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11 September 2019

Second Reading Debate: Marine and Fisheries Legislation Amendment Bill 2019

Today I rise to speak on the Marine and Fisheries Legislation Amendment Bill 2019, but I will mainly focus my contribution on the amended parts of the Marine Safety Act 2010 rather than concentrating on the proposed changes to the Fisheries Act 1995, unlike the member for Sunbury, who probably knows a lot about fishing or golfing. I am not sure which one he knows more about.

My colleague the shadow Minister for Fishing and Boating already covered extensively the very concerning issues around the challenges for the 10 licence-holders in the Gippsland Lakes who have not been consulted.

I will absolutely, 100 per cent, support the amendment proposed by the member for Gippsland East because I found exactly the same situation. In consulting with the people who will be affected by this legislation, I have spoken with many people over the last couple of weeks, mainly from the seaport pilot groups and of course people from the port of Portland, who have been very generous in assisting me over the last three and a half or four years now in my role. Portland obviously is a very important port for Victoria, one of the four commercial ports for Victoria. The pilot boat operators have also been very helpful in helping me understand what an important role they do in keeping our port safe.

So it was really interesting in the second-reading speech when the minister talked about safety, because what I have been told—and this is why this amendment is so important—is that there actually has not been any consultation and the pilots who do this important job actually did not know this was coming. In fact what they did tell me is that they have got no issues with the changes that are all improving safety. They have actually been working on that through an advisory group called the Victorian pilotage coordination and advisory group. The interesting part is that the government has representatives on this advisory group. The Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure sits on it and Marine Safety Victoria is represented, as are the harbourmasters, pilot service providers, the Victorian Ports Corporation and the Victorian Regional Channels Authority. They all sit on this advisory group.

This group actually met on 26 August because they have been reviewing the regulations for safety and piloting and all the areas that need to be reviewed obviously to keep safety a priority, as the minister claims in her second-reading speech to be trying to address. So on 26 August their discussions concluded, and one area of the discussions was that they would make sure that if anyone had been inactive for five years they might have their licence cancelled. However, when the legislation was introduced, just one day after that meeting on 27 August, despite what the group had agreed to the day before—with, remember, the government representation on that group—there was a proposed amendment to make licences of boat pilot service operators inactive after 12 months. This came out of nowhere and absolutely had no consultation. They were told after the meeting that that is what was going to happen.

Business interrupted under sessional orders.

Before the break for question time I was talking about how the minister has not consulted with any of the pilot groups or anyone I spoke to from the four commercial ports that are serviced by this service. In fact they were saying that there is a group that meets that had been working through the process that had concluded the day before that five years was an appropriate time for licences to be cancelled, not one.

If the minister had consulted, what she would have found was that this does not fit in line with their work agreement processes. It takes 10 years to become someone qualified enough to then step into the role of a pilot. You have to be a master mariner first, which as I say takes 10 years, and then it takes about three years to train someone to be able to navigate the port where they are being employed. Because of that cost and time, there is usually a place in the work agreement that says that if they leave that employment they cannot change to somebody else in that port for 12 months. So if they are unable to work for 12 months in that port and then their licence is cancelled, one has to ask: does this legislation encourage competition or does it lessen the opportunity for competition?

Not only that, it is out of line with the way the government talks about looking after women. Pilots obviously can be female, and there is no reason why they have not got the right to take maternity leave of more than 12 months, like in every other profession. But to have their licence cancelled while they are away on maternity leave is out of line with our thinking today and certainly out of line with what this government says that they care about, and that is inclusiveness and gender-diverse working places. This is absolutely not demonstrating that.

Also, in this legislation the inactive licence part of the bill is actually under the Marine Safety Act in the part titled ‘Disciplinary action’. What I think they are saying is if you take maternity leave and you are off for longer than 12 months, for example, or you get sick, you have done something wrong. Why would they put it under ‘Disciplinary action’? Surely it needs to go under part 7.2, division 3, which is entitled ‘Pilot licences’.

This bill has been poorly put together. There has been no consultation. The government has missed opportunities. The bill talks about pilots having to have a blood alcohol reading of .00. No-one would argue with that, and I might say again that no-one is arguing about the safety provisions in the bill. What they are saying is that the government is missing opportunities. If you have command of a much larger foreign-flagged vessel, you can actually be .05. If you are going to put this proposal forward of .00 in Australian waters, why wouldn’t you include all the operators of the ships, including the pilots who have no problem with a .00 blood alcohol level?

There are three points I am really trying to make clear. The pilots are more than happy to have safety regulations. They have been working on them themselves with government involvement. The minister has not consulted them, because the day before the legislation was introduced they proposed as a group that licences should be cancelled after five years of inaction, not one year. That just came out of left field, and the working party had no knowledge or understanding of it. It does not fit at all with the actual type of work these people do. You have to be trained for 10 years to even be a master mariner, let alone three years to be able to be a pilot in a port. The pilots are already making sure that when somebody returns to work they have several supervised inward and outward assessments done before they are left to pilot.

So there are very good practices existing, and they have been incident-free, but the pilots recognise that new regulation is a good opportunity to have a review done. That is why they are undertaking the review. Lo and behold, here comes a piece of legislation on which the only three stakeholders in the state who actually provide this service were not able to be consulted. That is in line with what we saw from the contribution of the member for Gippsland East. He talked about the fact that there had been no consultation with the licence-holders. In one case the licence-holders of the fisheries had their meeting and the legislation clearly was already drawn up, because it was presented in the Parliament within a number of days. In this instance, with the pilots, it was the next day that the legislation was introduced. So after their meeting where they concluded that it should be five years, it was introduced the next day.

The member for Sunbury talked about the fact that he was very confident that there had been good consultation. Well, I think I am producing pretty solid evidence here that there was absolutely none. Everyone I contacted said they had no knowledge of the legislation coming into the Parliament, and if I had not called them and consulted with them they would have known about it. But that is what we see quite a lot with this government—the arrogance of their taking away our democratic process of being able to consult. We have seen two bills just in the last few months since the election which were introduced in one week and debated that same week and passed. How does that give anyone time to consult? To be the representative you want to be and must be when elected into this place you must be keen to represent the people. In this case, I certainly consulted with the services, and they had not heard from the minister. Maybe it is indicative. It is certainly what I am seeing—that the Andrews Labor government is not interested in consulting but is quite interested in being a dictator.