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Thursday, 10 May 2018
Page: 2892


Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (13:16): I rise to support the Protection of the Sea Legislation Amendment Bill 2018. As an island nation, it's vital that we accept and meet our shared responsibility to care for the health of our oceans—from our responsibility as individuals, taking care not to litter our beaches or to throw rubbish overboard from boats, to our shared responsibilities as members of our communities, ensuring we prevent harmful substances entering the oceans as run-off from our farms and sewers. And there is our responsibility as a nation: Australia must always meet its responsibilities to collaborate in the forums of the world to improve international maritime regulations relating to pollution. It is in this context that the Labor Party will support the Protection of the Sea Legislation Amendment Bill.

This bill enacts Australia's international obligations regarding the way in which we treat pollution from ships. It puts the responsibility on shippers to classify and declare waste from their solid bulk cargos and undertake not to dump waste that is designated as dangerous to the environment. Further, it prohibits dumping of waste that is harmful to the environment in designated special areas, like the Great Barrier Reef, the Torres Strait, the Coral Sea and the Antarctic Zone.

The bill tightens the existing legislation to reflect Australia's commitments under the latest annexure of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, also known as MARPOL. MARPOL is a convention in the International Maritime Organization, and it came into effect on 1 March. The new rules classify pollution from ships as harmful if it poses an environmental threat. These are sensible changes. In a perfect world, we would never have to release any waste material into our oceans. However, we have to accept the reality that we do need to move cargo by sea and that this will inevitably involve the production of waste that will make its way into the ocean. This legislation, though, is a step forward because it bans the release of waste that is demonstrably harmful while allowing the release of relatively safer materials, so long as this is outside of areas that are designated as particularly sensitive.

This is a good outcome for Australia because, as an island nation, we move 99 per cent of our cargo by sea. Sea cargo is critical to our economic wellbeing because ships carry our mineral and agricultural exports to our customers around the world. But, at the same time, Australia has some of the most environmentally sensitive marine environments on the planet. These wonderful habitats attract tourists from around the world.

In the year to the end of February, 8.9 million overseas visitors entered Australia, and, between them, they spent $41.3 billion. Our tourism industry employs more than a million Australians, and we owe it to future generations to protect our environment. But we also owe it to ourselves to utilise these resources to create jobs and income. And the key in all of this is to get the balance right.

Another key interest for Australia in this bill is that the Antarctic region will also be designated as a special place. It's a sensitive environment and, in many respects, it remains unspoiled. Increasingly in recent years, cruise vessels have been taking tourists to the region. These provisions will reduce the tourism footprint by prohibiting vessels from releasing waste.

Australia has an excellent record when working with other nations in the world to improve international laws on pollution and maritime issues. Usually, our considerations in these areas have not been subject to partisan politics—and that is as it should be. This parliament has a responsibility to future generations to continue to play a central role in the protection of the environment. I commend this bill to the house.