The Green Party will be supporting this bill, but with qualifications.
Of course, we do not complain about a more systematic approach to wharf and ship security. That is very clearly useful. But I think it is not so much to catch terrorists. There are not a large number of terrorists zooming through New Zealand ports, in spite of the sort of overblown news reports on the weekend that Mr Al-Zawahiri had visited New Zealand, and it seemed to be a reporter interviewing his typewriter in that respect. The next day he said that Al Qaeda had suitcase nuclear bombs, and he knew all about that, too. We get more misinformation about terrorists coming through New Zealand than truth in these matters.
The main threat to us coming through our ports is the biosecurity threat – all the bugs, beetles, and spiders that will affect our society and our economy. That is the real problem, and tightening up security in that respect is good. I do not think there will be a lot of terrorists and gunrunners. So, in general, we support that.
It is part of a lot of legislation that to some degree goes a little bit further than it should because of the pressure from the United States saying that we have to do this, that, and the other thing, otherwise it will not let ships from New Zealand into its ports. That is a bit of the background to it.
I am glad in the select committee the submission process has succeeded in getting several amendments, and the Minister has indicated in his speech acceptance of those amendments. I know that the unions involved on the waterfront, the National Union of Railway Workers and the Maritime Union put in a very good submission. They were worried about their people getting affected by this legislation unnecessarily. The amendments go towards reassuring them, I believe.
One the Minister mentioned is that it should not be some employer’s representative searching workers as they go on to the wharf. That could lead to a very difficult industrial situation on the wharf if that happened. Amending the bill to make sure that it has to be an official employee of the Government, the police, that does any such searching, is a step forward, clearly.
The other amendment the Minister mentioned, about putting in a definition of suspicious act, that a suspicious act does not include the lawful exercise of any right to demonstrate, protest, or strike, only goes part-way to meeting the union’s concerns, and the Green Party will be moving an amendment in the Committee stage to take it further down the track. Just saying we will only exclude people involved in the lawful exercise of any right to demonstrate protest or strike – it is unnecessary to put that word “lawful” in there.
The question of whether a strike is lawful is really for a determination in industrial law, and in the courts, not in terms of this definition here. Often there is dispute between the waterfront workers and the employers as to what is lawful and what is not. Anyone who knows the history of industrial relations on the waterfront knows that.
It is not necessary to put that word “lawful” in to achieve the purpose of not including workers in the performance of their duties, or who are protesting what is going on on the wharf, or who are involved in some sort of industrial dispute, that we do not want them treated as terrorists, or whatever, under this legislation and subject to the provision of the law in this way. I think there is room. I have not seen the Minister’s Supplementary Order Paper yet. He may deal with this question. I am just taking from what he said in his introductory speech that we might be able to work this through to a full resolution in the Committee stage.
It is also good that there has been a little change in the bill to meet another one of the union objections. That is, if there was a real security crisis that they would have to keep on working with the bullets flying around them. It is now amended. A proposed amendment is there now that if there is a high-level security incident – called a security level 3 – then the workers will be able to absent themselves and not have to get the flak from the bombs, or whatever it is. That is a step forward, as well.
The Minister also mentioned the problem of coordinating with foreign flagged ships and who to tell about what, and who is in charge, etc. I think one of the advantages of this bill may be that it helps deal with these what are often rogue operators, operating under flags of convenience. We all know that the unions – particularly the seafarers here, have been very worried about these flags of convenience ships – very dodgy ships in terms of the safety of them, and the rates they pay to their workers. It is a cheap labour system, and they often take shortcuts with anything in sight. Also, of course, they would take shortcuts in terms of security measures. If there are people doing dodgy things with drugs or guns or anything else, it is probable that the ships that would be involved in that would be these flags of convenience ships.
Hopefully, some of the security measures in the certificates in this bill will help deal with those flags of convenience ships. As these measures are being introduced in other countries as well, hopefully it will move these ships out of the equation altogether, so that there are much more legitimate shipowner situations, rather than those dodgy flags of convenience carriers.
Related to the measures in this bill, with the problems with flags of convenience in mind, we could try to use more local operators in terms of domestic transport. The Green Party has been supporting unions in terms of getting a cabotage situation where the local freight is carried by local carriers. I think that would be a security advantage, as well as an advantage for the New Zealand economy – local people doing things locally would protect the viability of the shipping industry in New Zealand and the jobs of the workers concerned.
Another thing that has come up in public discussions on this bill is whether these measures will affect the ordinary rights of people to go down to their local wharf, chuck a line off the end, and catch a snapper or whatever. This is not something that applies perhaps to the big metropolitan ports so much, but I noticed in the
of 11 March the headline: “New port security not likely to affect public”. In Timaru, where people do fish off the wharf, people were worried that with the introduction of this legislation, somehow the wharf would all be closed off and the recreational element of the Timaru wharf would be eliminated. But there is an assurance from Prime Port chief executive, Jeremy Boyce, that although its plan was not available to the public, current levels of access, including at the No.1 extension wharf, remain the same. So hopefully, as we go through this process, it will take into account the interests of the public to have the waterfront being something that people can enjoy and not too much of it closed off for security reasons.
It is the same in Wellington and other metropolitan areas, and one just needs to walk across the road from Parliament to the wharf. Wellington City is developing the wharf precinct in many ways to the good, and we do not want access to the wharf to be unnecessarily curtailed. I do not think that it is suggested in this case, but it is something to bear in mind as we go along with these security measures.
So with those few comments, the Green Party will be supporting this bill and trying to tidy up some of those details in the Committee stage.