Employment Minister Eric Abetz should remove his ideological blinkers and stand up for the Australian shipping sector rather than meekly accepting a decision by Caltex to sack 36 Australian workers so it can replace them with cheap foreign labour.
Last Friday in Devonport the crew of fuel tanker Alexander Spirit learned they would lose their jobs because Caltex and the owner of the vessel, Teekay Shipping, would replace them with a new international crew when the ship reached its next destination – Singapore.
Yesterday Senator Abetz said it was wrong to suggest the workers were being made redundant in favour of foreign workers – a claim clearly at odds with the facts.
But this is no surprise given that Senator Abetz is part of a government proposing to allow foreign-flagged vessels paying Third-World level wages to undercut Australian ships which are required to meet Australian standards of pay and conditions.
Legislation before the Parliament, if passed, would destroy the Australian shipping industry by removing current provisions that require people moving freight between Australian ports to first seek out an Australian vessel or where one is not available, engage a foreign-flagged vessel on the condition they pay the crew Australian-level wages.
The reforms would demolish the level-playing field created by the former Labor Government.
They represent an act of unilateral economic disarmament that will destroy Australian jobs.
Senator Abetz’s indifference to the plight of the Alexander Spirit crew betrays his preference for his hard-line ideology ahead of the future of this great Australian industry.
Labor wants to see Australian flags flying off the back of ships working around our coastal ports and around the world.
But Senator Abetz and the Abbott Government are more interested in running up the white flag when it comes to the existence of a healthy Australian maritime sector.
They should put aside their ideology and accept it is in Australia’s economic, environmental and national security interests to revitalise our maritime sector.