Tony Abbott and his hapless deputy Warren Truss have refused to apologise to a shipping company executive for callously trampling his reputation after he blew the whistle on the job-destroying nature of proposed new shipping laws.
And Mr Truss has described the job losses and job security in the shipping industry as “trivial issues’’ as he sought to deflect Labor attempts to hold him to account for turning his back on the future of Australian shipping.
Last week North Star Cruises representative Bill Milby said that in meetings in May and June two bureaucrats from the Department of Infrastructure told him that if he wanted his cruise ship business to remain competitive under proposed new shipping laws, he should re-register his vessel overseas, sack his Australian staff and replace them with cheap foreign labour.
At the time, Mr Abbott and Mr Truss said no such conversations happened, a claim Mr Truss repeated in Parliament on Monday.
But on Monday night, the two bureaucrats – Judith Zielke and Michael Sutton – confirmed that re-registering Mr Milby’s ship overseas and sacking his Australian workers was among “options’’ they discussed with him at meetings in May and June.
Today in Question Time, Labor called upon Mr Abbott and Mr Truss to apologise to Mr Milby, who on Monday night told a Senate committee hearing into the proposed shipping laws that he felt as though Mr Abbott and Mr Truss had impugned his reputation.
Mr Abbott refused to apologise to Mr Milby and Mr Truss refused to apologise for misleading Parliament.
Instead, Mr Truss accused Labor of raising “trivial issues’’.
There is nothing trivial about job security. There is nothing trivial about the future of an Australian industry that employs thousands of people.
Proposed shipping changes will mean that foreign-flagged ships paying their crews third world wages will be able to undercut Australian-flagged ships on coastal cargo trade and tourism operations.
The proposals will destroy Australian shipping and put thousands of people out of work.
They represent unilateral economic disarmament.
Today’s response by Mr Abbott and Mr Truss highlights their cynical preparedness to attack and undermine anyone critical of their policy approach and their lack of good grace in failing to apologise when proven wrong.
The evidence at Monday night’s Senate hearing on this issue was very clear.
When the chairman of the Senate’s Rural and Regional Affairs Committee, Bill Heffernan, asked Ms Zielke whether Mr Milby was being honest, Ms Zielke said: “I understand Mr Milby heard the conversation and reported what he understood the conversation to cover.’’
Mr Heffernan then directly asked Mr Sutton whether Mr Milby had lied, to which he replied: “We discussed the options available to all shipping operators, one of them being to retain their current operations … one of them is the reflagging option.’’
It is high time Mr Abbott and his Government accepted that they have defamed an honest man and misled the people of Australia about the true nature of their shipping reforms.
They should apologise, correct the record and dump their flawed shipping proposals.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.