Subjects: Tony Abbott’s attack on Australian shipping; China Free Trade Agreement; Canning by-election
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The transport and infrastructure spokesman is Anthony Albanese. He joins me now, Anthony Albanese, welcome to the program.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you Michael.
BRISSENDEN: Isn’t this a case just like the waterfront dispute a few years ago where we need to change work practices to remain internationally competitive?
ALBANESE: Not at all. This is about the Australian national interest and whether as an island continent we have an Australian shipping industry. These changes will destroy that Australian industry and what this senior bureaucrat, the Executive Director of the Department of Infrastructure is advising Australian shipping operators in response to their objection to this legislation is, to quote them hire foreign crew.
Mr Milby, of North Star Cruises, was advised to “consider taking our ship, True North, off the Australian Shipping Register, re-register the ship in a suitable foreign country, and lay off our Australian crew and hire a cheaper foreign crew.”
That’s what they’re being advised as the only way they can respond to this act of unilateral economic disarmament. No country in the world operates in the way in which this legislation envisages because it would simply destroy the Australian shipping industry.
BRISSENDEN: You’ve got other industries, of course, who want this change. You’ve got big aluminium companies, for instance, saying that it’s vital, particularly for those that are in Tasmania. I mean to keep those industries competitive, other jobs might have to change mightn’t they?
ALBANESE: No Australian industry can expect to compete with a foreign competitor if they’re allowed to pay foreign wages. If you take freight from Sydney to Melbourne down the Hume Highway you have to have an Australian registered truck and you have an Australian truck driver paid Australian wages and conditions.
If you take that same freight domestically down the blue highway from Sydney to Melbourne you should also be paying Australian wages, otherwise the Australian company simply can’t compete. And that’s the case whether it’s in construction or in the trucking industry or in rail or any other sector of the Australian economy.
The government is trying to do out of sight, out of mind. We know there are major problems with some of the foreign shipping companies in terms of their practices and their standards when there have been environmental issues created with ships such as the Shen-Neng 1 or the Pasha Bulker off Newcastle. They have all been foreign flagged ships.
There is a real reason why it is in Australia’s national interest to have a shipping industry. No other country does this. In the US, if you want to go from LA to San Francisco in terms of freight, it has to be a US flagged ship, it has to have US seafarers, and the ship actually has to be built in the United States as well.
BRISSENDEN: Presumably, we’re talking about being competitive in our region though, aren’t we?
ALBANESE: This is Workchoices on Water. This is about undermining the Australian national interest by bringing in legislation that will simply mean the Australian shipping industry can’t compete and can’t survive. And they’re all saying that in the submissions to this Senate legislation inquiry. The bureaucrats in the department have responded pretty honestly by saying the only option you have is to get rid of the Australian flag, put a white flag when it comes to Australian jobs up, and go offshore, have a foreign flag, with foreign workers and foreign wages.
BRISSENDEN: How many jobs do you think are at risk here?
ALBANESE: Well there are at least 10,000 jobs in the Australian shipping industry, and this will mean that that industry simply can’t survive.
And the shipping industry is so important for our national security as well.
We hear a lot about ships around our coast and national security issues. If there’s no merchant fleet you don’t have people trained in terms of the shipping industry. well
The Navy were a part of the review that came to conclude our legislation that this is trying to change, because there was a recognition of the importance to national security of having a skilled maritime work force as well as the environmental issues, but most importantly our national economic interest.
If you don’t have an Australian industry, you’ll simply have the costs go up once that Australian industry disappears.
BRISSENDEN: Okay, speaking of jobs and reform, of course the China Free Trade Agreement is an issue that’s very much in the spotlight at the moment.
Now Bob Hawke, Bob Carr, Daniel Andrews, Jay Weatherill and now Opposition Leader in New South Wales, Luke Foley, all urging you to sign it as it is. Why won’t you?
ALBANESE: Well, I support, as does Labor supports free trade. What we want to make sure is that this agreement is in Australia’s national economic interests.
BRISSENDEN: But they all think it is.
ALBANESE: If you look at Luke Foley’s comments, and I saw them this morning, he has made it clear as well that it is reasonable for the Opposition to consider the our national interest when it comes to Australian jobs.
BRISSENDEN: What if China walks away from this? Because that’s what the Government is warning and as you heard in the previous set-up piece, Geoff Raby, a former ambassador, says that this is an agreement that’s been negotiated over decades and once you start to unpick one element the whole thing will unravel.
ALBANESE: Well, we of course were a part of those negotiations. And what we’re always a part of is making sure that Australians could benefit from the benefits that will come from the China Free Trade Agreement.
There’s no doubt there will be benefits from free trade but you need to make sure there are simple provisions that mean Australians for example can benefit from the jobs that are created, that’s the objective of the free trade agreement.
It’s not some ideological thing in itself. It’s about real, practical benefits. And we want to make sure that those practical benefits go to Australia and to Australian job creation in particular.
BRISSENDEN: Okay. Can I just ask you quickly about the Canning by-election which is the first big electoral test that’s coming up shortly.
Now yesterday Penny Wong said that effectively 2.5 to 4 per cent swing to you would be acceptable. You’d be hoping – Labor would be hoping to do a lot better than that in Canning, wouldn’t you?
ALBANESE: If you look historically, when there’s a by-election after the death of a sitting member, in this case a very popular one, Don Randall, it’s hard to get a swing. It’s not a normal by-election.
BRISSENDEN: Sure, but aren’t bigger issues at play here? I mean, the Government’s had bad polls now, negative polling now since the first budget.
ALBANESE: We’ll wait and see. But this is an opportunity for the voters of Canning to do a favour for the whole of the voters of Australia, which is to send a big message to Tony Abbott that his Government simply isn’t up to scratch.
And when I was in Canning with our terrific candidate Matt Keogh that was the case. We’ve listened to the voters of Canning. We have an infrastructure package to fix Armadale Rd and the connection with Cockburn. We have a plan for job creation in that electorate and the whole of Western Australia.
And it’s interesting in my portfolio there is not a single new infrastructure project which is underway in WA that was not begun by the former Federal Labor Government.
BRISSENDEN: Okay, Anthony Albanese, we’ll leave it there. Thanks very much for joining us.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.