Tuesday, 28 March 2006
Maritime Legislation Amendment Bill 2005
Debate resumed from 2 March, on motion by Mr Lloyd:
That this bill be now read a second time.
upon which Mr Ripoll moved by way of amendment:
That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:“whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House condemns the Government for:
- failing to uphold Australia’s national interest by adopting anti-Australian shipping policies that favour foreign vessels and crew despite the risk to national security, Australian jobs and the natural environment;
- failing to ensure adequate security in relation to the shipping of dangerous goods and hazardous material, including explosives precursors such as ammonium nitrate; and
- failing to ensure ships comply with the requirement to provide details of crew and cargo forty-eight hours before arrival.”
Before the debate on the Maritime Legislation Amendment Bill 2005 was interrupted I was talking about the flag of convenience ships flagged in Antigua, with an unvetted foreign crew, carrying the highly dangerous cargo of ammonium nitrate from Newcastle to Gladstone. If that cargo was carried by road or rail, strict regulations would apply to ensure the safety and security of the Australian public. But there are no such controls when cargo of this type is carried into and out of our sea ports—none at all. The government allows foreign crews to work unchecked on our coastline, often for many months at a time—something that would never be tolerated in the land transport system, nor indeed in the air transport system.
This bill increases the amount of compensation payable for the damage caused by the spillage of oil from ships. Labor, of course, supports that measure. The bill makes provision for the establishment of a fund to supplement compensation when the full amount owed is unable to be obtained from the tanker owner. The fund is financed by a levy on the industry, and Labor supports that measure too. The bill significantly increases the limits on liabilities by about 50 per cent. This is consistent with the resolution of the International Maritime Organisation and it also has Labor’s support. The bill expands the definition of ‘plastic’ so that there is an absolute prohibition on ships disposing of incinerator ashes from plastic products which may contain toxic or heavy metal residues into the ocean. Again, this provision has Labor’s support.
When an industry is responsible for damage in the environment, that industry should pay for it. If the industry causes damage to our pristine coastline, it should be held responsible for the clean-up. I do not think that many would argue with this principle, and it is good to see it being applied in the industry. I look forward to the government increasing the fines and to the level of compensation being updated regularly, to keep the incentives strong for careful behaviour. I would like to see this principle applied to many other industries as well.
In this regard, I draw your attention to the commendable work of Robert Kennedy Jr in the clean-up and protection of New York City waterways over the past few decades. Robert Kennedy Jr is a son of assassinated Senator Robert Kennedy, and he was in Australia last year to talk about his work. The Riverkeeper movement, as it was called, was started on New York’s Hudson River in 1966, by a group called the ‘coalition of commercial and recreational fishermen to reclaim the Hudson River from the polluters’. It has been extremely successful in legal action against the polluters of waterways not only in New York but right across the USA. I note that Riverkeeper branches have started up in Australia.
Labor supports protection of the environment and is pleased to see that the maritime industry will be required to take greater responsibility for any environmental damage it causes. But while this is a commendable principle and has Labor’s support, I point out that the bill before us does absolutely nothing to strengthen the maritime industry in this country—absolutely nothing. It seems that that task is not even on the government’s radar. Yet government assistance to support the industry is very much needed.
Let me point out some unsavoury facts about the shipping industry in this country. Australian registered and crewed vessels have been steadily diminishing over the past 15 years, and flags of convenience vessels are prevalent on the Australian coast. Single-voyage permits and continuous voyage permits are issued to flags of convenience vessels where Australian vessels are not available. However, this provision is not monitored, is constantly abused, and available Australian vessels are regularly passed over.
Australia does not now have any vessels in the container line trade, apart from Bass Strait services to Tasmania. Australian vessels in the liquid natural gas trade to Japan are under threat, as is any involvement of Australia’s shipping in the flurry of new gas deals with China. In fact, Australian shipping has been reduced to its involvement with bulk commodities, like iron ore, coal, bauxite and gypsum, around our own coast. This means that opportunities for Australians in the maritime industry are severely restricted. Most potential and past merchant seamen are now forced to find work in the offshore oil and gas industry.
There is a real need for an Australian shipping policy. Without it, the industry will continue to wither. One wonders why any national government would willingly allow one of its fundamental industries to wane. It is simply irresponsible. It seems the Howard government is content to let Australian shipping simply disappear while exploited Third World seafarers work the vessels, entering our ports and transporting our cargo. It seems that the government is requiring that Australian seafarers either work for Third World wages or they do not work at all. This threatens the livelihood of our seafarers, and it seems to be a scheme in which the Howard government is shamefully complicit.
I mentioned a company called Destiny Abalone, currently located near Wallaroo in South Australia’s Spencer Gulf. In September last year, it made its Australian crew redundant and replaced it with a crew from China and the Ukraine. The purpose was simply to replace Australian seafarers with foreign seafarers on reduced wages and conditions. The replacement of Australian crews with cheaper labour on temporary visas is an issue that must be brought to the public’s attention. Of course, it has been recently, with workers being used in South Australia in the car industry and a whole range of other industries. Then there is the case of the Mawashi Al Gasseem, a Kuwaiti registered, 30-year-old livestock carrier. This vessel was retained for many months last year at Port Adelaide’s Outer Harbour, not far from where I lived. I could see it every morning. After being arrested by the fuel supplier OW Bunker over a $US700,000 debt, it owed its crew of 63 Filipinos and six Indians in excess of $US450,000 in wages.
The Maritime Union of Australia sought to stop the humiliation and the abuse of these Third World seafarers on this vessel. It obtained legal representation for the crew and had a caveat put on the vessel on the crew’s behalf. The vessel was eventually sold. As a result of the union’s work, the crew were paid the wages that they were owed. I commend the work of the Maritime Union, particularly the South Australian branch, which is located in my seat of Port Adelaide, and Jamie Newlyn for the good work on behalf of their seafarer colleagues. I also commend members of the local community who did so much to look after those seafarers. The effort took significant time and resources, but it yielded a very satisfactory outcome, although a lengthy one.
However, it remains a disgrace, an absolute bloody disgrace, that the government has allowed the shipping industry in this country to come to this. So far the only shipping industry policy the government has had—and I am sorry to say it this way—is to put the rottweilers on the wharves and lock out workers. This government has presented nothing in the way of support for the industry. It seems that there is only one strategy and that is to drive costs down, with a consequence of that strategy being to shut down the industry in this country and hand it over to foreign shipping owners and crews. We do not seem to have the same attitude to Singapore Airlines, do we? Why is that? It is a strategy that is driving the Australian shipping industry aground. Its future without sensible government support is bleak. That means that the futures of Australian families and communities, which rely on the industry, are also bleak. This is what is happening in the maritime industry today. Unfortunately, it is no good looking to the government for help. It is complicit in this arrangement to replace Australian workers with overseas labour. Australian shipping does not need a handout to survive. It can survive and thrive with just a fair go and with the support of a government showing some interest in the future.
The government’s preparedness to sell out Australian shipping is economically foolish. It is also very foolish on national security, and is yet another example of blind ideology driving the government, against all reason and against the national interest. We have a large coastline. It is very hard to monitor and defend. We were shown this weakness in our merchant navy. There was a failure to recognise the importance of what the merchant navy did in the Second World War. There was a blindness to the inability to effectively supply our troops in East Timor, even in recent years. It has not registered on this government at all.
I remember that the United Kingdom had a policy like this at one stage and almost abandoned its merchant navy. To its good fortune, it has seen the light and has again tried to encourage a strong merchant navy for the United Kingdom. We have not. We are geographically very isolated from many of our key trading partners and it makes no sense to me or to many Australians to be at the mercy of foreign shipping operators and to risk our national security because we are too lazy to bite the bullet as a maritime nation and have an effective merchant navy.
I call on this government to stop its destruction of Australian shipping and to work to develop a policy for the shipping industry to once again make the industry in this country strong. It is in our national interest. It is in our future interest. The lack of regard for shipping and the ignoring of the danger signs in a very complex world—and an even more complicated world over the last two or three years—are just beyond my comprehension. The ignorance is alarming. I would hope—although I see little hope, given the current attitude of this government—that something is done about the Australian maritime industry. It is not good enough, and Australians deserve better.
I am glad to have this opportunity to speak on the Maritime Legislation Amendment Bill 2005 because, as they do to the member for Port Adelaide, issues of maritime concern matter greatly to the great people of Port Melbourne, who form an iconic part of my electorate. Port Melbourne has been part of Melbourne Ports since Melbourne Ports became a seat—indeed, since Federation. Although the boundaries have changed, Port Melbourne has always been part of Melbourne Ports. Some may think the issues covered in this bill are not particularly glamorous, but it gives me a chance to talk about the important issues relating to the welfare of Australian seafarers and waterside workers, the health of the Australian shipping industry and some other questions of national security.
The electorate of Melbourne Ports has existed since 1901 and has been represented by a Labor member since 1906. This December, we will be celebrating a century of Labor representation in my electorate. In all of that time, the only suburb that has been continuously in Melbourne Ports is, as I said before, Port Melbourne. It is locally known as ‘the Borough’. It is a great honour to represent the fine people of Port Melbourne. As I polled 74 per cent of the two-party vote in the Sandridge booth in the 2004 elections, it seems they are pretty happy with me as their representative. Perhaps that is because issues affecting port are of very serious concern to me. Although the social mix in Port Melbourne has changed a lot over the years, it still has a core of people who make their living from maritime industries. Of course, all the people of Port Melbourne, regardless of their occupation, have a stake in the security of Melbourne’s port facilities, which are close to their homes, their workplaces and their schools.
This bill amends four maritime acts. Most of the amendments are not controversial, and Labor supports them. That is why we are not opposing the passage of the bill. But it is necessary to make some comments about this government’s administration of one of these acts, the Navigation Act 1912. The Navigation Act provides that the minister for transport may issue a single-voyage permit or a continuing voyage permit to an unlicensed ship to engage in trade between Australian ports, but only if there is no licensed ship available or if the service provided by the licensed ship is inadequate and the minister is satisfied that it is in the public interest to do so. The bill amends the act to remove the requirement for the minister to give six months notice of the intention to cancel a continuing voyage permit.
It is therefore relevant to this bill to look at how the current government has administered this act during a decade in power. When there is a coalition government, the transport portfolio has traditionally been the preserve of the National Party. Since this government has been in power, successive National Party ministers—Mr John Sharp; the current Deputy Prime Minister; the honourable member for Gwydir; and the current minister, Mr Truss—have been in charge of our transport system. So the current state of our transport system is a result of 10 years of National Party stewardship. I have to say that this is not something that inspires confidence within me or the electors of Melbourne Ports. This year we have watched day after day during the Cole commission a steady accumulation of evidence of the gross negligence—there can be no other expression for it, and even that is an understatement—of successive National Party trade and agriculture ministers responsible for the debacle in the AWB affair, a scandal that has cost Australia our valuable wheat market in Iraq. It is truly scandalous to hear Minister Truss say that paying commissions in the Middle East was quite a routine affair—‘normal’ were his words. His comments moreover ought to be understood in that context, as if Australia, who had been involved in a conflict with a regime which this government quite rightly described as evil, should not have taken special care to see that we were not in any way assisting the very regime in which the government had invested so much effort identifying as one of the most evil regimes in the world.
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 6.20 pm to 6.33 pm
As I was saying, the attitude of the series of National Party ministers in the transport portfolio does not inspire my confidence, particularly with the controversial issue of single-voyage permits. We have watched the behaviour of successive National Party trade and agriculture ministers exposed at the Cole royal commission every day. Earlier I mentioned Minister Truss’s claims about how normal it is to pay bribes in the Middle East, that I think infects their attitude to Australian shipping—in particular to the single-voyage permits.
The AWB affair has been spoken about very seriously by many people, but I think there has been nothing as witty as a very short letter that appeared in the Melbourne Age, which imitates the metier of the great American comedian Jackie Mason. I will read it for Hansard readers’ amusement and for members of this House. The government’s attitude to the AWB scandal can be summarised as follows, according to David Cameron Staples of Elsternwick:
It wasn’t illegal. It was illegal, but no one could have known. People could have known, but it wasn’t as if they should have known. People should have known, but they didn’t. People knew, but they didn’t tell anybody, or they told the wrong people. The right people were contacted, but too late. The right people were contacted years ago, but did not think it was serious. It was thought serious at the time, but no one told the ministries. The ministries knew, but no one told the ministers. The ministers knew, made notes to tell someone and thought no more about it, and this vindicates everything that has been claimed so far.
I think that Vaile/Truss gobbledegook and incessant contradiction summarises neatly the attitudes of National Party ministers to this ‘wheat for weapons’ scandal. It is indicative of their attitude to the Australian shipping industry and single-voyage permits in particular. How can we go on entrusting the security of our ports, the safety of our port communities and the protection of our maritime environment to a party which has been responsible for the greatest scandal in this country for decades?
As the shadow minister, Senator O’Brien, said in his second reading contribution on this bill, the Howard government’s administration of coastal shipping under the Navigation Act has been a shambles. This was revealed in an article in the Australian last year, from which Senator O’Brien quoted. The article revealed that a compliance review of coastal shipping permits had been conducted by KPMG in October 2004. This report delivered a scathing assessment of the government’s performance and revealed that one in six coastal shipping permits was being granted without a signed application form, which means the department risked granting a permit based on a bogus or unauthorised application.
It is astonishing that, 4½ years since September 11, the Australian government still permits such a slack system of shipping regulation—one that clearly places Australia at increased risk of attacks by maritime terrorists. The United States has spent hundreds of millions of dollars making its ports and shipping routes secure against terrorist threats. In Australia, by contrast, we have a government that still allows the Department of Transport and Regional Services to issue shipping permits in response to unsigned applications. Bodies such as International Maritime Security have been warning for years that al-Qaeda and its regional affiliates have penetrated the international shipping industry, an industry which has been marked by dodgy operators concealing their real identities behind a facade of dummy companies and flags of convenience.
Australia’s vulnerability to a terrorist attack is greatly increased by permitting foreign ships to sail from port to port, allegedly for domestic purposes, without, as we now know, even lodging a signed permit form. Under this government, foreign ships, including those under flags of convenience whose real origins and ownership are unknown, are being authorised to carry LPG and dangerous chemicals such as ammonium nitrate into Australian ports.
The fact is that this government often has no idea what ships are entering Australian ports. The KPMG audit revealed inadequate financial controls, which means that the government is often unaware of fraud or other irregularities in licence or permit applications. It revealed poor record keeping, meaning that the data relating to more than 20 per cent of approved licence and permit applications was ‘absent or incorrect’. The KPMG audit further revealed that existing regulations are out of date or do not reflect current operating procedures. In the current security environment this is simply not acceptable. It will certainly not be acceptable to people who live and work in port communities, like those in my community or in that of the member for Port Adelaide, whose safety is being put at risk by this government’s negligence.
The carriage of dangerous goods like ammonium nitrate by foreign ships must stop now if Australia is serious about minimising the threat of terrorism. It should be clear to everyone that the safest way to transport such dangerous goods around Australia is on Australian ships crewed by Australians and subject to appropriate security screening. Secure ships and secure seafarers mean better protection for the Australian community. The Howard government has not only allowed a great expansion in the number of continuous voyage permits issued to foreign ships; it has also left Australia vulnerable to the threat of terrorism through its refusal to properly regulate the coastal trade.
I now turn to some of the industrial issues raised by this bill. It is not news that this government is hostile to the Australian maritime industry and those who work in it. We remember the efforts of the former minister for industrial relations to destroy the livelihoods of Australian maritime workers. It is interesting to observe, in the Port of Melbourne, that many members of the MUA, so denigrated before, are now shifting cargo at incredibly fast rates. The box rate through Australian ports is very high. But the trickle-down effect of the microeconomic benefit of higher productivity with less labour like this has not been seen by anyone. All that has increased since the changes arising out of the government’s brutal dockside intervention is the rise in the share price of firms like Patricks.
While maritime workers are shifting an incredible number of containers through Australian ports, the cost to importers and exporters of containers continues to go up. So the only benefit from this microeconomic reform has not gone to the wider Australian economy or to the trickle-down effect to importers and exporters and therefore to the public but to the share prices of Patricks and P&O.
In other areas of maritime concern it seems that little has changed. Under the navigation, coast and trade regulations, single and continuous voyage permits are only supposed to be issued when a licensed ship is unavailable and the minister for transport is satisfied that it is in the public interest to do so. The KPMG report found that the government has frequently breached the regulations by failing to establish if a licensed ship is available before issuing a permit. It is notorious that many unlicensed foreign ships granted single or continuous voyage permits do not pay their crews Australian wages when trading on the Australian coast, and that foreign flagged ships of convenience undercut Australian wages and conditions. I suppose the analogous situation would be to allow truck drivers going up and down Highway 1 to be paid at Filipino or Sri Lankan rates. That is an exact extrapolation of what the Australian government is permitting along the Australian coast at the moment.
The Liberal-National government’s maritime behaviour is in marked contrast, I might say, to the United States, which does not permit any of this kind of activity with its coastal trade. The Howard government has presided over the near destruction of the Australian coastal trading fleet, while allowing foreign shipping companies to use substandard vehicles and engage underpaid workers. This government must do more to fix the deficiencies in maritime security, which have been well known for several years. Australia depends to a greater extent than most countries on seaborne trade, and we are adjacent to a region where terrorist groups have maritime capabilities. In particular, there is that well-known al-Qaeda hub in the south of the Philippines. It is no longer acceptable that the administration of our shipping system is in the hands of these National Party ministers who, in my view, administer control of Australian transport in this wholly inadequate way.
The Howard government’s record on Australian shipping is a disgrace and it should hang its head in shame. The zealots on the other side of this parliament have all but destroyed the Australian shipping industry. I ask: why? There is only one answer to that question: it is driven by an ideological hatred of the Maritime Union of Australia. Every decision the Howard government takes in relation to our shipping industry, which is vital to the prosperity of our nation and vital to a sound economy, is driven not by what is the best or most beneficial approach or by what is going to take Australia forward. Rather, it is driven by its hatred of the MUA.
You only have to listen to the contributions made to this debate on the Maritime Legislation Amendment Bill 2005 by government members to see this hatred and the union-bashing approach to shipping. On the last day that this piece of legislation was debated in this chamber, I listened to the member for Blair. The whole of his speech was directed towards rhetoric attacking the MUA. To my way of thinking, that is not a positive approach. That is not looking at building a vibrant shipping industry. Rather, that is a very negative approach that is designed towards destroying an industry rather than seeing it prosper, grow and benefit the nation that it is there to serve.
This has been to the detriment of Australia. As has been said many times in this debate, particularly by people on this side of the House, Australia is an island nation. In the past, Australia has been noted for its maritime expertise. Internationally, we have Australians working in the maritime industry and they are highly respected for their knowledge and professionalism. Yet what do we have? We have the Howard government constantly undermining this Australian industry that provides jobs for Australian workers—an Australian industry for Australian workers.
The Howard government’s approach to shipping is very different to the approach that is being adopted overseas. For instance, the UK have appreciated the importance of a strong national shipping industry. They believe that this is important from the point of view of onshore and offshore activities. There has been considerable effort made in the rebuilding of the industry because of the benefits that it provides to the nation. Within the European Union there has been a commitment to the shipping industry, including a commitment to developing the skills of the industry. Compare that to what is happening in Australia and you will see why we should hang our heads in shame.
The industry has been undermined by the Howard government through the skyrocketing numbers of continuous voyage permits and single-voyage permits—CVPs and SVPs—that have been given to overseas flagged ships. These ships do not have to meet the Australian standards. Their crews are paid at a lower rate than that of Australian seafarers. This has undermined the shipping industry in Australia. The Howard government’s shipping policy is not driven by the national interest but rather by hatred for the MUA.
The US has a very different approach to shipping to the approach that the Howard government has adopted. A letter that I have received from the Maritime Union of Australia highlights the commitment of the US government to a strong merchant navy. The US government argues for a strong merchant marine and Jones Act fleet to ensure that the US has a world-class vessel to meet sea lift needs and that it has expert and experienced seafarers to crew the US government’s organic surge in sea lift ships in times of national emergency. Its policy is to have a US industry crewed by US seafarers in times of national emergency—think about that. It has a modern shipyard industrial base that is critical to the nation’s security and makes intermodal transport systems available for defence use through the Voluntary Intermodal Sealift agreement. This approach has had the support of a number of US presidents, the most recent being President George Bush. In 2004, he said:
The United States needs a maritime policy tailored to 21st century needs. Programs that have contributed to the growth of our domestic fleet, such as the Jones Act … should be maintained.
That is a very different approach to that adopted by the Howard government—an approach that has seen CVPs and SVPs issued to international operators flying flags of convenience with crews that do not have to pass the same security tests as crews of Australian ships. I believe that this is placing at risk not only our shipping industry but also the safety of our nation and our environment.
I will return once again to the letter I have in front of me. It goes on to talk about the guidelines, how they are being abused in the issuing of the CVPs and SVPs and how the permit system—this is a little bit of history—was introduced as a reform. At that particular time it had some support, but, unfortunately, this is a system that has been abused. It has weakened our industry and has resulted in a system that I think has all but led to the destruction of our maritime industry here in Australia.
I think we only have to look back to September 11 to see the importance of ensuring that we have a shipping industry operating in our Australian waters that is secure and that we can be confident will operate in the way that we would like it to for both security and environmental reasons. There are serious concerns about port security which have surfaced both nationally and internationally. These concerns have been addressed by nations by ensuring that there is a pool of their own nationals with marine skills and expertise.
Here in Australia we have adopted a different approach. We have embraced the CVP and the SVP and we have supported a contraction of our shipping industry. The current tax and regulatory system favours foreign ships and foreign crews. This has been put to me in evidence to the Standing Committee on Transport and Regional Services, that I am a member of. Shipowners have mentioned that in that context. Shipowners in Australia are also very concerned about the destruction of our Australian shipping industry. So on the one hand we have shipowners concerned about the destruction of the industry and on the other hand we have the Maritime Union concerned about the destruction of our shipping industry.
This bill makes amendments to the Lighthouse Act, the Navigation Act 1912 and the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act 1983. It makes a number of amendments to the Navigation Act, including revising the pilotage provisions to provide for compulsory pilotage in areas specified by regulation, revising provisions relating to reporting of ship movements and revising the requirement for six months notice before the minister can cancel or continue a CVP. There are increased penalties for major offences that pose a threat to life. You cannot disagree with most of the amendments that are included in this legislation. But, more importantly, I support the second reading amendment that has been moved which holds the government to account for failing to uphold Australia’s national interest by adopting an anti-Australian shipping policy, one that favours foreign vessels and crew despite the risk to national security and jobs.
I mentioned a little bit about the CVPs and SVPs and how they are very contrary to the national interest. When the former member for Shortland the Hon. Peter Morris was in this parliament, he chaired the committee that brought down the ships of shame report. That report very graphically identified the problems that exist within the industry, where you have these flag of convenience ships traversing up our coastline with unskilled crew from unknown origins with questionable levels of competency.
A couple of years ago I visited one such ship in the Port of Newcastle. It was a Maltese flagged ship—I think it was the Angel III from memory. It had a Greek captain and a Burmese crew. All the signs on the ship were in English or Greek and none of the Burmese crew could speak a word of English or Greek. Other occupational health and safety signs were also not in the language of the crew and I was very concerned about the treatment of those crew members.
Some reports have been prepared and delivered. The report Ships, slaves and competitionand the former member for Shortland was the chair of that committee inquiry—looked at shipping from an international perspective. Former Minister Sharp and Peter Morris were involved in those reports. Each of those reports came up with similar recommendations that showed that the current system was not working. It was not providing the protection that we in Australia would expect and it was leading to the destruction of our shipping industry. It was being driven by the government of the day not because we do not need a shipping industry but simply because they do not like the MUA.
Single-voyage permits have enormous implications for port security, particularly in such times as we are in now. Unlike members of the government, I really do value the contributions of our Australian seafarers. I know that they are committed. I see the member for Blair enter the chamber; I did refer to your contribution to this debate little earlier. I was quite critical of your anti-MUA comments and your failure to come to terms with the real issues that surround the shipping industry. I do believe that it is in Australia’s interests to have a vibrant shipping industry, one that includes all the professions, all the trades, all the expertise and skills that are needed to achieve that.
I think I should mention the KPMG compliance review of coastal shipping completed in October 2004. It was quite a scathing attack on the government. It showed that there are many problems associated with the way this industry is operating. This particular report was leaked and revealed in the Australian on 18 July 2005. It is a damning report of the Howard government’s handling of the Australian shipping industry, the administration of coastal policy, the licensing, and the permits for foreign vessels. Once again, it goes to the way this government is driven not by the best interests of the nation but rather by its philosophy.
The report demonstrated that there were inadequate financial controls, that the government was unaware of fraud, that there were errors and irregularities relating to licences and permits and that there were poor records. Those poor records resulted in one in five approved licences and permit applications being made in the absence of correct information and with existing regulations out of date. What this says to me is that the process in relation to these CVPs and SVPs is in chaos. If the government is serious about what is best for Australia it will make a commitment to our Australian shipping industry. It will ensure that we have Australian flag ships. It will ensure that we understand the ownership trail of two particular vessels and it will not issue any CVPs or SVPs without having the proper information. I implore the government to embrace the shipping industry. I implore the government to address these real issues. I implore the government to make a decision to support our shipping industry and to move away from these CVPs and SVPs which, I believe, are placing the security of our nation at risk. They are placing our environment and our pristine coast at risk.
I conclude by mentioning the MV Wallarah that used to take coal from Catherine Hill Bay to the port of Newcastle. It is now operating in the waters surrounding Australia. It is a Tongan owned ship and sails under the flag of a different nation. It is very sad when an Australian built and owned ship is now part of the fleet of another nation. The government stands condemned for its policy. (Time expired)
in reply—I appreciate the opportunity to sum up the debate on the Maritime Legislation Amendment Bill 2005 and I thank those members who have made a contribution, including the member for Blair, who is in the chamber today, and the members for Oxley, Batman, Newcastle, Melbourne Ports, Port Adelaide and Shortland. There is one thing I would like to say in response to the comments by the member for Shortland. She claimed that government members do not value the contribution of the Australian men and women seafarers in our shipping industry. Nothing could be further from the truth. This bill illustrates the Australian government does care very much about the safety of the men and women who work in our shipping industry. When one listens to those opposite one would think they had hands-on experience—
I seek your indulgence, Mr Deputy Speaker Scott. Would the minister be kind enough to allow the member for Brisbane to make a short contribution prior to his summing up? I have just been informed of his great desire to do so.
I appreciate the leave being afforded to me. I thought there were some other speakers on the speakers list for the Maritime Legislation Amendment Bill 2005 prior to this point. I discovered only a few moments that that was not the case. The Australian maritime industry is incredibly important to Australia as an island nation. It seems to me that for too long it has been chronically undervalued—I suspect partly because of other agendas and ideological pursuits. It concerns me that the current government have, through a series of policies, devalued that industry.
Recently, I had the good fortune of visiting some folk in the United States and talking to them about the maritime industry and the way in which security issues are dealt with in maritime circumstances. I raised with them a concern I and others on this side of the parliament have about the government’s willingness to provide flag of convenience ships with single-voyage permits on an all too regular basis and with little regard for or knowledge of who owns the vessel, how it is crewed or, indeed, who the crew are. Identity checks are scant, and security checks are virtually non-existent. In spite of government regulations requiring ships to provide cargo manifests and crew manifests, ships come to our ports without doing that. You could not do that in the United States. In the United States, ships are required to stand off. Coastguard then intercept them either by boat or from the air.
Further to that, there is concern not just with the trade that is plied but with what is carried. I commented in an earlier debate about concerns—I will not go through them now—about the carriage of potentially dangerous material such as ammonium nitrate and the examples we have seen of that. There is an interesting comparison here. When you ask people in the United States how they deal with the security threat posed by flag of convenience ships picking up ammonium nitrate in one domestic port and taking it to another domestic port, they look at you rather quizzically. When you pursue it, they say: ‘Of course, it does not happen here. You cannot have a foreign ship and carry cargo from one port in America to another port in America.’ The laws of cabotage apply. The idea of single-voyage permits was something quite foreign to the people in the United States whom I met with a couple of weeks ago and discussed this very topic with.
Single-voyage permits in the Australian context, with our comparatively small merchant navy, fulfil some useful role when properly applied. However, the history of single-voyage permits in recent years is that they have not been properly applied. They have been handed out with gay abandon and with little regard to either the security environment that we now operate in or the long-term interests of Australia and the need for us to have a strong and viable maritime industry.
The Maritime Legislation Amendment Bill 2005 deals with one aspect of the maritime industry, which is important and in large measure non-controversial. But I take this opportunity to call on the government to reassess their approach to Australia’s maritime industry. At this moment, as we speak in the parliament, elsewhere in another committee room a hearing is being conducted into the shipbuilding industry and its importance to Australia. It is vitally important. Shipbuilding goes hand in glove with our requirements as an island nation—the capacity to maintain, design and construct ships on our land. Also important is our capacity to have well-trained, highly qualified mariners—people who are seafarers of good repute. Australia’s seafarers are held in the highest regard around the world.
Earlier this month I had the opportunity and pleasure of talking with people from the International Maritime Organisation. There is no doubt that the professionalism of Australian seafarers is acknowledged around the world. Sadly, it does not get the recognition it should from this government. So I take this opportunity to strongly urge the government to reassess its approach to the maritime industry and to take on board the importance that the industry holds for Australia and the need to nurture it and to ensure that Australian crewed ships are once again able to properly conduct trade around the coastal shipping lanes. In other countries that is done as a matter of fact, but here in Australia it is regarded very often by those opposite as some cardinal sin of economic theory. In fact, it operates without a problem in the greatest capitalist economy in the world. I suggest to those opposite that it would operate here equally well.
Finally, I urge those opposite to provide some genuine respect for those Australian seafarers who, it seems to me, are better recognised abroad than they are here by our own government. That is a terrible slight on very professional seafarers. It has been my pleasure to meet many of them over the years I have been in this parliament. I found them all to be of the standard that people such as those at the International Maritime Organisation expect as well. I, again, thank the minister for his consideration in allowing me to make that contribution.
by leave—As I said earlier, it is a great pleasure to be able to sum up on the Maritime Legislation Amendment Bill 2005. I have thanked the members who made a contribution to the debate on this bill. I was referring to comments by the member for Shortland, who said that the government does not value the contribution of the Australian men and women who work as seafarers around the Australian coast. As I said, nothing could be further from the truth, and this bill shows that we are very concerned about the safety of maritime activities around the Australian coastline.
If you listened to the members opposite, you would think that they had a monopoly on understanding men and women who work in very difficult conditions not only around the Australian coastline but also around the world. I am very pleased to be able to report to the Main Committee that I was a card-carrying member of the Firemen and Deckhands Union and then a member of the Merchant Service Guild, having spent many years working on vessels in Australia. In fact, the largest vessel I commanded as first officer and master was a 224-foot vessel with a crew of 28. I was on board that vessel for some five years, so I have a hands-on knowledge of the importance of training young men and women in safe seafaring. I have also spent time at sea in some very rough conditions on a marine research vessel handling heavy winches and steel cables and the dangers that go with that. Also I had the experience of falling overboard in failing light in rough weather conditions some miles off the coast of Queensland. Fortunately, I was picked up by that vessel and I am here to tell the tale today. I wanted to put that on the record for those opposite who stand there with their pompous hand-wringing and complaining that government members do not understand real work, seamanship and caring about people. The Australian government members do have a wide range of experience and understanding.
Thank you, Cameron. In summing up the bill, in recent years industry and other stakeholders have pressed for changes in a number of areas of shipping regulations to address what they see as outdated safety and environmental protection legislation. This bill addresses some of those concerns. In amending four acts, the bill will strengthen the legislative regime surrounding shipping, safety and maritime environment protection and will modernise and enhance penalties for safety and environmental offences.
A number of the amendments were specifically referred to in the second reading speech and during the debate on this bill. The only amendments which I will mention now are the new subsections 386A(2) and (3) to be inserted into the Navigation Act. These subsections set out offences that are similar to dangerous driving offences. There will be an offence under the new subsections only under exceptional circumstances. Such an offence will occur if a seafarer is under the influence of alcohol or another drug or is in breach of his or her duty or if the seafarer operates a ship in a dangerous manner and, as a result, there is actual or likely death or injury to a person or damage to a ship. There are graduated maximum offences, depending on the consequences of the action, with the highest offence applying where a person dies.
The Australian government is committed to ensuring that Australian shippers have access to internationally competitive shipping. In providing shippers with access to competitive shipping, we are committed to enforcing the highest standards of safety, security and environmental protection. This bill continues the government’s efforts to set appropriate standards, and I commend the bill to the House.
The original question was that the bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Oxley has moved as an amendment that all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The question now is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.
Question agreed to.
Original question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
Ordered that the bill be reported to the House without amendment.