Nov 25, 2015

Maritime Transport and Offshore Facilities Security Amendment (Inter-State Voyages) Bill 2015

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (10:24): It is a sign of our times that security looms large on the agenda of governments around the world. Increased terrorist activity requires increased vigilance. It demands that we take no chances. That is why, right around the world, governments have focused over the last 15 years on tightening security provisions of parliaments, government offices, places where people congregate and, of course, our ports and airports. It is a real balancing act. On the one hand, we need to make sure that we protect ourselves from those who would seek to do us harm. On the other, we need to make sure our security arrangements do not curtail our normal activities or place unnecessary burdens on the commercial activities that drive economic growth.

It is that balancing act that sits at the heart of the piece of legislation before us today. It seeks to exclude Australian flagged vessels involved in interstate trade from the regulatory regime with regard to security. Under current circumstances, all Australian vessels of 500 gross tonnes or more or those carrying 13 or more passengers on international and interstate vessels must have a ship security plan. That plan must include a security assessment of the vessel’s operations that provides information on the security measures the ship has put in place to prevent unlawful interference. It must also include details of the actions that will be taken in the event of a security incident. These provisions do not apply to vessels that move goods within an Australian state, say, on a voyage from Brisbane to Townsville. The government argues that there is no increased security risk simply because a vessel crosses state borders. It also advises that removing these security obligations from vessels engaged in interstate trade will save the shipping industry up to $1 million a year.

The opposition will support this bill. We agree that, while it is critical that we take all steps we can to keep our nation safe, this provision can be dispensed with without any substantial effect on security. We also agree with the government’s intention to continue to require that vessels that carry passengers or vehicles interstate should continue to be subject to the existing security regime. That is a common-sense provision. I note that the minister has said that the government proposes to amend the Maritime Transport and Offshore Facilities Regulations to this end, and we will support those changes.

This legislation relates in particular to Australian flagged vessels, not those from overseas. As much as I am pleased to support the changes to exclude Australian flagged vessels from the security regulations, I note that this change is likely to be rendered irrelevant before very long. That is because this government is trying to remove Australian flagged vessels from our interstate trade. That will be the result of the legislation that is before the Senate—that is, the Shipping Legislation Amendment Bill. I note that the member for Lyons just defended that legislation that is currently before the Senate. But the fact is that the explanatory memorandum, there in black and white in the legislation that he voted for, says that four of the six vessels currently operating from Tasmania will reflag. That is, they will take the Australian flag off the back of their ships and put on a foreign flag or get a new ship altogether and employ foreign workers being paid foreign wages. That is what the legislation itself says.

The fact is that if you remove any preference and remove all cabotage effectively from the Australian shipping industry then, if you have two ships side by side, one of them Australian flagged and paying Australian wages and the other foreign flagged with foreign conditions and paying foreign wages, the Australian industry simply will not be able to compete. That is just like if on the Hume Highway we allowed trucks to be Filipino registered with Filipino conditions and standards and with Filipino workers driving those tracks being paid Filipino wages then Linfox, Toll and the Australian trucking industry would not be able to compete with them either. This, like a lot of matters that come before the parliament, is not a complex issue. The legislation itself says that this will occur. No other G20 nation—not one—has this type of arrangement for coastal trade. That is why I have characterised this legislation, quite rightly, as unilateral economic disarmament.

The United States, for example, the bastion of the free market, requires that all coastal trade be undertaken by US seafarers on US flagged vessels that have been built in the United States. That is the position it takes. Yet, here in Australia, the intent of this bill is very clearly laid out in the explanatory memorandum, where it says:

Many of the operators currently operating under the Australian General Register would likely re-flag their vessels in order to compete with the foreign operators who enjoy the benefit of comparatively lower wage rates. Australian seafarer jobs would be adversely affected as Australian operators re-flag from the Australian General Register.

Ship operators are likely to replace Australian seafarers (paid under EA rates) with foreign seafarers (paid under ITF rates).

This is not a position paper or a critique of the legislation by the Maritime Union of Australia, The Sydney Morning Herald or The Guardianwebsite; this is in the legislation itself. The regulatory impact statement which is part of the legislation says:

… Australian reliance on foreign shipping services is likely to grow in the coming years as ships continue to leave the Australian fleet due to retirement or reflagging overseas to more favourable taxation and employment environments.

It goes on:

Should a less regulated coastal shipping regulatory system be implemented, it is likely that some operators of Australian ships will seek to move to the lower cost model and flag their ships overseas. This will allow operators to pay all workers on the now foreign flagged ships internationally competitive wages and conditions.

It is right there. I refer the member for Lyons to the regulatory impact statement—noting, again, that it is not a statement by the Australian Labor Party, the Australian Greens, crossbench senators or the Maritime Union of Australia—which says, regarding non-bulk trade across Bass Strait:

We assume four vessels will register under a foreign register to reduce operating costs.

That is, the Australian flag will be gone and foreign workers will be paid foreign wages. That is what it says. It also says that 88 per cent—88c in every dollar—of the claimed economic benefits for business will be from savings in labour costs through replacing Australian jobs with foreign jobs.

If the salmon industry in Tasmania were allowed to establish a facility next to the very successful industries in Tasmania—

Mr Hutchinson: Very little exports, Albo!

Mr ALBANESE: We are not talking about exports. The member talks about exports. What we are talking about here is domestic freight. That is what he does not understand and, in the short time that he will be here, I doubt whether he will ever get it, frankly.

If the salmon industry was prepared to be opened up to the same principles and allow a foreign operator to come in and set up under much lower foreign conditions—rather than Australian conditions, which ensure that we have the top-quality product that we do—not have to pay tax, because they are a foreign company, and be able to employ foreign, rather than Tasmanian, workers, who would be paid $2 an hour, next door to the successful Australian industry, guess what would happen? The Australian industry would disappear. No Australian industry could survive the principles set out in the legislation that is before the Senate. It is as simple as that.

That is why, here in Australia, we say that people should be paid Australian wage rates. That is why the legislation is opposed not just by the shipping industry but, for example, by the rail industry, including the Australian Rail Track Corporation, which produces remits to the government and is a fully government owned entity. The proposed legislation not only distorts the market by making the Australian shipping industry unable to compete; it also distorts the market by ensuring that other modes of transport are at a competitive disadvantage. The ARTC cannot pay foreign wages if goods go from Sydney to Melbourne. It does not operate under foreign regulations but must ensure safe, well-maintained trains et cetera. But, if cargo goes on the blue highway, that will be permissible under the legislation.

Bill Milby’s evidence before the Senate inquiry was clear and consistent with the approach that is in the legislation. The witnesses from the department confirmed that Mr Milby was told that one of his options was to sack his Australian crew, register his vessel overseas and hire cheap foreign labour. The other option, of course, was just to go out of business. It was as simple as that. Mr Milby was told that, yet he was denigrated by the former Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, who said that that incident had not occurred. Of course, it did; he was referred to the department by the minister when he went along to the launch of this flawed legislation.

The fact is that the legislation before us seeks to enhance security but to do so in a way which improves productivity by reducing costs. We are prepared to support this legislation because we think that it has been properly considered by the government but, at the same time, our national security interests are certainly not served by the removal of the Australian flag from around our coastline. The government speaks about stopping the boats; no-one suggested that that meant stopping the Australian flag on the back of boats around our coastline, but that is precisely what the Shipping Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 would do. It is in our strong national security interest to have a strong Australian presence on our coasts to keep an eye out for suspicious activity that might not be recognised or considered important by crews that simply do not have the Australian national interest at their core. So we will work very hard in the Senate with the crossbenchers to ensure that we do not have that legislation, which I think is correctly characterised as WorkChoices on water.

It is against that background that today we have the Maritime Transport and Offshore Facilities Security Amendment (Inter-State Voyages) Bill 2015, which genuinely seeks to reduce red tape costs for Australian flagged vessels, and we are supporting this legislation; we will support any practical measures that come before this parliament to do that. But if those opposite get their way and the Shipping Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 passes the Senate, then this legislation will be rendered as an academic exercise because there will not be Australian ships involved in interstate or intrastate trade, and there will not be the Australian flag around our coasts—the legislation before the Senate says that very strongly.

I hope that people in the Senate actually do read the legislation, unlike people in the House, who clearly have not read the legislation that is before the Senate. It is opposed by the Maritime Industry Australia Ltd, by the people who attended the function that I was at last night, held here in Parliament House with the sector, and by the workforce and people who have knowledge of national security interests, environmental interests and economic interests. I believe that the Maritime Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 will be defeated. On that basis, it is therefore important that this current legislation before the House is supported. Labor will be doing just that.