Sep 16, 2015

Senate orders release of Milby documents

The Senate has ordered Infrastructure Minister Warren Truss to release all documents about communication between his department and his office about cruise ship operator Bill Milby, who revealed earlier this month that government bureaucrats had told him that if he wanted his shipping business to remain competitive under proposed new shipping laws, he should sack his 50 Australian staff and replace them with cheap foreign labour.

Mr Truss has until noon tomorrow to release all materials his office received from his department about the claims of Mr Milby, who exposed the existence of the explosive advice in a submission to the Senate’s Rural and Regional Affairs committee earlier this month.

Mr Milby, of North Star Cruises, followed up his submission with sworn evidence to the committee on September 7, revealing that on May 20, he told Department of Infrastructure official Judith Zielke that proposed new shipping laws would damage his business.

He testified that Ms Zielke had told him the best way around the change was to re-register his vessel in another country, sack his Australian crew and replace it with a foreign crew on lower wages.

Ms Zielke had then repeated the advice in a meeting in Canberra on June 16, also attended by another bureaucrat, Michael Sutton, Mr Milby said.

But Mr Truss and former prime minister Tony Abbott claimed no such advice was given, a position they maintained even after Ms Zielke and Mr Sutton confirmed Mr Milby’s evidence, also in sworn testimony before the Senate committee.

Mr Truss went further, claiming that the effects of the legislation claimed by Mr Milby could not happen under his proposed Shipping Legislation Amendment Bill.

This is an extremely serious matter.

Mr Truss and Mr Abbott have publicly questioned Mr Milby’s honesty in an attempt to avoid scrutiny of proposed new shipping laws that would allow foreign ships paying third world wages to undercut Australian vessels in coastal freight trade.

The proposed changes would destroy Australian jobs and sell out the national interest in a bizarre case of unilateral economic disarmament.

When citizens take up the offer of the national Parliament to make submissions to inquiries about the effect of proposed legislation, they should be treated with respect, not labelled liars.

Mr Milby came to Canberra earlier this month in good faith to tell the Government that its proposed legislation would damage his business, which operates in Western Australia’s Kimberley region, as well as many other shipping and associated business around the nation.

Rather than take on board this non-partisan advice and consider his arguments, Mr Truss and Mr Abbott created the impression he was being dishonest.

They then refused to apologise when confronted with the facts.

Incoming Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull should take control of this matter, censure Mr Truss for his outrageous treatment of Mr Milby and scrap the damaging Shipping Legislation Amendment Bill.