Thursday, 26 November 2015
Maritime Legislation Amendment Bill 2015; Second Reading
I thank Senator Fifield for drawing attention to my 'dulcet tones', even when I cannot read properly!
The Maritime Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 seeks to amend Australian maritime legislation to better align it with our obligations under new International Maritime Organization conventions. It also amends the definition of 'dangerous goods' in the Navigation Act. The bill changes four acts. Critically, it closes a loophole that potentially allows heavy-grade oil to be used as ballast in Antarctic waters, and it ensures that the Australian Maritime Safety Authority can take appropriate enforcement action against vessel operators who do not carry appropriate insurance certificates.
There are few things more important than ensuring that the legislative framework for protecting our environment is as effective as it can be, and this is especially so in the area of shipping. When accidents occur on the high seas the consequences can be devastating. For instance, in June 2007 the Pasha Bulker ran aground off Nobbys Beach at Newcastle during a severe storm. In March 2009 the Pacific Adventurer lost 30 containers overboard in heavy seas with one or more piercing the hull as they tumbled overboard. A year after that accident, the Chinese bulk carrier Shen Neng 1 ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef east of Rockhampton. Not long after that, the Liberian-flagged vessel Rena hit the Astrolabe reef off Tauranga on the North Island of New Zealand, spilling 350 tonnes of oil into the Bay of Plenty. The accident shut down New Zealand's export sector.
Consider the consequences if there were a major shipping accident in Antarctica, one of the few pristine environments left on the globe. It hardly bears imagining. That is why Labor will support the bill before us today. As much as we value and want to encourage the maintenance of a vibrant shipping industry, we regard environmental protection as a key role of government. We will always take a conservative view when it comes to balancing economic activity and the environment.
The bill seeks to amend Australian maritime legislation to better align it with our obligations under the new International Maritime Organisation conventions. It also amends the definition of 'dangerous goods' in the Navigation Act. The bill changes four acts. Critically, it closes a loophole that potentially allows heavy-grade oil to be used as ballast and it ensures the Australian Maritime Safety Authority can take appropriate enforcement action against vessel operators who do not carry appropriate insurance certificates. Labor can always be depended upon to support legislation that ensures that laws protecting our environment are fit for purpose. We support this bill because it is the right thing to do. I commend the bill to the Senate.
I assure Senator Fifield there will be no further singing, on the advice of my staff.
Winston Churchill said that if you have 10,000 regulations you destroy all respect for the law. We passed the 10,000 mark some time ago. Too much legislation goes through this place. Almost every aspect of our private life and our working day is regulated. On nearly every question of what is right and what is wrong, the government has introduced a law telling us what to do. As a consequence of this plethora of legislation, respect for the law is disturbingly low. I am a libertarian, not an anarchist, so I want government to be effective and the rule of law to be upheld. Because of that, I believe we need far less law.
The ceaseless churn of new legislation means that we end up with sloppy law. Bills go through this place that no one reads. Consider the bill before us today, the Maritime Legislation Amendment Bill 2015. I assert that no-one representing the government here has actually read it. To test this assertion, I ask the senator representing the minister to tell me what schedule 2 of the bill does, and I challenge the public servants who whisper in the senator's ear to answer from memory rather than look up the answer. I also assert that no parliamentarian has read the Maritime Legislation Amendment Bill 2015. Unfortunately, I cannot test that assertion because, as you can see, this bill is about to be waved into law through a virtually empty Senate chamber.
I have scanned the Maritime Legislation Amendment Bill 2015. It bans the use of heavy-grade oil as ballast in Antarctic waters. I oppose this provision on the grounds that there should not be special regulations just for Antarctic waters. The remainder of the bill removes supposedly unintended changes to maritime law made in 2012. This begs the question: how did unintended changes make their way into maritime law in 2012? The answer, of course, is that no one read the changes before they were waved through the parliament.
Those unintended changes made to maritime law in 2012 include: accidentally excluding certain waters of a state or external territory from bans on dumping; accidentally defining dangerous goods as those goods listed in a particular international code rather than a particular international convention; accidentally introducing requirements relating to insurance and pollution certificates that are impossible to enforce; accidentally referring to a division 3 rather than a division 4; accidentally inserting a non-grammatical sentence because someone forgot to type in an 'or' and did not bother to click on 'grammar check'; and accidentally directing readers to section 10(3) for a definition of a domestic shipping voyage, despite the fact that section 10(3) does not exist.
I believe that we should keep these unintended features of maritime law as a monument to all that is wrong with Canberra. Preserving these unintended and sometimes nonsensical features of maritime law for posterity will do no real harm but will serve as a reminder, like a corpse left hanging in a village square, of the consequences of lax drafting, absent oversight and excessive regulation.
I thank colleagues for their contributions. The nature of this part of the sitting week, as colleagues will appreciate but as might not be understood more generally in the community, is to deal with items of legislation that no individual senator or group of senators indicate that they have any issues with. Those bills are dealt with at this time of the day in recognition of the fact that they are, as we colloquially refer to them, non-controversial.
The operating premise is that the government, the relevant minister, has taken that legislation through the relevant processes of the government policy committee and the government party room. The operating premise is also that the opposition parties have gone through their own internal processes and that individual senators have had the opportunity to look at the legislation themselves. So that is the way that this particular part of the day operates. It is a mechanism to use well the available government business time in this place so that those bills that are of particular contention can be well ventilated and well debated, and those where there is essentially agreement can be dealt with in a way that is efficient.
Obviously, I take Senator Leyonhjelm's point that there are, on occasion, unintended consequences in legislation that do, from time to time, need to be corrected. Senator Leyonhjelm is doing and serving his role by reminding the government, reminding all senators, that we do have a duty and an obligation to pay close attention to legislation. I think one of the great benefits of the system that we have in this place is the Senate legislation committees, which look at a very large number of pieces of legislation in great detail. I think, if it were not for those Senate legislation committees, more of what Senator Leyonhjelm was referring to would happen.
I could suggest, and our colleagues in the other place might disagree, that perhaps there is closer attention paid, clause by clause, in this place and by the committees of the Senate than might be the case over on the other side of the building. But Senator Leyonhjelm does remind us of what our collective duties and obligations are in this place.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.