Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (09:52): Aviation and maritime security should be above partisan politics. It is the responsibility of any federal government of any political persuasion to ensure that our nation’s transport security arrangements are fit for purpose and up to date with the security threats of the day. It is equally the responsibility of any federal opposition to scrutinise proposals put forward by the government in the spirit of cooperation, offering advice where it can while avoiding needless political partisanship. That is the approach that Labor has always taken over my 20 years in this parliament, and for the most part it has been the approach of the coalition.
The member for Wide Bay and I had much conflict over transport policy over the many years that we shadowed each other prior to his recent decision to step down from the frontbench and the leadership of the Nationals and, therefore, the Deputy Prime Ministership. But during that time we worked together on the serious issues that related to the safety of the travelling public, regardless of which of us was in government. I am sure that the new Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Darren Chester, will take the same approach. However, I want to point out to the minister that this bill, toughening background checks on Australian aviation and shipping workers, comes as the government is actively encouraging Australian shipping companies to sack their Australian crews and replace them with foreign crews whose background is simply not subject to the same level of checks. Indeed, yesterday afternoon we learnt of yet another Australian crew being sacked and replaced by a presumably foreign crew. I refer to BP’s decision to terminate use of the British Loyalty oil tanker and sack its Australian crew. I will return to that point later in this contribution.
While this legislation seeks to ensure that Australian workers in airports and ports have no links to organised crime or terrorists, the government is pursuing an approach to the maritime industry that actually undermines that goal, because it undermines the very presence of an Australian flag on the back of ships around our coasts and the presence of Australian mariners on those ships. That makes no sense. That is why I have not just referred to the economic and environmental consequences of an explicit policy that favours foreign ships over Australian ships around our coast. The policy also has national security implications.
As I referred to a moment ago, the world of transport safety is a dynamic one. The frequent emergence of new threats requires constant vigilance on the part of law-makers. For example, in the 20th century no-one would have imagined the huge changes to the world’s airports that were made necessary by the terrorist attacks on New York on 11 September 2001. We have to respond to threats as they arise, and we also have to anticipate what those new threats are and take actions in a precautionary way, if we deem them to be necessary. We should take proper advice and not play politics with national security.
When introducing this legislation, the member for Wide Bay said that it was part of the government’s response to the recommendations of last December’s report from the National Ice Taskforce. The task force found that 200,000 Australians use the crystalline form of methamphetamine, also known as ice. It called for stronger law enforcement measures to tackle the trafficking of the drug, including toughening background checks made on people seeking Aviation Security Identification Cards and Maritime Security Identification Cards.
In response, this bill proposes strengthening the Aviation Transport Security Act and the Maritime Transport and Offshore Facilities Security Act. These are laws that were created in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. In their current form, they are designed to prevent unlawful interference in the aviation and maritime sectors that could cause damage to passengers, crew, workers or property. They are aimed at preventing terrorist attacks on airports, ports, aircraft and ships. They ensure that before any port or airport worker is granted an identity card, he or she is subject to strict background checks to ensure that he or she has no connections to terrorist groups. The bill before us today seeks to broaden the scope of these checks to also include checks on an applicant’s background for links to, ‘serious and organised crime’. It, therefore, adds to the existing laws a secondary purpose aimed at preventing drug trafficking.
Labor will not oppose this legislation in the House of Representatives. We agree that parliament should respond to the recommendations of the National Ice Taskforce with respect to drug trafficking. We need to focus on law enforcement as well as helping addicts with treatment. However, the opposition does have concerns about this bill, relating to the possibility of unintended consequences. That is why we reserve our position when it comes to the Senate, after there is a proper, open and transparent process to make sure that there are not unintended consequences of this bill. I appreciate the fact that the minister ensured that I had a departmental briefing on this legislation. Hence, we will not be moving amendments at this stage in the House of Representatives or opposing the bill.
We want to make sure that these issues are not partisan, but we also want to make sure that combining checks relating to terrorism and organised crime is the most appropriate way to deal with maritime and aviation security. Specifically, we question whether the addition of an organised crime check to the existing terrorism check might inadvertently affect the level of rigor that applies to the terrorism check. That is a standard which applies to security in the transport sector. There are very specific reasons why, for example, we check for the presence of certain goods being carried on aircraft and do not check for others. We do it so that those people responsible for the checks can concentrate on what can cause real damage if someone acts inappropriately, for example, on an aircraft. That is why through the changes I made as aviation minister we deemed that the previous ban, for example, on cutlery on aircraft was not appropriate given the circumstances of what could occur on an aircraft. We constantly have to update these regulations and laws. I understand that. At that time that practical change received bipartisan support—eventually—from the then opposition.
We know from events in New York the consequences of terrorist infiltration of aircraft. We know that one terrorist attack on an aircraft can literally cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars. That is why the ASIC and MSIC card regimes were brought into effect. It is essential that authorities maintain a laser-like focus on protecting the travelling public. The parliament must be very careful about making changes to existing security arrangements without serious and widespread consultation. The last thing we want to see when dealing with drug trafficking is our efforts compromising transport safety. That is why Labor has already moved to establish a Senate inquiry on this matter. Call it due diligence. We would like to hear a range of views on how transport security checks are working and how the system might be affected by the proposed change.
I stress again that the opposition understands that the intent of this legislation is to address drug trafficking and specifically the scourge of ice that is having such a terrible impact on so many of our communities, particularly those in rural and regional Australia. The impact on young people is quite horrific. It is a drug that leads to violence, break up of families and literally death and destruction in local communities. We as a parliament should do what we can to get rid off this scourge, but we also need to ensure that transport security is not compromised in that process.
That is why the new minister across the table here, Mr Chester, should examine these issues carefully. He should also, I think, examine the clear inconsistencies between this legislation’s aim of ensuring that maritime workers have no links with terrorists or organised crime and the government’s parallel agenda of encouraging greater use of foreign flagged ships crewed by foreign crews. The legislation that was rejected by the Senate last year explicitly stated in its explanatory memorandum and in its regulatory impact statement that it would result in the reflagging of Australian ships with foreign flags and the replacement of Australian mariners with foreign mariners on those ships.
It is unfortunate that, ever since it took office, the government has been seeking to undermine the Australian domestic shipping industry. Last year it attempted to legislate to end any preference for Australian flagged vessels in the domestic cargo trade. This legislation would have required Australian flagged vessels that pay crews Australian-level wages to compete directly with foreign flagged vessels crewed by foreign mariners being paid Third World wages. Obviously, given their lower wage rates, the overseas flagged vessels would have had a competitive advantage. That is why we have labelled this legislation ‘Work Choices on water’. That is why the legislation was rejected in the Senate.
Since the Senate rejected that move, the government has sought to achieve its objective through the back door. It has been abusing a provision of existing maritime law which allows the use of foreign vessels for temporary work where no Australian ship is available. The former government introduced legislation that was flexible and gave preference to Australian ships unashamedly but said, where they were not available, foreign ships could be used but that their workers would have to be paid Australian wages under Australian conditions. The new government has abused the fact that this was not protectionist legislation and did not close our coast to foreign ships to indeed close the coast to Australian flagged vessels. That is basically what has happened here. The government facilitating the sacking of 40 Australian mariners by granting Alcoa a licence and allowing it to replace the MV Portland with a foreign vessel is, perhaps, the most explicit abuse of these laws. For decades the MV Portland had taken the raw material in Western Australia around the coast of the Great Australian Bight to Portland where it was off-loaded at the refinery. It then got taken back to Western Australia.
Nothing could be less temporary than a freight task, purely domestic, from one destination to another and return. That was the sole duty of the MVPortland. Yet a temporary licence was granted, even though temporary licences are for temporary work where no Australian ship was available. But the MVPortland, of course, was there, as were those 40 Australian mariners, who were real Australians with real families, earning real wages, paying real Australian taxes, putting real food on the table for their families and contributing to that local regional economy in Portland, and they were wiped out by the ideology of this government. It is quite extraordinary that the visas were given to the foreign crew and that the former minister, the member for Wide Bay, was notified on 17 December that this was going to happen, but he remained silent on it for weeks while those workers and their families defended Australian jobs.
The problem is that Australian authorities have far less awareness of the backgrounds of overseas mariners than they have of local mariners, whose backgrounds have been vetted as part of the process of issuing a Maritime Security Identification Card. That is the truth. We have this legislation before the parliament, which would enhance what are already very rigorous security checks for anyone working in our airports and ports, but we are allowing essentially a free-for-all around our coast and in our harbours on these vessels without any real security checks, and we are favouring that. So if you are working on the dock unloading a ship, or if you are the truck driver taking goods from the port, or if you are anyone accessing that area, then you go through this extraordinary level of security checking already. Yet, if you are on one of these ships from a country in our region,—and a lot of the countries, of course, use Third World workers from the Philippines or from Indonesia or other countries because they pay them Third World wages—which are full of petrol and are in our harbours around the most populated areas of the country, what could go wrong? Yet this government favours it.
In 2012, so you do not have to take my word for it, the Office of the Inspector of Transport Security said with respect to the offshore oil and gas sector—the Office of the Inspector of Transport Security is independent of the government of the day, and it was an office that was established by the Howard government:
As the Australian-based industry and associated employment demands continue to grow, the employee profile of many companies is changing and more foreign workers, generally operating under 457 visa arrangements, are being engaged.
As is the case internationally, the ability to effectively vet potential employees, either through company recruitment processes, Maritime Security Identification Cards (MSICs), passport or 457 visa related checks is essentially limited to basic character style assessment and cannot operate as a genuine security clearance process. These limitations need to be understood and reflected in other and wider complementary security arrangements.
Let me repeat those words of the Office of the Inspector of Transport Security, not my words. They said, ‘cannot operate as a genuine security clearance process.’ What this means is that while this parliament is today being asked to consider toughening up the MSIC and ASIC process, the government is going out of its way to replace Australians with MSICs with foreign crews which have not been through a proper security clearance process. That is a fact and it is very concerning. I am advised that there are ports in regional Australian where people can access them with nothing more than a passport or a driver’s licence of whatever country they come from. We need to tighten security not undermine it.
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection also has security concerns about the implications of a shift to the use of more foreign flagged ships registered in flag-of-convenience nations like Panama and Liberia. They are ships whose very ownership is often hidden in structures which are far from transparent. In a submission to the Senate inquiry being conducted now into the increasing use of flag-of-convenience vessels in Australian waters, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection warned this government:
… there are features of FOC registration, regulation and practice that organised crime syndicates or terrorist groups may seek to exploit.
It went on to say that, in many flag-of-convenience nations, there was limited transparency about the identity of the owners of vessels. This is the government’s own department of immigration’s submission. It said:
Reduced transparency or secrecy surrounding complex financial and ownership arrangements are factors that can make FOC—
ships more attractive for use in illegal activity, including by organised crime or terrorist groups.
This means that FOC ships may be used in a range of illegal activities, including illegal exploitation of natural resources, illegal activity in protected areas, people smuggling, and facilitating prohibited imports or exports.
These are very serious issues for a government that talks about border security, from a department that is in charge of border control. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection said that flag-of-convenience ships ‘may be used in a range of illegal activities’, including people smuggling and facilitating prohibited imports or exports. That did not come from the Labor Party. That did not come from the trade union movement. That came from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. That is why the opposition is concerned about the government’s position: there needs to be a consistent attitude towards the national interest and national security when it comes to our coasts.
I note that it has been reported today that the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection recognises that the previous minister’s legislation, which was rejected by the Senate, was flawed and understands that there is a need to have a different policy. I say again to the minister, as I have said before in private and in public, that the Labor Party are up for reform that assists Australian shipping, assists productivity and is in the national interest, and we are prepared to work with the government, with MIAL—the peak body for the Australian shipping industry—and with the workforce to ensure the growth of the Australian shipping industry. But we are not prepared to sit back and see that industry simply wiped out, which is what the previous legislation explicitly called for.
So the opposition will allow this legislation to go through the House of Representatives unopposed by us, but we do reserve our right to give consideration to changes to the bill when it is in the Senate, on the basis of the committee inquiry and on the basis of submissions that might be made to it, because we do want to make sure that we get this right and that all of these areas have bipartisan support. I say again: you cannot be tightening up security in ports and airports whilst you are ideologically pushing to remove the Australian flag and the Australian workforce from our coastal shipping.
I refer again to the development with BP that I mentioned earlier in my contribution. The British Fidelity is the last Australian-crewed fuel tanker in service around the Australian coast. It takes oil product from Kwinana primarily to Adelaide and other coastal points, with an Australian crew. If this route is now undertaken by a foreign crew, then all of Australia’s imported fuel and all other fuel moved around the Australian coast will be done by foreign crews. Think about that. If you do not think there are national security implications to there being no presence of Australian crews when that fuel is moved around the Australian coast, then you have not thought about it very deeply.
And I do not understand how Australia’s fuel security is aided by this decision. Our fuel security is so essential to our national economy. I do not know how the minister could possibly have properly applied the act when he issued a temporary licence for a vessel to replace the British Fidelity, knowing, as he must have, that it would be used to facilitate the sacking of Australian workers from work that is done here in Australia.
I say to the minister: he needs to get on top of the national interest here. The National Party, named as it is because, it says, it stands up for Australia’s national interest needs to see that, of all of the coalition. I can understand perhaps someone with a small-l libertarian, economic free market philosophy saying there is no need for any Australian flag or Australian presence in this context. Well, there is. There is, due to our economy. But there is also a national security interest here.
I conclude where I began. Transport safety laws are beyond politics. They should also be beyond ideology. That is why we need to have a consistent view on these issues. The government needs to heed the warnings given by experts at the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and by the Inspector of Transport Security, put ideology aside and make sure it acts in the national interest when it comes to national security. We on this side will continue to support the national interest and to do so in a consistent fashion.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.