The bill includes a suite of other minor associated reforms, including requiring the Australian Maritime Safety Authority to publish forms on its website, clarifying responsible authorities for a variety of existing provisions, creating the ability for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority to exempt some ships from ship marking requirements—for example, heritage ships—and allowing the authority to specify the forms that must be used in applications for shipping registration.
Labor support these minor reforms, but we are somewhat disappointed that, whilst the government are bringing forward legislation on these very minor reforms, what they’re not doing is addressing the need for an Australian shipping industry to actually get the support of the government—indeed, at each and every step they are busy undermining it. We know that Australia does need a domestic shipping sector. The combined value of our sea-going exports is over $400 billion every year. That represents about one-quarter of our GDP. Our shipping task is in fact the fifth largest in the world. This industry is simply critical to the health of our nation. But this government is overseeing an industry in decline as Australia’s merchant fleet and its proud workforce are disappearing.
I’ve spoken many times in this chamber on the importance of Australian shipping, but there are some points that are worthy of repeating because it seems that the government just doesn’t get it. The existence of a vibrant Australian shipping industry serves Australia’s economic, environmental and national security interests. A strong shipping industry supports Australian jobs. The shipping sector trains highly skilled and highly valued workers. These are skills which are critical for Australia to possess as an island continent. They represent the continuation of a proud industry that is linked so much with Australia’s history. A strong shipping industry supports our environment. Australian seafarers know our coast and care for our maritime treasures—maritime treasures like the Great Barrier Reef. In fact, all of the major maritime accidents to have occurred in our waters in recent decades have involved foreign flagged vessels crewed by foreign seafarers. A strong Australian shipping industry is also vital for our national security. We know that there’s an absolute link between the merchant fleet and our navy. The existence of a strong maritime workforce ensures there’s a pool of highly skilled labour that can be mobilised in a time of conflict or national emergency.
But these issues of the national interest are of no interest to this government. Labor has always prioritised more Australian seafarers crewing more Australian flagged ships and carrying more Australian goods around our coastline. The former federal Labor government spoke to industry, unions and the community. We listened to what they needed to prosper and we reformed shipping in the legislation in 2012. But this government seems determined to either ignore that legislation or undermine it. We made it easier for Australian shipping companies to do business. We created a zero tax rate for Australian shipping companies and made a range of regulatory changes which made it easier to employ Australian seafarers. We created the International Shipping Register to allow Australian flagged vessels to employ mixed Australian and foreign crews on internationally agreed rates and conditions. We created the first National Ports Strategy. We removed complex and conflicting state and territory laws with one set of modern national laws and one regulator, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.
The opposition at the time said they would undermine it were they come to office, and that is certainly what they have tried to do. In 2015 they introduced their infamous ‘WorkChoices on water’ legislation—legislation designed to have the Australian flag on the back of Australian ships replaced by foreign flags and Australian workers replaced by foreign workers being paid foreign wages and conditions. This attack is something that wouldn’t be seen in other sectors. If you want to transport goods from Brisbane to Melbourne down the coast on the blue highway you should, of course, have to pay the same courtesies and conditions that apply if you’re transporting those goods down the Newell and Hume highways.
The fact is, though, that under this government they want to see the blue highway being used by foreign ships with foreign workers being paid foreign wages and working under foreign conditions. That wouldn’t occur if you were talking about truck drivers on the highway. You have to have an Australian registered truck and you have to have an Australian employed under appropriate wages and conditions. That should be what happens if you are using the blue highway as well. But the government are simply so determined to undermine the rights of people who happen to be members of trade unions and who have a history of acting collectively—a proud history—in the Maritime Union of Australia and other unions, including the Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers. Those unions do have proud histories of acting collectively. Under this government, the way to solve that is to simply remove those people from the workforce and have them replaced. That doesn’t make sense at all, so, whilst the government are focused in this legislation on some very minor amendments, I say to them that we’ve now had myriad ministers: Minister Truss came and went, and then Minister Chester came and went, and then we had Minister Joyce, who came and went, and now we’ve got the new minister, Minister McCormack, and he’s struggling to hold onto his job because he’s under threat from Minister Joyce, who thinks it would be appropriate for him to come back. I say to Minister McCormack that this is an opportunity for him to differentiate himself from his predecessors and actually implement a policy that would be supported by Australian industry, who were here last week having their national conference.
We are determined to work with industry, to work with unions, to work the community sector and to work with all those who use Australian shipping and to reach out across the chamber and work with those opposite as well in the national interest. But our national interest demands that we have an Australian shipping industry, and on this side of the House we will certainly fight for it. I commend the bill to the House.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.