THE HON MICHAEL DANBY MP
SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION,
SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY FOR THE ARTS
MEMBER FOR MELBOURNE PORTS
Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports) (19:12): I commend the member for Bowman for presenting this motion. Cruise ships, of course, berth at Station Pier in Port Melbourne, increasingly, bringing with them tourist dollars to all of Melbourne.
This is of course welcome. These ships also bring with them the unwelcome by-product of dangerous fumes. Something needs to be done, as the member for Sydney has said, and I thank both her and the member for Bowman for bringing this to the House, and particularly the member for Sydney for explaining how much parliamentary debate this has caused in the New South Wales parliament and how they have already gone into this matter.
The cruise ship industry is a growing phenomenon in Australia, as Australia becomes a more and more popular destination for overseas tourists. The number of ships calling into Melbourne has risen in recent years. In 2012-13, a record 58 cruise ships docked at Port Melbourne. This record was pushed up to 66 stays the following season.
The most recent season has projected the number of 77. It is clearly a growing business, which is good for business and tourism in Victoria. But it is not just cruise liners increasingly coming to Melbourne; more Victorians are living in the area.
There is an area near Port Melbourne called Beacon Cove. It used to be an industrial area but there are more and more high-rises in that area. The population is increasing quickly and a number of local industrial sites have been turned into apartments—some of them are very nice apartments. This mix of a large number of tourists and locals would be excellent if not for the unhealthy cocktail of gas and toxic heavy metals, that the member for Bowman has mentioned, that spews out from some of the ships’ funnels close to the homes of my constituents.
It has been explained by my parliamentary colleagues that the fuel that these ships use literally comes from scrapping the bottom of a barrel. When crude oil is refined, various qualities of fuel are siphoned off, leaving, when all finished, sludge at the bottom so thick that it has to be heated to flow through pipes. This sludge has concentrated levels of sulphur and heavy metals that the refining process left behind. This sludge, commonly referred to as ‘bunker oil’ or ‘bunker fuel’, is the material that cruise ships use when they sail the oceans blue.
Burning this sludge is bad enough for the environment but, concerning though that may be, it is the burning of this sludge in ports in Australia, which does not happen in other countries, that is particularly agitating all of us.
As others have pointed out, this fuel contains high levels of sulphur and, when spewed into the air, it forms sulphur dioxide and, when combined with moisture in the lungs, can form sulphuric acid. Of course, it is dangerous and in fact the Australian national standards criteria of air pollutants deems that over a one hour period should not be exposed to more than anything but 0.02 parts per million of sulphur dioxide. Over a one year period this average should be no more than 0.002 per million—put differently, that is 0.000002 per cent of the air we breathe, but bunker fuel contains 3.5 per cent sulphur or 1.7 million times the maximum recommended amount over a one year period.
When sailing on the high seas spreading this poison from tall funnels does not affect the people on the decks below but when berthed in Port Melbourne, in Sydney and other places, this poison is being pumped into a fixed location. And why? As the member for Bowman and the member for Sydney pointed out, the ships keep their engines running so they can provide electricity for the continuation of passenger services that are needed on the ship. You would not consider the pollution which you might breathe as a car zoomed passed to be acceptable if you were standing inside a garage with a car engine running. That is difference between people living downwind of these ships when they berth in Port Melbourne and other ports in Australia.
In EU countries, in North America and the Caribbean they have all recognised this fact. They will not let cruise ships use bunker fuel within 100 miles of their coasts, but Australia does not have such legislation yet, and that means cruise ships continue to use this sludge as they chug into Port Melbourne and other places, even when they are berthed. Because these ships are barred from using this sludge close to American or European coasts, they usually have two tanks aboard—one diesel which burns cleaner and one for bunker fuel. But, as the member for Bowman pointed out, they will not flip the fuel over from one tank to the other because it is cheaper not to do it. Many of the ships that visit Australia also visit Europe. The International Maritime Organisation has mandated that from 2020 the current level of 3.5 per cent of sulphur content be reduced to a maximum of 0.05 percent. That is a good move.