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Thursday, 5th May 2011

Speech To The Asia-pacific Regional Dialogue On The Maritime Labour Convention

“The Australian Government’s support for the Maritime Labour Convention and reforms to shipping”


I extend my warmest welcome to every delegate, but in particular, to our visitors from the 19 seafaring nations who have come to our shores for this important gathering.

Your presence reminds us, if we indeed we needed reminding, that shipping is a genuinely global industry.

You represent industry, governments and unions and demonstrate the immense influence shipping has, every day, on international trade and the economic importance of nation states.

It is an industry that is subject to some of the biggest challenges of our time — climate change, the global financial crisis, co-operative treaties, piracy, the list goes on.

As the largest island continent on earth, Australia’s economic future is inextricably linked to safe and productive shipping.

Let’s look at some quick facts.

More than 99 per cent of Australia’s international exports and imports are carried by sea.

This represents the world’s fifth largest shipping task.

Our busy ports manage 10 percent of the world’s sea trade.

We are responsible for some 16 million square kilometres of ocean and a coastline of over 60 thousand kilometres.

Over 4,000 internationally-flagged vessels make more than 22,000 visits to Australian ports each year, many of them moving through the environmentally sensitive Torres Strait and Great Barrier Reef.

Clearly, shipping is vital to the Australian economy.

Along with the benefits come responsibilities that we take very seriously.


Central to these responsibilities is our commitment to the International Maritime Organization.

We insist that the many ships that use our waters are safe.

We insist that they are manned by skilled seafarers able to navigate our waters without causing pollution due to sub-standard vessels, poor equipment, collisions or groundings.

Australia is a founding member of the IMO.

We have served on the IMO Council for more than 40 years and our adoption and implementation of IMO conventions is almost unparalleled.

We take our membership seriously.

Late last year, we stepped up our engagement with the appointment of John Dauth, Australia’s High Commissioner in London, as Australia’s Permanent Representative to the IMO.

We want to see the IMO remain strong, relevant and responsive.

This year, we will work hard to help the IMO deliver an agreement on greenhouse gas emissions from ships.

We will once again be seeking election to the IMO Council this November so we can continue to be part of its important work.

Australia is a major contributor to the IMO’s technical cooperation activities in the Asia Pacific.

In this way, we can make sure that the voice of the region is heard.


Let me turn now to the Maritime Labour Convention.

This convention is often referred to as the “seafarers’ bill of rights” as it sets a benchmark for decent working and living conditions for the world’s 1.2 million seafarers.

The Labour Convention is backed up by other complementary IMO conventions, providing global standards for a global industry.

If cargo is to be transported efficiently by ships, it is essential to ensure that accidents, which lead to pollution, injury or death, are minimised.

This can only be achieved by ensuring that all ships are seaworthy and that those entering and leaving Australian ports are manned by well- qualified crews with safe and humane working conditions.

We cannot expect seafarers subject to third world living and working conditions to provide first world shipping services.

Last year was the International Year of the Seafarer.

It was a tribute to seafarers who do not enjoy a high public profile.

Most of their work is out of sight of the general public.

They work on a gruelling round-the-clock basis, away from family and friends for extended periods.

In fact the famous 18th century English writer Samuel Johnson somewhat harshly described life on a ship as “being in jail, with the chance of being drowned.”

While conditions for seafarers are generally more comfortable in the 21st century, shipping is by its nature an isolating and demanding occupation.

And I could think of no better tribute to those who spend their working lives aboard them than the implementation of the Maritime Labor Convention.

This convention sets minimum standards for seafarers - employment, accommodation, recreational facilities, food and catering, health protection, medical care, welfare and social security protection.

I am pleased to report that in Australia, implementation of the MLC is strongly supported by both maritime unions and employers.

The Australian Government will implement the Maritime Labor Convention through its Navigation Amendment Bill, which I plan to introduce to Parliament during the winter sitting.

The Bill will also provide for the issuing of declarations of maritime labour compliance and maritime labour certificates to Australian ships.

All Australian ships with a gross tonnage of 500 and over will be required to carry the certificate both in and out of Australian waters.

Further, Australian Maritime Safety Authority surveyors will be empowered to inspect all ships at Australian ports to ensure they comply with the requirements of the Convention.

And our ships will be subject to similar inspections at foreign ports in countries that are signatories to the MLC.

Let me turn now to the other maritime reform programs the Gillard Labor Government has underway.

Single National Maritime Safety Regulator

We are in the process of introducing a single national maritime regulator.

In 2013, this responsibility will fall to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

This means AMSA will be responsible for the safety regulation of all commercial vessels in Australian waters under a seamless, national framework.

The importance of this reform can hardly be overstated.

Safer, nationally consistent rules.

And a big reduction in costs and red tape.

Something that has not been achieved in the 110 years since Federation.

The reform will include a national register of domestic commercial vessels linking ownership with such things as vessel details, inspection and survey history to provide comprehensive data for more effective monitoring.

It will also be easier for vessel owners, operators and suppliers to meet design, construction, and certification requirements.

This will mean lower costs for business and labour by eliminating barriers to the transfer of labour and vessels between jurisdictions.

Rewrite of the Navigation Act 1912

We are also rewriting the Navigation Act 1912.

The problems presented by the current Navigation Act are long- established and were highlighted during a major review in 2000.

Indeed there are provisions in the current Act that come straight from the 19th Century British Merchant Shipping Acts of 1854 and 1894.

Let me give you an example.

There is a section that allows AMSA to use force to suppress any “plundering, disorder or obstruction” when a ship is wrecked, stranded or in distress.

If any person is killed, maimed or hurt when resisting an AMSA officer doing his or her job in relation to this ship, AMSA is not liable for any punishment or damages.

So it’s not only James Bond who has a licence to kill. So it seems do AMSA officers!

Let me reassure you that one of the chief advocates for legislative reform is AMSA.

The new act will be: - recast in modern plain language; - it will reflect contemporary conditions and practices, including in relation to compliance and penalties; - it will be flexible enough to allow amendments in relation to international treaties; and - it will provide confidence and certainty for the shipping industry.

The rewrite of the act is closely linked to the implementation of the single national regulator.

Consultations with stakeholders on the details of the rewrite will begin soon.

Shipping Reform

Finally, to shipping reform.

I’ve already given you some pretty impressive figures—about the size of Australia, our coastline, our shipping task.

Here are some less impressive figures.

Despite more than 99 per cent of exports leaving our shore by ship, we have only 30 registered major trading ships of our own and these carry less than half of one percent of our export trade.

This is a decline of almost 50 per cent in a decade.

What this means is that without significant economic and regulatory reform our entire merchant fleet, and the skilled workforce it trains and supports, could be gone within another decade.

The Gillard Labor Government will not let this happen.

We are committed to a series of reforms to reverse this and help re-establish Australia as an international shipping force.

We will introduce new tax arrangements to attract investment.

We will overhaul seafarer training and offer a better deal for Australian seafarers.

We will update the license system to create a level playing field in the coastal shipping trade – our own ‘blue highway’.

What these reforms will do is provide the industry with the policy certainty it needs to make long term investment decisions.

Our ambition is simple: a viable domestic shipping industry within a competitive national transport sector — an outcome which will help secure both our long term economic prosperity and national and environmental security.


Let me conclude by saying that Australia has a long history of support for international treaties.

We know that global industries require global regulation and global challenges require a global response.

Australia also has a long commitment to regional co-operation and shared support, whether in humanitarian aid, or the lending of resources and experience to increase capacity.

The Maritime Labor Convention represents these values—of fairness, co-operation and international regulation.

And it has the full support of the Australian Government.

Thank you.


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