Mar 4, 2016

Speech to Maritime Union of Australia Conference – Gold Coast

That great campaigner for social justice Martin Luther King once said human progress was never automatic or inevitable.

King said:

Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.

Today I want to pay tribute to the sacrifice, tireless exertions and passionate concern of five men.

I’m talking about Warren Hopkins, Liam Conaghan, Brett Kolpin, Zac Kinzett and Michael Pawson.

The so-called Portland Five were dragged out of their bunks on January 13 because they had the courage to stand up against injustice.

Warren, Liam, Brett, Zac and Michael and the other 35 Portland crew personify the ongoing struggle in this country between those who believe Australian governments should support Australian jobs and those who put their ideology ahead of the welfare of their fellow Australians.

It’s a battle between those who understand that the national interest is served by the retention of a vibrant Australian shipping industry and those who look no further than the interests of their political donors.

A struggle between those who understand the power of collectivism, and those whose creed is the law of the jungle.

So let me salute the 40 men who have the ticker to stand up for their own convictions, just as I salute the crew of the CSL Melbourne, who were removed from their vessel by riot police in similar circumstances last month.

To you I say: Thank you.

I support your struggle.

You can expect me to keep speaking on your behalf whether it is in the Parliament of Australia, in the media or on a street corner in my own electorate.

Also, let me thank the MUA for the fantastic framed poster featuring an image of the Portland and the signatures of the Portland Five.

I was humbled when you dropped the gift off to my office in Canberra.

It’s now hanging on the office wall.

Visitors comment on it, which gives me the welcome opportunity to tell them about your struggle.


A moment ago I spoke in praise of people who stand up for their principles.

This brings me to Malcolm Turnbull, whose convictions have lately been exposed as somewhat fluid.

Let’s cast our minds back to September last year, when Mr Turnbull ousted Tony Abbott.

Like all Australians, I was pleased to see Mr Abbott lose power.

Mr Abbott had a plan to get into government, but never had a plan to actually govern this nation.

His agenda extended no further than wiping out the hard-won gains of the past.

Mr Abbott broke his election promises like plates at a Greek wedding.

Cuts to health.

Cuts to education.

Cuts to pensions.

A taxpayer-funded vendetta against trade unions.

Mr Abbott’s leadership style was based entirely on conflict and division, rather than on compromise and inclusion.

His combative approach so dismayed mainstream Australia that Mr Turnbull came to office amid a national sigh of relief.

He promised a more mature economic debate; a new focus on urban policy; investment in public transport and an end to the culture wars and intolerance cultivated by his predecessor.

But six months later, nothing has changed except the name on the door of the PM’s office.

The man who promised so much has revealed himself as nothing more than Tony Abbott in a top hat.

Mr Abbott had a plan to get rid of Tony Abbott, but he also has no plan to govern.

No agenda.

The Tories still want to cut education and health investment.

They still want to cut pensions.

They still despise unions and want to undermine wages and conditions and penalty rates.

But what is most bewildering is that Mr Turnbull has done nothing on the issues he has championed for his entire public life.

There’s been no genuine action on climate change.

No change in the government’s approach toward Australia becoming a republic.

And no action on marriage equality.

Indeed, in the past week or so Mr Turnbull has stood silent as Cory Bernardi and Mr Abbott have attacked the Safe Schools program, a voluntary program that seeks to protect children from bullying.

The reason for Mr Turnbull’s sudden transformation is very simple.

Unlike the crews of the Portland and the Melbourne, Mr Turnbull does not have the courage to stand up for his principles.

When the great test of character came, Mr Turnbull squibbed it.

He surrendered his principles in exchange for the keys to the Lodge.

And the mob has worked him out.

Mr Turnbull’s dramatic collapse in opinion polls in recent weeks is solid gold proof of the simple fact that Australians can smell a fraud a mile away.


While Mr Turnbull has been abandoning his principles, his government has been quietly continuing its ugly campaign to destroy your jobs in the Australian maritime industry.

Last November you and I celebrated a great victory when the Senate rejected the Work Choices on Water legislation, which would have ended preference for Australian-flagged vessels engaged in domestic trade.

Congratulations to the MUA for your long-running campaign.

This was the first piece of legislation I have seen in two decades in Parliament that explicitly stated in its text that its objective was to destroy Australian jobs.

Your jobs.

While we all cheered that November night, I think we all knew that the Tories, having failed to win parliamentary support for their ugly dogma, would be back for another go.

So now, having failed to legislate your jobs out of existence, they are abusing existing law to destroy your jobs through the back door via the issuance of temporary licences allowing the use of foreign vessels.

Last October the Government issued a licence allowing Alcoa to replace the MV Portland with a foreign vessel with a foreign crew.

The Portland crew was ordered to sail the ship to Singapore, where they were to be sacked.

They refused, leading to the industrial dispute that ended in the early hours of the morning on January 13.

The issuance of this licence was a clear abuse of the existing law put in place by the former Labor Government.

That legislation allows the issue of temporary licences for foreign vessels for temporary work, but only where no Australian vessel is available.

But in the case of the Portland, an Australian crew was available.

It was already on the vessel.

And the work in which the Portland was engaged was in no way temporary.

The vessel had been hauling cargo from Western Australia to Portland for more than two decades.

Labor’s Coastal Trading (Revitalising Australian Shipping) Act explicitly states in Section 34 that the issuance of temporary licences must be consistent with the overall objectives of the Act.

Those objectives, explained on the Act’s first page, include facilitation of long term growth of Australian shipping including promotion of the use of Australian vessels.

I have a message for the new Minister for Transport, Darren Chester.

You don’t facilitate growth in Australian shipping by destroying Australian jobs.

You don’t maximise the use of Australian flagged vessels by conniving to replace them with foreign flagged vessels.

During the MV Portland dispute, Mr Chester’s predecessor, Warren Truss, behaved like a disinterested observer – pretending he had nothing to do with the issue.

But in the past couple of weeks, it has emerged that Mr Truss was in it up to his armpits.

Just last week the Senate’s inquiry into the increasing use of Flag of Convenience vessels in Australian waters heard Mr Truss was informed on December 17 that ship owner ASP had formally requested AMSA to accredit a foreign crew to take the jobs of the Portland crew.

But for four weeks, as the crew conducted industrial action and the vessel sat idle, Mr Truss did nothing to save their jobs.

That makes him complicit in putting Australians out of work.

These are real Australians with real bills and real families to keep.

Importantly, these real people also used to pay real taxes to the Treasury.

No more.


That’s what you get from the Tories.

But Labor understands that it is in Australia’s economic, environmental and security interests to maintain a strong domestic maritime industry.

It’s in our economic interests for the jobs it provides and the skills base in maintains.

Not to mention the fact that Australian mariners pay tax here.

Then there’s the issue of the environment.

Since 2004 Australian inspectors have detained 122 foreign flagged oil tankers because they have been overloaded or have had defective equipment or serious deterioration of their hulls judged to be a risk to their seaworthiness.

In the same period, they detained no Australian flagged oil tankers.

Not one of the major shipping accidents around our coast in recent years involved an Australian flagged vessel.

They were all overseas vessels with foreign crews.

Remember the Pasha Bulker.

In June 2007 the vessel ran aground on Nobbys Beach at Newcastle during a storm.

She was flying the flag of Panama with a crew made up of mariners from the Philippines and Korea.

The subsequent investigation raised concern about the failure of the ship’s master to take on ballast or to weigh anchor and move offshore before the winds associated with the storm reached gale force.

In 2009, the Pacific Adventurer began losing shipping containers overboard in very heavy seas off southern Queensland.

One or more of those containers pierced a hole in the vessel as it tumbled into the water. The result was a 60-kilometre-long oil slick that hit the beaches of the prime tourism region of the Sunshine Coast, resulting in a clean-up bill of $34 million.

About a year later, Chinese registered bulk carrier Shen Neng 1 ran aground off Rockhampton.

The vessel was 10 kilometres away from normal shipping lanes.

It carved a hole in the Great Barrier Reef three kilometres long and 250 metres wide and created an oil slick more than three kilometres long.

There was no Australian pilot aboard this vessel. The mariner in charge had little knowledge of Australian conditions was operating on little sleep because he was operating under third-world industrial conditions.

He was later sentenced for 18 months in jail for negligence.

Australian vessels are crewed by Australian mariners who are properly trained and operate in accordance with Australian workplace conditions.

They know the coastline and understand that tourism is critical to our national economy.

Australia’s mariners also have an important role in protecting our national security.

They understand the location and importance of coastal facilities that could be subject to terrorist attacks.

Because they are familiar with what goes on around our coast, they are more likely to notice when something untoward is going on.

Perhaps most importantly, Australian mariners are subject to strict background checks before they can qualify for a Marine Security Identification Card.

But foreign crews are not subject to the same level of scrutiny.

Next sitting week the Parliament will consider legislation that will strengthen background checks on Australian mariners so that officials can not only check whether they have links to terrorist groups, but also whether they have links to organised crime.

But at the same time that the Government seeks to toughen these checks on Australian mariners, it is undermining its own efforts by seeking to eliminate Australian mariners from coastal trade and replace them with foreign crews whose backgrounds have not been the subject of such rigorous checks.

This is not only contradictory. It is dangerous.

In 2012, the Office of the Inspector of Transport Security said the following with respect to security in the Offshore Oil and Gas Sector:

 “As the Australian-based industry and associated employment demands continue to grow, the employee profile of many companies is changing and more foreign workers, generally operating under 457 visa arrangements, are being engaged.

 “As is the case internationally, the ability to effectively vet potential employees, either through company recruitment processes, Maritime Security Identification Cards (MSICs), passport or 457 visa related checks, is essentially limited to basic character style assessment and cannot operate as a genuine security clearance process.

The Inspector of Transport Security is not alone in his concerns.

The Department of Immigration and Border Control has warned that the increasing use of Flag of Convenience vessels from nations like Panama and Liberia increases security risks to Australia.

In a submission to the Senate’s Flag of Convenience inquiry, the department warned:

 There are features of FOC registration, regulation and practice that organised crime syndicates or terrorists may seek to exploit.

It went on to say that in many FOC nations, there was limited transparency about the identity of the owners of vessels.

 Reduced transparency or secrecy surrounding complex financial and ownership arrangements are factors that can make FOC ships more attractive for use in illegal activity, including by organised crime or terrorist groups.

 This means that FOC ships may be used in a range of illegal activities including illegal exploitation of natural resources, illegal activity in protected areas, people smuggling and facilitating prohibited imports or exports.

These are serious issues.

They are too serious to be compromised by the conservatives’ never-ending vendetta against trade unions, particularly the MUA, and its determination to undermine the wages and conditions of average Australian workers.

Make no mistake here.

The Government’s attack on shipping, linked as it is to its hatred for the MUA, is the thin edge of the wedge.

They tried Work Choices and were thrown out of office.

Once they got back in, they tried to destroy Australian shipping using legislation.

And when that was rejected, they shifted the battle front to the back door, attempting to pervert existing law to their wipe out your jobs.


That is why the battle of the Portland crew is so important.

Already, the conservatives have repeated the Portland tactics with the CSL Melbourne.

This time it wasn’t security guards, but riot police being used to remove people with the courage to stand up for their jobs, for their families and for the national interest.

It is very clear that the Coalition does not care that its agenda has been rejected by the Parliament of Australia.

It will resort to anything – fair means or foul – to destroy your jobs and the union that represents your interests.

I can guarantee you that if Labor is elected in the forthcoming federal election, we will end the attacks on Australian shipping.

We will support Australian workers and in doing so we will be supporting the national interest.

In closing I again congratulate the MUA and the crews of the Portland and the Melbourne for your courage.

As you know, this is not just about the jobs of the workers involved in these disputes.

It’s about the rights of every worker in Australia.

The rights that workers enjoy in this country have been hard won by unions and their members over decades.

They are worth protecting, not just on your behalf, but for your children and their children.

As Redgum sang: If you don’t fight, you lose.