Today in Question Time today, the Prime Minister refused to answer questions raised by North Star Cruises representative Bill Milby in his submission to the Senate legislation committee investigating proposed changes to shipping laws.
In his submission to the Senate’s Rural and Regional Affairs Committee, Mr Milby asserts that on May 20 and July 16 this year, Infrastructure Department bureaucrats advised him that the best way for his business to remain competitive in the face of the proposed reforms was to “consider taking our ship True North off the Australian Shipping register, re-register the ship in a suitable foreign country, lay off our Australian crew and hire a cheaper foreign crew’’.
Mr Milby was commenting on Government proposals to allow foreign vessels paying third world wages to undercut Australian ships operating on domestic waterways.
Whereas last week the Prime Minister declared in Perth that Mr Milby was being untruthful, today he flick passed the issue to his hapless Deputy Prime Minister, Warren Truss.
Mr Truss cynically sought to discredit Mr Milby’s submission by claiming the advice could not have been given because under his proposed legislation, any foreign vessel would have to pay its crew Australian wages after 183 days of operation on the Australian coast.
But Mr Truss deliberately ignored the fact that many cruise ships operate in coastal and international waters. They also operate on a seasonal basis.
Cairns-based cruise ship Coral Princess has already been sold to Singaporean interests in anticipation of the government changes.
In January Coral Princess founder Mr Tony Briggs: “Foreign-flagged vessels can employ cheaper (overseas) crew; they don’t have to comply with Australian regulations including (those of) the Australian Maritime Safety Authority; they don’t have to comply with occupational health and safety, HR and IR; and the main thing is they don’t have to pay tax.’’
Government MPs should pay attention to committee hearings tonight when Mr Milby and a range of other witnesses will expand on their written submissions under oath.
Earlier this year, the Government dumped a proposal to abandon cabotage arrangements in the aviation industry. It should likewise scrap its proposed abandonment of Australian shipping.