Sep 18, 2014

Maintaining Australian shipping serves national interest

Abbott Government attacks on requirements that foreign-flagged ships pay Australian-level wages when working domestic shipping lanes will undermine the nation’s domestic maritime industry and destroy Australian jobs.

They will also remove Australian mariner expertise from our shipping lanes, increasing the prospects of maritime accidents and damage to tourism assets including the Great Barrier Reef.

Writing in The Australian today, Transport Minister Warren Truss claimed maritime operating costs including labour had made Australian shipping uncompetitive.

His real intention is allow foreign-flagged ships working Australian domestic routes to pay Third-World wage levels – an absurd proposition would remove the current level-playing field for Australian-flagged vessels.

Australian law provides minimum pay levels for every industry.

Shipping should be no different.

Any business that moves freight by road has to pay the truck driver Australian-level rates.

But Tony Abbott and Mr Truss believe things should be different on our seas as they seek to reduce costs for their friends in big business.

The previous Labor Government worked closely with the Australian industry on reforms that took effect only two years ago requiring the payment of Australian rates by foreign shipping companies when they work Australian domestic routes.

This commonsense move should be allowed to bed down before Mr Truss imposes his hard-right ideological dogma at the expense of Australian jobs and business.

Given that Australia is an island nation that relies on trade, any Australian Government with an ounce of commonsense would understand the importance of retaining a local shipping industry.

The only major shipping accidents in Australian waters in recent years have involved foreign-flagged vessels which were not observing Australian safety standards.

Allowing the destruction of the local industry, as Mr Truss seems to be contemplating, will reduce safety standards and risk damage to our coastline and the Great Barrier Reef.

Current arrangements do not, as Mr Truss claimed today, represent protectionism.

If Mr Truss wants to see protectionism, he should check out the United States, where all foreign-flagged vessels are banned from domestic routes and all vessels working the sea lanes must have been built in the US and be staffed by Americans.

Australians wants to see the Australian flag flying on the back of Australian boats crewed by Australian seafarers.