Jul 21, 2016

Government must rule out WorkChoices on Water

Transport Minister Darren Chester must provide greater certainty for the Australian shipping industry by ruling out any return of the Turnbull Government’s flawed WorkChoices on Water legislation.

Last year the Senate rejected a Government plan to allow foreign-flagged vessels paying third world wages to undercut Australian-flagged ships working on coastal shipping routes.

Under existing arrangements, foreign vessels are welcome to work on domestic freight sectors provided they pay Australian-level wages to maintain a level playing field.

During the recent federal election campaign, the Coalition made no mention of shipping. It did not even bother to produce a shipping policy to inform the industry and the broader community about its future intentions regarding regulation.

In contrast, Labor produced a comprehensive shipping policy document including our plans on coastal trading, workforce planning, maritime safety, cruise shipping, the Australian International Shipping Register and ongoing industry taxation arrangements.

The policy made clear a Labor Government would support Australian shipping using tax breaks, training subsidies and other measures which were included in the reform package we introduced in government in 2012.

The Government’s silence on its future plans during the election campaign raises the possibility it plans a fresh attack on Australian shipping.

Mr Chester should make his intentions clear.

This is particularly important given that after the Senate rejected its legislation late last year, the Government began abusing existing laws allowing the issuance of temporary licences for the use of foreign crew.

In the most flagrant example of this abuse, the Government issued a licence allowing the operators of the MV Portland to sack their Australian crew and replace it with a foreign crew.

While the legislation makes clear that such licences must be for temporary work where no Australian crew is available, the Portland crew was available and the vessel had been working between Portland in Victoria and Western Australia for more than two decades.

Its work was anything but temporary.

During last year’s debate over the Government’s proposed changes, a Senate committee heard that when Western Australian cruise ship operator Bill Milby warned the Government its changes would destroy his business, a bureaucrat  advised him to consider registering his ship overseas, sacking his Australian crew and replacing it with a foreign crew.

This careless approach to the livelihoods of average Australians stands as a prime example of why the Coalition lost so much public support at the July 2 election.

Australians want their government to act in their interests, not destroy their jobs.