Sep 22, 2014

Second Reading – Marine Safety (Domestic Commercial Vessel) National Law Amendment Bill 2014

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (16:06): Governments ought to do whatever they can to remove onerous regulatory burdens that make it harder for citizens and companies to go about their business. It is a matter of getting regulation right. Business and life are complex enough without over-regulation. Regulation that is not necessary can be a hindrance to productivity and jobs growth.

One of my proudest achievements as the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport was the delivery of a single national system of laws governing the maritime sector. This was a breakthrough reform—the biggest maritime reform in a century when coupled with the rewriting of the Navigation Act after 100 years, the legislation supporting an Australian shipping industry. This package of legislation with regard to the maritime sector saw more reform occur in that sector than had occurred for many decades previously. It is absolutely vital. As an island continent, Australia relies upon our maritime sector, and too often—because by definition it is off the coast—it does not attract the same attention as our heavy vehicles sector, our roads or our rail sector. But it is absolutely critical for our national interest, for our environmental protection, for our national security as well as for economic growth.

This reform of having a single national maritime regulator through the Australian Maritime Safety Authority became law on 1 July last year. Previously, each state had its own maritime laws—a situation that burdened businesses with regulatory requirements that cost them time and money. In practical terms, it was the case that if you had a commercial shipping operator working in the gulf country between Queensland and the Northern Territory, where they were on the sea would determine whether their ship met the standards that were required by different jurisdictions. Indeed, where they were on the sea would determine whether the person in charge of the ship was permitted to do so, because he or she had to have the registration to undertake those activities in each of the states or territories where that work took place. The fact of circumstances such as the difference between the regulatory burdens placed upon the Gold Coast and Tweed Heads really shows how absurd that was.

Our nation certainly did not need that level of duplication and complexity. We are an island continent, and it simply made no sense to have these multiple jurisdictions. The former Labor government made elimination of regulation one of its main priorities. We delivered an ambitious agenda on reducing regulation, mainly by working with states through the Council of Australian Governments. In this space we delivered not just a national maritime regulator, but also a national heavy vehicle regulator and a national rail regulator. These reforms replaced 23 separate state and territory regulators through these national agencies. Together these changes were expected to save business in the order of $30 billion over just two decades. It took five years of negotiations with states and territories to deliver these changes. For every two steps forward there was one step back when we got to a ministerial council meeting, with particularly state bureaucracies defending their patches with regard to their own separate forms of regulation. It did not make much sense for heavy vehicles or for rail to have separate regulators, but it certainly made less sense when it came to commercial vessels on the blue water, where there are not boundaries that recognise the accidents of colonial history that are our state and territory boundaries.

The bill before us today retains the spirit of these national laws. It simply amends them to sharpen and clarify aspects of the legislation based on the experience of their operation. It was always envisaged that that would be the case. Therefore, the opposition will be supporting this legislation. It will allow the national regulator—the Australian Maritime Safety Authority—to exercise discretion when considering the suspension, revocation or variation of vessel certificates. The changes are designed to give the regulator greater flexibility to accommodate operational variables within the domestic commercial fleet. They also include minor changes relating to the definition of defence vessels, clarify the regulator’s functions, and allow for sub-delegation of powers in some circumstances. I have every confidence in the magnificent job that AMSA does. It is a fine organisation that serves this nation well, whether it be in dealing with defence related issues, with issues of environmental protection or in search and rescue operations. AMSA has shown itself to be well run at a board level, at a management level and at a workforce level. I was very proud to be a minister with responsibility for such an impressive, professional and internationally well-regarded organisation. These changes are non-controversial and sensible. We will be supporting them, and I commend them to the House.