House debates

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Bills

Maritime Legislation Amendment Bill 2018; Second Reading

10:46 am

Photo of Brian MitchellBrian Mitchell (Lyons, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I second the amendment.

It gives me great pleasure to rise to speak to this bill and particularly to the amendment moved by the shadow minister. I will always get to my feet whenever I can to speak on coastal trading and the maritime fleet in Australia. What's happened under this government and, indeed, under the previous Howard government with respect to our maritime fleet and our maritime workers has been a disgrace in terms of jobs and, particularly, national security and fuel security, which I'll come to a little bit later.

Australia is an island continent, surrounded by water in every direction—north, south, east, west. My own state is an island state of our island country, and we recognise our geographical peculiarity in our national anthem, noting 'Our home is girt by sea'. Unless you fly, the only way to get here is by sea. You cannot drive or walk to Australia from any other country in the world, and in this we are unique. Every other country in the world you can get to by land; this is the only country inhabiting an entire continent and it requires either a plane or a ship to get to it.

You would think that, as an island connected to other nations only by water and air, Australia would have a maritime flee the envy of the world, developed over 200 years of colonial, intercolonial, interstate and international trade. You would think that Australia would be producing the world's best maritime engineers, world-class shipbuilders, the best civilian sailors and officers, the best technicians, the best navigators not only for an Australian fleet but to send out to the world to give the world the best-trained maritime fleet officers and staff. But no. Our maritime fleet in Australia is all but in mothballs, sacrificed on the altar of neoliberalism. Our maritime self-reliance has lost out to greedy corporations and multinationals and to foolish coalition governments more interested in saving a few dollars in sailors' wages than in protecting our national security. We have a government that has absolutely destroyed our domestic shipping industry and annihilated our domestic maritime fleet. For some reason, the coalition—those opposite—has never seen the benefit that these industries offer to Australia and to our economy.

I was at a function at the parliament this week with the Maritime Industry Australia Limited representatives the shadow minister talked about earlier in his speech. At that occasion, the Minister for Defence turned up and extolled the virtues of what he was doing with the Defence program, the shipbuilding, the subs and all that. People were looking on thinking, 'What on earth is this guy talking about?' These were representatives of commercial shipbuilders, and he was going on about a naval shipbuilding program. They could only look on in wonder and think, 'We're missing out on this.' Why can't the minister and this government see that our Defence capabilities are just as important as our merchant capabilities? They just don't see it. They are blind to the implications.

Similarly, they turn a blind eye to the absolute rorting of the temporary licences for foreign vessels in Australian waters. Australia's coastal shipping industry, under various Liberal governments since Howard, has eroded and virtually disappeared. The shadow minister made reference to the Portland, a vessel that travelled the same route between Western Australia and Victoria for 27 years. It was crewed by Australians and flagged as an Australian vessel, but, under this government—under those opposite—it's been allowed to be deflagged and recrewed by foreign crews under foreign conditions, despite plying a domestic route.

If the sea route that it took was just a few kilometres inland, it wouldn't be allowed. It would be illegal to have foreign workers on foreign conditions on a foreign registered vessel adhering to foreign maintenance standards using Australian land based conditions and roads. It would be disallowed. We require that vehicles on Australian roads and Australian highways adhere to Australian conditions and Australian law, but, somehow, even though it's still in Australia but on the water, all those rules are out the window. And why? It's because you save a few dollars in wages. It's an absolute disgrace.

My own state was the sorry last resting place of the Alexander Spirit, the very last Australian crewed fuel tanker, where a crew was basically forcibly removed and told: 'That's it. We're replacing you with foreign crews.' Australia no longer has fuel delivered to Australia by Australians. What does that do to our fuel security? It means we are entirely reliant on foreign nationals and foreign crews in foreign vessels.

Labor supports this bill. As the shadow minister has said, marine orders are critical to the successful operations of ships that come to Australia, and, as such, those marine orders need to be enforceable. There need to be penalties for noncompliance and there needs to be clarity. They are critical components of the successful and safe operation of ships. As regulations made under Commonwealth legislation, marine orders are a flexible instrument that allow our laws to keep pace with the often fast-paced technical and technological change in marine safety and implement Australia's international maritime obligations.

Australia currently has two series of marine orders. One is marine order 198, which generally fulfils our international obligations and expectations and applies to Australian and foreign vessels, as well as some domestic commercial ships. We also have marine orders 500 to 507, which apply solely to domestic commercial vessels. Marine orders dictate behaviour and activity on a range of issues, including fire and emergency safety, garbage and waste disposal, working and living conditions, skill and health requirements for crew, and safe navigation and traffic processes.

All industries are governed by regulations. Whether they be specific to safety requirements or environmental management, they are important components of industry operations. Marine orders, in particular, provide flexible and responsive measures that can fill gaps not filled explicitly by legislation. Marine orders are created by the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, who delegates their enforcement to a range of AMSA staff. This bill offers sensible and necessary reform. There can be no question, and there must be no question, of the legal authority or enforceability of marine orders.

I come back to the second reading amendment. This government has overseen the demise of our fleet and our capability as a merchant marine nation. I just can't believe what it's done. The shadow minister is similarly aghast at how those opposite almost take perverse pride in what they've achieved with their coastal shipping legislation.

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