May 10, 2018

Hansard – Protection of the Sea Legislation Amendment Bill 2018, Second Reading – Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (10:19): I rise to support the Protection of the Sea Legislation Amendment Bill 2018. Jacques Cousteau, perhaps the greatest oceanographer of the 20th century, once despaired that the sea and the air had become ‘global garbage cans’. Cousteau also described the sea as the great unifier. He said that, when it came to the health of the ocean and its impact on people, all of humanity was in the same boat. He was right. When the seas are polluted, we all suffer. Other species, of course, in our oceans suffer directly, but the entire globe suffers. That is why it is so important that we accept and meet our shared responsibility to care for the health of our oceans. It’s why we established the largest ever growth in marine parks and protection of our oceans when we were last in office, a reform tragically reversed by a short-sighted coalition government. It is why it is so important that we accept and meet that shared responsibility that we have to care for the health of our oceans.

We can do this in several ways. As individuals, we must take care not to litter our beaches, throw rubbish overboard from boats or, indeed, put things into the system of drainage that end up, quite often, in our oceans. As members of the community, we need to prevent harmful substances entering the oceans as run-off from our farms and other industries. It is a fact that, if you go into any major city around Australia and look at where the factories were located, they were always on water. In my electorate, along the Cooks River, you had everything from flour mills to sugar producers to industrial factories. The reason why they were located along rivers, canals and creeks, of course, was that they were seen as areas for free waste disposal by industry. That has had an enormous impact on the quality of the water in our urban waterways but also around our coasts and our ports. We know better today, but we need to make sure that legislation points the way forward with the modern understanding that we have that the accumulation of garbage and waste in our waterways has an impact on all of us.

As a nation, Australia must always meet our responsibility to collaborate in the forums of the world to improve international maritime regulations relating to pollution. It is in that context that Labor will be supporting 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. Australia has been an active participant in the International Maritime Organization. When I was the minister, I directly addressed the international conferences of the IMO, because Australia is an island continent with responsibility for such a large proportion of the world’s oceans and seas—some one-sixth. Think about that: one in every six square kilometres of the world’s oceans and seas is Australia’s responsibility. That is why it is critical that we keep up with those international obligations and that Australia continue to lead on these issues.

In simple terms, this bill puts the responsibility on shippers to classify and declare waste from their solid bulk cargoes and to undertake not to dump waste that is designated as dangerous to the environment. It also prohibits the 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. When many people think about pollution from boats, I suspect they think of oil spills or garbage thrown overboard, but a lot of the pollution from ships is linked to the shipping of bulk cargo: unpackaged homogenous goods like iron ore, coal, sugar, wheat and livestock. The pollution comes about through operational or accidental events during loading, unloading, cleaning or oil spills. For example, when a tanker carrying bulk goods unloads a cargo hold and is cleaned, it can release between 60 and 100 tonnes of cargo slurry—water which contains residue of the load. Most big tankers have five loads. That’s a lot of potential pollution. It’s estimated that 0.05 per cent of any given solid bulk load will be lost overboard one way or another. That’s about 2.15 million tonnes a year. The waste can also include dead livestock—a matter of real concern, given the horrific revelations that have been made about the deaths of sheep being shipped to the Middle East.

This bill seeks to place restrictions on whether such material can be released into the ocean and, if it can be released, where it can be released. It 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 of the International Maritime Organization—which came into effect on 1 March. The new rules classify pollution from ships as harmful if it poses an environmental threat by affecting the health or reproductive systems of plants or animals, including by causing cancer or mutations. These new rules mean this material cannot be dumped at sea. Some waste that is not designated as harmful may be released; however, this legislation quite rightly prevents it from being released in designated special areas such as the Great Barrier Reef and the Torres Strait.

The changes create a requirement for shippers to classify and declare their solid bulk cargoes as either harmful to the environment or not harmful. They will then be required to inform the master of the vessel carrying the cargo. This is about introducing responsibility chains to make sure that people are accountable. The master of the vessel will then determine the appropriate manner of discharge of the waste according to whether the ship is inside or outside one of these designated special areas. For example, while cargo residue not deemed harmful to the environment must not be dumped in designated special areas, it can be released in other places as far as is practicable from land. 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 need to move cargo by sea and that this will inevitably involve the production of waste that will make its way into the ocean. What we should do, however, is absolutely minimise it—do everything within our power to ensure that we protect our oceans. This legislation is a step forward because it bans the release of waste that is demonstrably harmful, while allowing the release of relatively safer material so long as it is outside of areas that are designated as being particularly sensitive.

This is a good outcome for Australia. As an island continent, 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. Ships also bring us consumer goods that people rely upon and take for granted, including motor vehicles.

But at the same time, Australia has some of the most environmentally sensitive marine environments on the planet. These wonderful habitats are not just environmental assets; they are, of course, economic assets. They attract tourists from right around the world. In the year to the end of February, some 8.9 million overseas visitors entered Australia, and between them they spent $41.3 billion. Tourism Australia has conducted surveys asking visitors their key reason for choosing Australia as a destination. Putting aside practical concerns like safety, the key reason given by visitors was Australia’s aquatic and coastal experiences. The main reason tourists say they come to Australia is our coastline and marine environment. This tourism industry employs around about a million Australians, large numbers of whom are located along the Great Barrier Reef coast. 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. The key 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 area. It’s a sensitive environment and, in many respects, it is unspoilt. 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 of the world to improve international laws on pollution and maritime issues. We have always been members of the International Maritime Organization, and we play an active part, including through our High Commission in London. Usually our considerations in these areas have not been subject to partisan politics, and that is as it should be. We have a national interest here as a parliament, as representatives, as good global citizens, to make sure that Australia’s national interest is protected. This parliament has a responsibility to future generations to continue to play a central role in the protection of our environment. I commend this bill to the House.