Maritime Security Bill – Third Reading

The Green Party will support this bill, although it has serious concerns about how the legislation might be applied in practice in an exaggerated way, compared with the needs of the actual security situation we face in New Zealand.

We just need to look at the sort of background of a little bit of hysteria and over-reaction at the time that Tiger Woods came here for the golf open, when there was a huge security alert that did not seem to be based on much, at all.

Just a week or two ago we had headlines in our newspaper about how Mr al-Zawahiri, the deputy of bin Laden, had been visiting New Zealand in the 1990s, just based on some report from a dodgy journalist, with probably no foundation whatsoever. The next day that journalist said he knew that al-Qaeda was running around the world with nuclear-suitcase bombs. So that is just an indication of how people can take a little allegation of a security problem, a phone call, or a bit of powder in the mail — some hoaxers operating — and take security measures that actually cost us millions of dollars and inconvenience thousands of people. It becomes a hoaxer’s paradise, so that somebody can phone up and cause huge damage because there is over-security in terms of our procedures.

That is not to say that we should not have security plans in place, and that is why the Green Party is supporting this bill. I tried to introduce an amendment — unfortunately it failed — to take the word “legal” out of one of the provisions that would affect workers on strike, because we do not want this law to apply to any workers who might be on strike on the waterfront. That is not a security problem; it is something that has happened traditionally in New Zealand. There has been a lot of industrial action — some of it legal and some of it illegal — but that is surely not what this bill is about.

It is good that there have been changes in the bill as it has proceeded, so that workers on the waterfront will not be searched by their employers — the search has to be by authorised people such as police officers, independent of the employer — and so that workers can leave their workplace and do not need to stand around when there is a real high-security situation. They do not need to put themselves in the firing line.

It has been indicated that an international security system is being put in place, and around the world, particularly in European countries like France, Italy, and Spain, workers at the moment are taking industrial action and getting upset at the more intrusive searching that is going on under such measures. On the other hand, apparently there is a fleet of ships owned by the bin Laden family, which are floating around the world with “flags of convenience” and not suffering too much at all.

Of course, it is those flags of convenience boats from the bin Laden family and from many other big business people, who are trying to make maximum profit out of shipping by having the worst conditions through cutting corners on everything, including biosecurity and security measures. So if there is to be any serious security problem or intrusion into New Zealand, be it through biosecurity, crime, drugs, terrorism, or whatever, then it is likely to come through those flags of convenience boats and it is good if these measures actually restrict the number of such boats from coming into New Zealand.

In terms of security plans, we have to be careful that we do not go overboard on those. I have been talking to a shipowner today, who is worried that it can get too expensive in terms of the relatively low practical risk. For one of the boats he owns overseas, he had to spend $20,000 on a video system. It cost $128,000 for other security measures. Training cost several thousand dollars. For a New Zealand owner to send people to Australia to do a course with Lloyds can cost $6,000 a time. If, as a result of some of those measures, extra staffing has to be provided, then that is difficult for them too.

We had an experience, of course, of a security situation just last Friday, I think it was, with the Santa Regina, one of the ferries going across Cook Strait. A hoaxer phoned up and there was some inconvenience associated with that incident. There were complaints from workers that the police came on and wanted to fingerprint them, and all the rest of it. It was not too bad, and they did not really go overboard, but it just showed we do not want to set things up as a hoaxer’s paradise.

Another question has concerned some people. For instance, down in Timaru there has been a discussion about closing off sections of the wharf that have been traditionally open to the public and used for fishing and there could be a problem for the Picton ferries like the Santa Regina. Picton is a very nice tourist spot, but there is a danger that under wharf security plans too much of that waterfront area — from the ferry area right across — will be excluded from public access. That would reduce its tourist appeal if it happened.

Even across the street here on the Wellington wharf, where we can walk around most of it at the present time, there was concern the other day that somebody had put a sign on a visiting Australian warship — something about John Howard being a “US bootlicker”. I cannot remember the wording of the slogan exactly, but certainly no one was trying to put any bomb anywhere. There is not much danger of people running around putting bombs on visiting warships, like that. The boat was actually moored, I think, at what is a public space.

We would not want that public space closed off and officials going overboard on such minor things. In Timaru it was reported that the Prime Port chief executive said that current levels of access for the public would be maintained. But as this bill is applied — mainly through regulation — we will have to monitor how it goes along; how those regulations come out — if the pressure is put on people like that chief executive to overly restrict access to some of those regional wharfs, it would be of great disadvantage to the public, and, again, to tourism. In a lot of places, wandering around the wharf and having a cup of coffee, a beer, or whatever one has down at the wharf, is part of the tourist and local experience. We do not want those wharf plans to cut into that, too much.

The Green Party is supportive of this bill, but we do have those concerns. Particularly on the west coast of the United States there are problems. Some workers there are getting a bit upset at the way things are being applied in the wharf security area, such as having unnecessary ID. Even in New Zealand there is concern that there are too many restraints on trucks coming into the wharf areas. At the present time shipowners and wharf people pretty much know who is coming in and out. If we apply very rigid systems we could slow down shipments into and out of the wharf, and unnecessarily restrain people. So we just have to bear all of that in mind.

But we see a very positive side to this legislation if it does restrict the flags of convenience boats coming in here; if it leads to a much higher standard on the boats including, hopefully, the condition of sailors on them; and if it helps .reduce the main security threat to New Zealand, which is biosecurity — some of those bugs, creepy-crawlies, and insects that are going to affect our forests or agriculture. We see the positive side to this legislation if we can stop them from coming in through the range of security measures that are being brought in with the Border Security Bill affecting containers, and this set of procedures relating to wharf and ship security plans.

With those comments I would like to indicate the Green Party’s support for this bill.


Third Reading, Parliament