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Thursday, 26 May 1983
Page: 1089


Mr BALDWIN(10.38) —The legislation before the House implements the provisions of Annexes I and II of the 1973 International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, or MARPOL as it is known, as amended by the 1978 Protocol to that Convention. Annex I covers the prevention of pollution by oil or oil mixtures and Annex II by noxious substances. The MARPOL preamble says , in part, that the parties to the Convention are:

Desiring to achieve the complete elimination of intentional pollution of the marine environment by oil and other harmful substances and the minimisation of accidental discharge of such substances.

The legislation goes a long way towards carrying out this desire. The current huge oil spill from the Iranian well in the Persian Gulf has dramatically illustrated the ecologically disastrous nature of oil pollution. It has devastated local marine life, thus severely damaging the rich fishing and shrimping industries of the Gulf nations and threatening vital water desalination and power plants. In fact, it is affecting the whole livelihood of these countries. This disaster is easy to appreciate-it is on such a large and impressive scale. Easy to appreciate also is the impact of major disasters involving oil tankers-the Torrey Canyon and Amoco Cadiz come to mind. Such incidents attract world-wide publicity even though they account for only 10 to 15 percent of oil spills. How much more difficult it is to grab world attention with news of the jettisoning of oil from ships and tankers. There is no drama in this. It happens every day around the world. However, Mr Deputy Speaker, it is slowly but inevitably having the same effect on world marine ecology as the oil well disaster is rapidly having on the Gulf marine ecology and, with the aid of legislation such as this, it can be prevented with sufficient effort and good will.

Much of the accidental spillage from tankers has been eliminated in recent years due to a combination of more sophisticated loading methods and the world- wide adverse publicity resulting from the more spectacular oil spills. Nevertheless, it has been estimated that some 40 per cent of all oil entering the sea is deliberately jettisoned when oil tankers flush their ballast water. The legislation now before the House seeks to prevent this source of pollution. Information available on the subject shows that prevention is imperative because there is no effective cure, even if a spill is notified, which occurs much less frequently than it should.

There are basically two methods of treating spills. The first method, which is favoured strongly by such countries as the United States of America, Canada and France, is the mechanical control and removal of the oil using collecting devices to scoop or skim the oil from the surface of the water. The problems with this method are many. It requires a calm sea state. Mechanical dispensers are ineffective in even average conditions. Also, the rapid spread and thinning nature of an oil spill militates against its mechanical collection. It has been estimated that within seven hours of a spill the oil film will be only 0.08 millimetres thick.

The second major method of dealing with spills is by chemical dispersal. This is the method principally favoured by Australia where our contingency plan is to provide low-toxicity chemicals and spraying equipment at nine points around the Australian coast. Of course these chemicals cannot be used near land because of their unfavourable environmental impact. Apart from these two methods, oil slicks may have to be left to biodegrade or even to come ashore if this will cause the least harm. When an oil slick is left untreated-as most are-about one third of the oil volume evaporates within 24 hours. While this limits the spreading slick, the remaining matter tends to form greasy lumps up to 5 millimetres in diameter which drop below the surface of the water and then take a very long time to bio-degrade. I understand that that is referred to as chocolate mousse. I would not wish to draw any analogy between that and the chocolate bavarian cream served in the parliamentary dining room. I certainly would not begin to suggest such an analogy for a minute.

It is difficult to overestimate the importance of the deep sea ecology. After all, it represents easily the largest single environment on earth. It is probably because it is so immense that we have felt up to now that we can get away with using it as the world's garbage dump. The popular misconception that oil and water do not mix and that therefore the deep sea environment is relatively immune to oil has prevailed until recently. Evidence now shows that hydrocarbons can reach the sediments of the continental shelf where they pose an immense threat to the world's fishing industry. Of course, this hydrocarbon invasion occurs from many sources, some of them not caused by man, but it is reasonable to assume that oil from ships supplies a significant degree of this pollution. This legislation will go a long way towards removing this problem.

I am pleased to see that these Bills offer some protection to the Great Barrier Reef, in that the term 'nearest land' is defined in the Convention as meaning, among other things, the outer edge of the Barrier Reef, and they provide that no operating discharge can take place within 50 nautical miles of the nearest land in the case of a tanker or within 12 nautical miles for other ships-this difference being intended to allow for the differing pollution potential between various types of ships. This might seem like small potatoes compared with the danger of actual oil drilling on the Reef but nonetheless it is certainly a move in the right direction.

Part III of the first Bill, which relates to pollution by noxious liquid substances, follows the same format as Part II, similarly defining duty to report discharges, the keeping of record books and penalties for false entries in these books. Noxious substances have been divided into categories according to the degree of environmental hazard they provide and the provisions on discharge into the sea vary accordingly. Part III will be deferred for three years as permitted by the 1978 Protocol of MARPOL, which was intended to ensure that participating countries had prepared adequate reception facilites for discharge. This section is also extremely important as these liquids, by their very nature, are almost impossible to recover once they enter the sea. Although this package of Bills only implement annexes I and II of the MARPOL Convention, I believe that they go a long way towards preventing this deliberate pollution of one of the world's greatest resources. On this basis, Mr Deputy Speaker, I commend these Bills to the House.