Subject: Bureaucrat’s advice to cruise company to replace Australian flag with foreign flag & Australian workers with foreign workers
JOHN MCGLUE: Bill Milby is the company owner’s representative, North Star Cruises is the name of the company and he’s here now, Bill good to talk with you.
BILL MILBY, NORTH STAR CRUISES: G’day.
MCGLUE: So what are your concerns about this legislation first up?
MILBY: The legislation, if it passes the way it is written at the moment allows any foreign ships, provided they meet the navigation regulations, to ply their trade on the Australian coast.
By doing that foreign ships will obviously come in with foreign crew, that’s what they do. Foreign crew, especially from certain countries around the world are paid a lot less money in wages than what Australian crew are paid. We compete against them then obviously we become uncompetitive.
MCGLUE: Right, and what representations have you made to the federal department in relation to this which led to these extraordinary comments from the bureaucrat? What were you seeking to do?
MILBY: Well, this legislation, changes to the Navigation Act, has been tinkered with by two different governments and I’ve been involved from our company’s point of view to make sure we can protect not only our operation but the operations of other coastal crew coming here around Australia and protect the wages of our Australian workers.
But this Bill, which is before the Parliament now, allows any foreign ship to come in and operate against us and that’s why I sought briefings. That’s why I went first off to the public launch by Minister Truss of this legislation at which I asked some questions and got some answers and then I had a meeting with two bureaucrats in the Department about three weeks after that.
MCGLUE: Some time later. Ok well let’s go back to that day it’s the 20th of May this year. You’re in Sydney at this function, Warren Truss is there launching this piece of legislation and afterwards you spoke to a bureaucrat. Tell me about that conversation.
MILBY: Well I did query Minister Truss in the question and answer session, “how do expect companies like North Star Cruises and others to be able to compete when you table this legislation?”
He said he thought it wouldn’t be an issue and that was the end of the conversation with him. So then I sought out the person from his Department and asked the person the same question. “Ok, this is what you are going to do, how do you expect North Star Cruises and other to compete?”
And they said “well you’ve got to realise that you are in an international marketplace now so you have to take steps to become more competitive”.
And I said “well how do you suggest I do that?”
And she said “well maybe you should consider taking the ship off the Australian registry, reflagging it in a different country and then hiring a foreign crew”.
MCGLUE: Bill Milby, just let me get this right, this is a federal government bureaucrat giving you advice to ditch your Australian workers and to hire cheaper labour from overseas.
MCGLUE: What was your response?
MILBY: I was gobsmacked. I said to her, I can’t remember the exact words but words to the effect of “I cannot believe those words are coming out of your mouth.”
I was gobsmacked. So much so that I said to her that I would really like to continue this conversation elsewhere in your office in Canberra. And she agreed to that and we met three weeks later in her office in Canberra, not only with her but with one of her managers as well.
MCGLUE: Ok, so tell me about that meeting because you were obviously taken aback by what you heard at that function in Sydney so you make your way to Canberra three weeks later to sit down with the grown-ups from the department. Tell me about that conversation.
MILBY: We virtually continued on where we left off in Sydney. I stated our case that we believe that should this legislation as it is written be passed then it would seriously threaten out operation and the operations of other operators all the way round the Australian coast who have Australian ships, Australian crew, who build Australian ships in Australia for their operations, I said “you affect a whole lot of people and you also effect the regions where these ships operate out of”.
MCGLUE: And they said?
MILBY: Not a lot. They reiterated the fact that if we wanted to stay competitive then we should take the ship off the Australian registry, sack our crew and put on foreign workers.
MCGLUE: Ok. Where does it go next? What do you want the Government to do?
MILBY: I want them to look at this legislation, this draft legislation, well it’s not draft it’s now before Parliament. It’s wrong and in my submission I actually said that they are taking a machete to fix something they should be doing with a scalpel.
They should be very careful as to how they frame this legislation.
I’ve argued for the last 6 years that freight and passenger trade around the Australian Coast are two different businesses, therefor it should be covered under two sets of different rules and regulations.
I’ve argued that point for 6 years but they don’t listen.
MCGLUE: Ok, well I wonder what’s going to happen now. This is quite an extraordinary sequence of events. Bill Milby, thank you so much.
It really sounds quite incredible. North Star Cruises, they operate the True North, up off the Kimberley coast. Some extraordinary comments and engagement with the Federal Government. That’s Bill Milby.
Anthony Albanese is with me – the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure. Good day to you.
ALBANESE: Good to talk to you John.
MCGLUE: Good to talk with you too. What do you make of what you heard there from Bill Milby?
ALBANESE: Well the Department is just being honest about the implications of this legislation. The submission from the Maritime Industry Australia Limited, which is the peak Australian shipping body, is consistent with the opposition that’s there across the board to this legislation.
If you allowed from Perth across to Sydney, a foreign truck in to carry goods that allow them to employ someone on Filipino or third world wages and said, here you go, Toll and Linfox and the Australian trucking industry – you compete with them. Guess what? They’d go out of business as well.
The Hume Highway shouldn’t be any different from the blue highway, but what they’re saying is that in industries that compete against each other, the only way that they can be competitive is to take ships off the Australian registry, register them in a foreign country, replace the crew with foreign crew, and pay them foreign wages.
In the submission from Mr Milby it speaks about how he was given advice as well that the foreign crew would be trained in a foreign country not Australia, saving money. This is ideology gone mad. This is about replacing the Australian flag on the back of ships with a white flag when it comes to Australian jobs.
MCGLUE: What do you want to see happen now?
ALBANESE: I want to see this legislation rejected. This is unilateral economic disarmament. No country in the world that’s advanced just says let’s have a free for all on our coast and allow for foreign wages, and they do that with good reason.
But for an island continent such as Australia, which doesn’t have any land borders, the shipping industry is particularly important and those skills that are important for our national security.
There’s a relationship between the merchant fleet and our Navy. It’s important for our environment in terms of the standards that Australian ships are kept to. It’s important for the way that our ports and harbours operate and where the skills come from the shipping sector.
The idea appears to be that we’ll just give up an Australian industry because the Government can’t see beyond their own ideology.
Australian ships might have union members on them, and therefore the way to get rid of those union members is to get rid of the whole industry is just ideology gone mad.
MCGLUE: It’s good to talk to you today. Thanks for your time.
ALBANESE: Good on you John.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.