Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler—Leader of the House and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (09:23): I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
On 3 April 2010, while traversing a well-known shipping route south of the Douglas Shoal in the region of the Great Barrier Reef, the Shen Neng 1 ran hard aground just east of Great Keppel Island.
The vessel’s grounding caused damage to the coral reef on the Douglas Shoal and there was a spill of oil.
The impact caused the ship’s fuel tanks to rupture and released approximately four tonnes of fuel oil into surrounding waters.
Fortunately, this oil spill was not severe and was broken down by the elements, chemically dispersed or contained and recovered.
While this incident was considered relatively minor, there was the potential for a significant oil spill.
If the salvage operation had been unsuccessful or the vessel had been more severely damaged as a result of the impact with the reef, the Shen Neng 1 incident could have resulted in a spill of up to 975 tonnes of heavy fuel oil and around 65,000 tonnes of coal causing significant environmental damage and requiring an extensive shoreline clean-up.
But the Shen Neng 1 is not the only example of environmental damage by a vessel in recent times.
A year earlier, on 11 March 2009, a Hong Kong China registered general cargo ship, the Pacific Adventurer, lost 31 containers of ammonium nitrate overboard east of Moreton Bay while en route to Brisbane from Newcastle.
The fallen containers caused damage to the ship that resulted in the loss of more than 270 tonnes of heavy fuel oil.
This oil impacted significant portions of the south-east Queensland coast, in particular the eastern and northern beaches and headlands of the Moreton Island National Park, the eastern beaches of Bribie Island, the beaches and foreshores of the Sunshine Coast and small areas of the Brisbane River.
The majority of oiling occurred on sandy beaches in areas that have high tourism and community amenity value.
Clean-up operations continued for two months, with a total of about 2,500 people deployed for the entire clean-up, including workers from many state and Commonwealth agencies and community volunteers.
At the height of the response operation 400 personnel were working on Moreton Island each day.
Approximately 3,000 tonnes of sand contaminated with oil was removed from Moreton Island.
Considering the size of the oil spill very small numbers of wildlife were affected but the potential existed for many birds, turtles and sea snakes to be injured or worse.
These two incidents highlight the impact that pollution from ships can have on Australia’s coastline and coastal waters.
At that time, I committed the federal government to improving safe navigation through the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
In April 2010 AMSA issued its report into the Shen Neng 1 grounding, titled Improving Safe Navigation in the Great Barrier Reef.
The report made four recommendations:
- Extend the coverage of the Reef Vessel Traffic Service (REEFVTS) to the southern boundary of the Great Barrier Reef,
- Strengthen regulatory arrangements including modernising the penalty and offence provisions available to the Commonwealth,
- Enhance navigational aids in the Great Barrier Reef, and
- Develop a whole of government management plan.
Since April last year we have implemented these recommendations.
On 1 July this year I announced the extension of the REEFVTS to the southern boundary of the Great Barrier Reef.
As part of the REEFVTS extension navigational aids within the Great Barrier Reef have been enhanced.
For example, the North Reef Lighthouse north of Gladstone has been refurbished with new vessel tracking equipment.
There is also a new under keel clearance management system for the restricted waters of the Torres Strait.
This technological advance will show the best times and safest speeds for vessels to move through the area, making sure that there is a minimum level of water beneath the keel at all times.
I understand this is the first time such a system has been developed for open water.
In developing a whole of government management response to prevent such incidents in the future we have re-established the Great Barrier Reef Shipping Management Group.
It has members from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, Maritime Safety Queensland, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Department of Infrastructure and Transport.
This group plays a vital role in monitoring the new safety measures.
Finally, the bill I am introducing today delivers on the last element of the government’s commitment at the time of the Shen Neng 1 grounding.
Large incidents are relatively rare however; the number of reported oil spills in Australian waters has averaged over 250 per annum over the last 10 years.
While the majority of these oil spills are relatively minor, the potential impacts of these spills on the maritime industry, the environment, the tourist and fishing industries and the broader economy needs to be recognised.
That is even before we consider the economic impact to some of Australia’s most important export ports.
Ninety-nine per cent of Australia’s international trade is carried by ships.
Our ports manage 10 per cent of the world’s entire sea trade.
$200 billion worth of cargo is moved annually.
There are over 25,000 voyages by ships to and around Australia each year.
All this means that we need strong safety regulations and penalties when shipping companies ignore their responsibilities.
This bill will:
- Create an offence for negligently operating a vessel in Australia’s waters in a manner that causes pollution or damage to the marine environment;
- Increase the level of penalty for failure to report by a ship in a mandatory reporting area such as the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park; and
- Increase the level of penalty for reckless or negligent discharge of oil or oil residues by ships in Australian waters.
There is a widely held view that Commonwealth penalties are too low to discourage violations.
Currently, Commonwealth penalties for incidents like the Shen Neng 1 and Pacific Adventurer are inconsequential when you take into account the economic capacity of modern shipping companies.
This bill will amend Commonwealth legislation to ensure that our regulatory regime is strong enough to provide sufficient deterrent for shipping companies and their crews from engaging in unsafe and irresponsible actions at sea, particularly near environmentally sensitive marine ecosystems.
Penalties for a corporation will be increased from $1.1 million to $11 million.
This brings Commonwealth penalties into line with the states.
This bill brings in changes that will have a significant positive impact on our environment by influencing better practice in navigation and vessel operation in Australian waters.
In April 2010, I stated that the government’s aim here is simple, that is—to further deter shipping companies and their crews from engaging in unsafe and irresponsible actions at sea, particularly near environmentally sensitive marine ecosystems.
That is the objective of this bill and I commend it to the House.