Sep 7, 2015

Transcript of doorstop, Canberra

Subjects: Senate shipping inquiry; Workchoices on water; Bill Milby; China free trade agreement; Syrian refugee crisis

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Today in the Senate there will be a legislation committee looking at the government’s draconian shipping legislation.

This shipping legislation is designed to destroy the Australian shipping industry. The evidence that’s been put forward shows that this will destroy Australian jobs and mean that the Australian based shipping industry simply cannot compete against foreign ships.

The legislation does two things.

Firstly, it removes any preference for Australian ships above foreign ships operating around our coast on domestic freight.

Secondly, it ensures that those foreign ships competing side by side versus Australian ships for these jobs can pay foreign wages.

That means that the Australian ships simply aren’t competitive. You wouldn’t allow an Australian truck travelling from Sydney to Melbourne along the Hume Highway for Toll or Linfox to have to compete with a foreign truck with Filipino standards, including Filipino safety standards, Filipino wages and conditions being paid to the truck driver behind the wheel of that vehicle. Nor should that be allowed along the blue highway if people choose to take freight by sea rather than by road or by rail.

We saw that earlier this year, with an attempt by the government to remove cabotage, or Australian preference for aviation in northern Australia, that was abandoned by the government. They should abandon this too.

There are two key sets of evidence before the committee.

One, Australian shipping operators saying that they cannot compete and they will be forced to take a foreign flag. Worse is the evidence of Bill Milby. He operates a ship in the Kimberley, True North.

He was advised by a departmental officer to, and I quote, “consider taking our ship, True North off the Australian shipping register, reregister the ship in a suitable foreign country, lay off our Australian crew and hire a cheaper foreign crew”.

It is unconscionable that a senior Australian infrastructure department representative who will be quizzed today before that committee has advised an Australian based company to sack their Australian crew but importantly to take the Australian flag off the back of that ship.

They want to replace the Australian flag on the back of our ships with a white flag when it comes to Australian jobs.

This is Workchoices on Water.

This will lose Australian jobs and conditions.  It is ideology gone crazy.

Another piece of evidence before the committee concerns SeaRoad, a Tasmanian company that has invested $100 million in two ships, a total investment of $200 million based on the existing legislation.

If this current legislation before the House is carried, that investment will be wasted, those jobs and that investment lost to Australia and importantly to Tasmania.

I call upon the government to abandon this ideological crusade that they have against Australian based shipping.

REPORTER: The department says it didn’t provide that advice to Bill Milby and Warren Truss last week cast doubts on the veracity, was the word he used, of the evidence. Are you concerned that ultimately this important debate might come down to Bill Milby and the cruise line’s word against that of Tony Abbott or Warren Truss?

ALBANESE: No. You have to look at the facts.

The fact is, if you have two ships, one of them with an Australian flag on the back, paying Australian wages and conditions and the other one with a foreign flag from a flag of convenience, often third world countries with no preconditions whatsoever paying third world wages, what are the competition implications of that?

The policy implications are clear. What industry is saying is very clear, and Bill Milby has the courage to call them out and he’s called them out for calling him a liar. He has very specific dates in May and June. When he was first given this advice he travelled here to Canberra, he met with the Department and they gave him that advice.

Can I say this, as someone who was Minister in that Department. I know there are people in that department who say it doesn’t matter whether there is an Australian shipping industry or not. What matters is just goods being carried around the coast as cheaply as possible.

What Bill Milby has done is expose the reality of the advice that he was given. That advice makes sense with this legislation. That is the logic that this legislation draws you to. It’s as simple as that and Australian companies, if you look at the Australian peak body organisation that has put forward Australian Maritime industry, they have said all of their members, it’s consistent with what people have said who have come through the door.

But they don’t want to say it as publicly as Bill Milby has, but they are all saying exactly the same thing and common sense tells you the same. If you allowed a foreign truck to go from Sydney to Melbourne with Filipino standards, without any of the safety things that we have put on trucks that are registered here and you allow them to pay a third world truck driving wages and conditions to compete against Linfox, Linfox would go out of business.

There would be implications for safety on our roads; there would be implications for jobs. There would be implications outside the industry just as there are implications and I refer you to Pasha Bulker and all the other incidents that have occurred with foreign ships around our coast.

There are implications beyond just carrying cargo for having a free for all around our coast, as well as national security implications, but that is the logical consequence of what the government’s policy positon is. Warren Truss, I’m pleased he woke up for long enough to actually make a statement on this because he had gone missing.

REPORTER: Is this resonating with anyone in the Coalition side?

ALBANESE: It certainly is. There are many in the Coalition who understand the idea of saying that Australians do not care whether there is an Australian flag presence around our coast and around the world. They understand that this is an ideological position.

It’s a pity people like Paul Neville aren’t in this Parliament anymore because Paul Neville was a co-author of the report that was unanimous that led to the existing shipping legislation being in place.

This was not partisan legislation. This was worked out over a period of time as a result of a unanimous parliamentary committee. For those people in the National Party, for those people in the Liberal Party who care about jobs, they should, just as the cross benchers have, examine this legislation and reject it.

REPORTER: On the China free trade deal, and the legislation the government says needs to be passed by December so the tariff cuts can come in from January. Will Labor be supporting the Free Trade Agreement legislation?

ALBANESE: We support free trade. We support increased engagement with China. We are simply saying that the government should sit down and do what they say they support. They say they support Australian jobs. They say they support labour market testing to make sure that any jobs that are created out of the free trade agreement, that there is potential for Australian employment before foreign employment is allowed to take those jobs.

Let’s have a bit of common sense here and let’s get a good outcome. I don’t think that should be beyond the wit of the government to do, but it’s the government that prefers to play politics with this rather than sit down and have common sense discussions.

REPORTER: So if Labor can’t get those extra safeguards put into the enabling legislation…

ALBANESE:  I’m not the Shadow Trade Minister, so I’ll leave it to the Shadow Trade Minister. I have stated what our positon is. I have stated what my positon is very clearly.

REPORTER: Just on the refugee crisis, do you think Labor should put a figure on how many Syrians should be accepted and should it be this one off separate allocation sitting outside of the annual intake?

ALBANESE: We are not the government, of course. But what Australia should do and what Labor is saying they should do is take Syrian refugees over and above the existing humanitarian intake.

That would be the right thing to do. Tony Abbott can’t say we’re doing our bit and then in the next sentence say there’ll be actually not a single additional refugee taken as a result of a government decision.

That’s not doing our bit.

Have a look at what is going on. This is the largest humanitarian refugee crisis since the Second World War. Our European partners Germany are doing an extraordinary amount and I think that Australia should certainly do more. They should listen to other world leaders, people like Pope Francis and the statements that he has made, that are so strong, and do our bit.

Anyone who has a look at what the situation is knows that we need to do more, not just say, we’re going to displace some people and take Syrian refugees in place of people who would have otherwise been accepted here in Australia.

That’s consistent with our approach we adopted at the National Conference where we said we would increase the intake.

May I say one thing on the two-year anniversary of the election of this absolutely hopeless government. When Tony Abbott was elected he said very clearly that within one year there would be cranes in the sky and bulldozers on major infrastructure projects.

He talked a lot about infrastructure prior to the election and in the early stages. You don’t hear him talk about infrastructure much at all now. Two years on, there aren‘t any bulldozers, there aren’t any cranes in the sky. It’s just bulldust, that promise of the Prime Minister.

Thanks very much.