Tuesday, 21 August 2018
At a time when politics has been consumed by speculation about leadership, Australians want their government to act in their best interests, and, in particular, to think about the long-term consequences of policy. This government has failed to protect Australian jobs and the Australian coastal shipping industry.
Bass has an overrepresentation of seafarers and master mariners given that it hosts Australia's pre-eminent maritime educational institution, the Australian Maritime College. There has been a constant loss of Australian shipping jobs, which has been accelerated under the Abbott and Turnbull governments. This government is prepared to wave goodbye to highly skilled, highly paid jobs, particularly jobs that benefit the regions within Australia, in order to support marginal cost reductions for large corporations.
It is absolutely extraordinary to my mind that Australia does not adopt any formal system of cabotage, such as is adopted for strategic reasons in many nations with significant coastlines. India and the United States are good examples. I fail to understand why the interests of a shipping company, usually overseas owned, is preferred to the interests of well-paid, highly trained Australian workers. In the name of cost cutting, Australian flag vessels, which are Australian crewed, end up coming back to Australia under a flag of convenience, with foreign, low-paid, exploited workers.
There are many strategic interests in maintaining a strong maritime tradition, with a strong, well-trained and well-paid Australian workforce. Significant concern has been expressed across the political divide as to Australia's ability to store and transport strategic freight, including fuel, oil and other petroleum products, in the event of conflict or other disruption. Our domestic shipping capability has been eroded, either intentionally or without proper care, to such an extent that we can no longer rely upon Australian flag vessels and/or Australian crew to perform the strategic function of transporting vital energy supplies to our major cities or to our defence forces.
The fact that our maritime workforce is relatively high paid, therefore increasing costs to our domestic shippers, ignores the fact that in some cases, particularly road freight, there are hidden or implied subsidies that distort cost comparisons between road freight and shipping or rail. Some years ago it was estimated that the implied subsidy for road freight between Melbourne and Brisbane, taking into account infrastructure spend on roads, was many hundreds of millions of dollars. Any economic analysis seeking to address the comparable cost of shipping to road or rail freight would need to take into account all of the inputs and outputs to undertake a proper cost-benefit analysis.
This government, either through benign neglect or ideological reasons, has hastened the decline of the Australian coastal shipping industry. Every Australian should support proper labour market testing for Australian seafaring jobs. Shipping companies should not reflag their vessels under flags of convenience in order to lower their marginal costs. This process will only hasten the decline of our maritime industry, an industry that should be supported.