Oct 21, 2011

Speech to AMSA 21ST Anniversary Charity Ball

National Museum of Australia, Canberra

Good evening, everyone and welcome to tonight’s celebrations.

In this ever changing 21st century, it is nice to look to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority as a beacon of stability.

For not only have you survived 21 long years, you are a thriving, internationally-acknowledged success.

It is therefore an immense privilege as Australia’s Shipping Minister, to be invited to speak tonight.

And indeed there is a lot to be proud of as we reflect on your achievements

I would like to start by recognising the important role shipping plays in this country’s economy.

We are the world’s largest single island nation and our ports manage 10 per cent of the world’s entire sea trade.

Each year we move $200 billion worth of cargo and 14,000 people are employed at sea or onshore.

As an island girt by sea, our coastal fringe and our pristine marine environments are paramount to the sustainability of our tourism industry.

Our coastal waters provide us with an abundance of seafood and world class recreational playgrounds.
We all associate with iconic names like the Great Barrier Reef, Ningaloo, Fraser Island, Sydney Harbour, the Great Australian Bight and Bondi Beach.

These are all part of our history, our shared identity.


For 21 years, AMSA has been at the forefront of protecting the safety of ships in our waters.

AMSA was born in 1990.

Since then, the world has been transformed by technology.

Its effect on the maritime industry has been profound.

In 1990, we communicated with ships via telex or HF radio on predetermined schedules.

Today, a ship master sailing anywhere on the world’s oceans has email at his or her fingertips.

Here in Launceston, the Australian Maritime College is home to one of the world’s best simulators to train students in coastal navigation.

Indeed it has become something of a tourist attraction with visits so far from Chinese, Japanese and American educators.

Simulators are also used to help with the task of loading cargo safely and effectively.

The development of sophisticated vessel tracking systems and electronic charts is revolutionising the way ships navigate our precious marine waters.

To provide increased protection for the Great Barrier Reef we have recently extended the multi-million dollar ship tracking system (REEFVTS) to cover the entire Reef.


In just 21 years, AMSA has grown to be a world-leading regulator and provider of maritime safety, and marine environment protection and response.

It also provides a first-class maritime and aviation search and rescue service.

With around 300 staff, AMSA might seem comparatively small, but it has large responsibilities.

Last Sunday, I was in New Zealand with AMSA staff who are helping the Kiwis manage their worst ever marine environment disaster.

Prime Minister John Key and Transport Minster Steven Joyce both acknowledged how critical AMSA’s advice has been.

It confirms what we already know – that AMSA’s salvage and environmental credentials are second to none.

AMSA’s maritime and aviation search and rescue services span almost 53 million square kilometres — about one-tenth of the earth’s surface.

AMSA manages Australia’s distress beacon database – with over 200,000 distress beacons registered to date.

It also manages a network of some 480 aids to navigation distributed along our coastline, oceans and reefs, including 58 heritage-listed lighthouses.

I spoke earlier about the importance of protecting our unique marine environment .

On average, 4,500 foreign-flagged vessels make more than 23,000 visits to Australian ports each year and AMSA controls all port and flag state inspections.

AMSA determines the conditions for the registration of ships in Australia and the granting of them Australian nationality.

It also issues marine qualifications to crew on Australian ships.

These considerable responsibilities will only growing bigger once AMSA becomes the national regulator for commercial vessels in 2013.


At the heart of all of these responsibilities is Australia’s commitment to the International Maritime Organization.

Australia is a founding member of the IMO and we have served on the Council for more than 40 years.

Our adoption and implementation of IMO Conventions is almost unparalleled.

As we move into AMSA’s third decade, this commitment will only grow.

We want to see the IMO remain strong, relevant and responsive.

This will be our focus when Australia stands for re-election in November.


As we all know a ship is only as good as its crew.

As an international workforce, seafarers are often away from home for months at a time, in unfamiliar territories with different cultures and languages.

AMSA is highly committed to the work of seafarers.
This is demonstrated through its Seafarers Welfare Advisory Committee and its occupational health and safety inspectorate function.

Tonight, we honour seafarers everywhere and pay special tribute to this Charity Ball’s beneficiaries:

  • Apostleship of the Sea Australia
  • The Australian Mariners’ Welfare Society, and
  • The Mission to Seafarers, Australia.

Providing on-the-ground support, these organisations are there for seafarers regardless of race, colour or creed.

They provide vital services – accommodation, transport, contact with their families by phone and the internet, counselling, spiritual support and scholarships to help seafarers further their careers.

These organisations rely heavily on donations to continue their work and are staffed predominantly by volunteers.

Their work is vital.

So, please join me in paying tribute to these organisations – may they continue to flourish.


It is now my great pleasure to launch AMSA’s commemorative publication The Second Decade.

Following on from The First Decade published in 2001, this publication provides an historical overview of AMSA’s achievements over the past ten years.

The Second Decade features a collection of vibrant photographs capturing the wide variety of AMSA’s activities.

AMSA’s achievements over the past decade are too vast to list in their entirety here tonight so I will confine myself to just a few.


After a comprehensive trial, AMSA introduced a risk-based approach to ship inspections.

This greatly improved AMSA’s ship and cargo safety programs which are now recognised internationally.

Protection of the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait

AMSA’s second decade also saw new measures to better protect the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait.

These include the Great Barrier Reef Shipping Management Group and the extension of the REEFVTS.

As well, there are improvements to navigation aids such as the new under keel clearance systems for the restricted waters of the Torres Strait.

Search and Rescue

On the search and rescue front, AMSA’s Rescue Coordination Centre began the second decade with largely manually operated systems.

AMSA has progressively updated these as technology evolved.

The years 2009 and 2010 were particularly challenging for AMSA in terms of the number and scale of incidents.

In this period, searches resulted in the rescue of 857 people in distress.

February 2009 saw one of the biggest changes in the international search and rescue system in years.

That is when the old satellite systems used to detect distress beacons stopped using the 121.5 MHz frequency.

To manage this change, AMSA undertook a widespread public information campaign — ‘Switch to 406’. Two and half years later, AMSA’s database contains over 200,000 registered 406 MHz distress beacons – true testament to the campaign’s success and continuing education programs.

Environmental Protection

At the start of AMSA’s second decade, a major review was completed of the National Plan to Combat Pollution of the Sea by Oil and other Noxious and Hazardous Substances.

A further review is underway.

Fortunately in the last 10 years Australia has experienced only a few major incidents – most notably the Pacific Adventurer , the Shen Neng 1 and Montara.

The highly-professional response to them shows the importance of the National Plan management arrangements between AMSA, the states and territories and industry.


Shipping Reform Package

Finally, I wish to take this opportunity to update you very briefly on our shipping reforms.

The Australian Government is firmly committed to steering our shipping industry out of the doldrums and reclaiming our place as a shipping, not just a shipper, nation.

Our fleet is down to just 22 Australian major trading ships – down from 55 ships in 1995.

As Shipping Minister, I aim to change the game.

It was a proud moment on September 9 when I released the Government’s shipping reform package – fulfilling our election commitment to revitalise Australian shipping.

What we are doing is creating an economic and regulatory environment that will revitalise and sustain growth and productivity well into the future.

The reform package is in the best interests of our economy, our environment and our security.

Australia must be a participant in global shipping, not just a customer.

An essential component of our shipping reform is the growth of a skilled maritime workforce.

Like many industries, our workforce is ageing.

The challenge is in place to attract young people into the industry from an extremely competitive jobs market.

These are clearly major challenges to address, but ones to which AMSA and the Australian Government are fully committed.

I thank AMSA for the helping hand it played in shaping what is the most comprehensive reform of shipping in our history.


AMSA has a remarkable history.

I congratulate you all here tonight – not just on this 21st anniversary of your establishment, but on the remarkable achievements to date.

The future for AMSA is very bright.

I’ll leave you with the words of that great mariner Captain James Cook…

“Do just once what others say you can’t do, and you will never pay attention to their limitations again.”

Thank you.