Agribusiness & Food

Navigating new waters

With new laws for grain shipping set to take effect in July, ABHR gets an update from the Australasian Institute of Marine Surveyors about how this will change the industry.

Agriculture is a major sector in the Australian economy, contributing about three per cent (or around $50 billion) to the country’s GDP, according to the National Farmers Federation (NFF).

The NFF reports that Australian farmers export around 60 per cent of what they grow and produce.

Protecting the high-quality reputation of Australian grain was considered vital to the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE), which set up the Accredited Grain Surveyors list in conjunction with the Australian Wheat Board (AWB) and the Australasian Institute of Marine Surveyors (AIMS). 

The original goal was to ensure the surveyors in charge of inspecting grain vessels were accountable and reliable; however, in 2018 AIMS began to see an increase in conflicts of interest in surveyor appointments and a reduced oversight in verifying surveyor qualifications. This put Australian exports at risk of becoming contaminated, turned back or refused.

To provide greater assurance that bulk vessels would comply with agricultural export legislation, an Accredited Grain Surveyor Assurance (AGSA) Scheme was proposed as a collaborative initiative between DAWE and AIMS. Stacey Taylor, General Manager at AIMS, said there will be changes to the way surveyors undertake Bulk Vessel Inspections under the new scheme.

“AIMS will be the official accrediting body managing the AGSA Scheme, which is set to come into effect on 1 July,” she told ABHR.

“Applications for the scheme can be made online from the 1st of May 2022 and will require surveyors to submit evidence that they meet the qualification and experience requirements under the new laws.

“This could be via, qualifications, sea service records, resumes or even work references supported by a statutory declaration.”

Under the new rules, it is expected the accredited grain surveyors must hold a combination of the following qualification and experience options:

To be accredited, marine surveyors must have performed at least 10 bulk vessel surveys in no fewer than two months and no more than two years. They must have been accompanied by another accredited marine surveyor (or a person who was a qualified marine surveyor prior to commencement of the AGSA scheme).

If these 10 supervised surveys were completed more than three years ago, marine surveyors will also need to provide evidence they performed at least three bulk vessel surveys in the most recent three-year period.

To maintain accreditation, surveyors must also continue to perform at least three bulk vessel surveys every three years.

Taylor said AIMS undertook several rounds of industry consultation to gather feedback on the proposed changes. This prompted an impact study to ensure there would be no skills shortages that arise from the changes.

“We found out some interesting things through the study,” she said. “[It] found there would be minimal impacts for the workforce, and that the changes would in fact provide a wider range of entry pathways.

“It also highlighted the importance of future-proofing the industry to make sure that the requirements were not only suitable for current surveyors, but future ones, too.

“Due to the reduced Australian hipping fleet over the past years, there are less Australian seafarers coming to shore. One of the proposed qualification requirements was to be a Master Unlimited but If in the future we have less available Masters Unlimited, we needed to know there are alternative pathways available for surveyors to become accredited.”

Most of the changes to the legislation are directly related to marine surveyors, with minimal impacts for authorised officers.

The changes to the legislation also seek to provide greater assurance and confidence in the industry. AIMS found that until now there has been more reliance on self-regulation, which could create potential problems if something goes wrong.

Taylor said AIMS’ experienced membership and connection to the industry has allowed it to provide insights  to help understand the implications of the current practices and what it could mean for the industry.

“It is vital, particularly in an industry with limited regulation, to work with all stakeholders,” she said.

“We hope to see more of these accreditation practices implemented through collaboration between industry and government.”

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