Nov 25, 2015

Maritime Legislation Amendment Bill 2015, Third reading

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (10:10): I will respond just briefly to the summing up by the minister with regard to the Maritime Legislation Amendment Bill, which is supported by both sides of the House and has just passed its second reading with the unanimous support of the House of Representatives. The minister in his summing up referred to the legislation that is currently before the Senate that would decimate the Australian shipping industry and suggested that it was the case that Labor did not support any changes. The minister knows that I have said to him in private what I now say to him again in public, in his presence, which is that Labor stands willing to participate with industry, with the unions and with the sector on any practical measures that could be made to improve productivity. What we do not stand in support of is legislation that itself says in the explanatory memorandum will lead to the reflagging of Australian vessels and the replacing of Australian seafarers with foreign seafarers on foreign wage rates. That is why the legislation is not the subject of amendments by Labor; it is fundamentally flawed.

The legislation seeks to replace the legislation that was carried by the previous government in 2012. That legislation amended the Navigation Act 1912—that is, it replaced legislation that was literally one century old. It was the most significant and transformative legislation with regard to the maritime sector in the history of this parliament. What we do know is that when you have such a significant legislative change, amending more than one hundred years of practice then inevitably, as is occurring with this very legislation that is the subject of the third reading at the moment, you come in and you move amendments to the existing legislation. The legislation before the parliament amends four separate bills. It makes changes which are minor but which are important, which is why the opposition, Labor, is supporting these changes.

We would have the same approach towards a practical and genuinely consultative approach to the reform of shipping if there were some changes to the way that permits are granted or other changes were to be made. I again reiterate to the Deputy Prime Minister that I do not believe that you should have a circumstance whereby the government wants to see the Australian flag disappear from around our coast, but that is precisely what the legislation says, that is precisely what departmental officials have told Australian businesses, including Mr Bill Milby of North Star Cruises, and that is the consequence of the legislation that is currently before the Senate. So, I again take the opportunity to reiterate that the minister is not right when he suggests that Labor is not willing to consider changes; we are. What we are not prepared to do is not so much throw the baby out with the bathwater but throw the Australian flag under water, which is what would occur with the legislation that is before the Senate. I support this proposed legislation, the Maritime Transport and Offshore Facilities Security Amendment (Inter-State Voyages) Bill 2015, that is before the House. This legislation, which is about to receive unanimous support for the third reading, is the sort of legislation that should come before this House with regard to the maritime sector.

I will conclude with this: if the minister’s legislation were to get through the Senate, it would be the subject of massive changes, should Labor be elected to government. Governments come and go in this place. What the maritime sector needs is some long-term investment certainty, which is why I offer again to try to work through a position which can provide that investment certainty. That is what the sector requires. The minister knows full well that, from the time the legislation was carried in mid-2012—and most of it only came into practice therefore in 2013, just shortly before the federal election, with a then coalition that was likely to be elected to government—of course, it impacted on investment decisions. Still, we saw companies like SeaRoad invest in two new vessels. There were companies like Wellard in WA, and others, who indicated that they wanted to reflag their ships—not from the Australian flag to the flag of Panama or Liberia, but to reflag their ships from countries like Singapore—to put the Australian flag on the back of those vessels and, indeed, to have specific, purpose-built vessels made in Australia, therefore benefiting the manufacturing sector with regard to the maritime industry as well.

I commend the existing bill to the House. I suggest to the minister and to the government that they actually get serious about supporting the maritime sector, because it is so important for us as an island continent. It is in our economic, national security and environmental interests that we have an Australian presence around our coast and a strong maritime sector.