House debates

Tuesday, 3 December 2019


Special Recreational Vessels Bill 2019; Second Reading

4:53 pm

Photo of Ms Catherine KingMs Catherine King (Ballarat, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Special Recreational Vessels Bill 2019, which was introduced into this place last Wednesday. The bill establishes a means by which foreign flagged special recreational vessels, also known as superyachts, can opt into temporary licences under the regulatory scheme established by the Coastal Trading (Revitalising Australian Shipping) Act 2012. This will allow foreign flagged superyachts to be offered for hire or charter in Australian waters, thereby potentially securing jobs and contracts for Australian workers, service companies and suppliers of premium goods for these yachts in Australia.

However, improved access for superyachts must not be at the expense of Australian tourism cruise operators and must not facilitate the further eroding of pay, conditions and job prospects for Australian seafarers. It is why Labor has worked with the government to secure a number of amendments and conditions that I understand the minister, in summing up, will be moving. Indeed, the interaction of foreign flagged superyachts with the Coastal Trading (Revitalising Australian Shipping) Act is a longstanding issue, and for years Labor has offered to work constructively with the government to try to resolve this matter. For years the government has been bundling these reforms in with other amendments to the coastal trading act that the opposition, frankly, would never support. Last week the Deputy Prime Minister finally introduced this bill, which discretely manages issues relating to superyachts. At the time the Deputy Prime Minister noted that the bill was urgent and must be passed this fortnight, and he cited industry advice that a large number of superyachts are expected in the Asia-Pacific region over the next 18 months for the Tokyo Olympics and mid next year for the America's Cup in the first half of 2021. Without these amendments it's argued that these superyachts will sail past Australia to New Zealand, Tahiti and Fiji and that we'll miss out on the associated economic benefits.

While the process is far from ideal, it is good that we in this place try to come together to resolve an issue that will potentially open a lucrative market for some Australian workers and small businesses along our coast. I thank the Deputy Prime Minister and his office for their engagement on this issue in the past few days. Labor has acted in good faith and sought to meet the government's deadline whilst also providing appropriate scrutiny for this bill. I thank stakeholders, particularly the Maritime Union of Australia, Maritime Industry Australia Ltd and Australian tourism cruise operators for their active engagement in what has been a very truncated process. I thank my colleagues, including the Leader of the Opposition; the shadow assistant minister for infrastructure, Senator Carol Brown, who has carriage of coastal shipping for us; the shadow minister for tourism; and our very passionate Queensland senators and MPs for their consultative approach.

Our Queensland senators and MPs in particular are understandably excited about the jobs and opportunities that this bill and this reform is forecast to bring for their home state. The Queensland Labor government has long championed the superyacht industry and released a superyacht strategy last year. The strategy aims to deliver a 10 per cent increase in Queensland's share of the global superyacht industry and for Queensland to be recognised as the key superyacht hub in the Asia-Pacific region. The Queensland government predicts benefits along the coast from Cairns and the Whitsundays in the north all the way to the Gold Coast in the south-east corridor. Off the back of their strategy, over 15,000 Queenslanders are predicted to work across the superyacht industry by 2021, contributing $2 billion to the gross state product. This work spans many roles on board vessels, as well as supplying goods and services and performing crucial maintenance.

Of course, superyachts bring employment benefits nationwide. Superyacht Australia found in their 2016 study that more than 16,000 full-time equivalent jobs nationwide were linked to the industry. While around 200 domestic superyachts were already operating around the Australian coastline in the 2016-17 season, there are more than 5,000 of these vessels globally. This bill does present a strong opportunity to attract more vessels to Australia and, with them, many high-wealth visitors to boost our coastal tourism industries. The superyacht industry predicts that around 160 superyachts will be in the western Pacific for the Olympics and the America's Cup. The industry argues that this bill has the potential to unlock over 11,000 jobs and over $1.6 billion in revenue to the Australian economy by 2021.

Labor will always back improving job opportunities, particularly in our regions; nevertheless, Labor's scrutiny of the bill is very important. There is concern amongst some existing operators of Australian owned tourism vessels that temporary licences could be a backdoor mechanism to allow foreign-flagged superyachts to spend considerable time in Australia, therefore undermining the businesses of Australian owned and operated tourism vessels—many of them, again, in Queensland but not solely in Queensland. I note the government has indicated that it will incorporate Labor's amendments into the bill. Labor's first amendment is to include a sunset clause on the legislation. The justification for the bill's urgent passage relates to two global events in the western Pacific in the coming 18 months: the Olympics and the America's Cup. It's therefore appropriate to include a sunset clause of June 2021 to ensure that the government actually considers the broader impacts of its new temporary licence regime and uses this period, in essence, as a trial to ensure that there are no adverse consequences for Australian businesses and that the wages and conditions of Australian shippers are not undermined by this process.

While we've successfully negotiated these substantive amendments with the government to improve the bill, there may well be unintended consequences for the Australian shipping industry from allowing further foreign flagged vessels to permanently operate commercially in Australian waters. The government, frankly, has rushed this legislation, and it must improve its engagement with the industry, unions and the opposition in the lead-up to the bill's sunset. It's not just marine tourism operators that may be negatively impacted by this bill. The bill as originally drafted also potentially undermines the Australian sea freight industry by allowing special recreational vessels on temporary licences to commercially transport cargo around the Australian coast. The government couldn't justify this proposal and has accepted Labor's amendments to amend references to commercial cargo from the temporary licence and to clarify the definition of cargo.

With these amendments the bill will now, as I understand it, mandate that superyachts cannot carry cargo for commercial purposes on voyages authorised by a temporary licence. Cargo can be carried only if it is incidental to recreational activities undertaken on the voyage. Whilst I welcome the government's adoption of the amendments put forward by Labor, proposed to the government by Labor, this flaw in the original drafting highlights the risks associated with rushing technical legislation of this nature through the parliament. Labor's final condition for passing the bill was to confirm the requirement under the coastal trading act for crews on these vessels to receive Australian wages and working conditions. I understand that the explanatory memorandum has been updated to reflect this and that the government minister will speak to this in summing up.

Without these amendments properly incorporated, Labor's support for the bill cannot be assured. Our concerns are not without basis. We know that the government has form on repeatedly misusing temporary licences to enable foreign flagged vessels, with crews paid just a few dollars a day, to regularly transport goods between Australian ports. I flag that at the end of my contribution I will be moving a second reading amendment that reminds the House that on this government's watch we have seen the demise of the Australian shipping industry. They have twice, under the guise of reducing costs, sought to rip up the reforms aimed at protecting Australian shipping made by the Labor government.

The parliament has twice rejected the government's so-called reforms, calling out the legislation as bad for Australian passengers and freight and bad for Australian workers, as well as being bad for Australia's national security. All the while, each and every coalition transport minister over the past six years has undermined the 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 foreign crews to trade along our coastline—work that can and should be done by Australian maritime workers receiving Australian wages and Australian conditions.

Three months into this government's third term the Deputy Prime Minister has come into this place and said that it is urgent because the international superyacht industry wants certainty. Well, Deputy Prime Minister, there are thousands of Australians, from Hobart to Cairns, who work in the Australian maritime industry and who also want some certainty. There is no certainty from this government for the captains and crew members of our vessels, for the workers who maintain and build our ships and for those aspiring to enter the industry. This government hasn't lifted a finger to secure our domestic shipping industry. Too many jobs from our maritime industries have already been lost on this government's watch.

Rather than present a vision to support and rebuild Australian shipping, the Deputy Prime Minister has embarked on a new round of consultation on coastal trading reforms. I remind the House that, rather than seeking to build on Labor's shipping reforms as soon as those opposite came into power in 2013, they began a concerted effort to undermine our domestic maritime industry. Labor's reforms would have supported the revival of Australia's maritime industry. Instead, 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 and almost destroy the Australian shipping industry.

Six years—almost seven years—into the term of this government, it has now quietly contacted maritime industry stakeholders to begin looking for support to reform coastal trading. Whilst it notionally rules out opening the coast, it leaves open achieving this by stealth through further exploitation of temporary licences. While it claims that protections for Australian vessels are critical, it flags that new approaches are possible. Further, it explicitly rules out even a conversation on proposals put forward to save Australian shipping, like a strategic fleet, mandating use of Australian vessels or large tax concessions and high-cost subsidies.

It is just as bad for those working in the industry, particularly for those aspiring to get a job at sea. The Deputy Prime Minister's consultation fact sheet notes that the 2018 seafaring skill census forecasts a skill shortage of 500 seafarers by 2023. It then goes on to comment that 'Australian mariners are unable to get sea time locally'. The maintenance and development of a strong, skilled maritime workforce is vital for Australia's national security and the viability of our economy. We've got Australian seafarers who want to work and can't in this country. We've got a new generation dreaming of going to sea, but they can't get the sea time to complete their qualifications. And, even if they do get their qualifications, the jobs aren't there for them on the Australian coastline once they've finished. For many of them, working in this industry means living Australia. This in turn means no career pathway for Australian master mariners, tug masters, marine pilots or harbourmasters.

I remind the House that we are an island nation, and our economy includes the fourth-largest shipping task in the world. Strong management of shipping is crucial to our national security, our economic and our environmental interests. But, on this government's watch, we are now in a situation where less than half a per cent of our domestic 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. On this government's watch, some in the industry report that the number of Australian flagged commercial vessels is now as low as 11.

For six years, the coalition government has stood idle when it should have been supporting our shipping industry. No nation should surrender its economic sovereignty in this way. But those opposite see no value in the existence of a vibrant domestic shipping sector—or any other part of the maritime industry, for that matter. Shipping is an important national strategic industry for our broader economy and our national security. Maintaining a domestic shipping industry is critical for Australia as an island nation.

Labor remain committed to working with all stakeholders to revitalise the Australian shipping industry. Unlike those opposite, we believe in a strong and vibrant maritime industry, and we will always support Australian seafarers, maritime workers and Australian flagged ships, as well as the Australian workers who maintain and build our merchant and recreational fleet. As I said in my contribution before, while the opposition have agreed to support this legislation—with the foreshadowed amendments and conditions—we would also welcome support in this chamber in standing up for Australian shipping and Australian maritime jobs more broadly.

We recognise that this bill does provide opportunities. It provides an opportunity for increased tourism; it provides an opportunity for increased jobs, particularly in Queensland but not solely in Queensland; and it provides an opportunity to have high-wealth individuals coming into our region and spending money in regional economies around the coast. For that reason, as I said, we've worked with the government to secure amendments that provide the opportunity, in this period of time before the Tokyo Olympics and America's Cup, to make sure that this bill does exactly what it says it does: it doesn't undermine jobs, it doesn't undermine working conditions and it actually generates income for traders and for businesses across the community.

As I said, I am moving a second reading amendment to this bill, and I do so now. 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 tourism industry, marine and coastal environment, and national security interests are best served by a viable and competitive shipping industry".

Labor has a proud history of supporting the vital role Australian maritime industries play in securing our economic, environmental and national security interests. We remain committed to revitalising the industry and supporting all workers and small businesses engaged in our maritime sector. Whilst we welcome the work the government has done with us on this bill to ensure its passage, I do reiterate that if our substantive amendments are not adequately incorporated by the government then we obviously will continue to have the concerns that we have about this bill. I thank the government again for working with us on those amendments and I look forward to the minister's contribution in moving those amendments to the bill and moving the changes to the explanatory memorandum that actually reflect the concerns that Labor has around the sunset clause, around the wages and conditions and around the issue of cargo being excluded from the operation of these superyachts.


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