Sep 8, 2015

Abbott must abandon plan to destroy Australian shipping

Tony Abbott must scrap his flawed shipping legislation after confirmation bureaucrats advised a Western Australian cruise ship company that sacking its 60 Australian staff and replacing them with cheap foreign labour would allow it to remain competitive under the draconian changes.

The Prime Minister must also publicly apologise to North Star Cruises representative Bill Milby for questioning his honesty last week by insisting the explosive advice was never given.

Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss also owes the Parliament an explanation after he misled it yesterday by also insisting the advice was never offered.

The Government is attempting to change shipping laws to allow foreign-flagged vessels paying third world wages to undercut Australian vessels working in Australian domestic trade and tourism.

In a submission to the Senate’s Rural and Regional Affairs committee inquiry into the proposals, Mr Milby said he had approached Mr Truss at a public event in Sydney on March 20 and warned him the changes would put North Star out of business.

Mr Milby wrote that Mr Truss referred him to a Department of Infrastructure bureaucrat who had told him that the only way to remain competitive was to “consider taking our ship True North off the Australian Shipping register, re-register the ship in a suitable foreign country, lay off our Australian crew and hire a cheaper foreign crew’’.

Last night Mr Milby repeated his claims on oath at a Senate hearing.

Soon after, departmental official Judith Zielke confirmed to the hearing that replacing True North’s Australian crew with foreigners was among “various options’’ she had canvassed at the meeting and in a follow-up meeting several weeks later in Canberra with colleague Michael Sutton.

It is shameful that any government would openly canvass removing the Australian flag from the back of ships and raising the white flag on Australian jobs.

But the real disgrace is that officials were simply providing an honest account of the real effect of Mr Abbott’s ideologically driven reform proposals, which will destroy the Australian shipping industry.

It is in our nation’s economic, environmental and security interests to retain a viable shipping industry.

Instead, Mr Abbott wants to introduce Work Choices on Water.

Removing the Australian flag from the back of Australian ships is an act of unilateral economic disarmament.

Indeed, in other evidence last night departmental officials confirmed that the government’s own research indicated the changes would leave only two Australian-flagged vessels working interstate coastal trade routes.

Australia deserves more than a Prime Minister who wants to destroy jobs and, when an employer raises concerns, publicly questions the man’s honesty.

Key video clips of the hearing are available here