Dec 1, 2014

Private members’ business – Coastal Shipping

Federation Chamber

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (12:19): The oncers who have promoted this motion before the chamber do not know what they are talking about. They are driven by an ideological position that says: when in trouble on an issue, attack workers. That is their reflex position. They do not understand the reforms that were introduced by the former federal Labor government and they do not understand what the challenges are for the shipping sector in Tasmania.

The industry agreed with us. We did not write the policy. We sat down and worked with industry, and what they came up with were issues such as the volume of exports, which is one of the big challenges. So how do you facilitate an increase in the volume of exports? You do so through practical measures. For example, by dealing with salmon so that it is not frozen but semifrozen, and giving public support for that, you increase not just the value of the product at its end destination but also the volume of exports, due to the demand that increases for that product. They were practical solutions, not the simplistic, just-smash-workers solution that is being put forward.

Our shipping reforms were not a protectionist model. If you want to look at a protectionist model, have a look at the Jones act in the United States and what other countries do with their shipping policy. What we said was: ‘We want a level playing field for Australian shipping. We want them to be able to compete with their international competitors on an equal basis.’ So we undertook measures such as slashing tax rates on Australian shipping companies to zero; introducing a seafarers tax offset to encourage the employment of Australians, something that this government is trying to abolish now; and creating the Australian International Shipping Register, allowing foreign-owned vessels limited access to tax relief provided that they hire Australians as senior officers and commit to investment in skills training. They are the sorts of measures that we undertook. In Tasmania, a $37.5 million fund was set up to help Tasmanian companies overcome obstacles to increase exports.

But what we see from this government is an attempt to throw all of that out. They say that workers who staff ships around the Australian coast should not be paid Australian wages. Just think about that. At the same time, we are having a debate about the China free trade agreement, where Andrew Robb says it will not allow Australian wages and working conditions to be undermined by Chinese wages and working conditions. If a truck that goes from Melbourne to Sydney happens to be owned by a Filipino who brought in a Filipino worker in order to drive that truck, that driver cannot be paid foreign wages. Shipping cannot be undertaken in those circumstances either.

It is not just about the undermining of working conditions. We know that, if you look at where incidents have occurred around the coast—incidents that have a significant impact on the Australian economy—they have involved foreign-flagged ships. We know that flags of convenience represent a problem not just for the economy but also, potentially, for the environment due to the damage that can occur, such as what occurred off the Gladstone coast just a few years ago, and national security. It amazes me that those opposite, who speak a lot about border security, are quite prepared to have the Australian flag completely disappear from the Australian coast. This is not Work Choices; this is Work Choices on water. That is what they want. They want Work Choices on water to enable the replacement of what remains of the Australian shipping industry.

We have an opposite approach. We want to build the Australian shipping industry. We want to build its capacity. It has not been given a chance to work, because those opposite have been busy undermining the investment that would occur from the business community. The business community will not invest in a program that the current government are saying that they will get rid of; common sense tells you that. Those opposite have failed in their approach. They have retreated to the old-fashioned, bash-the-worker approach. That is simply not good enough and not in the interests of Tasmania. (Time expired)

Debate adjourned.