May 20, 2015

Transcript of press conference – Sydney

Subjects: Workchoices on Water; Australian shipping industry; share economy regulation

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  The Government today will announce its proposal to introduce Workchoices on Water around the Australian coast. The Liberal and National Parties seem to be obsessed with attacking workers who work on the waterfront or on Australian ships.

It’s what they did last time when they were in office. This attack they’re launching today is an attack on the Australian national interest. It is in Australia’s national interest to have the Australian flag on the back of Australian ships working around the Australian coast and internationally.

For a government that says it wants to stop the boats, what they want to do is to stop Australian ships working on the domestic freight task around our coast. Today they’re making the announcement at a Shipping Australia conference.

What people might not know is that that is the body made up of ship operators who aren’t actually Australian owned. The Australian based organisation, Maritime Industry Australia Limited, is opposed to these reforms.

If you are a truck driver and you carry freight from Sydney to Melbourne you expect that you’ll be paid Australian wages and Australian conditions. If you move freight on a train from Sydney to Melbourne you expect you would be paid Australian wages and receive Australian conditions.

It should be no different if you move freight using the blue highway around our coast. People working on the domestic route should be paid Australian wages and receive Australian conditions. It is as simple as that.

If that doesn’t occur, then it will undermine the ability of Australian ships to compete with foreign ships.

What is of concern is that while Labor ensured that foreign ships had to pay the same wages as Australian ships, thereby having a level playing field, what the Government is proposing is that the wage rates and conditions of Australian ships and people working on them needs to be brought down to foreign levels.

In the Budget papers flagged a number of measures including ‘better aligning employment conditions for ships based in Australia with international standards’. (Budget Paper No. 2, p132)

What is extraordinary is when you look at third world conditions of ships including flags of convenience, they are low paid, they have less rest time, they endure conditions far worse than those in Australia and they tend to be the ships which draw the ire of those authorities that enforce environmental standards.

It is in Australia’s national economic interest, environmental interest and national security interest to have an Australian shipping industry. What the Government proposes is to wreck that Australian industry with these so-called reforms that are all about introducing Workchoices on Water.

This is just stage one. They’ve also flagged getting rid of Australian preference for the aviation sector, firstly in Northern Australia. That doesn’t occur anywhere else in the world. Everywhere in the world makes sure that the only planes that are allowed to fly domestic routes are those that are based in that nation.

And yet this government is considering changing that, opening up Australian aviation on a domestic level to foreign carriers that are foreign based paying foreign wages and conditions. That would undermine the Australian aviation industry and is a threat to Qantas and Virgin. It should be opposed and immediately ruled out by the Government.

REPORTER: Isn’t it in Australia’s national interest to have an affordable shipping industry too? The Government’s used the example of getting sugar from Thailand – Warren Truss has said it’s cheaper to get sugar from Thailand than to take it from port to port. Wouldn’t this make things a little more affordable?

ALBANESE: It’s just nonsense. Warren Truss just makes things up. The fact is that at the moment whether you have an Australian flag on the back of a ship or the flag of a third world country, while you are in Australia on the domestic freight task you have to pay Australian wages and conditions.

It would also be cheaper if you allow a truck that’s based in the Philippines with a Filipino truck driver, to pay Filipino wages to drive between Sydney and Melbourne. But we don’t do that because the truck wouldn’t be as well maintained, the driver wouldn’t be trained as well, and it would undermine safety and the environment and the national economic interest.

There is a very simple principle here. When you are working in Australia, whether it be on a building site or on a road, or on a rail system, or on a ship, you should be subject to the same wages and conditions. It’s as simple as that. To undermine that risks that being transferred onto other industries. The Government has already flagged that in terms of the aviation sector.

REPORTER: Can I ask, today Treasurer Hockey is expected to announce that Uber drivers should face a 10% GST. Would Labor support such a move?

ALBANESE: Andrew Leigh’s done a lot of work on this, I must say well in advance of the Government. What we’ve said is that there needs to be an examination of that sector of the economy that is growing, whether it be Uber or the accommodation sites or other sectors that are outside the traditional economy.

We need to make sure that there is a level playing field and that there is proper regulation of those industries. So we’ll examine any proposal but certainly with the growth in these sectors of the economy there needs to be a proper examination.

This sector of the economy is growing – we think that’s a good thing. But it needs to be on the basis of a level playing field, with the traditional way that these markets have operated, whether they be taxi drivers or whether they be accommodation in the form of the growth of Air B’n’B and other companies.

REPORTER: On shipping, do you think it’s a productivity issue though – the Government’s said that some ships under foreign flags are going from port to port with nothing in them because it would cost so much to pay Australian wages. Shouldn’t we be making use of the ships that are going from port to port?

ALBANESE: We want to absolutely make use of ships going from port to port. Under the changes that we made as part of the federal government’s reforms that was certainly encouraged on the basis of introducing certainty, so that you didn’t have a contract granted just on a one on one basis, it was granted on multiple journeys over a period of time.

So that was certainly permissible, and there’s a strong role in Australia for foreign ships around our coast. But not at the expense of wiping out the Australian industry. Not at the expense of making sure that people are paid proper wages and conditions.

When that doesn’t occur, there are incidents that can cost literally tens of millions of dollars. You saw two incidents off the Queensland coast – one off Gladstone and one off Moreton Island. The consequences of that were dire for the Australian economy as well as for the environment.

So we need to make sure that the Government puts the case of why it is acceptable that foreign wages can be paid for people doing jobs that are the Australian task.

When you look at the cost structure of shipping, the cost of the staff is a very small proportion of the cost of taking a ship from Sydney to Melbourne or anywhere else around the coast. It is a minute area.

This is ideology before common sense, before good economic policy. This is a Government that wants to introduce Workchoices, that believes in Workchoices, and in this case is doing it through the backdoor by introducing Workchoices on Water.

People need to ask themselves; would you find it acceptable if two buildings were being built next to each other, one by an Australian company employing Australians, paying Australian wages and having Australian safety standards, and next door, one being built by a Filipino company, paying Filipino wages, with Filipino conditions and Filipino safety standards? What do Australians think about that?

The blue highway is no different from any other section of the Australian economy, which is why these proposals are so outrageous. The reforms that were introduced by the former Government in 2012 were never given a chance to work. They were worked out with industry cooperation after a two year consultation period, with exposure drafts of legislation, making sure that industry was involved.

This has all been done behind closed doors. We haven’t even seen a draft of the legislation. There’s been no proper consultation with Australian industry or with the workforce. This is simply about replacing Australian workers with foreign workers who are paid less. That is not the Australian way. Thanks.