Nov 26, 2015

Transcript of Doorstop – WorkChoices on Water

ALBANESE: Today the Australian Parliament has thrown out WorkChoices on Water.

It has rejected legislation that was not in the Australian national interest – legislation that would have allowed for any foreign ship to operate around the Australian coast on the domestic freight task, paying foreign wages, which would have led to the elimination of the Australian shipping industry.

The Senate crossbench, as well as Labor and the Greens political party overwhelmingly rejected this legislation.

This has been a two year campaign. A campaign whereby the Coalition Government has been determined to undermine the Australian industry and to see Australian workers replaced on ships around our coastline with foreign workers being paid foreign wage rates.

The Government said it wanted to stop the boats. When it said that, Australians didn’t think that meant stopping the Australian flag being on the back of ships.

But that is precisely what this legislation would have done. And indeed, that’s what the legislation explicitly said.

It said, on page 156, “Many of the operators currently operating under the Australian general register would likely reflag 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 reflag from the Australian general register. Ship operators are likely to replace Australian seafarers with foreign seafarers”.

Extraordinary. I’ve seen a lot of legislation in this place. I can’t recall any legislation that has explicitly said this is about replacing Australian workers with foreign workers, paid foreign wage rates. It’s an extraordinary proposition, which is why this legislation was opposed by industry as well as by the workforce.

At the same time, it’s up to the Department now to implement properly the existing legislation to stop the granting of temporary permits when that clearly is not temporary work.

Such as the work that ALCOA undertake between Victoria and Western Australia, whereby currently those seafarers are being asked to take the ship up to Singapore where they’ll be made redundant and replaced by a foreign ship.

This is an important victory for the Australian Parliament because it shows that the process can work. It was the Senate Legislation Committee where Mr Bill Milby of North Star Cruises gave such powerful testimony that he had been advised, by the Department, that the only way that he could survive as an Australian operator in the Kimberly was to reflag his vessel with a foreign flag and to replace his crew with foreign workers being paid foreign wage rates. It’s a great thing that this has been thrown out.

We stand prepared as the Labor Party to work with the sector, with the industry, with unions on any changes that could improve productivity. What we’re not prepared to do is simply see the Australian workforce replaced with foreign workers paid foreign wages and to see Australian industry miss out.

JOURNALIST: How many jobs would have gone had this legislation gone through Mr Albanese?

ALBANESE: Well there are directly 1200 seafarer jobs, but the other jobs are substantial as well. I spoke today, as well, at the Australasian Rail Association and the rail industry gave evidence before the Senate Committee about it being displaced because modes of transport are in competition with each other.

If you want to move freight from Melbourne to Perth for example, and you have an option of on rail with Australian standards, Australian safety conditions, Australian wages being paid to the workers, and a ship being brought in which all of a sudden can pay third world wages, have third world standards and not be up to the same standards that are required in the Australian maritime sector, then of course that distorts that market as well.

So industry across the board was very concerned. Companies like Sea Road in Tasmania that have invested in two new ships have said that that investment, some $200 million, was endangered by this legislation.

So a range of jobs were under threat.

The Government simply got it wrong. This was ideology gone mad, this was WorkChoices on water. This was a rather perverse situation whereby a Government so obsessed with getting rid of MUA jobs was prepared to get rid of an entire industry, in this case the Australian shipping industry.

We as an island continent rely upon the shipping sector for 99 per cent of our exports and imports. It’s a vital industry connected with national security as well. That’s why in the United States a ship taking freight from San Francisco to Los Angeles has to have a US flag, US seafarers, and it’s got to be built in the United States.

There’s no country in the G20, not one, that doesn’t draw a distinction between its national carriers and foreign carriers around its coastline.

None. And that’s why this was unilateral economic disarmament.

This makes no sense. Now I know that Andrew Robb has promoted the same principle before the Cabinet with regard to aviation. He wants to get rid of aviation cabotage and there’s a proposal to get rid of all the Australian preference agreements that airlines have for domestic aviation, with the exception of Sydney airport.

Now this is just ideology before Australia’s national interest. It’s been rejected with regard to shipping. The Government needs to reject this attack on cabotage with regard to aviation as well.

And it needs to take examples from countries like Norway, a country with less than 0.5 per cent of the world population, but which has five per cent of the global shipping sector. A country which values its maritime hubs and ensures that its economy benefits greatly as a result of having a strong shipping sector.

JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese do you think Mr Shorten will lead Labor to the next election if his polling doesn’t improve?

ALBANESE: I think Mr Shorten will lead Labor to the next election and I look forward to serving as a Minister in his Government.

JOURNALIST: We’ve just had a really interesting Question Time. Do you think Mal Brough should step down in the interim or resign altogether?

ALBANESE: Mal Brough is in a circumstance whereby his position is simply untenable. According to his own words, you have to just look at the interview he gave on 60 Minutes where he was asked very clearly, did you ask James Ashby to procure Peter Slipper’s diary?

An extraordinary admission. And not just that, but look at the text messages between James Ashby, Karen Doane, Mal Brough, other figures in the Government including of course Christopher Pyne and others.

Two Federal Court judges found that they believe this was a conspiracy to bring down a Government. A conspiracy by people to basically overturn the democratic wishes of an elected government, but that was what went on here.

And Mal Brough, through his own admissions that are out there, they’ve all been tabled in the Federal Court, today, in Parliament he actually said a one word answer. He’s got a problem with the word ‘yes’, Mal Brough.

He had a problem with the 60 Minutes interview and today in response to a very specific question about whether it was appropriate, the actions that occurred, said yes. Well they weren’t appropriate but I’ll say this.

This is no longer just about Mal Brough. It could have just been about Mal Brough if he hadn’t been appointed a Minister by Malcolm Turnbull. But it’s now about Malcolm Turnbull. It’s about his judgement.

The same person who last time he led the Liberal Party had faith in Godwin Grech, which brought him undone. He now makes Mal Brough the Special Minister of State, in charge of the administration of the Member of Parliament Staff Act. As the Minister. The person in charge of integrity in Government and he gives that position to, of all people, Mal Brough, knowing that these issues were live issues that were out there.

Now his position is simply untenable. And I’ll give a bit of unsolicited advice to Malcolm Turnbull, because the last time I saw a Leader try to hold onto someone whose position was untenable was someone called Tony Abbott. And he held onto his neighbour, the Member for Mackellar, as the Speaker for too long and that was used by Malcolm Turnbull.

Malcolm Turnbull appointed Mal Brough as Special Minister of State, it goes to his judgement. Malcolm Turnbull has many good qualities, but he also has many weaknesses. And one of his weaknesses is that he has this arrogance that he always thinks he is the smartest in the room and that he can get away with anything.

Well he hasn’t got away with this appointment. This appointment needs to be fixed and it’s in Malcom Turnbull’s interest for it to be fixed. Today is better than tomorrow. Tomorrow will be better than the weekend. The weekend will be better than next week.

Next week will be better than next month, because this is an issue that does not go away.

JOURNALIST: And what do you think it says about the Ministerial standards within the Turnbull Government now?

ALBANESE: This is a bloke who promised us a new form of politics. Remember that? Today we had questions asked in the Parliament. We then had a motion seeking leave to move a censure in the Government.

Now I’ve been in this place 20 years next March, with the exception of a minority parliament where things operated a bit differently because the numbers were so tight.

The fact is when a censure motion is moved in the Government, normally leave will be granted when it’s over a serious issue. And it’s granted in the full confidence that the Government has a majority on the floor of the House of Representatives.

So usually they move an amendment to flip it around and actually censure the Opposition. That’s the way these things are played out. But what did we see? No leave granted.

Then when a suspension of standing orders was granted, normally what would occur is that at least you have ten minutes and five minutes from the mover and seconder, and you have ten minutes from someone in the Government defending them.

You at least have that debate. In the minority parliament, I can tell you, and for those of you who have been here a while, and for those watching, I used to stand up every day and give a ten minute speech to Tony Abbott’s suspensions or Christopher Pyne’s suspensions.

Every day I would stand up and defend the Government’s position. Today what we had was no leave granted, the suspension of standing orders shut down, and after the gagging of the mover and the seconder, there was still ten minutes for the Government to be allowed to give a defence.

We could have tried to speak again. Christopher Pyne stood up as the Leader of the House of Representatives and moved that the motion be put. He moved a gag motion in the Government to stop the Government being in a position of defending Mal Brough. Yesterday in the Matter of Public Importance, not a single Member of Parliament stood up and defended Mal Brough.

Well Malcolm Turnbull, get the message. Listen to your backbench. He was pretty good at trawling around, getting the numbers against Tony Abbott, talking to the backbench. Listen to the silence.

That silence you can hear, today in the Parliament, were those people who were prepared to defend Mal Brough’s position. Thank you.