May 31, 2012

Coastal Trading (Revitalising Australian Shipping) Bill 2012 – Opposition Amendments

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler—Leader of the House and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (12:51):  The government will be supporting this amendment. The amendment goes to two issues: promoting competition in coastal trading—the government supports that—and ensuring efficient movement of passengers and cargo between Australian ports. The government supports that.

What these reforms are all about is creating competition. At the moment there is no competition because Australian ships are disadvantaged against foreign ships.

The position that they are arguing on competition here is like arguing on the Enterprise Migration Agreements that any foreign worker should have the right to come in and do any work in Australia with no limitations whatsoever. But guess what? There would be no Australians working in the resources sector or in other sectors if that were the case. Extraordinary positions have been put during this debate, and I have had the same positions put to me in my office. It says, ‘The problem with what you’re doing here is that we won’t be able to pay people less’—that is, that it will not be possible to pay a different wage to an Australian from that paid to a foreign worker. But we do not want to compete in a race to the bottom by paying people a dollar an hour. We do not want people who work on ships flying flags of convenience crashing into the Great Barrier Reef because they have not been to sleep for more than 24 hours. That is why we need to ensure—and through the Fair Work Act we have ensured—that people who work on ships operating around the Australian coast do have to comply with Australian wages. The whole cost differential argument that has been put is a nonsense.

We support competition; we do not support competition whereby Australian ships are unable to compete. That is why we have produced a zero rate of taxation for Australian shipping. The Leader of the National Party has said to industry, ‘Gee, I wish I could’ve got that; I couldn’t get that through Treasury.’ I have delivered it; why don’t you just vote for it? That is all I am asking you to do. It’s easy—you don’t even have to move; just sit there and vote for it.

We support this amendment, but we do not think that it is not necessary to the bill, because the whole package is about having a stronger, more competitive, more efficient industry, and we just happen to think that Australians can do the work. As for the compact between industry and unions so readily dismissed by the Leader of the National Party, I’ll tell you what: I will listen to the people who actually run ships and work on ships—the employer organisation and the employee organisation—before I will listen to any politician about the realities of the shipping industry. But we do support the amendment.

The reforms in the bill will restore the level playing field and promote competition. A competitive shipping market will ensure that we can achieve efficiencies and that shipping regains its share of the transport task. One of the great advantages of promoting shipping is that the blue highway is free. There will be a real cost benefit in maximising the use of the blue highway as opposed to maximising the use of the bitumen highways. There will be real benefits in economic productivity and real benefits in safety as well. But we need to get it right, and if there is no Australian industry the skills and workforce that can run our ports, our harbours and our logistics tasks will not be created. Shipping is essential for an island continent. We support amendment (1) moved by the Leader of the National Party.