Mr WILKIE (Denison) (21:03): I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
I introduced the Marine Engineers Qualifications Bill to safeguard safety standards in our marine industries and in particular to respond to the reduction in standards brought about by the passage of the Marine Safety (Domestic Commercial Vessel) National Law Bill which, despite containing positive elements, has had a problematic effect on those industries and the men and women who work in and depend on them.
The national law bill was proposed by the government despite it being aware of the risk that standards would decrease as a direct result of the bill. In fact, the Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers has been concerned for some time about the risk of lowered training standards and consequently, following a meeting in 2009 between the Engineer’s Institute and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, a number of standards were agreed to that would have enhanced the qualification requirements for engineers. I regret to say that here it is, 2013, and that agreement has not progressed beyond a draft marine order.
This bill, the Marine Engineers Qualifications Bill, will go some way to remedying things and in doing so help to improve the workplace health and safety of many Australian workers, because this bill directly affects workers on our transport ships, offshore oil and gas facilities, and harbour-management vessels. It also indirectly affects travellers on all our passenger transports, fishermen on small to large vessels and in fact all those who use the seas for their work or transport. By simply ensuring that all work done on Australian marine vessels is achieved to the highest possible standard, the very safety of everyone on board those vessels is genuinely enhanced.
Such reform is imperative for Australia. As an island nation, with Tasmania additionally separated by Bass Strait, the proper maintenance of our vessels and safety of our maritime workers is obviously essential.
I will now draw the House’s attention to some of the key features of the bill. Firstly, it creates a much needed minimum time requirement for training on operational vessels, something urgently needed, I suggest, in light of the continuing concern in the institute that AMSA has an interest in reducing the onboard training period by two-thirds. I think it is obvious that training cannot be so drastically decreased while the same safety standard is expected. So clearly the longer training period should be codified, and this bill achieves that.
Consistency in training is every bit as important as the length of training when safety is concerned because, unless the industry can be sure that all those who achieve a marine qualification do so to the same standard, there simply can be no confidence that all the workers have the vital training necessary for their roles. To provide that confidence, this bill will standardise the examination of competency and include mandated written and oral components. These will provide examiners with a broad range of information about an engineer and together build a more complete profile of their capability.
Consistency must work both ways. While a standardised examination method provides confidence to the industry, creating uniform requirements consolidated into one piece of legislation also provides confidence to the engineers themselves. In other words, this bill makes it easier to determine which standards apply and to whom. But the bill does not simply establish the standard and leave the industry to its own devices, because there is provision for ongoing auditing of organisations that offers engineer accreditation to ensure that an adequate standard is maintained in line with industry best practice.
Australia has some of the highest safety standards in the world and, as I have said before in this place, a strong tradition of appropriate wages and working conditions. But, when this parliament passed the national law bill we, and inadvertently most of us, put in place a regime that has resulted in working and safety conditions going backwards in one of our most vital industries. We need to set it right. It is that simple.
I commend the bill to the House and encourage members to put politics aside this time for the good of our marine engineers and all those who travel and work on the water.