Maritime Legislation Amendment Bill

In commencing my contribution to the Maritime Legislation Amendment Bill, I indicate that I reject and am offended by the suggestion by the senator at the table, the Parliamentary Secretary for Defence, that this is a filibuster. I remind the minister that I have been here a long time through previous Labor and Liberal governments. This last four years has been the most restrictive period of speeches and contributions to debate that I have seen in the long time I have been in this parliament. All this week we have had bills guillotined, with the Greens joining the Labor Party to cut off speeches. Mr Acting Deputy President, you are aware that government documents, all those literally thousands of documents which are promulgated by government and government agencies each day and by necessity brought into this chamber so that they can be scrutinised, have been removed from

Senator Feeney: Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. I ask that you draw the speaker to the subject matter before the Senate.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Fawcett): There is no point of order.

Senator MACDONALD: I am simply making the point that, when you try to debate a bill, all you get from the government is accusations and attempts to interrupt. We have not had a chance to even look at Government documentsof which there are thousandsduring the last two or three weeks, showing that this government has no interest in parliamentary democracy. That is why I intend to take my full time in addressing aspects of this bill. Out of courtesy to the minister and his advisers, I indicate that I do want to go into committee and, for the advisers' benefit, I indicate that I do want to explore the provisions of subsection 267ZZI (1) to (5) and perhaps other aspects of the bill. As Senator Joyce has said, the coalition will be supporting this because it does have some attraction as to the benefit to the Great Barrier Reef and it follows on from a lot of other federal government legislation to protect the Great Barrier Reef. When I start looking at the legislation in a bit more detail, I find there are some aspects of it which cause me great concern. So I want to find out whether the stakeholders were consulted and I want to make sure that my understanding of what is a quite complicated piece of legislation is correct, as I might have amendments to move in relation to those aspects once I get the answers from the minister.

This bill, as was said in the second reading speech and by Senator Joyce, came to light as a result of two incidents involving vessels in the Great Barrier Reef area. One was the Sheng Neng 1 incident, where almost a thousand tonnes of heavy fuel oil and around 65,000 tonnes of coal caused significant environmental damage and required a very extensive shoreline clean-up. The other one involved the Pacific Adventurer, which lost 31 containers of ammonium nitrate overboard in Moreton Bay, not quite the Great Barrier Reef area but, of course, this legislation is Australia wide and not confined to the Great Barrier Reef and of real concern is the protection of all of our fairly pristine waters around Australia. The waters around Australia are not terribly productive waters, from a marine mammal and fish point of view, but they are, by world standards, very pristine and we want to keep them that way.

So this legislation arose out of those two particular incidents and out of a report by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority which made four recommendations. One was to extend the coverage of the reef vessel traffic service to the southern boundary of the Great Barrier Reef. Another recommendation was to strengthen regulatory arrangements, including modernising the penalties and offence provisions. A further recommendation was to enhance navigational aids in the Great Barrier Reef area. The fourth was to develop a whole-of-government management plan. Senators will probably tire from hearing me say this but I will continue to say it because I am very proud of this fact: I live in that part of Australia which is adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef and over my lifetime I have been out there fishing and I have helped small businesses who have made a real contribution to tourist numbers in Australia by their work on the Great Barrier Reef, so I know it is a fabulous living thing that must be nurtured.

Senator Feeney interjecting

Senator MACDONALD: I know the minister is not interested in the environmental protection of the Great Barrier Reef, but I am sure the Greens political party will be speaking on this bill, which is very important. As I was about to say, the Great Barrier Reef is worth saving, this bill is an element of doing that and it follows a lot of very significant environmental legislation introduced by Liberal governments in the past. Who can forget that it was the Fraser Liberal government that first introduced management plans for Fraser Island, at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef Who can forget that it was Liberal governments that established the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Who can forgetalthough some on our side remember this only too well and not all that favourablythat it was a Liberal-National party government that introduced the green zones of the Great Barrier Reef, perhaps the most significant step forward in looking at protection of the Great Barrier Reef.

If you read former Senator Richardson's book, Whatever It Takes, you will understand what this is about. Senator Richardson said, quite rightly, over the Labor years it was about whatever it took to stay in power and, at the time former Senator Richardson was around, the thing that was required to stay in power was environmental concern. The Labor Party have never had any interest in the environment but 'Richo', former Senator Richardson, told them that if they wanted to win elections they had to look like they were doing something for the environment. So they talked a lot about it and they brought in some silly things. But the significant environmental protections that have ever happened in Australia have occurred at the times of Liberal-National party governments and that is particularly the case with the Great Barrier Reef. So this legislation is simply another step forward in protecting the Great Barrier Reef.

Before I get on to the detailed provisions of the bill, I want to mention that it is not just as to the sea that we protect the Great Barrier Reef; we do protect the Great Barrier Reef by many other ways. One of the ways that the Great Barrier Reef is being protected is by an activity called Reef Rescue. It was a program that the Howard government had been working on and we had been providing money to farmers and coastal landholders to encourage them to act so that nothing they did impacted on the Great Barrier Reef. This legislation is about spills of oil and things being carried on ships but many would say there is a greater danger to the reef from what happens on the land. Prior to the 2007 election, the Liberal and National parties made a commitment to the Australian people that they would introduce a program called Reef Rescue. From memory, I think we promised $250 million to go to natural resource management groups along the Great Barrier Reef coast who would then go out and work with farmers and landowners to minimise damaging run-off to the reef. I have to say, to the Labor Party's credit, they also adopted our policy and actually put in a bit more money. From memory, I think they offered about $400 million. But it was a policy initiated by the Howard government and taken up by the Labor Party, and I am pleased about that. I give credit where credit is due.

Reef Rescue has given land managers the incentive and skills needed to act now and more than 1,700 landowners have been engaged in 2,755 different on-the-ground projects to help with Reef Rescue, which is being organised by a group of coastal natural resource management groups called Reef Alliance. As the alliance says in its report on this program:

In some cases change was achieved with cashthrough co-investment with land managersgiving people the incentive to update their machinery, infrastructure or management techniques. In many cases projects were already on the drawing board, but the availability of a grant some of this $250 million or $400 million made them a reality much sooner.

Risk assessments, farm plans and training enabled people to expand their skills and knowledge. Developing technical skills, gaining expert advice, understanding scientific knowledge and chatting with peers at field days have all been vital to achieving on ground change. Many landholders now have a clearer picture of how to run their business in a sustainable and I would emphasise profitable way.

Whether they were achieved through grants or training, the resulting changes in land management are having a tangible and immediate impact

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Macdonald, I draw your attention to the fact that, whilst this may have an association with the legislation before us, it is not directly related. I draw you back to the subject of the bill.

Senator MACDONALD: Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. As I was saying, the work being done has a tangible and immediate impact in reducing run-off at the farm level into the Barrier Reef. Many would indicate that that is perhaps a greater problem for the Great Barrier Reef than accidents at sea. I support anything that assists the Barrier Reef, whether it be Reef Rescue or this legislation. But, as is typical with the Labor Party, you have to be very careful about legislation that they bring forward.

I note that a strict liability offence is created in clause 269E so that no intention is necessary for the offence to be committed. This makes it clear that in prosecuting an offence under the proposed act the prosecution does not have to establish that the master knew of or was reckless about the fact that the ship was in a mandatory reporting area. Perhaps this is appropriate, as a ship's master is very often best placed to provide evidence as to whether this section was contravened. Nevertheless, many of us on this side of the chamber as a matter of principle have concerns about the creation of these strict liability offences. In some cases it is difficult for a master or somebody in a position of responsibility to account for all of the issues that he is responsible for at any given time.

Mr Acting Deputy President, you might recall, as I am sure other senators will recall, debates in this parliament about proposals to introduce strict liability offences for aircraft captains in circumstances where they could not possibly be expected to be able to take responsibility for what happens. There was a big issue at the time about strict liability offences for airline pilots. Again, legislation introduced by this government, no matter what its intentions, is always pretty light on detail and management. But there was quite a substantial debate on that. I think the legislation was blocked in the Senate, if my memory serves me correctly. Eventually those proposals were defeated.

I just mention that to say that there is always a bit of a concern about strict liability offences. But this is a different circumstance. The strict liability in this bill is only in relation to an offence where a vessel is in a mandatory reporting area, and perhaps a vessel that is in a mandatory reporting area like the Great Barrier Reef is usually there for quite some time. It would seem incomprehensible that a master could have any excuse for not knowing that he was there or not undertaking the mandatory reporting processes. As a general principle, there are concerns about strict liability offences, but in this instance perhaps it is relevant.

I also want to draw the Senate's attention to the provisions of the bill that place quite substantial requirements in many instances. I am just pausing to get my notes in relation to the particular offences that I wanted to mention to the Senate and which I want to raise in the Committee of the Whole. I note that there is a provision about Australian ships causing pollution or damage in the marine environment outside Australia. That is in proposed subdivision C of the bill. Section 267ZZK provides that the proposed subdivision C applies to all ships, including those generally excluded by section 2, from the operation of the Navigation Act. The following subclause provides that a master of an Australian ship must not operate the ship in a negligent and reckless manner that causes pollution or damage to the marine environment in seas beyond Australia's territorial sea or EEZ. That is an interesting provision.

When I was the minister for fisheries in the Howard government, our government put a lot of work into trying to regulate provisions that would protect the rare Patagonian toothfish. With a lot of effort and the engagement of new vessels to enforce Australia's law, we were able to clear out pirates who were pillaging the rare Patagonian toothfish stocks within Australia's waters and our EEZ. But on the high seas it was not that easy. I know of a number of instances where Australia, France, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada looked very seriously at what the world could do to regulate shipping on the high seas. It is easy to regulate it within the exclusive economic zone of any country, but it is much more difficult of course on the high seas. There is a United Nations convention on the law of the sea that in some way mentions that, but the difficulty in enforcing anything on the high seas is fairly obvious. So I am interested in how Australia can legislate for Australian ships on the high seas causing pollution. I am intrigued to find out in the committee stage how that will apply.

There is also another matter that I want to explore further in the committee stage, and that is the involvement for the very first time first time of fishing vessels in these sorts of laws. These laws have in the past applied to the big tankers carrying lots of oil and various items that could in fact have caused major damage to the Great Barrier Reef and other parts of Australian waters. But, for the very first time, this legislation seems to involve fishing vessels, and that is what I want to explore in committee.

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