Wednesday, 15 August 2018
Coastal Trading (Revitalising Australian Shipping) Amendment Bill 2017; Second Reading
Before the break I was explaining how, because of the approach of successive governments, we have ended up in a situation where people who are working on ships passing through our waters, or through waters adjacent to our waters, may be under enterprise agreements, and that, sometimes, the first time anyone finds out that these enterprise agreements are in place is when they go and talk to the crew on the ships and find out that a handful of them voted on an enterprise agreement—which includes wage rates that are substantially below the local wages and conditions—before they left their home country to come to Australia. The agreement is not one that the unions have had any time to be involved in. Clearly, the rates are higher than the wages and conditions they might have in their home country, so you can't fault those crew members for that, but they're substantially lower than the going market and enterprise agreement rates in Australia—and it's all perfectly legal. It's all perfectly legal to have people vote on an enterprise agreement in this country, which affects the conditions of local workers here, and to have it happen before they even leave here. And it is often done by secret ballot where no-one is able to have any input into it at all. We've also ended up in a situation in our shipping and offshore resources activity where people will come through on other classes of visas where local advertising doesn't have to happen at all.
We saw the farcical situation a couple of years back where, in order to allow some companies in the offshore sector to have the right to exploit people and pay them much less than the local wages and conditions, the minister—not the minister in this House but the minister at the time, who is in the other place, the Senate—ran around declaring various offshore resource projects to be exempt from the provisions of the law. Then, at the end, she declared them all exempt. Every offshore resource project was exempt from the provisions of the relevant law, and therefore local wages and conditions didn't have to apply. That was challenged in the High Court. It was a bit like a whack-a-mole game: up would pop another regulation, and you had to knock that one on the head. Ultimately the will of the Senate prevailed, and it was clear that the intention was to provide for local wages and conditions to apply and some form of justice to prevail. But this is what people are up against when it comes to shipping and offshore resources activity, because of the holes that are in our laws.
We have chosen, wrongly, not to regulate shipping in our region, and as a result we find ourselves, as I said before, losing a trained and sustained workforce, losing a local shipping fleet and losing the revenue that could come from following down the road of other countries who have decided that a regulatory approach is actually of benefit to the country. We've had a bit of time to fix it, and the attempts that have been made by previous governments—and I count governments of both stripes in this—have been manifestly inadequate. We knew that the attempt a few years ago to introduce a couple of lists and say, 'We're introducing our own approach, the Labor approach to revitalise shipping,' wasn't going to work. That was called out at the time by many people in the sector, and of course it hasn't worked.
There are many things that can be done now, without this legislation passing, that have led to the decimation of Australian shipping, as we've seen, but this bill will take it even further. There are not many bills that come before parliament and say, 'Our aim is to enable people to have lower wages and conditions than might otherwise apply and to enable people to opt out of the small amount of regulation that might apply to protect our environment and our workforce,' but that's exactly what this bill does. That's why this bill can't be supported and we need to go back to the drawing board. When we go back to the drawing board and consider how we're going to deal with Australian shipping, we should look to the other countries that are doing it well—the other countries that have built up an industry, contrary to the intention of this bill and the direction that we've been going in under Labor and Liberal. It's not right that as an island country we just say, 'We'll leave it up to other countries to register our ships and crew our ships as they sail through our waters.' We have an opportunity here, if we're a bit sensible about it, to rebuild the Australian shipping industry. I would hope that, if this bill proceeds to the other place, the scrutiny that's going to be brought to bear on it there will prompt the government to go back to the drawing board and have a rethink of this terrible bill.
Thank you to those members who have contributed to the debate on the Coastal Trading (Revitalising Australian Shipping) Amendment Bill 2017. The federal government is committed to a safe, secure and efficient transport system, and coastal shipping has a significant role to play. The amendments to the Coastal Trading (Revitalising Australian Shipping) Act 2012—the coastal trading act—are necessary to simplify coastal trading regulation, to reduce the administrative impost associated with the current regime, to expand the coverage of the coastal trading act and to provide clarity on a number of minor technical matters. The reforms will facilitate the government's objective of having more competitive and efficient coastal shipping services and will benefit Australia's manufacturing, mining and agricultural industries. This bill retains the major elements of the current coastal trading licence framework, with amendments to regulatory settings to minimise the industry burden and costs. Easing the current regulatory burden on the maritime industry will provide greater flexibility to buyers and suppliers of shipping services and will ensure coastal shipping remains a viable part of the national transport system.
Between 2010 and 2030, Australia's overall freight task is expected to grow by 80 per cent, underpinned by strong growth in domestic movements of bulk commodity exports, particularly iron ore and coal. This bill reduces the regulatory burden for shipping users and provides further opportunity to use shipping to move domestic freight.
The bill will remove the five-voyage minimum requirement for issuing temporary licences, thereby allowing companies to use spot hire at short notice for passengers and cargo. In one instance, a ship was unable to obtain a temporary licence to move a piece of heavy machinery between two ports as it was a single voyage and therefore ineligible for a temporary licence. The machinery was instead moved by road, which required a police escort due to the size of the machinery, and overhead utilities had to be moved. This was more complicated and more costly than a voyage by ship would have been, but it was the only available option at the time due to the five-voyage minimum requirement for temporary licences.
The government's amendments will make it easier for the energy sector to respond to shortages, by allowing the movement of crude oil and condensate from offshore facilities, and through the removal of the five-voyage minimum requirement. This means that in future, if a major city such as Melbourne or Sydney is facing a fuel shortage and fuel is available elsewhere and needs to be moved quickly, providers will be able to apply for a temporary licence with a single voyage to move that product, without worrying about scheduling another four unnecessary voyages. The amendments will also allow the expedited consideration of a temporary licence to be used in an emergency situation, including in relation to energy security, with a licence valid for 65 days to allow sufficient time to respond to the emergency. Removing the five-voyage minimum will allow superyachts to operate under the licensing system, opening up trade and tourism opportunities.
Application processes will be streamlined to remove unnecessary delays and inefficiencies, such as the need to consult on applications where there are no relevant Australian flagged vessels—for example, petroleum tankers. Tolerance limits will increase to provide the shipping industry with the flexibility it needs and deserves. Reducing red tape is a key priority of the Liberal and Nationals government and a central aspect of these policy reforms. Presently, the holder of a temporary licence needs to provide information to the government three times about each voyage. Under the new arrangements, notifications will be required only if the details are different from those already provided.
The bill extends coverage of the existing coastal trading act to allow the carriage of petroleum products from Australia's offshore facilities to the mainland for processing. This change will help make the use of Australian refineries more viable and will contribute to fuel security.
The government's amendments will open up Australia to exciting new tourism opportunities in the superyacht sector. The current regulatory settings of the coastal trading act exclude superyacht operators from gaining a temporary licence for a round-trip voyage, and force any superyacht operator to pay customs importation duty and taxes on the vessel if they want to visit Australia. This is prohibitively expensive for superyacht operators, so they bypass Australia and cruise to New Zealand, Fiji or Vanuatu, where regulatory settings are much more welcoming. In 2016, Superyacht Australia and the Queensland Treasury commissioned an economic impact study of the superyacht sector for the Queensland Labor government. The Queensland Superyacht Strategy envisaged that, by 2023, Queensland's share of the global superyacht sector will have increased by 10 per cent and that Queensland will be recognised as the key superyacht hub in the Asia-Pacific region. This growth will create thousands of new highly skilled jobs across the state and contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to the economy. These changes will bring important trade and tourism benefits to rural and regional areas on the Far North Queensland coast. The Whitsundays and Port Douglas, among others, are poised to benefit from superyacht tourism. In South-East Queensland, it is expected to contribute more than $1.1 billion to gross state product and support nearly 8,000 full-time jobs by 2021—up from $630.2 million and 4,535 full-time jobs in 2016. They're impressive figures.
With this bill, for the first time, ships will be allowed to carry out scheduled maintenance in Australia under a licence. This change will encourage the use of our dry-docking and repair facilities, and potentially grow Australia's dry-dock industry—and that's something we all want. Importantly, these reforms will not take away any of the protections provided to Australian flagged vessels operating under general licences. Australian licensed vessels will still enjoy unrestricted access to the Australian coast and will have the opportunity to contest voyages applied for by foreign ships where appropriate. They will continue to enjoy various shipping tax incentives, including the ability to include income tax exemption for qualifying shipping activities, accelerated depreciation for owners of certain vessels, and rollover relief for eligible Australian shipowners.
Australia's future growth will be significantly influenced by our capacity to access safe, secure, efficient and competitively priced transport services. The amendments in this bill will help ensure that ships seeking to provide services in Australia are able to do so with the minimum of red tape and regulatory burden.
I've heard the Labor Party discuss the consultation process. I want to assure the House that broad consultation was undertaken to help inform the development of the bill. An option paper released in 2014 received 85 submissions, with the department meeting with 103 stakeholders. In 2015, round-table discussions were held with the then minister and with industry stakeholder groups. In 2016 the then minister met with the MUA, the Australian Maritime Officers Union, the Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers, and Maritime Industry Australia Limited, previously known as the Australian Shipping Association, and undertook meetings with users of coastal shipping and stakeholders with passenger shipping interests. A discussion paper released in 2017 on coastal trading reform received 67 submissions.
I want to acknowledge the shadow minister's contribution and his proposed amendment. The government will not be supporting his amendment. But in saying that, I want to assure the member for Grayndler and this parliament that this government is committed to delivering fuel security, increasing tourism, backing local industry, growing our economy and creating local jobs while supporting local workers. This bill addresses these issues, and I encourage the Labor Party to support it. I commend the bill to the House.
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. The immediate question is that the amendment moved by the member for Grayndler be agreed to.