Oceanic Grandeur' incident or one of the other disasters which have occured in other countries The Opposition considers that this legislation is a step in the right direction and supports it.







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