Wednesday, 15 August 2018
Coastal Trading (Revitalising Australian Shipping) Amendment Bill 2017; Second Reading
Before the break I was explaining how, because of the approach of successive governments, we have ended up in a situation where people who are working on ships passing through our waters, or through waters adjacent to our waters, may be under enterprise agreements, and that, sometimes, the first time anyone finds out that these enterprise agreements are in place is when they go and talk to the crew on the ships and find out that a handful of them voted on an enterprise agreement—which includes wage rates that are substantially below the local wages and conditions—before they left their home country to come to Australia. The agreement is not one that the unions have had any time to be involved in. Clearly, the rates are higher than the wages and conditions they might have in their home country, so you can't fault those crew members for that, but they're substantially lower than the going market and enterprise agreement rates in Australia—and it's all perfectly legal. It's all perfectly legal to have people vote on an enterprise agreement in this country, which affects the conditions of local workers here, and to have it happen before they even leave here. And it is often done by secret ballot where no-one is able to have any input into it at all. We've also ended up in a situation in our shipping and offshore resources activity where people will come through on other classes of visas where local advertising doesn't have to happen at all.
We saw the farcical situation a couple of years back where, in order to allow some companies in the offshore sector to have the right to exploit people and pay them much less than the local wages and conditions, the minister—not the minister in this House but the minister at the time, who is in the other place, the Senate—ran around declaring various offshore resource projects to be exempt from the provisions of the law. Then, at the end, she declared them all exempt. Every offshore resource project was exempt from the provisions of the relevant law, and therefore local wages and conditions didn't have to apply. That was challenged in the High Court. It was a bit like a whack-a-mole game: up would pop another regulation, and you had to knock that one on the head. Ultimately the will of the Senate prevailed, and it was clear that the intention was to provide for local wages and conditions to apply and some form of justice to prevail. But this is what people are up against when it comes to shipping and offshore resources activity, because of the holes that are in our laws.
We have chosen, wrongly, not to regulate shipping in our region, and as a result we find ourselves, as I said before, losing a trained and sustained workforce, losing a local shipping fleet and losing the revenue that could come from following down the road of other countries who have decided that a regulatory approach is actually of benefit to the country. We've had a bit of time to fix it, and the attempts that have been made by previous governments—and I count governments of both stripes in this—have been manifestly inadequate. We knew that the attempt a few years ago to introduce a couple of lists and say, 'We're introducing our own approach, the Labor approach to revitalise shipping,' wasn't going to work. That was called out at the time by many people in the sector, and of course it hasn't worked.
There are many things that can be done now, without this legislation passing, that have led to the decimation of Australian shipping, as we've seen, but this bill will take it even further. There are not many bills that come before parliament and say, 'Our aim is to enable people to have lower wages and conditions than might otherwise apply and to enable people to opt out of the small amount of regulation that might apply to protect our environment and our workforce,' but that's exactly what this bill does. That's why this bill can't be supported and we need to go back to the drawing board. When we go back to the drawing board and consider how we're going to deal with Australian shipping, we should look to the other countries that are doing it well—the other countries that have built up an industry, contrary to the intention of this bill and the direction that we've been going in under Labor and Liberal. It's not right that as an island country we just say, 'We'll leave it up to other countries to register our ships and crew our ships as they sail through our waters.' We have an opportunity here, if we're a bit sensible about it, to rebuild the Australian shipping industry. I would hope that, if this bill proceeds to the other place, the scrutiny that's going to be brought to bear on it there will prompt the government to go back to the drawing board and have a rethink of this terrible bill.