House debates

Monday, 13 February 2017


Transport Security Amendment (Serious or Organised Crime) Bill 2016; Second Reading

12:20 pm

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise somewhat belatedly because it has taken some time for the Transport Security Amendment (Serious or Organised Crime) Bill 2016 to get to a debate in this chamber. To that end, I move an amendment that has been circulated in my name, which reads as follows:

That all the 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 that the Government failed to articulate a policy for the aviation or maritime sectors at the 2016 Federal election;

(2) notes the Turnbull Government's failed WorkChoices On Water legislation would have seriously undermined the Australian maritime sector;

(3) notes in particular that the Government has:

(a) failed to rule out further laws in coastal shipping that would aid the displacement of Australian crews on the Australian coast with foreign crews doing the same work for reduced wages and conditions;

(b) failed to outline its response to the High Court's decision to overturn the Government's attempt to circumvent Parliament's intention to give priority to Australian jobs in our offshore oil and gas sector;

(c) actively worked to facilitate the replacement of Australian maritime crews by foreign crews for permanent work in Australia, by arranging rapid visas, skills recognition and access to ports in cases such as the MV Portland in January 2016; and

(d) previously considered relaxing air cabotage arrangements that could have the effect of displacing Australian flight and cabin crews with foreign crews on lower wages and conditions while working in Australia; and

(4) notes that the Government and its expert agencies have repeatedly acknowledged the obvious point that criminal and security vetting of foreign aviation and maritime workers is much harder than for Australian workers; and

(5) calls on the Federal Government to develop as a matter of urgency aviation and maritime policies, ensuring that such policies prioritise jobs and skills for Australians while also facilitating more reliable background checks".

Security standards in Australia's maritime and aviation sector should have nothing to do with politics. Public safety should be the only priority. For most of the time, that is the case, whether the Labor Party is in government or the coalition parties are in government. Laws and regulations relating to the security of ports and airports need to be tough and clear so that Australians and criminals who might wish us harm are in no doubt of the strength of our resolve to keep our nation safe. The legislation which is before us today would toughen background checks on workers in airports and in the maritime sector.

Under existing arrangements, people applying for aviation security identification cards, or ASICs, and maritime security identification cards, or MSICs, undergo background checks, and those checks are designed to establish whether applicants have links with terrorist organisations. This bill would add an extra layer of checking, to ensure that applicants have no links to serious and organised crime. Therefore the opposition will not oppose this bill, but we will be proposing amendments to this legislation, both in the form of the second reading amendment that I have just moved and in the form of consideration-in-detail amendments, because we certainly take security seriously.

I have had the privilege of serving as the transport minister, and, when that was the case, we introduced a range of legislation to ensure that security was maintained at our ports and airports. We have quite an enviable record in this country, and it is appropriate that we take advice from experts when it comes to aviation and maritime security. We are, however, very deeply concerned indeed about the glaring inconsistencies in the government's approach, particularly when it comes to maritime security but also, of course, aviation security, and that is the point of the second reading amendment that I have moved.

When it comes to ideology before common sense, what happened during the last term of government, in both the aviation and the maritime sectors, was that various people, some of whom have moved on—I speak of Andrew Robb, the former minister for trade—had a real flat-earth approach to competition in the sector. They refused to acknowledge that both aviation and transport are global industries that have within them, however, national interests and that governments around the world understand the importance of having either a domestic aviation industry or a domestic shipping industry and therefore put in place regulations that ensure that that can occur.

If we have unilateral disarmament, if you like, in the form of regulation unlike the rest of the world, there is the potential for Australia, as an island continent located where we are in the world, to not have an aviation or a maritime sector. When it came to aviation, the former minister had a view that I know was opposed by many—particularly in the National Party and regional members—which was that you could open up cabotage, remove the preference for Australian aviation, in the northern part of Australia, as a first step, and foreign carriers could come in, and that would somehow solve problems by providing reduced airfares. Of course, what Qantas and Virgin—and the various subsidiary airlines that they operate—stated would happen was that you would have a withdrawal of those sectors that rely upon cross-subsidy, if you like, within the aviation sector from operating in northern Australia. So you would have a withdrawal of Qantas and Virgin, effectively, from those regional airline routes and they would just concentrate on the highly profitable Sydney-Melbourne and Sydney-Brisbane and other major routes. So routes to and from places like Mount Isa, Cloncurry, Charleville and Bundaberg, and other routes in regional Queensland, in particular, would stop. Roma is the first step on the way to further destinations. In New South Wales, the same thing happens with routes like Taree and Grafton and other routes; you would have a withdrawal. Then, of course, the next step would be to just allow them to fly to Adelaide. And, because the Australian companies could not compete with those airlines offering fares based upon, essentially, Third World wages and Third World conditions and safety checks—safety checks that are not of the same standard that we have here in Australia—you would have a competitive disadvantage for Australian carriers and they would withdraw. That would lead to ongoing consequences for the people and the economies of regional Australia.

But in the end, that proposal was resisted and defeated in the early period of the Abbott government. It was defeated because of the principled actions of some people in the coalition and of the Labor Party, but also, of course, from those regional communities, themselves, who understood what the consequences were. There are also consequences for national security because the truth is you cannot have the same level of checks that are required with ASIC and MSIC in the transport sector as you have for foreign employees. The same thing has happened with the government's Work Choices on water legislation in the maritime sector: legislation that was defeated in the parliament. The explanatory memorandum for the bill outlined that it would result in the replacement of the Australian flagged vessels with foreign flagged vessels and Australian crews with foreign crews being paid cheaper wages and conditions. And that, indeed, was the advice that the department was giving out to people like Mr Milby, the cruise ship operator in the Kimberley who gave evidence before the Senate committee which led, in part, to that legislation been defeated.

But what has happened is that the government has circumvented its own legislation and has ignored the national security implications behind that, let alone the issues of safety. The national security implications were completely dismissed when the government, for ideological reasons, agreed to a temporary licence to replace the MV Portland. The MV Portland operated between the smelter at Portland and the Western Australian coast. It picked up the natural resources and went around Portland—one top and then back again. It was anything but temporary. For more than a decade, that ship went from one location to another, to and fro, employing Australians—Australians who lived in the local community and people down on that southern coast of Victoria. Yet, on the replacement vessel, people were granted special migration visas and cleared to take that ship to Singapore to be sold off. It was replaced by a foreign vessel without any clear indication about what the implications were for our national security.

That move destroyed Australian jobs. And today, we are being asked with this legislation to toughen the background check on Australian mariners in the name of security but, on the other hand in practice, this government is allowing for temporary licences to be issued with minimal checks—a free-for-all around our coasts. Where do these ships go around our coasts? They go into our ports and into our harbours. The idea that there are not national security implications! I say this in the sincerest way possible, we have not sought to engage in a campaign that is provocative about these sorts of issues. When a ship is in Sydney Harbour or in Brisbane port or in Port Phillip—and many of our harbours located in the most densely populated areas of Australia—you want to be pretty clear and pretty sure that the security of those people who would seek to do us harm is looked at. Do not say on the one hand, 'We want a free-for-all, we want to get rid of the Australian flag, we want to get rid of the Australian crews around our coastlines,' and say on the other hand, 'If you're an Australian working at a port, we're going to further toughen up even further the security clearances that you have to go through.'

So I say to the government, and I say to the minister who is here in the chamber, with respect: Minister, you have a great responsibility. I know that you have taken these issues seriously and have been prepared to sit down and engage with people in the sector and that is to your credit. But put the ideology of the free market aside because it does not work for Australia's economic interests. It does not work for our environmental interests because every one of the major incidents around our coastlines—the Shen Neng and the other disasters that have occurred—have all had something in common: they have all had a foreign flag on the back of the ship. They have all had a mariner who has said that they were not aware that they had to turn through the reef at the appropriate time, and they have crashed into the reef causing a great deal of damage. Australian mariners know the coastline, they have the skills, they have the training and they have the long-term commitment to the national interests. But it is also in our national security interests to have an Australian maritime sector.

I offer again to work with the government in the national interest to get outcomes that would see a growth in the Australian flag—rather than a reduction in the Australian flag—around our coasts. Because—and you do not have to spell it out; common sense tells you—there are people in the world who seek to do us harm, who seek to cause incidents. We know that our security agencies work very hard, and they are doing a great job. I am someone who has been prepared to call it out as I see it; our infrastructure is obviously an area of vulnerability. That is why it is fine to toughen up MSIC cards and ASIC cards—and we will respond constructively to any proposals that come forward. But you cannot do that on the one hand—say we are going to have increased checks of Australians—and on the other hand actually replace those Australians with people who cannot possibly have undergone the same level of checking. That is why this amendment also refers to the High Court decision which overturned the government's legislation seeking to undermine the priority to be given to Australians working in the offshore oil and gas sector. It is almost at the point where it just defies common sense—when the court decision came down, we had Senator Cash give an ideological statement in the Senate, opposing the court's actions—what could go wrong in the oil and gas sector in terms of security! I mean seriously; if people do not understand that, then there is something very, very wrong.

In the last campaign, Labor put forward a comprehensive shipping policy. It covered the full range of maritime issues including security, industry taxation arrangements, workforce planning, cruise shipping, ports, the Australian International Shipping Register and Labor's approach to coastal trading. We have an aviation policy that sets out all of our policy principles for that sector. Indeed, we have put in place mechanisms that have seen a considerable growth in the Australian aviation sector, and I think the success of Virgin and Qantas, as the two major carriers—particularly Qantas as our major international carrier—has been something of which we can all be proud. When it comes to issues of aviation and shipping, that—in part—is how the world sees us as well. I think it is important that the flying kangaroo on the back of a plane is seen in Los Angeles, Beijing or London, or in Johannesburg, Bangkok or Tokyo—anywhere in our region. That really says to people: this is an iconic Australian company. That has a great deal to do with promoting our nation. And we know also that one of the things we can point to in that sector is security and safety, and our proud record. Australian carriers and Australian ships have an extraordinary record, second to none in the world, We should make sure that we recognise that.

This bill would amend the Transport Security Assessment Act and the Maritime Transport and Offshore Facilities Act. These acts concern the issuance of MSICs and ASICs. It comes to us as a response to a recommendation from the National Ice Taskforce for greater rigour in guarding against drug smuggling in ports and airports through a toughening of background checks. The opposition agrees strongly with the need to secure our borders against drug smugglers. We would also like to see the government increase its focus on the treatment of people whose lives are being ruined by drug addiction. Drug abuse is a serious problem affecting tens of thousands of Australians. Law enforcement is important, but so is helping the victims of dealers of hard drugs to recover from their addiction, so they can improve their own lives and make positive contributions to our community.

This legislation came to the House in the 44th Parliament, and I noted then the opposition's concern about whether the addition of an organised crime check to the existing terrorism check might inadvertently reduce the level of rigour that applies to the terrorism check. That remains our concern, and we put that on the record. For example, when people are engaged in security checks through our airports, they are concerned with a very narrow task—which is keeping people on those planes, in those airports and in those areas safe. That is their one priority. They concentrate on what they are looking for because, if they were looking for everything then, by definition, they would be diluting the concentration on the issues at hand—and when it comes to the threats to our airports and ports, the main issue at hand has to be terrorism. It has to be. And so we seek assurance from the government that this broadening of the definition will not dilute that concentration.

For many years, the number of Australian flagged vessels operating in coastal trade has been an issue. Labor tried to arrest the decline by having the Revitalising Australian Shipping package; a series of mechanisms working with industry, with unions and with the sector, including the Navy, around those issues. We think that is particularly important. There is a security element to the importance of our national legislation as well.

In a submission to a Senate inquiry into the increasing use of flag of convenience vessels in Australian waters, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection rang alarm bells about the use of overseas vessels. It said:

There are features of FOC registration, regulation and practice that organised crime syndicates or terrorists may seek to exploit.

This is the government's own department. It went on to say that in many flag of convenience nations, there was limited transparency about the identity of the owners of vessels. It said:

Reduced transparency or secrecy surrounding complex financial and ownership arrangements are factors that can make FOC ships more attractive for use in illegal activity, including by organised crime or terrorist groups.

This means that FOC ships may be used in a range of illegal activities including illegal exploitation of natural resources, illegal activity in protected areas, people smuggling and facilitating prohibited imports.

The security advisers, the Department of Immigration and Border Security, under the coalition government, could not have been any clearer in their advice to the government. There is greater security risk in using overseas vessels whose crews have not been properly vetted, than it is to use Australian vessels, with clear ownership lines of accountability, crewed by Australians whose backgrounds have been carefully examined by the authorities.

The government chose to ignore this advice about the growth of flags of convenience rather than Australian flagged vessels, yet today it wants our support to toughen checks on Australian transport workers. In the words of the great John McEnroe: 'You cannot be serious.' You have to look at both. You have to look at proper checks on Australian workers but also take account of those alarm bells. I note that this minister is conscious of those issues, and I hope that we can work together to get reforms. The amendment that I have moved is very important in addressing these issues.

A High Court judgement last August exposed the government's zeal for facilitating the replacement of Australian workers with cheap overseas labour. In December 2015, the government granted working visa exemptions to overseas workers on oil and gas rigs in Australian waters. The government argued that oil rigs were vessels; they were not rigs at all. It wanted to help employers to cut costs by hiring overseas workers instead of Australians. In August, the High Court ruled the exemption invalid and declared that the minister for immigration had exceeded his authority. The government has made no formal response to the judgement. But, in comments to The Guardian, reported on 31 August last year, the minister for immigration made no apologies for exceeding his authority to put Australians out of work. Instead, he complained that requiring overseas workers to go through the working visa process would increase costs.

Given these comments, it is clear that we need to do much better. The temporary licences for vessels such as the replacement of the MV Portland with a foreign vessel crewed by overseas mariners should not happen again. The government should rule out changes to air cabotage, because it is very clear that that is not an appropriate change at all. Also, the government has exceeded the changes which are in the bill. This arises from the National Ice Taskforce. There is a big change here. Instead of having the recommendation as 'serious and organised crime' the legislation refers to 'serious or organised crime'. That is a very important legal distinction to draw. I will be moving an amendment to change this back to the original intention of the experts that were put forward, and I would ask the minister to seriously consider supporting that amendment in the spirit in which it is moved.

We are not moving amendments to legislation such as this just for the sake of it. The minister would know that, in the area of transport and security, I have a record of more than a decade in this place of not attempting to just play politics with it. The amendment that we will move is to bring the legislation in line with the expert recommendations. If you expand it to 'serious or organised crime' as opposed to 'serious and organised crime' you really widen what you are looking at in terms of the impact on the workforce. Overzealous consideration—with the greatest intention—of what that means means that, if you are looking at things that are not serious, you, by definition, are undermining the intent of the bill. So, when it comes to the consideration-in-detail debate we will move that amendment and hope to get the government's support.

Photo of Ian GoodenoughIan Goodenough (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the amendment seconded?

Photo of Lisa ChestersLisa Chesters (Bendigo, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.

Photo of Ian GoodenoughIan Goodenough (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this, the honourable member for Grayndler has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. If it suits the House, I will state the question in the form that the amendment be agreed to. The question now is that the amendment be agreed to.

12:51 pm

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased this afternoon to rise to speak on the Transport Security Amendment (Serious or Organised Crime) Bill 2016. Just before I start on the notes I had prepared, I would like to make a quick comment on the member for Grayndler. I welcome his concern about the seriousness of terrorism and the issues that this nation faces, but there is one thing that I would like to point out. The member for Grayndler talked about the highly profitable Sydney and Melbourne airway route. That may very well be true, but I would note that someone flying from Sydney to Melbourne tomorrow could get a flight for $102 on Tiger. If they were prepared to not have any check-in luggage, they could get that price down to $89. You can even do better than that. If you went on Jetstar and you had luggage, you could travel from Sydney to Melbourne tomorrow for the princely sum of $86. And if you were able to get away with just your hand luggage for an overnight stay, you could fly from Sydney to Melbourne tomorrow for $69, including GST. If you were coming back from Melbourne to Sydney the next day without any check-in luggage—with just your hand luggage—you could get back for $69. This is what competition does and it is something that we should never forget. So, although it may be a highly profitable route—and I hope it is, because we need highly profitable companies—to be able to get a return fare today, in 2017, from Sydney to Melbourne and back for $138 is what competition does and we should never, ever forget that. So many people think that when you deregulate things the prices go up. The airline industry is a classic example of what happens when you allow the forces of competition into markets.

I go back to the specifics of the bill. The coalition government has made a specific commitment to ensure that people with a history of serious or organised crime would not receive security clearance to work at Australian airports or seaports, and that is exactly what this bill addresses. The purpose of the Transport Security Amendment (Serious or Organised Crime) Bill is to amend the Aviation Transport Security Act 2004 and also the Maritime Transport and Offshore Facilities Security Act 2003 in order to reduce criminal influence at Australia's airports and seaports by strengthening what is known as the aviation security identification card and also the maritime security identification card. Those are identification cards that are issued to people, including foreign nationals, who legitimately require unescorted access to secure aviation and maritime areas, including offshore oil and gas facilities, and have successfully undergone background checks. The problem that this legislation attacks is that currently there are different eligibility criteria applied to the aviation security identification card and the maritime security identification card. This can result in persons convicted of the same criminal offence being treated differently in the aviation and maritime sectors. It is that anomaly that this legislation addresses.

There are five specific things that the bill does. Firstly, it creates an additional purpose in the aviation and maritime acts in relation to access to aviation and maritime areas and zones to prevent the use of aviation and maritime transport or offshore facilities in connection with serious or organised crime. Of course, serious crime does not have to be organised. Secondly, it establishes a regulatory framework supporting the implementation of harmonised eligibility criteria for both cards which will better target serious or organised crime related offences. Thirdly, it will clarify and align the legislative basis for undertaking security checking of both cards for applicants and holders. Fourthly, it will allow for regulations to be made prescribing penalties for offences against the new serious or organised crime requirements that are consistent with existing penalty provisions across both schemes. Fifthly, it will insert an additional severability provision to provide guidance to a court as to the parliament’s intentions. These amendments taken together provide for the implementation of new eligibility criteria for both cards that better target serious and organised crime. The new eligibility criteria will be specific to the aviation and maritime regulations, will introduce new offence categories, such as offences under the anti criminal organisation legislation, foreign incursion and recruitment offences, the illegal importation of goods, and interfering with goods under border control. Further, this bill will continue to give effect to Australia's international obligations under the Convention on International Civil Aviation, the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, and the international ship and port facility security codes. It will also improve the government's ability to combat transnational and organised crime.

Importantly, this bill implements one of the government's key strategies: to fight the dreaded menace of the drug ice. Last December, when it released its final report, the National Ice Taskforce, which was commissioned by this government and is chaired by Ken Lay, made 38 separate recommendations. In response to the final report, one of the recommendations is adopted in this legislation, and that is to continue to protect the aviation and maritime environments against organised crime by strengthening the eligibility criteria for holders of both cards. This bill gives effect to the element of the government's comprehensive action across these five priority areas, which together intend to tackle Australia's ice problem head on.

There is another area of specific concern regarding our nation's borders and the exportation and importation of goods. I draw your attention to the issue of car thefts in Australia. Firstly, when it comes to car thefts there has been some good news. There has been, over the last decade, a significant reduction in the number of cars stolen in Australia. In fact, in New South Wales we have seen a greater than 50 per cent decline in the number of cars stolen per head of population. We should be truly thankful to the New South Wales Police and the New South Wales government for the work that they have done in reducing that rate of car theft.

But what is of concern is that over the last 12 months, we have seen that trend reverse. Over the last 12 months, we have seen car thefts across the nation increase by 8.4 per cent. Last year, across the nation we had 55,571 cars stolen. That is almost 1,000 cars a week, six cars every hour or one car stolen in this nation every 10 minutes. If we were to speak for just an hour on this piece of legislation, there would be six cars across the nation that are stolen.

A real concern is the breakdown of what is happening with car thefts across the nation. Over the last 12 months, we have seen another decline in car thefts in New South Wales. According to the official figures, over the last 12 months there has been an 11.7 per cent decline in New South Wales. Car thefts are down from 13,465 in the previous 12 months to 11,893.

But in contrast to New South Wales, in Victoria we have seen a truly remarkable increase in car thefts. We have seen a 31.4 per cent increase in Victoria in 12 months alone. They have gone from 14,371 to 18,884. If we compare figures from New South Wales, a larger state with a greater population and more cars on the road, there were just over 11,000 cars stolen, but Victoria is approaching 19,000 cars stolen. If someone with a car registered in New South Wales were to drive across the border into Victoria, on the latest numbers they are 66 per cent more likely to have their car stolen there than in New South Wales. With such similarities between those two great states, something is seriously amiss in Victoria.

Along with this recent increase in car thefts, also of concern is the very large increase in the number of cars that vanish completely. A decade ago, only 15 per cent of stolen vehicles were never recovered; so 85 per cent were recovered. But this year, 31 per cent of stolen vehicles were never recovered. We have doubled the number of cars that are never recovered after they are stolen. Again, those numbers are most dramatic in Victoria.

In New South Wales, over the last 12 months, we have seen a decline of 18.6 per cent for vehicles that are never recovered. Again, that is a tremendous effort by the New South Wales government and the New South Wales police. But in contrast, in Victoria we have seen an increase of 35.9 per cent—virtually a 36 per cent increase—of cars stolen and never recovered.

What is also of concern is that the value of cars that are never recovered is increasing. The cars never recovered are now worth $20,500 each, and it gets worse. It is now shown that in years gone by most cars were stolen from shopping centre car parks, but now it is reported that up to 70 per cent of cars are stolen from outside someone's residence, and many times the car thief breaks into the house. Not only do we have the cost of the car theft and the violation it involves, the breaking into of someone's house is an added crime.

In fact, the estimated annual cost of car theft in this nation was $763 million—that was from the National Motor Vehicle Theft Reduction Council—but that excluded the cost to the community associated with police investigations, court costs and corrections. So we are looking at over $1 billion in costs to this nation from car theft.

One of the issues we need to look at is our borders. There are many reports that many of these cars that are stolen and disappear are actually being exported. It was noted back in 2005 that one upstanding citizen was jailed for almost two years for stealing 48 cars, mostly Toyotas, for the export of parts to Lebanon under his business. He made a profit of between $2½ thousand and $5,000 per car. That is a $400,000 theft, and yet he only got two years.

One of the concerns pointed out is our export process practices for cars. I quote from Peter McRae, who is an internationally recognised customs broker and senior lecturer in customs banking, who says we have black holes in our export process. He said:

Exporting a car in this country is a simple matter. The exporter calls a shipping company or a freight forwarder directly and advises that they wish to export a motor vehicle from Australia. The booking is made, the car/s are secured inside the container, the Export Declaration Number is processed through Border Force [Customs] before the container is loaded onto the vessel and exits our shores.

He also said:

The paperwork does not require the exporter to record a VIN/Chassis number for the vehicle/s and even if the VIN/Chassis are recorded, there is no requirement from the state levels … that the registration be cancelled, produced … or verified prior to exporting …

Secondly, there is no requirement from the federal level … that the VIN/Chassis be entered, recorded, saved or retained to verify against police registers … as being stolen.

This growing problem is something we need to tackle on our borders.

Photo of Ian GoodenoughIan Goodenough (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question now is that the amendment be agreed to.

1:06 pm

Photo of Terri ButlerTerri Butler (Griffith, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Of course the amendment should be agreed to, because the shadow minister, in moving it, is absolutely correct to criticise this government for their failure to articulate any sort of policy, really, for the aviation or maritime sectors at the recent federal election. This government has been completely hopeless when it comes to taking any action on maritime and aviation security.

If you want any proof of that, just take a look at this bill that we are finally debating that was first tabled in this parliament back in February 2016. It has taken a year for us even to be in a position to debate this supposedly very important bill that the government is claiming implements a recommendation from the ice taskforce report from December 2015. They have dragged their heels on getting this bill to a point where it can be debated in this House, and no doubt that is because they know how exposed they are on aviation and maritime security matters, and how hopeless they have been for their entire period of government, since 2013. I think they are probably also quite worried about debating this bill because it does shine a very clear light on what this government has tried to do when it comes to people working on the water, and that has been to seek to implement Work Choices on water.

This is a government so committed to its ideological attacks on employment security for Australian workers that it has supported a situation where you can have people working on the water able to not have the same entitlements to Australian wages as people working on land. If you want an example of that, just look at what happened with the MV Portland last year. In the middle of the night, 30 or so security guards, according to eyewitness reports, went on to that ship. In the middle of the night, they dragged people out of their beds and walked them down the gangplank, to replace that Australian crew with a foreign crew—to say, 'We don't want an Australian crew getting paid Australian wages; we want this firm to have a foreign crew being paid foreign wages.' It was an absolute disgrace. But what it proved is that under a Liberal government you cannot expect the government to stand up for Australian jobs, for Australian wages or for Australian conditions.

The Liberal government will always sell Australian workers down the river. The Liberal government will always support attacks on Australian working conditions. Look at what they did when they had the chance during Work Choices in 2006. Look at what we saw, as a consequence of those law changes back then: Australian workplace agreements where conditions and pay were completely undermined, where conditions were lost, where people were pitted against each other—where Australian workers were pitted against Australian workers. Look also at what they have done with their failure to crack down on exploitation and misuse of subclass 457 visas and other foreign-worker visas. Labor supports firms having the ability to use foreign labour where there is a skills shortage or for other proper purposes, but this government has allowed the exploitation of 457 visa workers to be rampant on its watch. Look at the Work-Choices-on-water provisions that were debated in the last parliament. It is absolutely right for the shadow minister to have moved this amendment to highlight the fact that, when you look at all of those things, this government's credibility on working people and on Australian jobs and Australian wages is seriously in doubt, and also to highlight the fact that the government's credibility on transport security is seriously in doubt.

This is the situation that we are in. The Turnbull government has failed to rule out further laws on coastal shipping that would aid the displacement of Australian crews on the Australian coast with foreign crews in that same location doing the work for lower wages. That is what we are actually talking about here.

There is a pretty stark difference between the coalition's approach and Labor's approach. Labor believes in Australian jobs. Labor believes in Australian jobs with Australian wages. Labor will always stand up for working people and for Australian pay and conditions. On the other hand, the coalition will always do whatever they can to attack working conditions, to weaken workers, to make workers less powerful, and to seek to take away the protections that people have fought for for more than 100 years in this country.

We have done this very clearly. If you want to see another example of the difference in approaches between Labor and the coalition, the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, has been very forthright in defending penalty rates in this country. On the other hand, one of the first things that the Liberals did on coming into government was to decide to commission the Productivity Commission to look at the workplace relations framework with a view to looking at, among other things, penalty rates. The Liberals set up an inquiry that had the aim of undermining penalty rates. They do not believe in penalty rates. In fact, a number of Liberal members of this House, past and present, have made public comments calling for Sunday rates to be scrapped, for example.

On the other hand, Labor has very steadfastly and publicly stood by the rights of working people to be paid fair compensation for working unsociable hours. It is absolutely the case that working on a Sunday is different from working on any other day. And if any member of this House thinks differently, they can think about all of those Sunday morning church services. They can think about all of those Mother's Day events or Father's Day events that they have been able to go to. They can think about all of the time that they have spent with family on Sundays. Why should anyone who is missing those opportunities not be compensated fairly for doing the work that they are asked to do on a Sunday, I ask you, Mr Deputy Speaker? And of course the answer is: they should be compensated fairly. It is different working on a Sunday from working on a Tuesday morning; it absolutely is. And Labor understands this. It is a shame that the coalition absolutely does not understand it and is prepared to continue to attack the working conditions and pay of people that it purports to represent—as was the case with Work Choices on water that this coalition government brought forward in the last term of parliament.

I do not want to see another MV Portland. I do not want to see another situation where you have people who are doing nothing but defending Australian jobs being escorted in the middle of the night down gangplanks. I do not think Australians want to see that either. I do not think Australians want to see Australian workers being replaced with foreign workers. I do not think people want to see Australian wages being undercut by foreign wages. I also do not think people want to see situations where people like the crew of the Portland are left unemployed, in a country where unemployment is a problem and underemployment is a significant problem.

I met some of the crew of the Portland. They came to Brisbane last year and were speaking with people there to tell us about what had happened to them. And of course I met some of them when they were having their jobs embassy outside of this parliament in February last year. When I went down to that embassy, I have to say, I did not see many coalition MPs down there talking to the Australian workers who had had their jobs and conditions displaced because of policies of this government and because of the behaviour of unscrupulous employers. I did not see any of the coalition MPs down there speaking with people who did not know whether they were going to be able to get another job in the industry in which they had worked since they were in their late teens or early 20s. I did not see the coalition criticising the MV Portland or expressing any concern at all about the future of those crew members and their families now that they had been in this position where they were walked down a gangplank in the middle of the night, having lost their jobs. And I certainly do not hear much concern from coalition members and senators about the serious problems that we have in this country with Australian jobs.

Deputy Speaker Goodenough, as you and I know, it is the case that while there are hundreds of thousands of people on the unemployment queue there are a million more who are on the underemployment statistics. Those million more people have an hour of work a week, but they want more and they cannot get it. It is a disgrace in this country that so many people are struggling to find work. We are a wealthy nation, we are a nation that is highly skilled, we are a nation that needs to do better in relation to making sure that people do have the skills that they need for the work that is available and we are a nation that needs to do something about the fact that we are still having to import foreign skilled labour because of skills shortages here.

There are two problems with that. Firstly, if there are genuine skills shortages, then what is this nation doing about those skills shortages? What is Prime Minister Turnbull doing about making sure that people have the skills which they need for the jobs that exist now and in the future? The Labor opposition have been very clear. We have announced that we will be holding a skills summit and that we will be working with the vocational education sector, universities, business, unions and the community to work through this problem which we have in relation to skills shortages. The other aspect of the issue with bringing in foreign labour is that it is simply not clear that there is always a genuine skills shortage. When you have got the occupation of bricklayer on the list of occupations for which we are importing skilled labour and it has been on that list of occupations for longer than it takes to train bricklayers, that is an obvious problem. It is an obvious problem for our migration system and it is an obvious problem for our skills system here in Australia.

Unfortunately, this is a government which is more preoccupied with frolics, with fighting amongst itself, with arguments about who should be the leader and with arguments about matters that are of absolutely no interest to people sitting around the kitchen table wondering how they are going to pay their bills. It has been too preoccupied to do the hard work that is needed to create jobs here in Australia, to facilitate the conditions for the creation of jobs here in Australia, to grapple with the underemployment problem that we have as a nation and to face up to the fact that we do need to do something about making sure that people have the skills they need for the jobs that exist now and the jobs that will exist in the future. These are some of the hard problems that this government should be spending its time on, but it is simply not.

I am very pleased to support the amendment moved by the shadow minister, which raises the concerns about the fact that this government has, for example, completely failed to rule out further laws in coastal shipping that would displace Australian workers and that would have the effect of undermining pay and conditions for Australian workers. It is a representative example of this government's lack of interest and lack of care for Australian jobs, Australian skills and Australian pay and conditions. Accordingly, I support the amendment.

1:17 pm

Photo of Josh WilsonJosh Wilson (Fremantle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The stated intention of the Transport Security Amendment (Serious or Organised Crime) Bill 2016 is to make our ports and airports safer to the extent that it changes the approach to regulating the maritime security identity card and the aviation security identity card—the MSIC and ASIC—respectively.

It has to be said at the outset that it leaves many areas of safety and security regulation untouched, especially in relation to our seaports and other maritime infrastructure. There are also aspects of this bill that are not sufficiently clear, and there is a question mark over the potential for these changes to unfairly discriminate or otherwise prevent people who present no genuine security risk from working in our ports or airports.

I can say from experience that there are many workers in my community who are directly affected by these changes, to the extent that an MSIC is a prerequisite of their employment. At a time when employment conditions are difficult—and in Western Australia they are as bad as they have been in a quarter of a century—any change that affects a person's opportunity to work should be approached with great care. I have assisted people both in the past and more recently who have had their MSIC renewal denied and were then forced to seek clarification or apply for administrative discretion. Needless to say, that presents a situation of enormous stress. Taken altogether, it is not clear whether this bill really serves the entire purpose intended or does so in the most effective way, or whether it strikes the right balance in making both administrative and security improvements while first ensuring that affected workers are not subject to some new and potentially capricious obstacle to work.

While this bill tinkers around the edges, we should keep in mind those areas of safety and security regulation that are not being made the focus of review and reform. It is disappointing that a number of serious matters of maritime security, in particular, continue to go unaddressed by this government or, in some cases, are positively undermined by the actions of this government—and I will come to that in due course.

Last year, there was a fairly rapid Senate inquiry into this bill as it existed in the 44th Parliament nearly a year ago. The report of the inquiry raised a number of issues in relation to the proposed law's purpose, scope and effect. As other members have pointed out in the debate already, there is a very basic but important inconsistency between the way the National Ice Taskforce highlighted a need to focus on serious 'and' organised crime and the way this bill refers to serious 'or' organised crime. Clearly they are not the same. The common practice for law enforcement agencies is to use the criterion 'serious and organised crime', and that is the formulation in the relevant Senate report and in the submission from the Attorney-General. It is hard to see why that formulation would not prevail and, on that basis Labor, through the shadow minister, have indicated we will move amendments to correct this.

One of the reasons I am very happy to take part in this debate is that I represent an electorate that has both a seaport and an airport. It is well known that Fremantle is WA's principle cargo port, through which passes virtually all of WA's container trade, as well as bulk commodities such as petroleum, grain, alumina, iron ore, mineral sands and so on which pass through the outer harbour. In 2015-16, total port trade through Fremantle was 34.91 million mass tonnes, with a value of more than $26.1 billion. But, perhaps less well known, Jandakot Airport, a regional airport in my electorate, has at various times been the busiest airport in terms of flight movements not just in Australia but also, I think, in some years, in the Southern Hemisphere.

It has always been the case that seaports and airports are points of entry and access when it comes to the illegal importation of goods, including the importation of illegal drugs, and proper regulation of these areas—their physical and systemic security measures—and oversight of all personnel with access to ports, airports and seaports are critical to maintaining safety and security. In that context, it has to be recognised that these changes to MSIC and ASIC arrangements leave some of the most significant security risk areas untouched. In the first place, there are already parts of the maritime supply chain that are not covered by the MSIC requirements—for example, those working in container packing yards, or senior and middle managers in stevedoring or trucking companies. What is more, and what is worse, this government has actually pursued and implemented policies that increase the risk in Australian ports and at offshore maritime facilities by weakening Australian coastal shipping and by encouraging the use of foreign crews and flag-of-convenience shipping.

The cynical use and expansion of the temporary license provisions under the Navigation Act have inflicted significant damage on the viability of Australian owned and flagged ships and, therefore, on the employment opportunities for Australian seafarers. As we consider a bill that purports to strengthen the MSIC and ASIC screening arrangements, let us just remember that foreign holders of maritime crew visas are not subject to the same checks as apply to Australian workers that hold an MSIC. We have seen several examples in recent years of foreign flagged vessels that operate in flagrant disregard of basic workplace standards, and this creates safety and security and environmental risks. It really does not matter how robust the MSIC arrangements are if an increasing number of ships and workers are not covered by them and if, in future, we face the prospect of having no ships and workers covered by them because there are no Australian flagged and crewed vessels.

A strong coastal shipping industry is important to ensure the ongoing presence and capacity of Australian flagged vessels to serve our freight needs, to sustain maritime jobs and skills in this country and to give Australia a sufficient merchant marine capacity. Shipping is our link to the world. We are an island nation. Our economic and strategic engagement depends on shipping; our ports are the apertures through which our import and export lifeblood flows. Make no mistake: if the government continues to inflict death by a thousand cuts on Australian coastal shipping, the economic, strategic and environmental consequences will be substantial.

Beyond our own compelling national interests, we should not forget that Australian seafarers and port workers, through the Maritime Union of Australia and the International Transport Workers' Federation, play an active role in fighting to secure fair and safe working conditions for people to go to sea or work in ports the world over. That is in keeping with our national character. That is something that Australians have always done. We are concerned not just about our own circumstances and about safety and security in our own country but more widely. That has been an incredibly honourable tradition and a great contribution by working men and women and their organisational representatives in this country. Seafarers have always been, and will continue to be, a class of worker that is especially vulnerable. Last October, for the second time in two months, the Australian Marine Safety Authority detained a foreign vessel for not paying its crew. The condition of the ship was disgusting; there was virtually no food on board. This sort of occurrence is becoming more common as the use of foreign ships increases and as Australian flagged and crewed coastal shipping is subject to further pressure, diminishing support and regulatory neglect. If it goes unaddressed, this trend will weaken both our economic sufficiency and our national security, and it will reduce our capacity to respond to humanitarian emergencies in our region. As the shadow minister for infrastructure, the member for Grayndler, mentioned quite rightly, it is also likely that such changes will put us at greater risk of major environmental disaster.

It is also relevant in considering the security of our ports to question the blind haste with which these vital pieces of infrastructure are being sold off. Rod Sims, the Chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, has been openly critical of such asset sales, pointing out that, when states seek to maximise asset prices for ports, they are laying the ground for inevitable freight price increases, which in turn flow through the entire economy. State governments obviously have an interest in maximising those prices. I know in Western Australia there is a particular interest because the Barnett government wants to cover its quite considerable blushes in relation to nearly $40 billion worth of state debt. But it needs to be remembered that, if you max out those asset prices on sale, a private operator has to recoup those funds and it does so through freight prices—and freight prices flow into everything. Mr Sims has been particularly critical of the proposal that a private operator in Fremantle would be given the contractual opportunity to control the development of the outer harbour in future.

In an article from September, Kenneth Davidson listed a number of critical views from people with long experience of port operations. While deploring the sale of the port of Melbourne, former ports boss Michael Frydrych said:

I have always operated on the premise that ports are vital to the development of countries and should play a supporting role to the rest of the economy.

John Lines, the managing director of ANL, said in the same article:

We remain opposed to the privatisation of state-owned monopoly ports.

Port and other State asset privatisation are taxes by stealth which will be paid for decades to come.

That is an important point: they are taxes by stealth. You take a monopoly asset, you sell it into private hands, you get no competitive benefits and the pricing approach that a private operator takes in the interest of maximising profit, which is their primary interest, flows through into the general economy. It is a tax by stealth, and you cannot argue against taxes and the influence of taxes and give away private monopoly infrastructure when you know that that will be one of the economic consequences.

The reality is that the privatisation of Fremantle port, as part 2 or part 3 or part 5—it is hard to tell—of the crazy plan to create a privately operated toll road in the form of the so-called Perth Freight Link, would achieve the privatisation of our future in Fremantle and the south-metro region of Perth. Port assets and their landside links should be controlled, planned, delivered and adjusted over time in the broad public interest. When they are subject to the commercial interest of a private owner in the case of a privatised port or a private owner in the case of a privately operated toll road, we as citizens give away the opportunity to have those critical assets regulated and controlled in the broad interest. One of the things that people in Western Australia have not cottoned on to sufficiently is that, if we see the Perth Freight Link become a privately operated toll road, it will inevitably involve concession deeds as part of that contractual arrangement. Those concession deeds will be given so that the private operator of the toll road has confidence about its revenues into the future, and that will stop a future state government from being able to introduce public infrastructure of that kind.

The reality is that Australia's strongest economic and strategic position is one in which our ports are administered and developed in the broad public interest, and that requires public ownership. It is a scenario in which coastal shipping should be supported and maintained as a vital transport capacity involving, more than anything else, Australian ships and Australian seafarers.

Photo of Mark CoultonMark Coulton (Parkes, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour, and if the member for Fremantle wishes to continue his contribution he will be able to do so then.