Sep 2, 2015

Transcript of radio interview – FIVAA with Leon Byner

Subjects: Australian shipping industry; Bureaucrat’s advice to replace Australian flag with foreign flag

LEON BYNER: Let’s talk to Shadow Transport Minister, federally, Anthony Albanese. Anthony thanks for joining us.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you Leon.

BYNER: What do you make of this explosive allegation by the cruise shipping company?

ALBANESE: Well this is quite extraordinary. But what it indicates is the true aim of this legislation. If this legislation is carried, then foreign ships doing domestic freight tasks around our coast will be able to employ people paying foreign wages and conditions, and of course the Australian industry can’t compete.

And what’s occurred here, as you’ve said, is not a vague allegation. It’s named the Executive Director of the Department of Infrastructure as saying to Mr Bill Milby, who runs North Star Cruises that operate around the Kimberley, on the 20th of May in Sydney when he said I can’t compete with foreign flag vessels if they’re allowed to pay foreign wages doing the same routes.

And the advice he was given was, to quote,” ‘consider taking our ship True North off the Australian shipping register, reregister the ship in a suitable foreign country, lay off our Australian crew and hire a cheaper foreign crew,’ unquote”.

Now he was so shocked by that so he went to see the Department on the 16th of June in Canberra and he was given the same advice with even an additional component which was that the foreign crew could be trained in a foreign country, not Australia, saving more money.

This is so short sighted that the Government legislation would simply see the Australian shipping industry disappear. So that instead of having an Australian flag on the back of Australian ships, this is a white flag when it comes to Australian jobs.

BYNER: What do you propose to do about this?

ALBANESE: Well we’re opposing this legislation and we’re calling and have been talking to the crossbenchers about making sure they oppose the legislation as well. This is unilateral economic disarmament. No country, which is advanced in the world, says you can come onto our coast; you can go between Adelaide and Melbourne for example. If you go on the highway you of course have to have an Australian registered vehicle, have to have Australian safety standards, you pay Australian wages to the truck driver. But if you go on the blue highway they’re saying it’s fair game. We’ll remove any preference for Australian ships and you can pay foreign wages.

For which case the businesses, and this is where the bureaucrat has told the business correct advice, which is the only way that they can compete is to become one of them. That’s a disastrous consequence for Australia in terms of having a skilled workforce as an island continent that relies upon ships for our exports and imports and also around our coasts.  If we remove that industry the consequences, for not just our economy, but for national security, for the environment, will be dire indeed.

BYNER: Will the crossbenchers support what Labor is doing here to block that legislation?

ALBANESE: Well I’m hopeful that they will. This is a common sense test. No Australian industry could survive if next to it its competitors could pay foreign wages in Australia. That’s what we’re talking about here, and there are consequences. It’s so short sighted. One of the things that I’ve said is that every time there’s been a disaster off our coast; the Pasha Bulker, you might recall off Newcastle, the Sheng Neng off Queensland, they’ve all been foreign flag ships. Not Australian ships that have good standards and have good safety records. Every time one of those instances happened the costs have been tens of millions of dollars. And yet this short sighted approach is let’s just pay people foreign wages rather than Australian wages. I mean if we lose an industry then the relationship between people who are in the navy and people who are in the merchant fleet in terms of skills, the people who run our ports and our harbours, we will lose all those skills, which as an island continent we simply can’t afford to do.

BYNER: Anthony, thanks for joining us.