Senate debates

Thursday, 5 December 2019


Marine Safety (Domestic Commercial Vessel) National Law Amendment (Improving Safety) Bill 2019; Second Reading

12:19 pm

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Road Safety) Share this | | Hansard source

I present the explanatory memorandum and move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

As lawmakers, we have a duty to introduce legislation or amend existing laws when it is clear that regulations need to be improved. If we don't do this, we are failing the very people who elected us to represent them in this place. The sole purpose of the bill that I am proposing is to improve safety for passengers on domestic commercial vessels. The legislation that currently exists and that applies to domestic commercial vessels is not sufficient and if this bill was in place in 2014, the Mills family of Perth, Western Australia would not have tragically lost a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a mate and a beloved family member.

Damien Mills, aged 35, tragically died when he fell overboard while on a charter vessel between Rottnest Island and Fremantle on October 31, 2014. After her husband didn't come home that night or answer any of her calls, Damien's wife Nicole contacted police the next morning. His body was found soon after by a family on a fishing trip several kilometres off the coast of Fremantle.

In her report of the incident surrounding Damien's death, the state coroner found that had a proper head count of passengers been conducted by the crew, Damien would be alive today. Evidence provided to the Senate's Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee by WA Water Police also argued that had the crew of the vessel conducted a headcount when they got back to Fremantle, there was a good chance that Damien would have been saved.

It is an absolute travesty that proper headcounts were not conducted on that day, that no one realised that Damien was missing when the vessel got back or that the Water Police were not notified upon arrival that Damien was missing.

This is totally unacceptable.

I want to take a short moment to pay tribute to Damien's wife Nicole and his father Richard who have been tireless advocates for regulatory change to ensure that what happened to their Damien never happens again.

They are not asking for much—only that headcounts are conducted in an appropriate manner that will ensure that everyone who gets on a boat at the beginning of a journey gets off safely at the end.

That is not too much to ask.

At the moment, the legislation that exists and that is enforced by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), says that only one headcount of passengers must be conducted by the master of the vessel as part of their safety management system and that that headcount can be done at any time during a voyage. How does that possibly guarantee passenger safety?

This bill seeks to amend the existing legislation so that at a minimum, two headcounts are conducted on domestic commercial vessels other than those used for the purpose of public transport and that are more than 24 metres long. This bill proposes that one count occur at the commencement of a voyage and another at the end.

This will mean that if a headcount is conducted at the commencement of a journey and later someone goes missing throughout the duration, like in the unfortunate case of Damien Mills, the missing person will be detected by a count once the vessel docks.

A Senate Inquiry into the performance of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority was established in February 2019 after the family of Damien Mills raised serious concerns about the authorities' management of their case and AMSA's continued refusal to strengthen safety regulations for domestic commercial vessels.

The Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee has conducted a number of public hearings with AMSA, other law enforcement agencies and the Mills family throughout the course of the inquiry and remains concerned at the relaxed attitude of AMSA when queried about how safety for passengers on vessels can be improved.

I must also note my personal disappointment in the relevant Minister, Mr Michael McCormack who has been missing in action on this matter. The pleas of the committee and myself have continually fallen on deaf ears with Minister McCormack who still to this day refuses to engage and act.

AMSA have committed to look into how headcounts are conducted, however, they have in no way committed to enforcing a regulation of two headcounts and remain of the view that one is sufficient.

In lieu of this and the continued refusal of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority to enforce two mandatory headcounts for vessels other than those used for the purpose of public transport and that are more than 24 metres long. This Private Senators' Bill aims to amend the existing legislation to ensure that two mandatory headcounts are conducted therefore minimising the chance of this terrible incident happening again.

This bill isn't about more regulation. An extra head count will not impose any additional cost to a master's operation.

This is about safety and to ensure that no other Australian family has to endure the pain and anguish that the Mills family experienced in 2014 when their beloved husband, father and son Damien, never came home.

This is about amending legislation to improve safety for passengers on commercial vessels.

This is Damien's Law.

I commend the bill to the Senate.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.