The Turnbull Government is undermining its own efforts on national security with its ongoing push to replace Australian seafarers with foreign mariners earning third world wages.
Legislation before the Parliament will require deeper background checks on Australians seeking identity cards allowing them work in the nation’s ports and on ships, adding to existing checks for links to terrorist groups a new check on links to organised crime.
The proposed measure responds to the recommendations of a recent inquiry into the trafficking and use of the drug ice.
However, at the same time as it will toughen the background checks, the Government is continuing to encourage shipping companies to register their vessels overseas and hire foreign mariners whose backgrounds are not subject to the same detailed background checks.
Indeed, in submission to a Senate inquiry into increasing use of foreign vessels registered in so-called flag of convenience nations like Liberia and Panama, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection warned:
There are features of FOC registration, regulation and practice that organised crime syndicates or terrorists may seek to exploit.
Reduced transparency or secrecy surrounding complex financial and ownership arrangements are factors that can make FOC ships more attractive for use in illegal activity, including by organised crime or terrorist groups.
This means that FOC ships may be used in a range of illegal activities including illegal exploitation of natural resources, illegal activity in protected areas, people smuggling and facilitating prohibited imports or exports.
National security and organised crime are serious matters.
In the national interest, Labor will take a non-partisan approach to the proposed changes to background checks, which have been referred to a Senate inquiry.
However, it makes no sense to be toughening background checks into Australian mariners and port workers to protect the nation from organised crime at the same time as the government is determined to replace Australian mariners with foreign workers.
Last November the Senate rejected the Government’s WorkChoices on Water legislation, which would have destroyed the local shipping industry by exposing it to competition from foreign-flagged vessels crewed by foreign mariners earning third world wage rates.
Because foreign vessels pay lower wage rates, the legislation would have given the overseas vessels a competitive advantage over Australian vessels.
Undeterred by its failure, the Government has since been abusing existing legislation to issue temporary permits that have allowed the owners of two vessels to sack their Australian crews and replace them with foreign vessels.
It is time the government put aside its ideologically driven attack on Australian shipping, which is putting Australians out of work and is now undermining its national security agenda.