MARINE SAFETY AMENDMENT BILL 2008
Agreement in Principle
Debate resumed from 5 June 2008.Debate resumed from 5 June 2008.
Mr ANDREW FRASER
(Coffs Harbour—Deputy Leader of The Nationals) [5.25 p.m.]: I lead for the Opposition in this place on this bill. In doing so I commend the shadow Minister in another place, the Hon. Duncan Gay, for doing his job with the legislation, which is consulting the stakeholders. Despite the fact that many changes in the legislation are welcome—
Mr ANDREW FRASER:
I hear the member for Drummoyne say "good". We have seen deaths on the harbour in the past 12 months. We have seen deaths caused by boating up and down the coast—members from the North Coast probably see them all too often, especially when the seas are rough. It amazes me that the Government has taken so long to address these issues. The point I was coming to is that the Minister has not consulted properly or widely enough on this legislation, but I will come to that later.
We welcome the fact that, for example, authority will be conferred on officers to direct people in relation to marine safety. One of the greatest problems we have had on the North Coast is people going out in unsuitable weather or trying to cross a bar that is impassable, and doing so against the advice of locals and others who have told them to take notice of weather reports and weather conditions. These people, often without knowledge of local waters if they are tourists, ignore all the advice and take a boat out. In doing so not only do they put themselves in danger but they also put in danger volunteers from the volunteer coastal patrols and the volunteer rescue associations, the water police especially, and the maritime services people who rescue people when their boats are disabled, dismast or overturned, or when they come to grief in some way on the water. This legislation will enable an authorised officer to direct a person not to leave port or to direct a person, for example, to have proper safety equipment aboard the vessel.
Although we have had safety equipment regulations for pleasure boats and other vessels for many years, they have not been enforced properly or strongly enough. Consequently, accidents happen. In recent years the diving industry in Queensland has experienced tragedies. As a result the diving industry has moved to regulate itself so that divers are not left behind or lost. Despite all the incidents that have occurred in general boating, on Sydney Harbour especially, the Government has been very slow to react and introduce safety regulations. As I said, we welcome a large number of provisions in the bill. The fact that penalties will be increased is definitely a move in the right direction and welcome. Often, the only thing that people who enjoy the waterways in recreational vessels understand is that their boats can be confiscated or they can be hit with a large fine.
The alcohol provisions will be enforced in a similar way to road safety provisions. The number of people involved in boats accidents who have high blood alcohol readings is surprising. Traditionally, boats are used for leisure activities and it is part of the Australian culture that social occasions often involve alcohol. In the same way that people have learnt that alcohol and driving a motor vehicle do not mix, people have to be educated that driving a boat and consuming alcohol do not mix. Many people still get picked up for driving a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol. Boat owners who drive whilst intoxicated put not only their lives at risk but also those of their passengers.
Regulations regarding overcrowding of vessels are also welcomed. However, we must ensure that the regulations are enforced. The legislation is complex and the Opposition believes that its enforcement will be difficult. The shadow Minister pointed out to the Minister for Ports and Waterways that he has allowed his budget to be cut by 4 per cent at a time when he has expressed dismay about the dreadful accidents on Sydney Harbour. He purported to listen to commercial fishers and others about how the accidents occurred and inappropriate behaviour on the harbour but people who navigate that waterway for a living are fearful for their own safety and the safety of others on their vessels, especially on the fishing fleets. The Minister is reported in the media as claiming that night patrols have increased from 6 per cent to 15 per cent in the last six months and night patrols have increased by 150 per cent.
He told Parliament on 4 June that those patrols had been increased by 100 per cent. I do not know whether he is deliberately trying to mislead—he has a reputation for doing that—or whether he is trying to beat his breast and say that the Government is doing a great job. At the end of the day he had to apologise because he lied about the increase in surveillance on the harbour when he was taking day patrols and putting them on to night patrols. One cannot shift resources from day to night; it is ensuring the safety of people who utilise our waterways, especially Sydney Harbour because it has had tragic boat accidents of late.
When the Queen Mary 2
and the Queen Elizabeth 2
visited Sydney Harbour I went down to have a look and the number of pleasure craft out on the harbour was amazing. It is important to ensure that there are sufficient resources to cover such events while not limiting other shifts, especially shifts at night, when the tragic incidents have occurred. Another great Aussie tradition is watching the start of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race. An enormous number of pleasure craft are on the harbour and quite a few carry passengers well affected by alcohol, though I hope this is not the case with the masters of the vessels. I commend the authorities for doing such a great job in controlling the melee on the harbour with such scarce resources. I turn to a provision in the bill that relates to pilotage, which I believe the Minister has not responded to properly. The pilots have consulted with the shadow Minister, and I read their concerns onto the record. They state:
The issues pertain to reducing safety standards and qualifications and therefore increasing risk to commercial and recreational port users and infrastructure:
Section 36. The removal of the Pilotage Exemption Certificate and replacing it with a Local Knowledge Certificate significantly reduces safety standards as the practical training, assessment and annual auditing (which is carried out by Marine Pilots) will be removed and the Local Knowledge Certificate will be granted after time served and a written exam passed (See also section 75)
Section 74: Why have regulations that insist on a compulsory Pilotage system then grant exemptions from that for no reason? This will lead to commercial pressures to be placed on Harbour Masters and Ships Masters to undertake tasks that severely compromise the safety of shipping in the ports. We have to ask why would a ship have to be moved without a pilot? The Minister has a responsibility to supply a pilot.
The definition of movement needs to be spelt out. Surely moving in and out and around a port without a Pilot present a great safety risk. As pilots we would accept this clause if it specified that a vessel wanted to shift up and down a wharf without tugs. Any other movement should have a pilot on board as per the regulations.
That is a valid criticism and I ask for a reply from the Minister at the table or the Minister for Ports and Waterways, if he intends entering the Chamber for the debate; maybe he is still trying to work out numbers on electricity privatisation. The pilots need answers.
Mr Geoff Provest:
The Pasha Bulker
did not have a pilot.
Mr ANDREW FRASER:
That is right. It may have been a great tourist attraction in my hometown of Newcastle—and I had a look at it—but it cost this State a hell of a lot money, not just in time spent in refloating it and guiding people around Nobbys and the top end of Newcastle but in the Minister's huge food bill for his pizzas and for his media conferences while he was in Newcastle. I understand a number of small businesses suffered badly after he left the area. I return to the bill. These are important questions. The pilots also state:
Section 85: The Harbour Master possesses regulated maritime safety powers and functions yet there is no requirement in this bill for any formal Marine qualification for a Harbour Master. The Harbour Master should possess an Australian Master Mariners certificate of competency or one that is recognised by AMSA.
Pilots make these simple requests and the Minister should provide a response. If not, the Opposition reserves the right to amend the legislation in another place. These safety concerns are of great import, especially for large vessels. The bill refers to vessels of 30 metres. How was that arbitrary figure arrived at? I do not profess to understand the nuances of large commercial shipping in port areas. The majority of my concerns in relation to recreational boating up and down the North Coast and other areas in my electorate have been addressed in the bill.
Once again, I challenge the Government and the Minister for Ports and Waterways to explain how he proposes to increase the level of safety when the budget has been cut by 4 per cent. I ask the Minister at the table, the Minister for Emergency Services, and Minister for Water, or the Minister for Ports and Waterways to respond to the concerns of the pilots that have been raised with me by the shadow Minister. Those concerns were brought to him when he conducted the necessary consultation regarding the bill. The Opposition will not oppose the bill in this House but we ask the Government and the Minister to accept our amendments or, alternatively, propose amendments to cover the concerns of the pilots and therefore increase safety on our waterways.
Mr NINOS KHOSHABA
(Smithfield) [5.40 p.m.]: I support the Marine Safety Amendment Bill 2008. Navigation safety is an important issue and the majority of people who go boating act responsibly. The value of the boating industry is estimated at more than $2 billion annually and boating and other on-water activities are both a source of leisure and employment for many New South Wales residents. The bill promotes navigation safety in New South Wales with new and increased penalties, including jail terms and fines, for dangerous navigation, overloading a vessel, endangering public safety, and driving while disqualified.
I commend the new powers for New South Wales Maritime and water police officers to direct skippers and enforce boating safety laws in addition to suspend registrations when vessels are found operating outside the law, such as where they are unsafe, overloaded or when operating at night with insufficient lighting. In particular, I note the strengthening of provisions relating to commercial vessel standards and crewing provisions, safety of public ferry wharves and a range of improved enforcement measures. The bill introduces a new scheme for issuing survey certificates for commercial vessels. Under the new scheme vessels used commercially will be required to have a survey certificate or comply with the regulations relating to design, construction or equipment.
In addition to the new scheme for commercial vessels the bill introduces amendments to allow the adoption of the National Standard for Commercial Vessels. It also allows the regulations to reference standards to be published on the Internet. Together these amendments will promote flexibility by allowing the adoption of only those sections of standards and codes that are relevant to New South Wales operating conditions. The progressive development of the standard is a national initiative that provides a common national standard and it will make the adoption of national standards both quicker and easier. The bill authorises the making of regulations for commercial vessel construction, design and identification, inspection, survey and other matters and will also authorise appeal and review provisions in the regulation.
Additionally, changes allow adoption of the National Standard for Commercial Vessels in relation to commercial vessel crewing. Together these provisions will improve safety and assist to promote maritime business activity in the State. The bill also promotes safety of public ferry wharves by enabling New South Wales Maritime to require reports on the condition of public ferry wharves and by providing for regulations to be made about wharf inspections, methodologies and procedures, and general requirements for public ferry wharves. These legislative initiatives are to be supported by a package of other measures aimed at promoting navigation safety. For instance the Government has announced an increase in the number of night patrols by New South Wales Maritime's boating service officers. In particular, night patrols will focus on enforcement in relation to vessel lighting. This is to ensure that vessels have adequate lighting in accordance with the applicable international regulations, known as the Collision Regulations.
Additionally, the Government will adopt a zero tolerance approach to defective vessel lighting. Under this approach vessels with inadequate or non-functioning lights will be required to be removed from the water and, in these cases, vessel registration may be suspended until evidence is provided that the defective lighting has been repaired. In 2006-07 more than 41,000 vessels totalling 19 per cent, or almost one in five, of all registered vessels were pulled over by a New South Wales Maritime boating officer for a random safety check. Compliance rates from those spot checks over the past year were 91 per cent, which indicates boaters are generally being responsible. The initiative that supports these measures is the provision of a general safety-based direction giving power to New South Wales Maritime and New South Wales Police Force officers.
This power will enable authorised officers to, for example, direct a master of a vessel to refrain from entering an area being used for a special aquatic event, such as the swim leg of a triathlon, or direct a vessel to shore if it is carrying insufficient life jackets. The level of enforcement and improved licensing already in place, together with measures I have highlighted, will assist to promote safety on New South Wales navigable waters. I commend the bill to the House.
Mr GEOFF PROVEST
(Tweed) [5.44 p.m.]: I am 100 per cent for the Tweed. I do not oppose the Marine Safety Amendment Bill 2008 that was introduced by the Minister for Ports and Waterways, Mr Joe Tripodi. The bill seeks to improve the safety of vessels and users on New South Wales waterways by amending the Marine Safety Act 1998. It is a response to several accidents on Sydney Harbour over the past couple of years, the most recent being the horrific crash with a fishing trawler near Bradleys Head last month, which saw the loss of six young lives. Before that tragic incident a motorboat driver died on Sydney Harbour when his vessel flipped while travelling at high speed. Late last year five people lost their lives after a ferry crashed into their wooden cruiser.
The bill introduces a number of key changes to current legislation governing marine safety in New South Wales. It introduces the same penalties for offences on waterways comparable to offences committed on roads, such as dangerous navigation that results in death or bodily harm. It will bring about greater consistency with blood and alcohol level requirements. It will introduce also a new marine safety licence and perhaps most importantly it will give New South Wales Maritime and New South Wales Police Force officers greater powers to give direction orders and maintain safety on the water.
I feel that this last point is of particular importance. Recently I accompanied four waterways officers on the Tweed River for eight or nine hours. I compliment them on their dedication and commitment not only to their duty but also to the wellbeing and safety of all waterways users. The visit was on a Sunday, perhaps the busiest time. During the day a number of infringement notices were issued. I saw many safety issues such as parents taking young children on the back of unlicensed jet skis and behaving in a fairly hazardous manner. Later in the afternoon near Murwillumbah we came across a vessel that was freeboarding, towing a surfboard. When the occupants, both middle aged, saw us they attempted to escape. When we approached the boat we saw seven or eight empty stubbies rolling around on the bottom of the boat. Clearly, the occupants were intoxicated. The officers pointed out to me that at that time their only power was to send the two men to shore, radio police and wait for them to turn up. The police turned up about an hour later as they had been very busy. Schedule 1  and  refer to interstate licence holders. Schedule 1  and  refer to specific powers given to officers. Section 96 of the Marine Safety Act states:
The Minister may appoint, as an authorised officer for the purposes of the marine legislation, any person (including a class of persons) who is a member of staff of the Maritime Authority
Giving New South Wales Maritime officers extra powers will mean that they do not have to wait an hour for the police to arrive; they can enforce the law. I was very impressed with the actions taken by the officers on the Tweed River. The amendments will give New South Wales Maritime staff much-needed powers to deal with offenders much more quickly. It will also free police officers from having to attend to such matters.
Water safety is a major issue in the Tweed. The bill could have gone further and dealt with a number of other issues. A very significant anomaly currently exists. Until late last year novice drivers from Queensland could drive with a blood-alcohol level up to 0.5 per cent. Over the last year Queensland waterways have introduced a maximum speed limit of 40 knots, yet in New South Wales the speed limit is unlimited on certain enclosed waterways. A significant amount of the Tweed River has an unlimited speed limit. I asked the Minister for Ports about introducing a maximum speed limit on the Tweed River, and perhaps all New South Wales waterways, but he advised that he is not considering doing so.
More jet skis are owned in south-east Queensland than in the whole of New South Wales. With unlimited speed limits jet skis are a constant source of irritation and maritime staff hold grave concerns that there will be a serious accident unless a maximum speed limit is imposed. It is not uncommon for Queensland jet skiers to make the trip across the border and use the Tweed River. This results in even more traffic on what is already an extremely busy waterway. It also means that there is more risk of water safety regulations being violated. Any legislation that increases the safety of our waterways has my approval. I am happy to support the bill.
Ms ANGELA D'AMORE
(Drummoyne) [5.51 p.m.]: I support the Marine Safety Amendment Bill 2008. Enforcement is a top priority for both New South Wales Maritime and the New South Wales Police Force. Officers work day and night to enforce boating safety. In the last six months New South Wales night patrols by boating service officers have gone up by 150 per cent in comparison with the corresponding period last year. I commend the work undertaken by the boating service officers and the Marine Area Command police who conduct patrols of our waterways. I am sure that honourable members value the fact that last year over 46,000 random safety checks of all kinds of vessels were conducted all over New South Wales by government agencies working together to improve safety on our waterways.
The proposed amendments reinforce the good work of these patrols and support the safety culture that is so important to the users of our waterways. The bill provides the legislative basis for a wide-ranging review of navigation safety requirements for recreational and commercial boating activities in this State. It represents the most comprehensive review and improvement of marine safety legislation since the introduction of the Marine Safety Act in 1998. The bill provides boaters with a new safety package of tougher penalties, new offences, and stronger enforcement of laws on our waterways. In particular I note the complete revision of the provisions dealing with alcohol and drugs for persons operating both commercial and recreational vessels.
The current provisions dealing with alcohol and drugs, while generally similar to the alcohol and drug provisions of the Road Transport (Safety and Traffic Management) Act 1999, do have significant differences for police officers and the courts that have to apply them. The bill will substantially increase the consistency of the alcohol and drug provisions of marine and road transport legislation so that police officers and the courts will be able to more quickly transfer their experience with road transport related provisions to the circumstances of commercial and recreational boating. This will also improve the ability of the alcohol and drug provisions applicable to boating to be explained to, and understood by, the boating public—an extremely important provision. These changes will improve the efficiency of the administration of the alcohol and drug-related provisions of the Marine Safety Act and in that way improve safety.
The bill also introduces increased penalties for dangerous or negligent navigation for seagoing vessels and for other craft. It provides for increased penalties for unsafe, overloaded or unregistered vessels and for creating dangerous vessel wash or otherwise endangering public safety on the water. The changes to the current penalty for negligent, reckless or dangerous navigation that results in death or grievous bodily harm have been made so that they too are consistent with the penalties for similar offences on the roads. Importantly, the bill will introduce an imprisonment term for reckless or negligent navigation resulting in death or grievous bodily harm. The Crimes Act contains equivalent offences for dangerous driving or dangerous navigation occasioning death or grievous bodily harm.
My electorate contains a large area of Sydney's waterways. I know that the vast majority of boaters do act safely and within the law. Evidence shows that the compliance rate is over 91 per cent across New South Wales and 94 per cent on Sydney Harbour. My electorate has 38 kilometres of foreshore and four boat ramps, which are all currently undergoing major upgrades by our council from State Government allocated funds. Local recreational boaters use the boat ramps, as do many people from the outer west. These provisions will go a long way to assure families that there are strong provisions to protect our loved ones when they are out on the waterways.
Finally, I refer to the new section to enable regulations to be made for the full adoption in New South Wales of the Australian Builders Plate scheme. The Australian Builders Plate is a national initiative developed through the National Marine Safety Committee, which comprises representatives of all Australian maritime administrations. A central requirement of the Australian Builders Plate scheme is that it should apply at the point of sale or supply of a recreational vessel so that members of the boating public considering the purchase of a new boat have important relevant information available to them: for instance, compliance with relevant standards; the limitations applicable to the use of the boat, including the number of passengers allowed and size of motors; and the buoyancy characteristics of the boat. It is essential that this information is available to the public at the point of sale of recreational boats. The proposed amendment will enable regulations to ensure that is the case. The measures I have highlighted will assist to promote navigation safety on New South Wales navigable waters. I commend the bill to the House.
Mr ROB STOKES (Pittwater) [5.56 p.m.]: Parts of the Marine Safety Amendment Bill 2008 are a long overdue legislative response to recent tragedies on Sydney Harbour. The bill will improve the safety of all New South Wales waterways and improve the efficiency of administering the Marine Safety Act 1998. As a member representing electorates surrounded by waterways, including Cowan creek, Broken Bay, the Pittwater, the Tasman Sea and Narrabeen lagoon, I am very aware of the need to ensure that our waterways are safe from people driving or sailing boats in a negligent manner. Most people who enjoy our waterways for recreation are safe, competent and experienced, but there are a number of hoons out there.
A good mate of mine from Mona Vale Surf Club, Peter Lever, was in a surfboat a few years ago on the Pittwater when a small tinny came along and collided with his surfboat. The tinny landed on top of him and he ended up with both calf muscles being split from the weight of the tinny. My sister-in-law and her two young children—aged one and four years at the time—narrowly escaped serious injury when she literally picked them up and jumped off an exploding boat. Boating is an inherently risky pastime or profession and we need to ensure that it is appropriately regulated so that safe, competent and responsible sailors are protected from hoons, drunks and people who just do not know boats.
For several years the Government has known of the need for increased focus on negligent navigation. One of my constituents from Warriewood, Captain Tom Hughes, Justice of the Peace, an experienced skipper, master and engineer for more than forty years, wrote a warning to the State Government prior to the Pam Burridge
tragedy—which resulted in the deaths of four people, including Dr Alan Blinn also from Warriewood—warning that a failure to display navigation lights was a serious and real risk on the harbour. The inquiry into the Pam Burridge
collision subsequently confirmed that a failure to display navigation lights was a major element in that tragic collision.
I welcome the new focus on dealing with negligent navigation, but note that it should have occurred some time ago. I have noticed in Pittwater, and I am sure other members have noticed in their communities, that sailing boats, sadly, are gradually being replaced by power boats and that power boats are getting bigger. Ironically, often, the bigger the power boat, the less capable the skipper. There are 3,641 moorings in the community of Pittwater. Averaged on a 10-metre boat, New South Wales Maritime collects more than $2 million per annum from boat registrations and mooring fees. The Department of Lands collects funds from permissive occupancies all over Pittwater. Given that the structures on submerged crown land are the property of the Crown—because the Department of Lands issues licences, not leases—any collision between a craft and these structures, such as a jetty, boathouse or piling, may result in the State Government and the taxpayers of New South Wales being liable for damages.
In the face of these risks, how many New South Wales Maritime boats patrol Pittwater, which has more than 3,000 moorings? Are there 10 or 5 or 3? Just one boat patrols Pittwater, and not at all times. Pittwater would be among the busiest recreational waterway in the State. We have to rely on the Water Police at Church Point and our wonderful volunteers, such as the Royal Volunteer Coastal Patrol of Broken Bay and the Australian Volunteer Coast Guard at Cottage Point. I note the presence in the Chamber of the shadow Minister for Emergency Services, who agrees with me that these organisations provide a wonderful service. However, they do not play a role in enforcing the laws. We need the resources to ensure that the new safety provisions are properly enforced.
The Government has strengthened the laws that regulate boat safety but has not provided the resources needed to make our waterways safe. Pittwater is continually under pressure to accommodate more and more boats. With a ludicrous proposal for a 35-lot residential subdivision on bushland on the western foreshore of Pittwater at Currawong, we may see up to 35 floating gin palaces littering the foreshores of Currawong—but no extra Maritime patrols. Given that the budget for New South Wales Maritime has been cut by 4 per cent, our waterways are being used by more boats but are less safe. The Parliament can pass regulations and stiffen penalties, but without officers on the water to enforce the law, the law is simply words on a page. On behalf of nearly 60 Sydney Harbour skippers, earlier this month I presented a petition in the House, which states:
The Petition of citizens of New South Wales brings to the attention of the House the need for boats to use their navigation lights on Sydney Harbour.
The undersigned petitioners therefore ask the Legislative Assembly to make all necessary provision for sufficient Boating Service Officers to enforce the existing rules regarding navigation lights on vessels using Sydney Harbour.
Whilst the Government has made a legislated response, it has not provided the boating service officers necessary to ensure that these new rules will be properly enforced in my community of Pittwater and elsewhere in New South Wales. Sadly, since 2000 there have been 18 deaths on Sydney Harbour and 45 injuries requiring hospitalisation. Yet the Minister recently confirmed to the Sydney Morning Herald
that no new boating services officers had been hired. I want to refer to provisions of the bill relating to the role of harbour pilots. The shadow Minister has already referred to this matter. In a recent paper entitled "The Pilot As a Major Safety Resource", maritime expert Michael Grey notes that ship safety is hugely enhanced by having a skilled ship handler who is thoroughly familiar with local conditions. He states:
The Pilot, I believe, is a very necessary insurance against the inadequacies of a ship's bridge resources. He or she forms an essential safety net to compensate for the often inadequate manning at a time when the demands upon a ship's crew are arguably high. The master is overstretched and becoming increasingly so, as the demands of the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code add to other bureaucratic burdens.
But the importance of the pilot is hugely enhanced when it is considered how lean manning has eroded the vessel's own on-board capabilities. It is not unusual, so I am told, to find sizeable ships where the master is the only officer on the bridge, with a helmsman available if the pilot is lucky.
Further he states:
A pilot on the bridge is a huge safety enhancement, whether he is there for his ship handling skills, his local knowledge or the very real comfort that his presence can give to the master and his bridge team.
A paper in 2004 by Sydney sea pilots Martin White and Neil Farmer emphasises that harbour pilots are a vital part of securing safety for ships entering our ports and for the environment through which they pass. Our harbours are at a very real risk. I refer to the Laura D'Amato
oil spill in 1999. At the time I was working in Phillip Street and I remember walking through the streets of Sydney smelling the overpowering stench of fuel oil that had leaked across Sydney Harbour. Just because we have not had significant spills or collisions of large vessels in New South Wales harbours for some time does not mean it cannot happen. The role of professional pilots has played a major part in managing the risk of disaster. A couple of international examples clearly emphasise that point.
The Jody F Millennium
, which left Gisbourne in New Zealand without a pilot, ran aground 150 metres off the harbour entrance, spilling 25,000 litres of heavy oil over eight kilometres of coast. In 2006 the APL Panama
ran aground whilst trying to enter Ensenada in Mexico without a pilot. Pilots play a crucial role in maritime safety. They are concerned about aspects of the Marine Safety Amendment Bill as it pertains to pilotage. Schedule 1  gives the harbourmaster of a port discretion to approve the movement of a vessel without a pilot on board within a port without reason. This amends section 74 of the Maritime Safety Act, which currently states that pilotage is compulsory for all commercial vessels over 30 metres.
Schedule 1 , which amends section 85, states that the Minister may appoint any person as the harbourmaster. There are no formal qualifications laid down in the Act or bill for the appointment of a harbourmaster. I ask the Minister to clarify whether this issue is addressed in the regulations. Pilots have expressed concern that this bill, if passed, will allow a person who is appointed harbourmaster by the Minister to give approval for a ship to move in a port without a licensed pilot for no reason whatsoever. Professional mariners and pilots have explained to me that it is sheer folly. I ask members to imagine a foreign ship running aground on the Bare Island bombora in Botany Bay National Park or consider the consequences of a ship blocking the narrow channel at Molineaux Point in Botany Bay. There is no guarantee that a foreign master has the ability to communicate effectively with local tugs and their crews, without the presence of a local pilot. As part of the port safety operating licences, the port corporations are bound to supply allocate a suitable number of pilots to provide a service to shipping. This provision in the bill could mean that ships move by themselves without having the appropriately trained pilots available, yet the port corporations still maintain their port safety operating licences.
Pilots are concerned that no-one has listened to their advice or understood their position. I have received advice from one pilot in particular, who does not want me to mention his name. He lives in Pittwater and I am proud to represent him. The consequences of a ship grounding or collision in any New South Wales port would be catastrophic. A pilot has explained to me that the standard of some ships' masters and crews that visit our ports is low. Would any member grant the master of the Pasha Bulker
approval to move in one of our ports without a highly skilled local pilot on board? How do we assess the competency of that master?
The Minister, NSW Maritime and the port corporations have a serious responsibility to make sure that no vessel moves within ports unless it can move safely. As far as the pilots are concerned, that means there should be a suitably licensed pilot on the ship. I urge the Minister to seriously consider these concerns raised by harbour pilots and also to provide the resources needed by NSW Maritime to provide sufficient boating safety officers and vessels to ensure that the new safety laws can be properly enforced.
Ms JODI McKAY
(Newcastle) [6.09 p.m.]: I support the Marine Safety Amendment Bill 2008. As members would be aware, Newcastle is one of the largest coal ports in the world. It is a port that is diversifying in the trade coming into and out of the port. It also has a growing recreational boat base and a number of fishing trawlers that are based in the port. The bill sets a range of new penalties and punishments for offences on our waterways. These include steep fines and potential jail terms for negligent navigation, operating an unsafe, overloaded or unregistered vessel, and ignoring safety directions from authorised officers. The penalties are designed to encourage safe behaviour and a safety culture on the water.
Responsibility for the safety of ship and crew rests with the master at all times. This responsibility is enshrined in New South Wales, Commonwealth and international shipping laws. A master who disregards his responsibility for the safety of his vessel and crew is a hazard not just to himself but also potentially to many others. It is against this backdrop that I welcome the introduction of these tough new penalties for negligent navigation for ocean-going vessels, the amendments to existing penalties and the introduction of jail terms of up to two years when negligent navigation causes grievous bodily harm or death from dangerous or negligent navigation.
Authorised officers, including the harbourmaster for the Port of Newcastle, will also be empowered to issue safety directions to ships' masters, with penalties for failure to comply. These are in addition to existing offences in section 52B of the Crimes Act 1900 relating to dangerous navigation occasioning death or bodily harm. The purpose of these powers will be to maintain general on-water safety. For example, these powers also will enable NSW Maritime and the New South Wales Police Force to direct the master of a vessel not to cross a coastal bar during dangerous conditions.
I commend the new penalties as part of developing an on-water safety culture. Jail terms of up to two years for negligent navigation where a death or injury has occurred will be a strong incentive for masters to adopt a safety-first approach. Increased fines of up to $110,000 per incident will also be a strong incentive to vessel owners and operators to ensure their masters and crew follow the law and take safety risks seriously. As members would be aware, the Port of Newcastle is a pilotage port and one of the world's largest coal export ports. The proposed amendment that relates to the penalty for negligent, reckless or dangerous navigation on larger vessels, such as trading vessels, is particularly relevant to the port's operations. The safety consequences of such an offence are far greater on a large vessel than on a small recreational vessel. I commend the introduction of a sliding scale of penalties depending on the type of vessel.
The Minister has outlined also a number of other provisions of the bill, including the proposed changes to those provisions relating to marine pilotage and harbourmasters. These changes will lead to greater efficiency in port operations. The proposed changes will enable more than one person to be appointed to exercise the function of a harbourmaster and enable a vessel to move within a pilotage port at appropriate times, if it has been authorised by the harbourmaster. Additionally, a master will be able to operate a vessel greater than 30 metres in length in a pilotage port on the basis of a verbal approval from the harbourmaster, provided the movement is recorded in the ship's log.
As an island nation, Australia's economy is critically dependent on the efficient operation of shipping and its ports, such as Newcastle, with in excess of 98 per cent of all imports and exports moving by sea. I commend the critical safety work of the 40 marine harbour pilots in New South Wales who each undertake up to 370 movements in and out of our ports in any 12-month period. The role of a marine pilot is to provide advice to a ship's master regarding safe passage of a ship through hazardous coastal waters. Marine pilots must use their detailed local knowledge of the port to overcome considerable risks to public safety.
It is a difficult job and marine pilots must be flexible also to adapt to the rapidly changing nature of shipping that has taken place over recent decades. These changes include an increase in the size of ships, which results in poorer visibility in the immediate area around the ship and a greater exposure to wind. Some ships transit Sydney Harbour with an under-keel clearance of less than one metre. Each of the proposed amendments to harbourmaster and pilotage provisions in the Marine Safety Act are necessary to improve the efficiency of NSW Maritime and the port corporations in administering these important port safety functions. I know I join with all members of the House in commending the excellent performance of the 40 marine harbour pilots in New South Wales. Each year our marine pilots safely guide hundreds of vessels in and out of our ports, day or night, and regardless of vessel size or the prevailing weather conditions.
The claims of the member for Coffs Harbour about a maritime budget cut are wrong and show a complete lack of understanding regarding how the authority's budget operates. The NSW Maritime Authority is a self-funding agency; revenue is generated from property income, licence fees and registration. The authority does not receive funding from consolidated revenue. In this financial year the forecast for operational expenditure for the authority is $110.5 million, and that figure is inflated by two large one-off payments: a $9.6 million payment for land transfers and road works at the King Street wharf development and $2.4 million for decontamination of soil at the marine precinct near Rozelle Bay. After these one-off payments, the authority's actual operating expenditure this year is $98.5 million. In comparison, the 2008-09 operational budget for the authority is $102 million, an increase of $3.5 million. The Iemma Government is dedicated to supporting safe and responsible use of the State's waterways. The 2008-09 budget ensures the NSW Maritime Authority has the funding it needs to deliver continued marine safety improvements for the people of New South Wales, including full funding for the marine safety package the Minister has announced.
With regard to the pilot issue, also raised by the member for Coffs Harbour, there are already exemptions for certificates of local knowledge and pilotage exemption certificates in current legislation. This is simply to be reproduced in the Marine Safety Act. The amendment that will allow harbourmasters to exempt a vessel from pilotage is intended for movements such as along a wharf, and this will be at the discretion of the harbourmaster, who is responsible for safety and would not give an extension lightly. As to the qualifications for a pilot, this will be in the pilotage code, which will be adopted under the Act, as amended, through the regulations. In response to the member for Tweed in regard to his claim of a 40-knot speed limit, the member should note that there is a legal responsibility to drive at a safe speed at all times. This requirement is under the collision regulations and the need to navigate with due care and avoid collision.
The Marine Safety Amendment Bill 2008 represents a significant improvement on marine safety legislation in New South Wales. It will help build the culture of on-water safety, streamline pilotage and vessel handling in our ports and ensure that safety directions by authorised officers are heeded and acted upon. I commend the Minister for introducing this legislation, and I support its passage through this House.
Mr PHIL KOPERBERG
(Blue Mountains) [6.18 p.m.]: Notwithstanding the absence of navigable waterways in my electorate, I am very happy to support the Marine Safety Amendment Bill 2008 because it will go a long way towards the minimisation of incidents that previous members have mentioned in support of the bill. I am particularly pleased to see a number of amendments to the Marine Safety Act that will result in greater protection to ensure the safety of the many users of the State's magnificent waterways. They are, of course, among the world's most picturesque and widely used. I am also pleased to note that the proposed amendments will improve the administrative efficiency of the legislation and clarify the responsibilities of New South Wales Maritime and the port corporations.
Since the passage of the Marine Safety Act, the responsibilities of New South Wales Maritime have changed significantly as it has taken on a broader role with regard to on-water safety. Its safety and enforcement function has expanded from the original core focus on recreational and commercial boating safety to include additional responsibilities for port safety policy, shipping safety, the coordination of maritime security, environmental protection, marine pollution response and ports policy. The organisation's role and responsibilities have also changed in respect of the safety of navigation, incident investigation and public ferry-wharf safety. It is essential that the amendments proposed in this bill—for which I commend the Minister for Ports and Waterways—be supported to reflect those changing roles and responsibilities.
With so many opportunities to enjoy the State's vast waterways, the popularity of boating has continued to increase over the past 10 years. Indeed, in the 10 years to June 2007, the number of recreational boat licences in New South Wales increased by 24 per cent to more than 450,000. The number of registered recreational vessels has increased by 26 per cent over the same period to a staggering 217,000. As the popularity of recreational boating grows, the potential for on-water conflicts and incidents also increases, as does the risk of fatalities and serious injuries. These amendments are designed to prevent the repetition of some recent disasters.
I commend the Government's proposed improvements to this safety legislation. It is essential that changes to the New South Wales marine safety legislation, such as those proposed in the Marine Safety Amendment Bill, be supported. I support the various amendments included in the bill that will ensure consistency between the safety legislation that applies to the roads and the safety legislation that applies to the water. For example, this bill will introduce consistency in alcohol and drug enforcement provisions, imprisonment options for repeatedly driving a vessel whilst disqualified and for negligent, reckless or dangerous navigation that causes death or grievous bodily harm. Another important initiative is the introduction of a general safety-based direction-giving power to New South Wales Maritime and police officers. For example, this legislation will enable officers to direct a master of a vessel to refrain from entering an area being used for a specific aquatic event such as the swim leg of a triathlon.
The reference to the National Standard for Commercial Vessels is an essential element of the bill. In the next few years this standard will become the principal technical standard for commercial vessels as it gradually replaces the Uniform Shipping Laws Code, which dates back to the late 1970s. The bill will formally enable the completed parts of the new standard to be implemented. The Australian Transport Council has endorsed these parts of the standard. The transition from the Uniform Shipping Laws Code to the National Standard for Commercial Vessels will also reflect more contemporary safety specifications and technologies. The national standard will require that certain performance outcomes be met and will also provide vessel designers and builders with the choice of using pre-approved sets of specifications or developing equivalent solutions. This approach accommodates design innovation and provides the maritime industry with the appropriate flexibility in deciding how to construct and operate commercial vessels safely.
I also note that the numerous other amendments detailed in this bill are all necessary to improve the efficiency of New South Wales Maritime and the port corporations in administering their roles and responsibilities. For example, the legislation currently requires aquatic events such as a ski boat race on the Manning River be advertised in a newspaper circulated throughout the State. There are many times I wish we had ski boat races on the Grose River, but short of rising sea levels that is not likely to occur. This is clearly an excessive and cumbersome requirement for event organisers. The bill proposes that such events be advertised in a newspaper circulated only in the region in which the event will take place.
The Marine Safety Amendment Bill 2008 represents a significant improvement in marine safety in New South Wales. It builds on the Government's commitment to enhance the safety of the State's magnificent waterways so that all residents and visitors to the State may enjoy them. Having listened carefully to what other members have said, I believe that this is an appropriate time for these provisions to be enacted. A number of members have described changes in behaviour on our waterways. It is incumbent upon the Government to make these amendments. As I said, I commend the Minister for Ports and Waterways for his timely intervention with the introduction of these provisions, which are designed to maximise safety for the users of our waterways and to ensure the wellbeing of vessels and the people who travel in them.
The bill introduces a number miscellaneous amendments that are necessary to improve the efficiency of New South Wales Maritime and the port corporations in administering their various responsibilities, such as on-water safety and marine pilotage. It is clear that the ever-increasing use of the waterways, technology improvements leading to faster and faster vessels and greater uptake of recreational marine activities and increasing usage of our waterways by commercial and non-commercial vehicles mean that this bill is necessary to ensure the Iemma Government's fine reputation for continuously improving the use of our waterways, roadways and just about every other public facility. As has been said on a number of occasions in this debate, these amendments are not only timely but will also address some very real issues confronting commercial and recreational waterway users in New South Wales. In view of these many benefits, I commend the provisions of the Marine Safety Amendment Bill to the House.
Mr JOHN AQUILINA (Riverstone—Leader of the House) [6.28 p.m.], in reply: I commend all members who have contributed significantly to this debate: the members for Drummoyne, Newcastle, Blue Mountains, Pittwater, Tweed and Coffs Harbour. The reason behind the introduction of this legislation is patently obvious. Marine safety has been discussed extensively in the community in recent times and this Government and the community as a whole must address the issue. One would think that the need to tighten up the legislation is blatantly obvious. We also need to take a fresh look at the penalties involved. Members have addressed imprisonment for repeat disqualified driving offences and the introduction of increased penalties for negligent navigation of vessels. The Minister is grateful for those contributions and for members raising those points in this debate.
New South Wales Maritime and police officers need increased powers for on-water safety. This legislation aims to provide that, and, significantly, members from both the Government and the Opposition have spelt that out. Improvements to the administration of the pilotage and the harbour master provisions were also spelt out and go a long way towards improving marine safety in our waters. Improvements in administration of wharf maintenance and safety have been of concern to successive governments. The longevity of these wharves can be a matter of grave concern. From time to time the Department of Planning has been concerned about wharf maintenance and safety. Therefore, it is important that this legislation addresses those issues.
Finally, the undertaking given by the Minister—which has been repeated by members of the Government and welcomed by members of the Opposition—that there will be ongoing consultation at a government and community level is covered by this legislation, and I am sure it will be welcomed by the community at large. I have much pleasure in commending the bill to the House.
Motion agreed to.
Bill agreed to in principle.
Question—That this bill be now agreed to in principle—put and resolved in the affirmative.
Passing of the Bill
Bill declared passed and transmitted to the Legislative Council with a message seeking its concurrence in the bill.
[Acting-Speaker (Mr Wayne Merton) left the chair at 6.30 p.m. The House resumed at 7.30 p.m.