Wednesday, 16 October 2019
ANL Legislation Repeal Bill 2019; Second Reading
I rise to speak on the ANL Legislation Repeal Bill 2019 and, from the outset, signal that the opposition will be supporting the legislation but also moving a second reading amendment, particularly in relation to Australian shipping. I note that this bill repeals the ANL Act 1956 and the ANL Guarantee Act 1994. The legislation, in essence, as the minister has said, is a tidy-up of the arrangements that were put in place when the Australian National Line was sold by the Howard government in 1998. At the time of the sale, employee entitlements were transferred to the new owners, along with all physical assets and the ownership of all business names and associated intellectual property. It has since become apparent that, due to the original ANL Act not being repealed, whilst the Australian government no longer owns the business name of the Australian National Line the current owners' use of it is compromised.
The ANL Act lists the business name 'Australian National Line' as a name protected from unauthorised use. The original intent of protecting the name under the 1956 act was to ensure that parties not associated with the Australian National Line would be unable to use the name, or similar names, as a trading name. Since the sale, in essence that is no longer necessary. Instead, what has come to light is that the owners of ANL, CMA CGM, now face limitations on registering and re-registering domain names and other intellectual property, due to the 1956 protection of the name ANL still being in place. This has left the Australian government exposed to the risk of legal action. The opposition agrees that it is unreasonable for this impediment to be in place and therefore supports the legislation.
Similarly, we support the repeal of the ANL Guarantee Act, another piece of legislation that has not been required since the sale of ANL in 1998. The old guarantee act was in place to provide that the Commonwealth government guarantee any loans or other financial undertakings given by the then government-owned entity.
Whilst I note that the coalition government is prepared to take action to support one international shipping line, I do think it is incredibly disappointing that it won't lift a finger, frankly, to support and rebuild our domestic shipping industry. As an island nation and a nation of islands, we are reliant on shipping for so much of our domestic and international freight task, a shipping freight task that is the fourth largest in the world. Virtually all of our imports and our exports come and go by way of ship, and one-tenth of global sea trade flows through our ports. Strong management of shipping is crucial to our national security and our economic and also our environmental interests.
But on this government's watch we are now in a situation where less than half a per cent of our seaborne trade is carried by Australian ships. That percentage is rapidly heading towards zero, with regular reports of operators removing Australian flagged vessels from service. There will come a time under the watch of this government when we will see no Australian flagged vessels in our waters if we don't do something now. Under this government's watch, the number of Australian flagged vessels has fallen, on the reports that I have, to 14, but in fact I think it is lower than that; it is now at around 11. For the six years that this government has been in office it has stood idle, when it should have been supporting our shipping industry.
It's not just about Australian flagged vessels; it's about what comes because we have Australian flagged vessels. We have increased national security when it comes to fuel. We have a pipeline of training for regional jobs in the maritime industry. Our ports are able to access Australian trained pilots. We have a fantastic Australian Maritime College in Tasmania, and we have the capacity, if we have Australian flagged vessels and an Australian shipping industry, to provide the training pathways for those wonderful AMC graduates to then be able to get high-paying jobs in this country. It means that, for our defence forces, we are able to supply a pipeline of people trained in the shipping industry that then can jump into the Australian Defence Force, into the Navy. It is not just about Australian flagged vessels; it is what that means for the entire Australian maritime industry and jobs in the maritime industry.
This government, frankly, has been not just asleep at the wheel but prepared to actually trash what is in place currently to try and build that shipping industry. No nation should surrender its economic sovereignty in this way. No nation should decide that an entire sector, the maritime industry, is not worthy of support to get jobs into our regions, and yet that is what this government has done. Those opposite see no value in the existence of a vibrant domestic shipping sector, or any other part of maritime industry for that matter. They have twice sought to rip up the reforms made by the Labor government aimed at protecting Australian shipping, under the guise of reducing costs. The parliament twice has rejected those reforms, calling out the legislation as bad for Australian passengers and freight, bad for Australian workers and bad for Australia's national security. All the while, each and every coalition transport minister undermined policy settings put in place by the former Labor government that sought to enhance and rebuild the Australian shipping industry. In particular, the repeated misuse of temporary licences by this government has enabled foreign flagged ships with crews paid a pittance to continue to regularly transport goods between Australian ports—work that can and should be done by Australian maritime workers paid Australian wages under Australian conditions.
I met yesterday with a senior maritime worker who was here on another matter, but he was telling me he is the only Australian working on a ship that regularly plies the Australian coast. It doesn't go anywhere else; it only goes from port to port in Australia, shipping goods between Australian ports. He is the only Australian who works on that ship at all. When you've got people coming through the Australian Maritime College desperate to find berths on ships and to get to the level of being able to become pilots in our ports, and you've got a ship regularly trading right around the coast of Australia—in fact, that is all it does—and there is only one Australian citizen working on that ship and being paid Australian wages, there is something very, very wrong. But, rather than present a vision to support and rebuild Australian shipping and Australian jobs, and all that comes from that, the Deputy Prime Minister has recently announced a further round of consultation on coastal trading reforms.
I remind the House that, in July 2012, following extensive consultation with industry and with unions, the former Labor government attempted to revive Australian shipping with a substantial reform package. That package included an international shipping register, the first national ports strategy in this country, a single national regulator to administer a national set of laws, a zero corporate tax rate, more generous accelerated depreciation arrangements, rollover relief for selected capital assets, new tax incentives to employ Australian seafarers and an exemption from the royalty withholding tax for bare-boat leased vessels. The reforms needed time to bear down, but they would have supported a substantial revival of the Australian maritime industry. However, as soon as this government—which is now in its third term—came to office in 2013, it began a concerted effort to undermine every single one of those reforms.
Through two failed rounds of legislation and the ongoing high use of temporary licences, the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government has done all it can to weaken the Australian shipping and maritime industries. Almost seven years into its term of government, it has quietly contacted the maritime industry stakeholders to begin looking for support to 'reform' coastal shipping—and I say 'reform' because so far what this government has done when it comes to its so-called reforms of coastal shipping has been to do everything it possibly can to undermine the capacity of Australian jobs in this industry. That is what the government has done.
I've seen a copy of the government's correspondence to industry, signed by the Deputy Prime Minister. It includes a letter and a two-page note titled 'Why do we need coastal trading reform?' I know why we need coastal trading reform. It's because we want to get more Australians into work in Australia's maritime and shipping industry. I'm not convinced, on the basis of what the government have put forward to industry, that that is in fact what they're intending to do. Read together, the letter and the two-page explainer set an incredibly narrow frame for such a crucial debate.
The government has ruled out big reforms while leaving the door open to undermine protections for Australian flagged vessels. While it notionally rules out opening up the coast, it leaves open achieving this by stealth, through further exploitation of temporary licences. While it claims protections for Australian vessels are critical, it flags that new approaches are certainly possible. Further, it explicitly rules out even a conversation on proposals put forward to save Australian shipping, like a strategic maritime fleet, mandating use of Australian vessels, large tax concessions, or subsidies. I ask the Deputy Prime Minister why the government has ruled out all of these things if the purpose of the consultation is to actually improve coastal shipping. I would add that the purpose of any consultation should be to grow and expand jobs in the maritime industry, particularly those in our regions.
Crucially, the fact sheet notes that the 2018 seafaring skills census recently conducted forecasts a skills shortage by 2023 and goes on to comment how 'Australian mariners are unable to complete their sea time locally'. What on earth is the government doing, if there are people coming through the Australian Maritime College in Tasmania being completely unable to find a berth on a ship to get the sea time that they need to be able to then progress through their training pathway?
We've got Australian seafarers who want to work, who want to work in Australia and who want to pay their dues through the maritime industry—and it takes a long time to train someone up to be a pilot at port, and rightly so, because it's a very dangerous and very important set of skills to have. We've got all these people who are very keen to participate in this industry and very keen to learn and develop, but they can't actually do that in their own country. What on earth has the government been doing? We've got a new generation dreaming of going to sea, but they cannot get the training. Even if they did get the training, the jobs are simply not there for them when they are finished. This is in spite of Australia's economy having the fourth-largest shipping task in the world.
I go back to where we started: we've got the fourth-largest shipping task in the world. We're heavily reliant on shipping for export and import, yet the Australian jobs in this industry are on the decline. What has government been doing to ensure that Australian mariners and Australians who want to go to sea get the training they need to advance their career or get a start in this industry? There is no career pathway for Australian master mariners, marine pilots or our harbour masters. How is it in Australia's best interests to be recruiting these critical maritime workers from overseas or having to attract them out of our defence force—out of our critical navy, which has a substantial workforce shortage as well? How is that in Australia's national interest?
I urge the Deputy Prime Minister to also answer this simple question: what is the government's actual policy when it comes to Australia's shipping? The industry does not have time for more reviews. Our economy does not have time for more and more reviews. This is a third-term government with no plan for our economy and certainly no plan for how Australian shipping contributes substantially to that economy and to jobs across the country.
Turning back to the correspondence that the minister has circulated, I note the fact sheet also states that if reform is pursued, stakeholders have to agree where there is middle ground. When there are, as I said, just 14 or fewer Australian flagged vessels operating on our coast, I'd say to the Deputy Prime Minister: what is 'middle ground' for coastal trading when there are now only 14 or fewer Australian flagged vessels on our sea under his government's watch?
Shipping is an important national strategic industry. Maintaining a domestic shipping industry is critical for Australia as an island nation. Labor remains committed to working with stakeholders to revitalise Australia's shipping industry. Unlike those opposite, Labor believes in a strong and vibrant maritime industry, and we will always support Australian seafarers, maritime workers and Australian flagged vessels.
While supporting this legislation, Labor would also welcome the support of the chamber in standing up for Australian coastal shipping and Australian maritime jobs in this country. We can't have a strong and secure economy if our nation is completely reliant on foreign vessels to provide our fuel, to bring the goods that we need into our markets, to carry our exports and to move products around our coastline.
It is pretty clear from the letter that the minister has circulated to the industry, with a submission date of less than four weeks, that this is not a consultation process. This is a process designed to get an outcome, which, again, is an outcome for the government to try and pursue the watering down of the protections and the growth in reforms that Labor put in place for coastal shipping.
I know that there are many in the sector that have been confused by what the government's purpose is in circulating the letter. There are some who are indicating that they're simply not going to participate, because they see this as another round of the government's attack on those reforms and another attempt to get its legislation through the parliament. I hope that is not the case.
That being said, whilst we're supporting this legislation, I will move a second reading amendment.
Further to my amendment, which I will move at the end of this speech, I call on the Deputy Prime Minister to be honest with the Australian people and to tell us why the government has ruled out even discussing proposals that will in fact save Australian flagged vessels and save Australian shipping. What is the government doing to ensure Australian mariners and Australians who want to go to sea can get the training that they need here in this country and on Australian vessels? What is the government's policy on Australia's shipping and Australia's maritime industry? What is a middle ground for coastal trading when there are now 14 fewer Australian flagged vessels on our seas on this government's watch?
Labor does have a proud history of supporting the vital role that Australia's maritime industries play in securing our economic, environmental and national security needs. We remain committed to revitalising the industry and supporting maritime workers. With that, I move:
That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:
"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:
(1) notes this Government's record of undermining the Australian shipping industry; and
(2) reaffirms that Australia's economic, environmental and national security interests are best served by a viable and competitive shipping industry".