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Both Parties To Blame for Inactivity on Maritime Legislation

Opinion – Paul Myburgh

Labour leader Phil Goff’s recent press statements placing all the blame on the National Government for inactivity in revising and updating the Maritime Transport Act are selective and misleading.

Both Labour and National To Blame for Inactivity on Maritime Legislation

Paul Myburgh
October 18, 2011

Labour leader Phil Goff’s recent press statements placing all the blame on the National Government for inactivity in revising and updating the Maritime Transport Act are selective and misleading.

Both the previous Labour Government and the current National Government have failed to give appropriate priority to international maritime law issues.

The 1996 Protocol to the Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims Convention 1976 came into effect internationally in 2004 while Labour was in Government. Labour had four years to enact the 1996 Protocol, yet failed to do so. Below is a summary of the legal position as I saw it in 2007, when Annette King was Minister of Transport.

All political parties need to learn from this disaster, rather than turning it into a petty point-scoring exercise. Sufficient Parliamentary time needs to be set aside to debate and pass technical legislation, which may not be “sexy” or win votes, but which is necessary to keep New Zealand’s legislation updated and in line with international developments.

Paul Myburgh “Shipping Law” [2007] New Zealand law Review 749, 751-752:

“For the last few years, the Ministry of Transport has been signalling a comprehensive review of the Maritime Transport Act 1994 (“the MTA”), the omnibus statute that regulates most aspects of the coastal and international New Zealand shipping industry. This news was welcomed by the New Zealand maritime community. The MTA was produced in a political pressure cooker. Abolition of cabotage and liberalization of coastal shipping was the only morsel subjected to intensive taste-testing – and even that had to be sent back to the parliamentary kitchen afterwards. The rest of the dish was served up with unseemly haste. Over a decade later, a thorough review of the more undercooked provisions of the MTA is long overdue. It is therefore worrying that the review of the MTA seems to have dropped off the legislative menu in the latest Ministry of Transport annual reports and statements of intent. The General Election next year is likely to delay the review further. Given that over 99 per cent of New Zealand’s international economic activity depends on a high-quality international maritime law regime, it would be inexcusable if a comprehensive review of the MTA were to be elbowed off the Ministry’s policy agenda by more photogenic and voter-friendly issues like transport congestion in Auckland, public transport, minority access to transport, and climate change. …

The third Ministry discussion document provides an opportunity for public comment on the proposed implementation of four international maritime environmental Conventions or Protocols promulgated under the aegis of the International Maritime Organization: namely, the International Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage 2001; the 1996 Protocol to amend the Convention on Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims 1976; the Protocol Relating to Intervention on the High Seas in Cases of Marine Pollution by Substances other than Oil 1973; and the Protocol on Preparedness, Response and Co-operation to Pollution Incidents by Hazardous and Noxious Substances 2000.

It must be said that New Zealand’s track record in signing up to international maritime environmental Conventions is not exactly stellar. Indeed, one Australian commentator has characterized New Zealand’s persistent non-involvement in international maritime environmental law as involving “indolence, or some such similar quality”; see White, “Oil Pollution in the Australian and New Zealand Region” (1993) 67 ALJ 191, 200. While it is obvious that New Zealand is still playing catch up with the implementation of these four Conventions and Protocols, this initiative is to be applauded, and it is hoped that the consultation and implementation process will progress smoothly and quickly. The lengthy delay in implementing some of these international instruments highlights the need for New Zealand to be more actively involved in the work programme of the International Maritime Organization, and for greater priority to be given by the Ministry of Transport to the more timely domestic enactment of relevant international maritime law instruments.”


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