Feb 24, 2016

Transcript of media conference – Parliament House, Canberra

Subjects: MV Portland, shipping legislation; Workchoices on water; housing affordability

ALBANESE: I’m joined today by Warren Hopkins who worked for Alcoa on their ships for some 21 years and Liam Conaghan who worked on the MV Portland for nine years. Just in January Warren was one of the people who was dragged off the MV Portland in the middle of the night to be replaced by a foreign crew doing the job that he and his fellow Australian seafarers had been doing for Alcoa; taking cargo between Portland in Victoria and Western Australia for the resources to be refined from Western Australia in Portland for the benefit of the nation. But, importantly, as well for the benefit of Australian jobs.

What we heard last night in the Senate Inquiry into Flags of Convenience is quite extraordinary. We know what occurred on January 13 where, in the middle of the night five seafarers who were on the MV Portland were woken up in their bunks and told they had just a few minutes to depart that ship before it was to be sailed off to Singapore by foreign seafarers and a foreign crew to be sold off and replaced permanently for that job with a foreign flagged ship manned by foreign crew.

What we know from last night’s evidence from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority is that as early as 17 December Warren Truss, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Transport Minister of Australia, was informed by AMSA that ASP, the company involved – the ship owner, had formally requested AMSA to accredit the foreign crew to take the jobs of those existing Australian seafarers. So for four weeks the Minister knew that this was going to occur. And the Employment Minister, Michaelia Cash, was told the day before that these security guards were going to escort these Australian workers off the ship to be replaced by a foreign crew.

For four weeks we had rhetoric from the Government that it was somehow concerned about the Australian national interest and Australian jobs. We know indeed that that isn’t the case. We know that the Senate in November rejected the Government’s Workchoices on Water legislation that was all about, written in the legislation, all about the reflagging of Australian vessels with a foreign flag, the replacement of Australian seafarers with foreign seafarers.

When that legislation didn’t go through what we now know is that the Government has essentially abused the existing legislation to grant temporary licences for work that is anything but temporary. And there can be no better example than the MV Portland. Temporary licences are there for when Australian ships aren’t available and for temporary work. The giveaway is in the term – temporary licences. What occurred with the Portland for decades is that two routes from Western Australia pick up the resources, take it to Portland, and get it refined when it’s then exported.

So what we have here is an undermining of Australian jobs; an undermining of the Australian national interest, and; an undermining not just of our economic interest but also our national security interest and interest of the environment. Now with regard to national security there’s legislation been introduced before the House about the tightening up of ASIC and MSIC cards, the security identity cards that Australian seafarers and people who work in ports or airports have to get. At the same time what we have is a free-for-all on the coast.

You can get access to many ports with your driver’s licence or your foreign passport in places like the port in the Pilbara. At the same time as they’re tightening up, saying they’re concerned about national security, quite clearly that is being undermined by the replacement of the Australian flag around our coast with foreign flagged ships with foreign crews.

Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Just wondering if you saw any report this morning about some of the housing bubble in Western Sydney and had any comment on that?

ALBANESE: The whole of Australia knows, except for Ministers in the Turnbull Government, that there are issues of housing affordability. That is why Labor has a plan to deal with these issues. What’s extraordinary is that the Government not only doesn’t have a plan, they can’t even run a decent scare campaign. We saw the Assistant Treasurer had a train wreck of an interview this morning. She is saying one thing, contradicting the Treasurer who is contradicting the Prime Minister. They are all over the shop on this. All Australians know that there are issues relating to housing affordability, but only Labor has a plan to deal with it. Thanks very much.