Tuesday, 13 October 2015
Shipping Legislation Amendment Bill 2015; Second Reading
Like those on our side of the House, I too rise to oppose the Shipping Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 and support the amendments that were made by the member for Grayndler. This legislation that is before the House at the moment seeks to make a substantial review of the Australian coastal shipping industry. On 25 June, the coalition brought into the House reforms to establish a single permit system. The granting of this will allow international shipping to be able to access our coastal trade for periods of 12 months. They will be able to do that and they will be able to compete with Australian based traders. But this will give them unfettered access to Australian ports to be able to ply their trade.
This bill also seeks not only to deregulate Australian domestic shipping by removing a preference for Australian flagged vessels that are crewed by Australian operators but also to exempt foreign vessels from paying Australian wages and from observing Australian industrial and other safety regulations. You have just heard people on the other side say that this was not about wages and, in fact, they do not think Australians are overpaid, yet they are going to introduce into this system something that allows foreign vessels to come in, pay foreign seamen at a fraction of Australian wages and not observe Australian safety standards, and they say that is a level playing field for competition. About what else are going to say that? I am sure they would not talk that way when they talk about their farm blocks or the businesses that they seek to protect; only when they are talking about Australian workers applying themselves on the maritime coastal trade of this country. It is okay for any country to come in and compete—any third-world country, anyone who wants to bring in a ship that is not necessarily going to be of the same standard of maintenance as an Australian vessel. 'That is okay. You can come in. You can compete for those jobs in Australian ports. You can compete to apply yourself on the Australian coastal trade.' They are effectively going to dismantle an Australian shipping industry as a consequence.
They say this is all about enhancing trade and our economy. It is going to put a lot of people out of work. It is going to make it difficult for a lot of people who study to become maritime workers, whether they are officers on ships, deck hands or whatever. That will be a category of workers that is obsolete in this country. Currently, under the Coastal Trading (Revitalising Australian Shipping) Act—which was introduced, by the way, by a Labor government in 2012—there is a three-tiered licensing system that essentially requires people seeking to move freight by sea to give a preference, where possible, to Australian based shipping. When an Australian vessel is not available, a foreign vessel can operate in Australian waters on a temporary licence. Under this approach, Australian maritime operators are effectively given the first right of refusal. Interestingly, when a foreign vessel operator does get a temporary licence, they are required to pay their crew at Australian rates of pay. They are also required to observe all Australian regulations and safety conditions. In other words, it maintains a level playing field when operating on Australian coastal routes. It does not give a competitive advantage to foreign flagged vessels by being able to undercut the domestic maritime industry by paying foreign workers less and by not observing Australian workplace conditions and standards.
The coastal trading act was part of a broader reform that was aimed at revitalising the Australian shipping industry. The objective of the act to was to provide a regulatory framework for coastal trading in Australia which contributes to the broader Australian economy, enhances the efficiency and reliability of Australian shipping and maximises the use of Australian vessels registered under the Australian General Shipping Register. Bear in mind, the shipping industry was in a serious state of decline under the last Liberal government. Under John Howard, the number of Australian flagged vessels working the domestic coastal trade of this country plummeted from 55 vessels in 1996, when the Howard government took office, to 21 vessels in 2007. It fell to Labor to review the industry and to propose reforms based on economic, environmental and security interests. The eventual reforms were made in accordance with the unanimous recommendations of the 2008 parliamentary inquiry, within which the then National, Paul Neville, played a substantial part, and I credit him for the role that he took as the former member for Hinkler. I hope the current member for Hinkler looked at the words used by Paul Neville in looking at protecting Australian jobs.
It also followed substantial consultations that took place between 2010 and 2012, immediately prior to the bill being introduced into this House. The Liberal government has once again launched an attack on Australian workers by seeking to repeal the 2012 coastal trading laws by again undercutting Australian shipping by putting thousands of Australian jobs at risk, if not destroying the industry itself. If this legislation is passed, the inevitable result will be the closure of Australian businesses that own and operate Australian ships, as a consequence of unfair trading from foreign flagged vessels. We are going to contract out to other nations the ability to operate our coastal run. We will become dependent on someone else to do our work under this legislation. When a ship flies an Australian flag, not only is it subject to Australian standards of safety, environmental compliance and taxation but it also must comply with our industrial relations laws, whether the ship is operating on only our coastal run or internationally as well.
However, under the coalition's official modelling of the legislation before the House, we will see significant exemptions provided to foreign vessels on Australian coastal trading, including the application of an exemption from paying Australian domestic wage structures. What we will see as a consequence of these proposals is the removal of Australian workplace standards on foreign vessels. We will see the sacking of Australian workers who work not only on Australian vessels but also on foreign vessels, because they will not have to be paid Australian wages. Australian jobs will have gone. It will also impact on those in this country who are on temporary work visas. They too will be paid Third World rates of pay in Australian waters.
This entirely defeats the purpose of securing a local maritime skills base for Australia, because in the future there will no longer be an industry for Australians to work in. I understand that our shipping industry currently employs around 10,000 workers, whether directly or indirectly. As a consequence of this legislation at least 2,000 direct maritime jobs will go, and I am not sure how many more thousands will indirectly follow as a result of terminating this Australian industry.
As we all know, Australia currently has the highest unemployment rate since the global financial crisis. We are sitting at about 7.9 per cent. Interestingly, unemployment has increased two per cent since this government came to office. Just as they did with respect to Australian manufacturing, and just as they did with respect to goading Holden to leave manufacturing in Australia, followed by Ford, just as they chased those industries out they are now chasing out the Australia maritime industry.
If anything, the government's current policies and reforms should be aimed at boosting Australia's economic and security interests, while providing opportunities for Australian job seekers. However, these proposed reforms we have before us today do nothing about that. I have to say that they are not terribly shy about how these reforms will come about, because they have gone out of their way to tell Australian industry how to get around this. They made it very clear to an Australian operator, Mr Milby, who for many years has operated North Star Cruises, which is located in the Kimberley region of northern Western Australia. He was somewhat concerned about what it would mean to allow foreign vessels to come in and undercut his business and put him out of business. He got advice from the government. Do you know what it was? They advised Mr Milby that the best way to remain competitive under these changes was to register his vessel overseas, get rid of his Australian crew and hire foreign workers on lower rates of pay. That is great advice from an Australian government: telling an Australian owned and operated business how you can be competitive under these changes by sacking your Australian workers. If they call that reform, when it comes to hard decisions how could anyone trust what they do?
We have seen what they proposed with Work Choices. They made it legal, for the very first time in Australian history, to pay people below the award rate of pay. And they thought that was a workplace reform. The only people who were affected by that were the people who were dependent on their wages—they were price-takers. They were the low-paid workers; the people on minimum rates of pay. They couldn't say, 'If you don't pay me I am going to go to another job.' They were the price-takers of our economy. They had to take whatever was offered. They were the workers whom these people, when they were last in power, sought to penalise.
We are seeing the same thing played out now with their talk about penalty rates. They think it is all fair and that penalty rates may be a thing of the past and we should be changing our views about them. None of the people here live on penalty rates. None of the people here need to balance their home budget on penalty rates. But I will tell you that there are plenty of people in my electorate who do.
It is just not sound that we again attack an Australian industry. Given our coastline, given the points of trade into our community, given the points of security for our island based nation, it is just not fundamentally sound that we go out and dismantle an Australian industry that services our nation. We are going to replace that with domestic coastal shipping being provided by foreign vessels flagged under a foreign power. We have a chink in the armour of our sovereignty and in being able to look after ourselves. We are going to contract that out to somebody else.
I support the amendments by the member for Grayndler and I am very much opposed to what has been put to the House in this legislation. I encourage the government to rethink their position.