Tony Abbott must commit to backing the future of the Australian shipping industry by rejecting his Commission of Audit’s call for a wage-cutting free-for-all in the nation’s coastal shipping lanes.
The commission’s report, released last week, demands an end to current cabotage arrangements which Labor strengthened to arrest a decline in the Australian shipping industry that began under the previous Howard Government and provide a level-playing field for Australian shipping operators.
In particular, current arrangements mean that foreign-flagged vessels working Australian domestic routes must pay Australian-level wages.
Without these provisions, foreign shippers could pay Third World level wages, giving them an unbeatable advantage over Australian shipping companies which pay Australian level wages.
That makes no sense.
The Australian Shipowners Association has attacked the proposals as “shockingly simplistic, one dimensional and reckless’’.
And the Maritime Union of Australia has also rejected the proposals as risking 2000 direct jobs and 8000 jobs associated with the sector.
Despite this it is clear there is sympathy for the proposals within the Abbott Government.
Labor’s changes to coastal shipping arrangements have been in place for less than two years and were developed after a comprehensive industry consultation process.
They should not be scrapped as part of the ideologically driven attack on fairness proposed by the Commission of Audit, which also opposes universal health care and wants to reduce growth in the minimum wage.
Australia needs a vibrant domestic shipping industry to provide jobs and business opportunities for local companies.
As an island nation that is a substantial player in world trade, our nation requires more than government indifference to the survival of the local shipping industry.
In every other industry in Australia, employers are required to pay Australian award rates.
There is no reason to make an exception when it comes to mariners and no reason to adopt a recommendation attacked by the industry itself as a risk to its very future.