Subjects: Warren Truss’ statement that Australian job losses are “trivial issues” Senate shipping inquiry; Bill Milby; China free trade agreement; Syrian refugee crisis
DAVID SPEERS: The Shadow Minister joins me now. Anthony Albanese thanks for your time.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
SPEERS: Does this hinge on the difference between a government official giving an option to a businessman versus advice?
ALBANESE: No. It doesn’t. This is an open and shut case. Bill Milby said, how can my business compete, when he heard of the reforms. He was referred by Warren Truss, the Minister, to the official, because Warren Truss had just launched this policy, and the official very clearly said to him, well if you want to compete, then this is what you have to do. Get a foreign flag, replace your Australian workforce with a workforce paying foreign wages and that way you won’t have any training bill either.
SPEERS: But did they say you’ve got to do that, or did they say, these are the options?
ALBANESE: Well, they of course can’t do that. He had the option of going out of business. That’s the other option. Because you can’t compete. If two ships are side by side, and one has a cost structure paying third world wages, and third world registration, and third world tax rates, both income tax rates, and also corporate tax rates, if it’s taken off the Australian register, then of course they can’t compete on the basis of first world wages, which we have here in our first world country of Australia.
That is the whole purpose of the legislation and we heard last night that 88 per cent of the savings, and this is in the Government’s Explanatory Memorandum, are as a result of wages. So, the difference between Australian wages and foreign wages. We know that 90 per cent of the Australian flagged industry will disappear. That is the very purpose of this legislation.
SPEERS: But the Government argues the whole point of doing this is because we are losing more and more business here. More and more shipping freight. They point to figures that between 2006-7 and 2013-14, coastal licences plummeted from 30 vessels to 15. They halved.
ALBANESE: Our legislation came in 2012 and took effect from 2013. That’s what they miss out. That’s why we introduced legislation and it’s working. We had last night evidence from a Tasmanian ship freighting operator, about a $100 million investment that they’ve made on the basis of the new legislation.
Financed by the ANZ Bank. Creating jobs in Tasmania. That’s what it was aimed at. We didn’t bring in a protectionist model. We brought in one whereby Australian based shipping can compete with foreign shipping, by making them pay Australian based wages when they’re working on the domestic freight task.
Just like in any other sector of the economy, if you’re doing work in Australia, you should pay Australian wages and conditions. What the government seeks to do is to bring everyone down to third world levels by introducing flags of convenience.
SPEERS: Sure, but if you are doing that and you are essentially saying those foreign flagged vessels have to pay the Australian wage for any domestic freight that they are going to carry, few are going to do that. Are we going to see the share of the freight by shipping continue to fall?
ALBANESE: No, not at all. The share hasn’t fallen. That misnomer was brought out last night as well. The figure that Warren Truss used today was based upon value, and because the iron ore price has gone down, the value of freight that’s used in terms of shipping has gone down as well.
SPEERS: What other measure could you use? The actual bulk?
ALBANESE: Prices go up and down so that’ll have an impact in terms of the relative value of what’s being taken on shipping and what’s been taken on rail. Indeed there was evidence last night that the amount of freight going on shipping is actually increased and evidence from the rail sector on that basis.
Today of most concern was the fact that Warren Truss described these issues as being trivial. Well, Mr Milby who’s, we’re not just talking about the tourist sector jobs on his cruise ship. There are also the related jobs onshore.
There are also, of course, the jobs in shipbuilding. His ship was built here in Australia, so you lose those shipbuilding jobs as well in manufacturing when you decimate the Australian shipping industry.
That is what not just Mr Milby but every single one of the Australian shipping operators who appeared last night said would happen including the peak organisation, the Australian Maritime Industry Limited said this legislation is flawed. It should be thrown out. You’ve had one gentleman, a Liberal Party member of 50 years from Mr Abbott’s own electorate saying this is just bad legislation.
SPEERS: You say it’s not protectionist, what you want to do. It is though, to a degree, isn’t it?
ALBANESE: We allowed for foreign ships around our coast. What we simply said though, unlike in the United States where if you want to take freight from LA to San Francisco, you’ve got to take have a US flagged vessel, US seafarers and the ship has to be built in the United States. We allow for competition, but it’s competition on an equal basis. Where Australian ships are available, they should be used.
So a simple principle, in terms of preference, but also, was making sure that the cost structures were similar. There are real consequences, not just for our economy but for national security. Common sense tells you that as an island continent, you want ships going around the coast with the Australian flag on the back.
It’s one of the reasons why every single country in the G20 does not have this free for all around the coast. G20 economies all have a system that allows for support for a domestic shipping industry, because of national security, because of environmental issues as well.
I must say, every time there’s been an incident off the coast, whether it be the Pasha Bulker, be it the Pacific Adventurer, be it the Shen Neng, off the Queensland Coast, there hasn’t been an Australian flag on the back of that ship.
SPEERS: Let me ask you about a couple of other issues today. The refugee question as to what we do to help with the refugee crisis in Syria. Labor’s settled on a figure of 10,000. How and why that particular figure and why the need to rush out that sort of figure?
ALBANESE: We think that’s a reasonable contribution. We’ve also said we’re not dogmatic about it; we’d be prepared to talk to the government about it. But the big distinction I think, why it was necessary to make it, was that the Prime Minister did a press conference on the weekend and said we should take people from Syria, but that they would displace people who would have otherwise got through.
There was no increase in the intake. That’s why it was important, I think, for us to say hang on a minute; if you’re going to say Australia should do our bit, that’s not doing our bit. That’s just replacing people from Africa or other countries who are refugees, genuinely and have been through the UN processes, with people from Syria.
We need to do, given that the crisis is over and above business as usual, we need to have a measure that’s over and above business as usual. That’s why we made that statement and I was pleased that the Prime Minister yesterday said that he would consider that and I’m hopeful that we can actually get this above partisan politics and hopefully, the Prime Minister will give that proper consideration.
SPEERS: Is Labor really doing that? Is Labor really trying to seek a bipartisan approach to this, because we saw again in Question Time, attacks on the government over the aid funding for the people in Syria and again, calling on him to back this 10,000 figure that you’ve announced.
ALBANESE: Well, this is a government that has cut foreign aid. That’s a fact. We think that’s a problem.
SPEERS: It’s also taken a lot more Syrian refugees than Labor ever did.
ALBANESE: Hang on a tick here. The crisis that has occurred has escalated in recent times. I mean, this was a conflict that was expected not to last for very long. That has now lasted four years. And there are people in camps in Turkey, in Jordan, people desperately travelling across Europe. The circumstances are such that in the same way the rest of the world has stepped up, we need to as well.
SPEERS: And finally, the China free trade agreement. We’ve seen the government going after Bill Shorten in Question Time, the various things that he said over the years about free trade. Where do you stand on this? At the end of the day, will you want to see the free trade agreement with China supported?
ALBANESE: I support free trade. I support increased engagement with China. What I want is the government to get serious about making sure that they get the details right. It’s a matter of the details. I think there are benefits of free trade. What we need to do though, is to make sure that those benefits accrue to the entire Australian population rather than to just a few.
The way to do that is to make sure that Australians have an opportunity, if there is investment going on, to apply for those jobs, in terms of labour market testing that occurs with other foreign investment here in Australia as well.
The problem with this government is that they’re constantly looking for conflict and looking for difference. They haven’t transitioned from being the Opposition. Tony Abbott was a very good Opposition leader. Unfortunately, the skills of negativity and opposition and destruction have been brought into the way he depicts himself as Prime Minister.
SPEERS: The opposition and negativity on this, though, is coming from Labor, because the Government points out the many elements in the free trade agreement that do protect local jobs.
ALBANESE: That’s not right, David. Today we saw an extraordinary circumstance, something I haven’t seen, of a Prime Minister putting a motion on the notice paper, moving a suspension of standing orders to deal with his motion before the Parliament, when the legislation associated with the China free trade agreement isn’t before the Parliament. That’s just extraordinary.
SPEERS: It’s still going through the Treaties Committee.
ALBANESE: Why would you move that motion?
SPEERS: Because Labor have been so critical of the deal and the Government wants to know that you support it.
ALBANESE: This is the tactics of an opposition, not the tactics of government – and that’s Tony Abbott’s problem. He had a plan to get into government, but he doesn’t have a plan to govern and it’s shown every day, because after more than two years now, we can say this; there’s no sense of purpose.
You don’t hear him talking about infrastructure very much anymore, because they haven’t actually started to build anything.
SPEERS: Anthony Albanese, we’ll have to leave it there. Thank you very much for joining us this afternoon.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you.