Sep 8, 2015

Transcript of doorstop – Parliament House, Canberra

Subjects: Warren Truss’ statement that Australian job losses are “trivial issues”; Senate shipping inquiry; Bill Milby; Tony Abbott’s plan for WorkChoices on Water 

ALBANESE: (First 20 seconds omitted due to recording malfunction)  … from his department, Judith Zielke. Mr Milby asked Judith Zielke, how can I possibly compete with foreign ships paying foreign wages in competition with me on the coast? He was advised that the best thing to do was to reflag his ship with a foreign flag, sack his Australian workforce, employ foreign workers paying foreign wages, and that would also save the bill when it came to training that he currently conducts for Australians.

He was shocked by that. Mr Milby is a proud Australian. Mr Milby stated that it was very important for those people, whether they be Australians or overseas tourists, who get to visit the Kimberley on the True North, his vessel, to actually have Australian crew there. That was part of the experience in this iconic part of Australia. So he asked for a further meeting. He came to Canberra. At that meeting, he met Judith Zielke and he met Michael Sutton. Once again he was given the same advice. Now, Mr Milby put that forward in his written advice to the Senate inquiry. Tony Abbott, in the electorate of Canning a week ago dismissed that advice and said “that’s just not true”.

Warren Truss didn’t bother to have any major inquiry into these incidents as to whether they occurred or not. He said in Parliament yesterday that he asked his Departmental secretary, and said that it didn’t happen and it wouldn’t be possible. Well, Mr Milby last night gave very clear evidence.

He was asked, not by a Labor Senator, but by Bill Heffernan and I pay tribute to the way that Bill Heffernan conducted himself as the Chair of that Committee last night. A fair dinkum Australian who actually does support Australian jobs and just wanted to get to the truth. Bill Heffernan said this:  “So Milby was telling the truth when he said that you’d discussed with him the option of going offshore, etc.?” Judith Zielke, “Yes.”

Then, he went on a said, “does that mean no one is telling a lie?” ” “I understand Mr Milby heard the conversation and reported what he understood the conversation to cover.”

Bill Heffernan went on to ask Michael Sutton, who is Judith Zielke’s boss in the department. He said this; “I don’t like what I just heard from the previous witness, and I don’t give a rats who’s in government, and who’s not, and neither does this committee. Emphatically, are you going to deny the words Milby just said in the previous evidence?”

Michael Sutton said: We discussed the options available to all shipping operators, one of them being to retain their current operations. One of them is the reflagging option.”

On any reading of last night’s evidence, anyone who has a look at Mr Milby, who says by the way that he was only given one option, which was that if you want to compete, reflag your vessel. For Tony Abbott today to just dismiss these concerns, for Warren Truss to show contempt in the way that he dealt with these issues and dismiss these concerns of Mr Milby and ignore the fact that he misled Parliament yesterday, very clearly an open and shut case, is quite extraordinary. But it gets even worse.

Because Warren Truss today in Parliament described the concerns that businesses and seafarers have, as well as local communities about the loss of jobs and economic activity, as “trivial issues”. He actually described that in the Parliament, that we were raising “trivial issues”.

Well, I don’t think there’s anything trivial about whether there’s an Australian shipping industry around our coast as an island continent.

I don’t think there’s anything trivial about replacing Australian workers with foreign workers on our coast and paying them foreign wages.

I don’t think there’s anything trivial about Australian businesses going out of business because they’re competing against a ship that has a foreign flag paying foreign wages in direct competition with them.

It is completely unacceptable, Warren Truss’ response, in the Parliament this afternoon. We attempted to censure the Deputy Prime Minister today in the Parliament and the response in the Parliament was to shut down that debate.

It’s very clear; this has got a long way to go. A very long way to go. And we are determined to pursue these issues. There are three things that should happen.

Mr Abbott should be big enough to apologise to Bill Milby – a decent Australian who employs his fellow Australians.

Warren Truss should correct the record in the Parliament for his mislead.

Thirdly, the Government should withdraw this flawed legislation that would destroy the Australian shipping industry.

REPORTER: Mr Truss was suggesting Mr Milby wouldn’t have much difficulty continuing his business under the new regulation.

ALBANESE: Good old Warren, sitting there, when he’s awake, in Gympie, Queensland, suggesting he knows more about Mr Milby’s business than Mr Milby, up there in the Kimberley, operating out of Broome.

What’s more, is that as Mr Milby made clear last night, and Labor made clear as well; we don’t blame the officials for giving that advice. Because that is the absolute logic of anyone who looks at the legislation.

The legislation that provides for foreign ships to operate side by side but on a cheaper cost basis because they have foreign standards and they have foreign wages and conditions being paid.

Of course, the Australian business will not be able to compete. That’s the very purpose of this legislation. The purpose of the legislation as came out last night; 88% of the savings, according to the Government’s own Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS), part of the Explanatory Memorandum, are simply because of the replacement of Australian workers with foreign workers. That’s what came out in the inquiry last night. It’s there for all to see.

REPORTER: Doesn’t it make sense though, that if you were to reduce the costs on these ships, that you would have more ships and you would have more economic activity on land?

ALBANESE: It’s not hard. A ship won’t get its costs reduced unless they replace the Australian flag with a foreign flag, and that foreign flagged ship employs workers on foreign wages. They don’t pay tax to the Australian system – either the workers or the companies. That’s a loss to our national economy. This is short sighted. This is extraordinary.

It would be like allowing you journalists here to be replaced by Filipino journalists on Filipino wages, use Filipino standards in terms of qualifications etcetera, and say that you’ll compete. No industry could compete on the basis of a race to the bottom.

REPORTER: Can’t Labor and the crossbench defeat this legislation anyway, Mr Albanese?

ALBANESE: We sure can, and we’re going to do everything we can to defeat this legislation. And the crossbenchers last night, I think some of them were quite shocked by some of the answers that came forward.

Senator Lambie asked a question about how it is that the modelling in this legislation doesn’t take into account any loss of Australian jobs in terms of the economic impact.

What the person from the Department remarkably said was that it is assumed that everyone who loses their job will find another job. Absolutely remarkable statement to make, particularly given many of these jobs are skilled jobs in the maritime sector.

If there aren’t Australian flagged vessels, and the legislation assumes, by the way, that there won’t be Australian based vessels. That’s the purpose of the legislation, is to replace Australians with foreign workers being paid foreign wages.

REPORTER: Do you draw no difference at all between a bureaucrat giving someone two options and discussing those two options, you conflate that with that bureaucrat advising someone to undertake –

ALBANESE: They didn’t given them two options. They gave them one option. If you speak to Mr Milby, he’s quite happy to go on the record. They gave them one option. Well, the two options are there, to be fair, there are two options.

Option one, keep it the way it is, and go out of business. Option two, reflag your vessel, employ foreigners, replace your workforce, and then you’ll be able to compete.

They’re the two options that are before industry as a result of this legislation and the bureaucrats after being directed by Warren Truss the Minister to talk to Mr Milby, indicated just that, and they did so in a pretty honest way. Thanks very much.