May 31, 2012

Transcript of doorstop – Parliament House, Canberra

Issues: Federal Labor’s historic shipping reforms; Parliamentary behaviour

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I am very pleased to be here on what is a historic day.

Today the House carried five pieces of legislation that will revitalise the Australian shipping industry and I’m joined by Teresa Lloyd of the Australian Shipowners Association, and Paddy Crumlin from the Maritime Union of Australia.

Today as well, they’ve announced a Compact between employers and employees – the MUA, the Australian Maritime Officers Union through Fred Ross, and the Australian Shipping Association – in order to deliver productivity and efficiency benefits as part of this reform.

This is a historic reform.

We’re an island continent.  We depend upon ships for our trade.  More than 99 per cent of our trade goes through shipping.  We have the fourth largest shipping task in the world, and yet we’ve seen a decline – 55 ships down to 22 in recent years, and dropping.  We only have four ships engaged in the international trade.  That is not good enough.

There are real reasons for recognising that an Australian shipping industry is absolutely vital.  Economic, in terms of productivity, environmental, in terms of making sure that we have top quality ships and trained people with proper conditions operating around our coast, and also reasons of national security.

Today’s legislation does just that.  It produces a zero rate of taxation for Australian ships.  It produces a zero rate of taxation for Australian seafarers.  And it makes sure that they can compete with international shipping, not only around our coast through properly regulated arrangements, but can also grow and expand into the international trade.

I want to acknowledge the fact that both the employers and employees have been flexible and have made sure that they haven’t put their own interests first.  They’ve put the national interest first.

This is a great day for Australian shipping.  I am very confident after the discussions that we’ve had that over coming months I’ll be a part of announcements of new investments in Australian shipping.

Australian shipping is also important in terms of workforce development, and today’s announcement of the Compact is the next step.

I might ask Teresa and Paddy if they want to say something.

TERESA LLOYD:  I just want to say that the shipowners are ready to invest and this is a great day in terms of a new era for Australian shipping.  It’s been very difficult to compete for at least the last 15 years, and that’s seen the industry shrink to an almost unsustainable level.  And today is a fantastic day and the shipowners are quite committed for their investment decisions and they’re looking forward to expanding into new trades, into new international opportunities that have never been available to us before.

We think it’s a fantastic thing and we thank the Minister for all his efforts to make it happen.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  Thank you.  Paddy.

PADDY CRUMLIN: This is an emotional day for Australian merchant seafarers.  The quality of life largely as a trading nation has been built on our ability to crew ships and to move our exports and our imports in a safe and efficient and productive way.  That’s what’s got us through the last 200 years, and what’s going to get us through the next 200 years is exactly the same commitment.

What’s happened today is that business, the employees and government have come together in the national interest.  We’ve determined that we are a shipping nation, and that shipping nation is to productively and efficiently move Australian cargoes to our own advantage, and to do it in a fashion that is the world leader and not the world follower.

This is an extraordinary suite of legislation.  There has not been legislation in this industry of this kind for 100 years when the Navigation Act came into force.  This will be legislation that takes us through the next 100 years in exactly the same way.  It provides, further, the opportunity for regional seafarers in East Timor, in Papua New Guinea, in those islands under environmental threat of the South Pacific, all seafaring nations to join in and build the Australian shipping experience to their advantage, their national advantage, their community advantage.

It is a vision of great scope.  It is legislation of great detail.  It is rooted in the foundation of experience because we are a seafaring nation and the Labor Government has recognised that.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks very much.  Happy to take questions on this, and then I think my guests are on a plane so – any questions on these matters?

QUESTION: No major reform in 100 years but 99 per cent of trade.  I suppose the question is why so long?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, we only got into government in 2007.

What I did was refer to the House of Representatives committee the inquiry on coastal shipping.  It was one of my first acts as minister.  That committee reported in 2008.

In the beginning of 2009 I established a shipping advisory group made up of industry groups – the National Farmers Federation, unions – to deliver a program of how we could make the next step.

I then released a discussion paper.  We then established just three groups – one on taxation chaired by Treasury, one on regulatory reform, and one on workforce development.

That made sure that this has been an incredibly consultative process.

This is a one off reform.  We wanted to make sure we got it all right.  This comes at a time when we’re introducing legislation to have a single national regulator, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.  We’ve also produced an entire re-write of the Navigation Act 1912, one hundred years after that Act was first written, modernising it.  That was introduced into the Parliament last week.

So this was a reform process that we wanted to get right.

We also produced exposure drafts of the Bills and then had another House of Representatives inquiry into them.  So, this has been the most consultative process possible.  It’s ensured that we’ve brought with us on this journey industry, unions and groups out there in the community who have an interest in Australian shipping.

As I said in the Parliament, there are big advantages to increasing the amount of cargo that goes on ships.  The ‘Blue Highway’ is free.  We needed to make sure that we did it properly.  We needed to make sure that we got it right, and we have.

Quite frankly, at the beginning of the process if I had fronted up to a meeting of the Cabinet and said I got this idea, we’re going to have a zero rate of taxation for shipping without the evidence, then I don’t think it would have gone very far.  This is evidence-based policy.  It’s policy that’s been driven by those people who know best, those people in the workplace, whether it be the owners of ships, the operators of ships or the people who crew ships.  They are the people who’ve driven this reform.

It’s that engagement, I think, that has meant that we’re here today, in spite of the National Party trying to defer it off for another inquiry for six months this process.  Frankly, there wasn’t much of an argument against this legislation.  What that says to me is that we’ve got it right.

I look forward to watching this rolled out in practice and making a big difference.  Thank you.

QUESTION:  Just on another matter Mr Albanese, the ACT Police have wrapped up their investigation into the Australia Day protest and they’ve decided to lay no charges there.  What do you make of that?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I don’t comment on police reports that I haven’t seen.

QUESTION:  In terms of what Parliament has been like over the past two weeks, in your years in Federal Parliament how would – is this a low point in terms of, I suppose, the scenes that we’ve seen in the House of Representatives?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think it has been.  This afternoon you had the extraordinary situation of the Member for Canning [Don Randall], after I referred to the quite aggressive and intolerant demonstration that was held outside my electorate office where the Member for Indi [Sophie Mirabella] thought that it was appropriate to appear, a demonstration where people were jostled, where you had banners such as “tolerance is our demise”.  There was of course, and you’ll have the footage, a coffin.

Today the Member for Canning, Don Randall, thought it was appropriate to interject not once, not twice, not half a dozen times, but many more, asking whether the coffin was the right size for me and comments along those lines.  I mean, quite extraordinary behaviour.  He withdrew it and then he continued with it.  His own colleagues were embarrassed and distanced themselves from his behaviour.

I really think that we need to do much better in terms of the way the Parliament operates.

You have had a situation since 2010 whereby – and we saw it again today – the Opposition have questioned the very legitimacy of our democratic process.  We have a Parliament that’s been elected by the Australian people.  We need to respect that outcome and work with it.

What we’ve had is more and more frustration, I think, from the Opposition who after saying they would respect the outcome of the deliberations that took place with the crossbenchers in order to form a government.  Since then they have just been engaged in the longest dummy spit in Australian political history.

And I really think that ongoing negativity where this week we’ve seen the 59th and 60th attempts to suspend Standing Orders.  At least we’ve had some questions this week which is a good thing in terms of Question Time.

But I do think the very aggressive negativity, perhaps best characterised by the approach of the leader of the Opposition, is wearing thin with the Australian public.

Thank you.