Sep 20, 2011

Second Reading – Navigation Amendment Bill 2011

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler—Leader of the House and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (19:26): in reply—I am pleased to sum up the debate on the Navigation Amendment Bill 2011. I thank the member for Fremantle and others for supporting this bill, which has been supported by all members of the House who have spoken. It allows for the implementation in Australia of the Maritime Labour Convention. The MLC is internationally described as a bill of rights for seafarers. The importance of this bill was highlighted only last week in Sydney. The Doris, a Maltese registered, Russian owned, 35,000 tonne bulk ship, was boarded by the International Transport Federation in Glebe. The ITF took this action in response to the Doris’s Russian crew not being provided the most basic international minimum wages or conditions.

Unfortunately, there is very little the Australian government can do about this situation, at least until the MLC is given the force of law. Ninety nine per cent of our international trade is carried by ships, yet only one-half of one per cent of that trade is carried by Australian flagged vessels. Our ports manage 10 per cent of the world’s entire sea trade. Two hundred billion dollars worth of cargo is moved annually. Australia is the biggest single island nation and the fourth largest shipping task in the world, yet there are only 22 Australian registered major-trading ships plying our waters today, down from 55 when the Howard government was elected. Consequently, until we can revitalise our shipping industry, we are reliant upon foreign flagged vessels for this absolutely vital role in the Australian economy. However, shipping matters rarely get the front page of our daily newspapers. The exception is when there is a major incident such as an oil spill or grounding.

Without efficient and safe shipping services to and from Australia, our lives would be very different. Efficient and safe shipping services require well-trained and fit-to-work seafarers as crew on those ships. The MLC ensures decent working conditions for all seafarers. The implementation of the MLC in Australia will not necessarily result in significant changes for seafarers on Australian ships because the majority of them already enjoy good working conditions. The passage of this bill will help to ensure that these good working conditions are maintained on Australian ships and are extended to seafarers working on all foreign flagged ships entering Australian ports. The MLC will ensure that seafarers will not have to work unreasonable hours. They will have proper accommodation and recreational facilities and they will be assured of adequate care in the event of an accident or illness.

While improving the working and living conditions of many seafarers, the MLC will also have the effect of reducing the likelihood of accidents that may result in marine pollution, damage or loss of life or injury to seafarers. Most shipowners already provide good working conditions for the men and women who crew their ships by setting enforceable minimal working conditions for all seafarers. The MLC will provide a level playing field by ensuring that these shipowners will be protected from unfair competition from the few unscrupulous shipowners who expose their crews to substandard working conditions. I commend the bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.