The Victorian Government said the State’s marine safety laws will be modernised and strengthened to better equip police and regulators to improve on-water safety under new legislation introduced into Parliament last week.
Victoria’s Roads and Ports Minister, Tim Pallas said the Marine Safety Bill was the outcome of a comprehensive review over the past two years of the Marine Act 1988 as part of the Brumby Labor Government’s program of transport legislation reform.
“The Brumby Labor Government is taking action to improve safety on Victorian waterways and these new laws will deliver better regulations on the water at a time when we’re experiencing strong growth in both recreational boating and commercial shipping activity,” said Pallas.
“This growth in activity on the water, along with loss of space on inland waterways and exposure of more hazards due to the drought, has significantly increased congestion in some areas.
“At the same time, various forms of high-speed recreational boating are expanding rapidly, with a new generation of people taking to the water in a range of vessels that are relatively cheaper, more powerful and harder to maintain in the backyard,” he said.
According to the Minister, the Bill and accompanying regulations, including a new system of seaworthiness checks, addressed key recommendations and findings from recent Coroner’s inquiries and added to the case for legislative reform.
“The Marine Safety Bill has been developed following an extensive statewide consultation program, including last year’s 26 information sessions attended by more than 800 people and over 400 written submissions,” said Pallas.
“Some early initiatives have already been implemented, such as the new “hoon” boating laws, which came into effect last summer, and this Bill now completes the review process with a balanced set of measures designed to further encourage a strong safety culture on the water,” he said.
Key features of the Marine Safety Bill include:
* Providing an improved framework to ensure vessels are fit for purpose and operated by people who have the skills to do so safely;
* Enabling the introduction of licence endorsements requiring the operators of high-risk vessels (e.g. jetskis) to demonstrate relevant skills and knowledge;
* Creating tougher penalties to crackdown on those flouting rules and putting safety at risk;
* Making it clearer who is responsible for safety on our waterways and what they are required to do;
* Facilitating greater cooperation and policy consistency between the various responsible authorities and waterway managers;
* Introducing owner-onus for speed and zone offences, mirroring the law on the roads;
* Complementing the efforts of sailing and boating clubs to encourage a positive safety culture; and,
* Allowing testing for drug and alcohol impairment when a vessel is at anchor, so at least one person is fit to operate a boat safely and legally in an emergency.
Pallas said hospital admissions, as a result of incidents on the water, had risen significantly over recent years and the new legislation would go some way to help reducing such incidents.
“A total of 298 people were admitted to Victorian hospitals in 2007-08 with recreational boating injuries — an increase of 34 per cent in just one year and nearly double the number recorded only five years earlier,” said Pallas.
“While the number of fatalities on the water remains relatively stable, the rise in incidents and injuries is clear evidence of increasing safety risks on the water, which this proposed legislation will help to combat,” he said.
Pallas said the Brumby Labor Government had listened carefully to stakeholders across the marine sector in developing the new legislation. “One of the main focuses of the new laws is to improve the practical skills and safety culture of all who take part in recreational boating, but without unduly impacting on their ability to enjoy their pastime,” he said.
Photo: Victoria’s Roads and Ports Minister, Tim Pallas.