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Marine-Related Incidents (Marpol Implementation) Bill 2019

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 17 October 2019

Tags: Marine Environment, Legislation, Air Quality, Algal Blooms

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Deputy Speaker, the Marine-related Incidents (MARPOL Implementation) Bill is a large amendment bill that will bring us into alignment with the Commonwealth requirements under the MARPOL Convention, the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships. This bill will replace the outdated Pollution of Waters by Oil and Noxious Substances Act 1987, and give effect to the MARPOL Convention.

Notably in Tasmania, unlike other states, the Environment Protection Agency is the prescribed officer responsible for the implementation of the act. That is not the case in other states. In New South Wales, for example, the minister for Transport and Roads is jointly responsible with the minister for Regional Transport and Roads under the act as the prescribed officer.

In Tasmania, it does fit with the other responsibilities of the EPA but we have concerns that extra prescribed responsibilities will be extremely resource intensive. We have questions about resourcing of the EPA to be able to suitably enforce elements of the bill. Thank you to the director of the EPA and the other officers who provided us with that briefing, from which we understand that to adequately respond to a major oil or noxious substance bill, the EPA would effectively have to drop everything to adequately respond. If it was something major, of the order of the Exxon Valdez, everyone would understand why that would be the case. But we are a small state and this Government is mean and stingy in its resourcing for the environment. I expect that there will not be any extra resources made available. I will be interested to hear from the minister, who is also the Treasurer, about the EPA's funding and whether there have been cuts to the EPA and where they have come from. These are all germane to the question of the ability of the EPA to suitably enforce the prescriptions under this bill.

It is pretty clear from what has been happening with salmon farming in Tasmania that the EPA is either incapable or, for whatever other reason, does not effectively enforce conditions on salmon farming, the regulation of salmon farming. I have read and heard the report from Dr Christine Coughanowr about the discharge, the high nutrient level that is flowing from the Tasmanian salmon hatchery from Wayatinah into the upper part of the Derwent River. Very high levels of nutrients are flowing into that waterway that flows down into the Derwent Estuary and forms part of the Derwent water supply, which is the water supply for Hobart residents. Algal blooms, odour and visual issues with water have been problems in the past. It is pretty clear that the EPA is disinclined under this Government or underfunded in order be able to fulfil what ought to be its first priority of looking after the quality of the environment and, in this case, the marine environment.

We very much welcome the announcement of the reduction in sulphur content under the MARPOL convention, which will be introduced from January 2020. We have some really genuine concerns about the ability of Tasmania to enforce those conditions and whether, in this state, the mandated international reduction in sulphur content in shipping fuels will have any real effect on what we are able to police and ensure is coming into our harbours. There is a long-running jurisdictional argument between the Commonwealth and the states and the Commonwealth has reserved responsibility for enforcing the air quality under the MARPOL part 497 annexe IV, the part which deals with ships fuel and atmospheric emissions. That part is notably absent from this bill. For clarity, part 497 applies in state waters but the Commonwealth is responsible for enforcing that part. Go figure. How well is that going to work?

I asked the director of EPA during our briefing what monitoring of emissions in the Port of Hobart is conducted by the Commonwealth. His answer was 'none'. I also asked what air quality data collected by the EPA is passed onto the Commonwealth for enforcement, or what formal agreement is in place for the sharing of the information. Again, I understand that none is passed on and there is no formal mechanism for sharing that information. How would the Commonwealth be enabled to enforce the MARPOL convention in Tasmanian waters if there is no data and there is no collection of air quality samples?

Were they going to have spot inspections, have Commonwealth officers turning up to cruise ships to see what their spewing out next summer? Well, that would be fantastic if they did. The cruise ships that come to Hobart and northern ports burn the most low-grade bunker fuel in the world. They do so right next to populated areas and in a state that trades on its brand of clean and green, particularly our air. I noticed in the latest Tourism Tasmania promotion, something about come and smell the air or the different air here. Well, do not come anywhere the arts school precinct when there is a cruise ship in the port because they will be burning bunker fuel and that is stinking, toxic fuel with known negative health effects.

Bunker fuel is a thick sludge from crude oil barrels and it is what remains after petrol, kerosene, diesel and other petroleum products are removed. It is the worst of the worst fuel to burn. Guess what? It is incredibly cheap because it is rubbish and it contains concentrated sulphur, heavy metals and hydrocarbon compounds. It is much cheaper to burn than refined fuels and it saves cruise ship companies a fortune. Bunker fuel is not only used by cruise ships when they are out on the sea. A berthed cruiser is a floating city and it is run from the ship's auxiliary generators that can also use bunker fuel when it is at port. That is the point. It is not just the ship getting here across international or even state waters. When it is berthed in Hobart, in a densely populated area, it will still be burning bunker fuel. Those engines power hundreds of rooms, restaurants, pools, theatres and the other ship services. There is a substantial production of electricity generated from the bunker fuel-powered generators.

The Carnival Spirit was docked in Hobart a few years ago. It was 293 metres long, weighed 88 000 gross tonnes and it needed 150 tonnes of bunker fuel every day. That is an enormous amount of fuel - 150 tonnes a day.

In 2012, the World Health Organisation defined diesel exhaust as a class one carcinogen in a category with asbestos. Bunker fuel typically contains 3500 times more sulphur per litre than the diesel that people would have in a motor vehicle. Many cruise ships do not have particulate filters that are now standard on passenger cars and trucks. Large cruise ships, such as the Carnival Spirit and others that visit Hobart in their scores every summer, emit far more sulphur dioxide than millions of cars.

Many diseases and chronic conditions are connected to pollutants from burning bunker fuel. Tiny airborne particles lodge in people's lungs and move through to the bloodstream and those can cause heart and lung diseases, cancers and premature death.

The United States and Europe have recognised the very high health costs of international shipping and have, for at least five years now, restricted sulphur levels in cruise ship fuel to below 0.1 of 1 per cent. Most of Australia still allows cruise ships to use fuel with 3.5 per cent sulphur, including Tasmania, which is 35 times higher than is currently allowed in the United States and Europe.

We can do differently. This is something the Greens have been raising with this Government for years. The previous minister for the environment, Ms Archer, kicked the can down the road and said, 'Oh yes, we'll have conversations with the Commonwealth Government and wait until MARPOL comes in.' Well, here we are, MARPOL is about to come and it will enshrine a lower level, but that lower level is still greater than what is enshrined currently in other major countries around the world.

The concern here is we have this stuff that is nice on paper, but what are we going to do to make sure it actually happens? We could do, for example, what the New South Wales government has done; there are solutions here. The New South Wales government held a parliamentary inquiry in 2013 when there was public outrage because residents in Balmain were exposed to toxic fumes from a cruise ship terminal at White Bay. There was a large number of cruise ships there and a great amount of bunker fuel emitted. Residents reported headaches, bloodshot eyes, concentration problems, worsened asthma and other breathing difficulties. Young children, of course, were the most affected. The New South Wales government held a parliamentary inquiry and the port authority suspended overnight ship berthing at White Bay. The New South Wales government then brought in legislation to require cruise ships at White Bay to use 0.1 per cent sulphur fuel. I understand that has been in place since October 2015. I do not know whether that has changed, but subsequently the ban was extended to include the whole of Sydney Harbour.

We can see that there is definitely an opportunity here for Tasmania if we want to really market ourselves as having clean air. If we want to talk about a place that is special and different, we can do what New South Wales has done and enshrine a lower level ban of what will ultimately be introduced when the MARPOL Convention comes in in January next year. The level that will be mandated internationally, I understand, will be 0.5 per cent. At the moment, it is 3.5 per cent, so it will reduce to 0.5 per cent, but New South Wales, in line with the United States and European countries, has reduced that level, at least in the Sydney Harbour region, to 0.1 per cent. That is getting more to the area that epidemiological studies indicate would be not having the negative health effects that the higher level has been determined to have.

Sydney Harbour residents managed to change that and - guess what? - the tourism business in Sydney Harbour did not collapse and the sky did not fall in. What are we afraid of in Tasmania? Why do we not have the confidence in the beautiful state we have and sell it as something special and different? There will be plenty of cruise ships, more than enough, that want to come to Tasmania. They are going to the northern hemisphere, all the countries up there, and putting scrubbers into their ships or running different fuel. They are already doing that. It is not going to be a big step to insist that when they stop in Tasmania, they also do the same thing. We really think that the minister and the Government need to lobby their federal counterparts so that there is actually enforcement of these standards in Tasmania. Something like random ship by ship auditing could be one approach.

We also strongly think that Tasmania needs to adopt the 0.1 per cent sulphur fuel content limit as well and we need to be having proper data quality management. I know there is some data available on the EPA website. I have not been able to ascertain whether given different wind conditions that that would be a robust enough placement to collect data from the prevailing airstream. I do not know how it is being placed. There is always the potential of things being put in the wrong spot so that they will not be measuring the true emissions. It is tricky with wind. Wind moves, but when there are still days and cruise ships are berthed at Macquarie Point, there will be a build-up of very toxic emissions and people living in the surrounding areas on the eastern and western side of the Derwent are going to be more exposed than they ought to be. The fact is that every month we are finding out more about the truly damaging effects to the human body of diesel particulates and burnt particulates.

We can do something about this and I encourage the minister to make his mark in this space and follow suit with New South Wales and make a great stand for Tasmania and the healthy state with clean air that we claim to be. We support the bill and will keep talking about the impacts of polluted air.