Thursday, 3 June 2021
Special Recreational Vessels Amendment Bill 2021; Second Reading
I rise to speak on the Special Recreational Vessels Amendment Bill 2021. As the minister has said, this amends the Special Recreational Vessels Act to extend the repeal date to 30 June 2023. The current act is currently due to be repealed on 30 June this year. The bill allows for special recreational vessels known as superyachts to opt into the coastal trading act and operate charters along the Australian coastline. Allowing superyachts to operate charters in Australian waters is expected to provide additional tourism activity and income and opportunities for local coastal businesses to provide goods and services to the yachts, their crews and passengers. Facilitating superyacht activity may also broaden the range of high-end tourism jobs and activities in locations like Cairns, which we all know has been seriously impacted through the COVID pandemic. 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 and conditions and job prospects of Australian seafarers. Because the impact on other local tourism and cruise operators were unknown, Labor successfully sought the government's agreement to insert a review clause into the original legislation. This review and sunset clause were inserted into the legislation to ensure that any potential impacts on local tourism and maritime operators are fully assessed. It is that sunset clause which this amendment is now seeking to extend.
Of course the COVID-19 pandemic has meant that not only has the expected arrival of the superyachts been delayed but the department has not been able to commence work on any review. The superyachts haven't come yet, so we don't know how they will impact on our local cruise shipping jobs. We do say to the government, however, that they need to take this consultation process very seriously. When these yachts do arrive we need to be certain that Australian jobs are not impacted. Just because the consultation is delayed does not mean it can be avoided.
Two years ago when this bill was first introduced there were concerns among some 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, thereby undermining the businesses of Australian owned and operated tourism vessels. That concern is still there and has only grown stronger throughout this pandemic. Like so much of our tourism industry, Australian cruise shipping and yacht charters are on their knees. It's an industry that will be unable to even begin to fully recover until vaccines complete their slow progress through the community and we begin the job of reopening our borders. It's a recovery that won't be easy. It won't happen overnight and it won't be smooth for all operators. In this context it is more important than ever that the government is very, very careful that this bill does not cut the local recovery short. If foreign superyachts do flood our shores it will hurt Australian operators, Australian communities and Australian workers.
In reading back over what was said when this bill was initially passed in 2019, it is striking how much the world has changed. In 2019 the government was talking up the potential of superyachts ahead of the 2020 Olympics and America's Cup. Without the amendments made it was argued that the superyachts would sail past Australia to New Zealand, Tahiti and Fiji and that we'd miss the associated economic benefits. That is why we supported it, because we wanted in particular Cairns, Townsville and other areas to benefit from this. But we also want to make sure that we don't undermine the current operators who employ people in those local communities. But, of course, we know what happened next. The 2020 Olympics didn't happen and now, maybe, neither the 2021 Olympics, and the America's Cup took place in a tourist-free New Zealand. In 2018 it was predicted that over 15,000 Queenslanders would work across the superyacht industry by 2021, contributing $2 billion to gross state product. But the foreign yachts didn't come, and tourism is experiencing a very slow recovery, particularly in Cairns.
Labor is clear in our position that these changes are to ensure that superyachts do not bypass our waters in favour of foreign shores. We want them to come. We want people to spend money here. We want to make sure that local economies do actually benefit. It is so that superyachts will stop in Cairns rather than skipping past en route to Fiji or to New Zealand. It is to bring more money into communities that might otherwise flow overseas. It isn't to allow foreign operators to set up shop in Australia and outcompete Australian businesses and strangle that aspect of Australia's economic tourism recovery.
Pre COVID it was with Australian jobs in mind that Labor successfully advocated for the insertion of clauses ensuring that people employed on the superyachts had necessary employment protections and that visiting superyachts are prohibited from carrying commercial cargo up and down our coast. We determined that it was responsible to trial the changes over two years to assess the success of the Olympic Games and the America's Cup and to ensure that there were no unintended consequences across the broader industry. Labor successfully pushed for the inclusion of a sunset clause and a review into the original bill because we did not want to see Australian jobs lost. Without these clauses we would not have given the bill our support then and we would not be giving it our support now.
Post COVID it is more important than ever that Australian workers are put at the forefront of government considerations. We want to ensure that, when this bill once more comes up for review in 2023, all parties look very closely at the impact it has had on an important Australian industry. If in two years time we find that it has cost jobs, that we have lost businesses in that area and that it has not brought the benefits it has promised, we need to look more carefully at this permission.
We are wary of the government's actions in this space because, frankly, they've got form. We've had too many jobs in our maritime industry that have already been lost on this government's watch. Over recent years Australian shipping jobs have collapsed. Over the past 30 years the number of Australian flagged vessels has shrunk from 100 to barely 10. While other maritime nations support their shipping industries, the Morrison government has on its watch basically seen it decimated. Norway has 519 vessels carrying the Norwegian flag. The United Kingdom has 1,157 flagged vessels and China has 4,608 Chinese flagged vessels. If other nations can maintain a merchant fleet, so can we.
All the time the government continues to open Australia up to foreign flagged and crewed ships without thinking of the importance of our own capability not only to import our vital supply of fuels and other essentials but also to move goods around this country. They 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 rejected the government's so-called reforms calling out the legislation then as bad for Australian passengers and freight, bad for Australian workers and bad for Australian national security. All the while, each and every coalition transport minister over the past eight long 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 flagships with foreign crews to trade on our coastline—work that can and should be done by Australian maritime workers paid Australian wages at Australian conditions.
Australia relies on shipping to move 99 per cent of our imports and exports, including fuel. It is critical that we maintain the sovereign capacity to import these supplies and transport them around the country. Whether it be conflict, natural disaster or pandemic, history has shown us that we cannot always rely on other nations to carry our essential goods on their flagged ships. And, unlike those opposite, Labor believes in a strong and vibrant maritime industry and will always support Australian seafarers, maritime workers and Australian flagged ships as well as those Australian workers who maintain and build our merchant and recreational fleet.
While this bill will do far less than is needed for jobs in Australian shipping, we will support it under these circumstances. That being said, and the second reading amendment having been circulated in my name, 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;
(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; and
(3) commits to a thorough review of the Act at the revised sunset date of 30 June 2023".
Labor does have a proud history of supporting the vital role of Australian maritime industries that we 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.
I reiterate that, while we won't oppose the passage of the bill, we will be carefully watching its impact on Australian businesses and Australian workers. We want it to grow jobs, we want it to see thriving economies in Cairns and Townsville and all the way through Queensland. But we must make sure, and I think all of the members here would want to make sure, that it isn't at the expense of the small business operators who've been operating along that coast, around a fantastic part of our country, and that it actually benefits workers in that sector.