Wednesday, 15 August 2018
Coastal Trading (Revitalising Australian Shipping) Amendment Bill 2017; Consideration in Detail
I move amendment (1) as circulated in my name:
(1) Schedule 1, items 5 and 6, page 4 (lines 8 to 21), omit the items.
Amendment (1) relates to the issue of acceptable tolerance limits. The current act establishes acceptable tolerance limits for temporary licence voyages being plus or minus 20 per cent for the nominated cargo passenger volumes and plus or minus five days for the authorised loading date, without the shipper needing to seek a variation to their temporary licence. If required, a variation must be approved by the minister within two business days. What the bill proposes is to increase the volume tolerance limits to 200 per cent more or 100 per cent less. It also proposes a loading window tolerance of 30 days either side of the authorised dates. This has very serious implications for whether the Australian industry around our coast can literally survive. If you had listened to the speeches of those opposite, you would have thought that the only issue to do with shipping around our coast was about superyachts; it's actually about the capacity of Australian flagged vessels to exist, taking resources and goods around our coastline.
These changes would further deregulate what is already one of the world's most liberal coastal trading regimes. To put that in some context, in the United States, under the Jones Act, if you want coastal trading to exist around the coast of the US—if you have goods in San Francisco you want to take to Los Angeles or goods in Miami that you want to take to New York—then you have to use an American flagged vessel with an American crew, 100 per cent. They have a completely protectionist regime. Australia doesn't have that, and Labor certainly isn't proposing that that would be appropriate. But it is appropriate that we have a regime that allows Australian flagged vessels to have an opportunity to continue to exist.
The proposed amendments in this legislation, which the amendment I've moved this afternoon would remove, would make it almost impossible for a general licensed vessel to contest work, because their owner-operator would never know the actual volume or the precise loading date. To be clear, I say to the minister that they wouldn't know what the loading date was, so how can you bid for work as an Australian contractor if you don't know, within 30 days, what the date of that voyage would be and you also don't know what the actual volume of goods for that task that you are seeking would be?
Let us look at what the Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers said in a submission to the discussion paper not of this minister and not of his predecessor as minister but of the minister before that—Minister Chester. That's how long this legislation has been around, in limbo, because it is orphaned legislation, to be frank. No-one wants to be associated with it. I'm not surprised that the current minister's been put in an unfortunate position, but he has an opportunity to say, 'Yes, I'm better than my predecessor.' That's not a big call, I say to the minister. 'And I'm even better than the minister before that, because, as a member of the National Party, I'm going to stand up for Australian businesses.' AIMPE said:
The ultimate voyage carried out may bear no resemblance to the original voyage for which the Temporary Licence was granted.
AIMPE are right in their submission, and that is why this amendment should be carried. (Time expired)
I thank the member for Grayndler, the shadow minister for transport and infrastructure, for his comments. I just wanted to assure him that the departure of vessels has occurred under Labor's process. During debate on this particular bill, my colleague the member for Grey provided the House with details on the decline of Australian flagged vessels. He informed the House that, in 2012, the then Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, when introducing legislation for the current act, said it was designed to ensure the Australian shipping industry survived. In 2012, there were 30 ships; now, in 2018, there are just 13. That reduction was under the act that the member for Grayndler said would protect Australian shipping. Combined with this, many ageing Australian vessels are not being replaced. The average age of the registered fleet, all 13 of them, is 24 years, up from 23 last year. The oldest vessel is 26 years old in comparison to the average age of 13 years for international vessels. We have an ageing fleet.
The bill maintains the current requirements for Australian flagged vessels to be consulted and bid for work before a temporary licence voyage is undertaken. It doesn't impose any additional or onerous requirements on Australian flagged vessels. It's important to note that these reforms will not take away any of the protections provided to Australian flagged vessels operating under general licences. Australian licensed vessels will still have unrestricted access to the Australian coast and the opportunity to contest voyages applied for by foreign ships. They will continue to access shipping tax incentives, including the ability to claim income tax exemptions for qualifying shipping activities. As I stated in my summing up speech, there will be accelerated depreciation for certain owners of vessels and rollover relief for eligible Australian shipowners. All of the departures and reflaggings which have occurred since this act came into force have taken place under the regime that the Australian Labor Party established. This government has made no changes to that regime and has issued no directions to the department on how to administer the legislation.
I want to tell the House that Australian seafarer jobs have been declining and will likely continue to decline under the current framework. However, the reforms in the bill will create the potential for more onshore jobs to offset those continued seafarer job losses by making coastal shipping a more attractive and more affordable transport alternative. Input costs for the manufacturing industry will be reduced. This should support job growth in this sector. By bringing the movement of liquid fuel products from offshore facilities under the coastal trading act, refineries could become more competitive, allowing for job growth in this sector. There is also potential for, as I stated before, Australia's dry-docking industry to grow.
The amendments in this bill—the original reforms—will make no change to the pay and conditions of seafarers, and that is important to note. The reforms do not alter the workforce entitlements of Australian seafarers, to whom part A of the Seagoing Industry Award 2010, the modern award, will continue to apply. Nor do they alter the coverage of foreign seafarers. For seafarers on foreign flagged vessels, the wages and conditions currently set out in part B of the Seagoing Industry Award 2010 will continue to apply from the third voyage of their ship onwards in Australian waters over a 12-month period. By recording the IMO number of vessels being used, additional information will be available to determine when those entitlements are payable. This is good reform. We've talked about it for long enough and it's time for this reform to take place.
The problem with the minister's contribution is that he didn't address the issues that are confronted in the amendment that I'm moving to omit schedule 1, items 5 and 6 on page 4, lines 8 to 21 of the legislation—changing the tolerance limits. The minister said that Australian flagged vessels would still have the capacity to compete. That's right. They would have the capacity to bid. They just wouldn't know what they were bidding for, because the tolerance limit is being changed to allow 200 per cent more than what was being asked for. Think about this: there is a contract to carry this book across, but it could be 100 per cent less, so it could just be half a book, or it could be three books.
That's the difference in terms of the tolerance limits between the contract that is being put out. It's not hard. It's a version of 200 per cent more or 100 per cent less for the volume of product being asked to be moved. Not just that, but here we are on 15 August and you put in a bid to make your ship available to take maybe one, two or three tonnes of goods. You make the ship available, with the crew, with access to the particular port, and you take it up to Townsville, because it is goods to be taken from Townsville down to Brisbane. But when you get there, the ship isn't going on 15 August, and it's not going on 16 August, 17 August or 18 or 19 or 20 August. In the meantime you're paying your staff and crew and paying your port costs, because the variation in when the actual voyage will take place can be 30 days.
That's why you don't have to listen to the union that I quoted before, the engineers' union. Listen to the employers. Maritime Industry Australia Ltd, the peak industry body, said:
Without the tolerances being meaningful (and remembering that these were expanded by the 2012 reforms from 10% and three days to 20% and five days) the system may as well be deregulated entirely.
The industry itself is saying that if this legislation is not amended they won't be able to be in business. That's what they're saying, and common sense tells us that that's the case. Think about someone transporting grain or agricultural produce in your electorate, Minister. If I put out a contract saying, 'Can you take a hundred head of cattle from Wagga Wagga to Newcastle port, but you mightn't have to take it today,' and the contract says 15 August and it will be a hundred head, but when you get there it's 15 September that the trucks are going to go, and there's 300 head of cattle, not 100 head, and you've got your truck there—how can you possibly compete on that basis? And the minister spoke about no directions to the department. They gutted the department! The entire shipping section got shoved off to other departments. They got rid of any expertise, so you had departmental officers approving temporary licences for the Portlandto replace the MV Portlandto go on one journey from Portland in Victoria around to Western Australia and back again. Minister, you should reconsider this position, because it's just wrong. You don't have to listen to the unions, listen to the industry itself.
I quoted the industry body before. I'll now quote the Maritime Union of Australia:
Such open-ended tolerance provisions would totally undermine accepted commercial arrangements and make it impossible for a GL [general licence] holder to contest a cargo, as the GL holder would not know what they are contesting. The ability to position a ship when the loading date could vary by up to 30 days would be commercially untenable for a GL holder, as would be the unknown nature of the cargo volume.
The operators of vessels around the coast have been unanimous in their positions where they have expressed concern about these changes. That includes CSL, which currently owns three Australian flagged vessels operating around the coastline. ANL said: 'the current date tolerance seems reasonable'.
The other issue is that of the impact on Australian based tourism cruise operators. From those opposite we hear about superyachts. In my earlier contribution to the debate I said that I'm happy to sit down with the minister and talk constructively about ways in which we can change customs regimes and improve access for superyachts, because I agree that there is potential for growth in that industry. What I'm not prepared to do is destroy the entire coastal shipping industry in the interests of the superyacht industry, which is based essentially in the Cayman Islands and other offshore tax havens.
But those opposite exposed what drives them when they had two issues really that they raised continuously. Even the minister, in his summing up, spoke more about superyachts than he did about the actual resources sector, the agriculture sector or other sectors that take trade around our coast. There's an Australian cruise ship industry that's worried about these provisions as well. This is what True North Adventure Cruises have had to say, through Mr Bill Milby, the operator of the tourism vessels off north-west Western Australia, on regional jobs. He's warned that the proposed changes to the tolerance limits would allow foreign operators to game the system. This is what he said in his submission:
The purpose of temporary licences was to allow foreign ships to carry cargo and passengers in the event that cargo or passengers were already waiting at a port to be shipped from one destination to another.
This amendment allows foreign ships to apply for and be granted a temporary licence when there is no cargo or passengers, thus allowing the foreign ship to wait at any port and choose to bid against any general licence holder at any time.
What you have here is an Australian based industry—Coral Sea Expeditions, which operates primarily around Far North Queensland, and True North Adventure Cruises, operating out of the Kimberley—saying that these provisions will result in a loss of Australian jobs and a loss of Australian economic activity.
When Mr Milby raised this question originally, when these sorts of provisions were in the act put forward by former minister Warren Truss, which were rejected in the Senate, he was told: 'What you should do is take the Australian flag off your ship, reflag it with a foreign flag and replace your Australian crew with a foreign crew being paid foreign wages. That's the way in which you can continue to compete.' That is explicitly what they said. And today, in his one contribution to the debate about this amendment, the minister said that seafarer jobs would continue to be in decline. Well, why is it, Minister, that for an island continent you are promoting legislation that you say will result in a decline in jobs for Australian seafarers? There are real implications behind that. I think you're better than that, and you can do better than this legislation.
The member for Grayndler asked about agriculture, so I'm going to tell him about how the reforms will benefit the agricultural sector. Australia's agriculture sector plays a key role in our nation's prosperity, and I think everybody in this parliament should know that. They're doing it tough at the moment; the drought's really biting hard. Farmers and agricultural producers depend on Australia's coastal trading system. Since 2012 the agriculture sector has been significantly impacted by the regulatory burden imposed by the coastal trading system. The Productivity Commission's report into the regulation of agriculture found that the current coastal shipping framework leads to additional costs—higher costs—for farm businesses that are reliant on sea freight. The report noted that the high shipping costs have seen some businesses move operations overseas.
These reforms will reduce the regulatory burden on the agricultural sector and increase the attractiveness of shipping as a viable transport option for agricultural businesses that need to move their product to market. Tolerances will be expanded, and the ability to vary licences will be streamlined. The coastal trading act currently contains strict tolerance provisions for voyages under temporary licences. This means that a shipper has to apply for a variation to their temporary licence if they are going to move their cargo more than five days before or after the approved loading date, and also if they load 20 per cent more or less than the approved amount of cargo.
In its response to the department's discussion paper released in March 2017, Wilmar Sugar provided an example of how unwieldy and inefficient this system is. In one year alone, one of Wilmar's business units—and I know the assistant minister at the table will be very interested to hear this—had to apply to vary more than 50 per cent of the voyages granted on a temporary licence because of the system's strict tolerance provisions, which are out of step with the shipping industry and put Australian businesses at a disadvantage. We don't want to see that. Our changes will significantly increase those limits—to 30 days and 200 per cent—before a variation is needed.
With that, I move:
That the question be now put.
I move opposition amendment (3):
(3) Schedule 1, item 15, page 5 (lines 20 to 23), omit the item.
Amendment (3) is to omit schedule 1, item 15, page 5, lines 20 to 23. Section 6(1) of the Coastal Trading Act currently defines 'voyage' as the 'movement of a vessel from one port to another port'. That definition shouldn't be all that surprising. The bill proposes to amend this definition to remove the reference to movement from one port to another port, effectively extending the definition of a voyage to include voyages that don't really go anywhere, that start and finish at the same port. The explanatory memorandum says that the purpose of this amendment is to:
… open the coastal trading regime to chartered recreational vessels that typically embark and disembark at the same port …
In practice, this definitional change is likely to harm existing, more traditional sections of the domestic maritime industry. It would open the way for foreign transhipment and bunker barge operators to apply for temporary licences to work around the Australian coast. Currently, the companies performing these activities, which usually begin and end in the same port, are Australian based and employ Australian seafarers. But once again we see a government that doesn't seem to worry about whether there are Australian jobs and Australians being employed or whether, effectively, we're offshoring those jobs and thereby contracting the Australian industry.
I'm sure the government will say that this is about superyachts, given that it seemed to just talk and talk and talk about superyachts during the debate on this legislation. But the fact is that the damage that would be done to Australian based tourism operators, as well as Australian based bunker barge operators, for example, could be substantial. I have said, and I reiterate to the minister, that Labor is open to reforms that will promote the growth of the superyacht industry, to the benefit of communities up and down the Australian coastline. But we need to do it in a way that doesn't have unintended consequences, that doesn't basically knock over those Australian industries that are currently operating.
One of those, which I've mentioned before, is Coral Expeditions. On their letterhead, they define themselves as 'Australia's pioneering cruise line'. Indeed, they are a great Australian success story, employing people in Queensland in particular. This is what they said in their submission of 13 August, a few days ago, to the Senate committee on this legislation: 'The changes will have the unintended consequence of killing off the growing and globally respected Australian flagged expedition cruise ship industry. This will have a significant negative impact on sustainable tourism and the environment in remote and sensitive coastal areas in Australia and on the revival of Australian seafaring.' They say: 'We urge the current restrictions on coastal trading for foreign flagged passenger ships be maintained in order to facilitate the steady and sustainable development of coastal tourism and the Australian seafaring industry.'
I've met with the superyacht industry. I've spoken with them about the changes that could be made, looking at the Customs Act provisions, for example—
I won't respond any further to the member for Hughes. I say to the member for Hughes that there has to be a reason why Sky News exists, and it is for the member for Hughes to get a run somewhere, which he does regularly. He of course gets runs on other occasions as well—when he makes regrettable and offensive statements that he then has to withdraw. I say to the member for Hughes: sometimes it's really smart to shut up, and then people won't know what is inside. I say that constructively.
But the fact is I have been prepared to sit down with industry. I regard the minister as a serious person and I put forward suggestions in a constructive way—and I've made a couple; one is about customs. There are other ways as well that you could resolve the sorts of issues that have been raised by the industry with me, and they are open to that. But what you shouldn't do is make changes that undermine the entire Australian coastal fleet, undermine Australian jobs and undermine existing Australian operators like True North and Coral Expeditions, because it is simply not in anyone's interests for that to occur. I assume that resolving these issues is the objective of the amendment in the bill to change the definition of 'voyage', and I'll listen to the minister's response, but I say to the minister that Australian based industry are saying that that is not in their interests, and the people whom this particular clause is aimed at are also saying they're not wedded to it. They're after an outcome rather than any particular process. I commend opposition amendment (3) to the House.
crisis—a parliamentary crisis! This amendment, and the series of amendments that the member for Grayndler is moving, goes to trying to restore some semblance of integrity to the coastal shipping and trade regime around general licences versus temporary licences. What we've seen under this government is an attack on the general-licences approach and the issuing of temporary licences any time they feel like it, which is really destroying the Australian shipping industry.
This is a government that is intent on putting Australian seafarers out of work. There is no sugar-coating it. This is a government that is intent on putting Australian seafarers out of work. You just have to see what they did around the MV Portland and the CSL Melbourne. They issued temporary licences to replace Australian crewed ships doing very regular work. For 27 years the MV Portland shipped alumina from Western Australia to the Portland aluminium smelter—for 27 years. By any definition it was a regular trip, but this government issued a temporary licence so that that company could frogmarch off Australian workers and replace them with foreign flagged vessels on dodgy temporary licences. They did the same thing for CSL Melbourne. They put Australian seafarers out of work on shipping routes that were, by definition, regular. You knew how many shipments of alumina would go from Western Australia to Portland and how many from Gladstone to Newcastle to the Tomago smelter. Every year it was as regular as anything. But this government put those Australian seafarers out of work because they're intent on destroying that industry.
You don't have to take my word for it. You only have to read the regulatory impact statement that accompanied their 2015 legislation effort. Their own regulatory impact statement stated that all the savings associated with that legislation came from putting 1,000 of the 1,100 Australian seafarers out of work. Rarely has a conservative government been so honest in its attack on Australian workers. That RIS, if it had got through parliament, would have put out of work 90 per cent of Australian seafarers. That's what they intend to do by continuing to weaken the protections against temporary licences by massively expanding the tolerance limits allowed when they issue temporary licences. That's the nub of this amendment and the nub of this bill. That's why Labor's amendments must be supported.
It's not just about Australian jobs and maintaining an Australian industry. We're a maritime nation, and there are huge national security implications in making sure that we've got an adequate Australian merchant maritime work force. There are also huge environmental issues. June this year was the 11th anniversary of when the Pasha Bulker washed up on Nobbys Beach in Newcastle during a storm. It was a foreign flagged and foreign crewed vessel that had ignored the warnings of the harbourmaster to move away from the coast of Newcastle. We've also seen foreign flagged and foreign crewed vessels ignoring warnings to move away from the Great Barrier Reef. They've literally run aground and damaged sections of the Great Barrier Reef, imperilling a $9 billion tourism industry that employs 68,000 Australians, all because the government wants to undermine Australian vessels and replace Australian seafarers with foreign workers on $2 a day on flag-of-convenience vessels. What's the next step? Having Australian trucks on our highways replaced by foreign trucks, staffed by foreign workers paid $2 a day? This is just the logical extension of that.
As the shadow minister's already foreshadowed, we're open to discussions with the superyacht industry about how we facilitate the growth of that industry, but you don't do it by further attacks on Australia's shipping industry, further attacks on our proud maritime tradition. So I urge that Labor's amendments be supported. I urge this government to go back to the drawing board. I acknowledge that the minister in the past has acknowledged that we need a bipartisan settlement. We need a bipartisan policy solution that will survive changes of government. That is the only way you're going to get investment in new Australian ships, staffed by Australian seafarers. But this bill is not the way to do it, so I urge them to go back to the drawing board and come back with something that is actually workable and fair and that will promote Australian seafarers.
The minister spoke about the consultation process that occurred. A discussion paper was released on 21 March 2017. Discussions took place on 20 April 2016 with some of the unions. On 27 April 2016, there were consultations with some industry groups. Perhaps indicative of the lack of judgement and the motivation of the government, both of its so-called reform packages were launched at events hosted by the foreign shippers, not the Australian shipping industry. One of the extraordinary things that I find is that MIAL, Maritime Industry Australia Limited—the peak organisation, the peak body, which represents Australian based shipping operators and other Australian based maritime businesses—were not invited to participate in either of the meetings that were hosted on 27 April 2016. That's not the current minister's fault, but it does go to why this legislation is not only flawed; it was designed to exclude those Australian based interests. That is unfortunate.
As the member for Shortland has outlined, incidents around the coast like those involving the Pacific Adventurer and the Shen Neng have had consequences for our pristine natural environment. Fortunately, they haven't been catastrophic. A potential incident on the Great Barrier Reef could have literally billions of dollars of consequences for Australia because of the knock-on impact that it would have. One of the things that I did as the minister was to extend south the area that was required to have pilots to make sure that that protection was put in place. The environmental consequences are severe.
We also know that, in terms of the maintenance, many of these foreign ships operating around the coast are pretty ordinary, to say the least, compared with Australian based ships. We know that the maintenance simply isn't there. We know that the workforce can often be overworked and not have appropriate occupational health and safety conditions. For example, the captain of the Shen Neng was prosecuted, as he should have been, for failing to turn through the channel. As the inquiry found, that was a result of that particular gentleman not having been to sleep for a very, very long time. The sort of idea that we should have a free-for-all around our coast without consequences is simply an error of judgement.
There's the other issue of national security. We hear a lot from those opposite about the protection of borders, yet we will have consequences if the Australian shipping industry cannot continue. Foreign based ships with foreign workers will not have gone through the same security clearances that Australian seafarers have to go through. People who work in ports have to have MSIC cards and go through the whole security clearance process. These ships have a lot of fuel on them. They're often in ports and harbours, very close to where people reside in very large numbers. I think there are real national security issues which arise from that, let alone the issue of the link between the merchant fleet and our military fleet. That linkage has historically been there between the Navy and people who have worked in the merchant fleet. Their skills are interchangeable. If you don't have an Australian based maritime sector, what you won't have is the sorts of skills base of people— (Time expired)
who go on to be harbourmasters and run ports and are very proud of making a contribution to the nation. Here in Australia we have the Australian Maritime College down at Launceston, a world-class facility. We have a very proud history as a maritime nation. The Australian flag's continued presence on the back of Australian ships crewed by Australian seafarers with Australian engineers and Australian captains is very important. These are not inconsequential matters for an island continent such as ours, which relies overwhelmingly upon shipping to deal with our imports and exports.
The shipping industry also has consequences for our coastal trading regime to take goods around the nation. The 'blue highway' is free, unlike the Hume Highway, the Bruce Highway, the Pacific Highway and other roads, where maintenance is required. Other sections of our transport industry—the rail and road sectors—are concerned about the consequences of a free-for-all, where they're being asked to compete with foreign flagged vessels operating with foreign and foreign conditions to transport those goods around our coast. That puts those transport operators, be they rail or road, at a significant disadvantage. Quite frankly it's an absurd idea to say that it's okay for a trucking company to come in with trucks that have been built, maintained and operated in the Philippines, operate from Brisbane and take goods down Highway 1 to Melbourne, pay Filipino wages and have Filipino overheads and costs, and compete with the Australian trucking operators. Why should the 'blue highway' be different from the Hume Highway? What's more, when it also happens in the rail sector, they will be considerably disadvantaged at a time when the government is talking about inland rail and the importance of rail transport. The ARA opposes this legislation. Why would the rail sector be involved in coastal shipping? They understand that when they have Australian costs and overheads they're at a massive disadvantage if they have to compete with another sector performing the same task through a different mode but with foreign costs and overheads.
There are a whole range of reasons that this legislation is flawed and should be rejected. The particular amendment we're debating shows that the government is so ideologically determined that they're prepared to redefine the whole definition of a voyage rather than apply a bit of common sense. This isn't the current minister's legislation, nor even the member for New England's legislation, but there has been no consultation with the opposition over this. When this was introduced—a long time ago now; more than a year—before even I gave my second reading speech I moved a procedural resolution to dismiss this and to have a proper consultation process, because I recognise that a bipartisan position would be far preferable. This is unsupportable. (Time expired)
I want to pick up on something that the shadow minister finished up on—that is, the need for a bipartisan position on coastal shipping policy. What happened with this policy contrasts strongly with Labor's legislation that we put through during the last Labor government, which was a product of probably the most extensive industry consultation I've seen in a couple of decades. It took almost four years to go from initial industry consultation to developing a legislative package that went through parliament. Why did we take that much time? We took that much time because we consulted with industry. But it wasn't just hand-picked industry. We didn't just go to the foreign shippers. We talked to Maritime Industry Australia, which is the peak body for Australian shippers. Imagine that: actually talking to Australian shippers when you're legislating about the Australian shipping industry! We talked to the unions; we talked to the customers to make sure that we had a package that could succeed in revitalising the Australian shipping industry.
The great tragedy is that within a year of that package being legislated there was a change of government. The new government couldn't get that particular legislation repealed, so what did they do? They just undermined it by the fraudulent issuing of temporary licences. I don't use those words lightly. It was a fraudulent issuing of temporary licences. They issued temporary licences for trade that had existed not for months or weeks but for decades.
As I said, the MV Portland was shipping alumina from the Kwinana Strip in WA to Portland for 27 years. Then, with the simple stroke of a pen, the new government, the Liberal-National coalition, replaced that general licence with a temporary licence, which led to the seafarers on the MV Portland being frogmarched off their ship in the middle of the night. Then they repeated it in Newcastle with the CSL Melbourne, which had been shipping alumina from Gladstone to Newcastle for the Tomago aluminium smelter for close to a decade. This is a great tragedy.
There is a human cost to this. I had a mobile office a year ago where I met with an unemployed engineer who lived in my electorate and who'd got every ticket under the sun. He'd put himself through a master's degree to make sure he was one of the best-qualified ship engineers in the country, but he couldn't get a job. Even though the shipping industry was booming, he could not get a job, because he was an Australian worker who wanted to be paid Australian wages. This time last year I met with another seafarer, who lives at Caves Beach in my electorate and who had been out of work for a couple of years—again, because this government had been undermining Labor's shipping reforms through the issuing of fraudulent temporary licences. It must end.
Compared with almost every other G20 country we stand alone on this. You only have to look at the United States, with its mighty Jones Act, where not only do you have to have US wages and conditions; you have to have US seafarers on US-built ships. We're not suggesting we go that far, but, as the shadow minister discussed, I don't think it's unreasonable that, for coastal trading, you have Australian workers paid Australian wages and conditions. These trips are the equivalent of a truck carrying alumina going from Gladstone to Newcastle. You wouldn't suggest having a Filipino driver on $2 per day driving a Filipino truck doing that job. These are the exact same trading routes; they just happen to be a few miles offshore on the water.
This government has form. This government, through their last legislative effort, tried to put 90 per cent of Australia's seafarers out of work. I join the call from the shadow minister for the government to inject a bit of bipartisanship into this issue and withdraw the Coastal Trading (Revitalising Australian Shipping) Amendment Bill, sit down with the opposition, talk to Maritime Industry Australia, the peak body for Australian shippers, talk—heaven forbid—to the unions, talk to their customers and actually find a constructive way forward.
We can honour the legacy of the former member for Wide Bay without continuing this idiotic and short-sighted attack on Australian seafarers. It's my constituents who will pay the price. I represent a proud maritime electorate, with plenty of seafarers. Unfortunately a lot of them are out of work. I urge this government to go back to the drawing board and work constructively on it. The Deputy Prime Minister is a good bloke. Hopefully he can see through the politics of this and come forward with a bipartisan solution that will actually boost the industry, rather than undermining it.
) ( ): by leave—I move amendment (2) and amendments (4) to (14) together, as circulated in my name:
(2) Schedule 1, item 9, page 5 (lines 1 and 2), omit the item.
(4) Schedule 1, item 16, page 5 (lines 24 and 25), omit the item.
(5) Schedule 1, item 36, page 8 (lines 25 to 27), omit the item.
(6) Schedule 1, items 37 to 40, page 8 (line 28) to page 9 (line 13), omit the items.
(7) Schedule 1, item 41, page 9 (lines 14 to 17), omit the item.
(8) Schedule 1, items 42 and 43, page 9 (lines 18 to 25), omit the items.
(9) Schedule 1, item 44, page 9 (lines 26 and 27), omit the item.
(10) Schedule 1, item 45, page 10 (lines 1 and 2), omit the item.
(11) Schedule 1, item 49, page 10 (line 16), after "43", insert "or 51".
(12) Schedule 1, items 58 and 59, page 11 (lines 10 to 13), omit the items.
(13) Schedule 1, items 61 to 63, page 11 (lines 16 to 26), omit the items.
(14) Schedule 1, item 65, page 12 (lines 21 to 25), omit subitem (4).
I note the enthusiasm of the minister for our moving these 12 amendments en bloc, because these are important amendments to schedule 1 of the legislation. They would omit a range of items from the legislation. Currently there are two types of licence variations to an existing temporary licence: authorised matters—that is, a change to a loading date or volume on an existing planned voyage; and new matters—authorising an entirely new voyage on an existing temporary licence. In the name of streamlining, the bill proposes replacing the two types of licence variations with a single temporary licence variation provision.
I'm sure that the government will justify this by saying, 'Well, there are two things and we're putting them into one and that makes it streamlined.' What it does, though, is have massive implications. Reclassifying the addition of a new voyage to an existing temporary licence from a new matter to an authorised matter would halve, from the current two days to just 24 hours, the time available to a general licence holder—that is, an Australian based shipping operator—to apply for that new voyage.
One of the things that we know that the government has done in its decimation of the Australian shipping industry is that, for some voyages where a temporary licence was granted, it has replaced an Australian based ship—most notably, for example, the MV Portlandwith a foreign ship. The temporary licence was granted without proper notification for Australian based ships that might have wanted to compete to undertake that work. So the advertising processes and the way that the department has conducted some of these operations, under instruction from the government, have had very real consequences. As the member for Shortland reiterated in his contribution, the Portland was basically taking alumina from Western Australia to Portland. (Time expired)
They were the two destinations involved. There was nothing temporary about it. This had happened for decades. The Portland went from Western Australia, picked up the raw product, took it round to Portland in Victoria for processing and production, and then went back again. The idea of a temporary licence was that it would never be granted for something that was quite clearly permanent work. Yet, in that example, the way that the temporary licence was granted was, in my view, completely flawed and calls into question the integrity of the way that the existing legislation was being administered. People were literally thrown out of their beds in the middle of the night on that ship, sacked and replaced by foreign workers on a foreign ship with a temporary licence doing permanent work. And the existing ship, of course, sailed off to Singapore, from memory, to be sold off. And it was sailed off by foreign workers, not the existing workforce, unlike some of the other atrocities that have been committed on this government's watch, when Australian seafarers have been told in Singapore that they've lost their jobs and been flown back while the ship was flogged off to foreign interests.
There are a whole range of questions about how it is that those foreign seafarers were granted visas to be on that ship off the coast of Portland to take the vessel back. It is a great example of the government's hypocrisy when it comes to the integrity of the visa system and the integrity of our borders. The government has a free-for-all when it comes to our borders, as long as it concerns a foreign seafarer working for a pittance often under flags of convenience—vessels flagged in places like Panama and various places where there are no taxation regimes and where ships have often, quite rightly, been called ships of shame as a result of the environmental disasters that have occurred and been associated with much of that industry.
Reclassifying the addition of a new voyage and just calling it an 'authorised matter' is cutting in half the capacity for the Australian based industry to bid for that voyage. It makes it even more difficult for Australian vessels to compete. And, again, this is what the industry says. Had Minister Chester bothered to consult properly with the industry, he would have been told:
Any new voyage should be subject to the existing timeframes for GL holders to respond or else the integrity of the system is undermined as GL holders rights/opportunities are reduced.
That's what industry has to say. This legislation was so bad that the member for New England didn't bring it forward. You look around the chamber: there are only about eight people here, but there are four former ministers. They change as often as some of the members opposite change their socks. The legislation drafted by Minister Chester was so bad that Minister Joyce didn't bring it forward. That's how bad it was. It was too bad for him. Have a good look at yourself, I say to Minister Chester. And I say to the new minister: have a good look at yourself. You don't have to look in the mirror; have a look over there. (Time expired)
Because it is quite extraordinary—and I've lost him; Barnaby Joyce is showing me the loyalty he's showing the coalition from day to day on that side.
The truth is that this legislation is lousy legislation. When it comes to the variation of temporary licences, it essentially cannot be justified because, again, it is aimed at: what's the purpose of the legislation? For the many people out there who I'm sure are listening intently to this debate, wondering what TL and GL and some of these provisions are, I say to them that a lot of it's pretty simple. The measures in these amendments the government is trying to operate with this piece of legislation follow Minister Truss's disastrous legislation, which couldn't even get a second reading through the Senate—and I predict that this will also meet a similar fate. There isn't one thing—and I say to the minister that in his response it would be nice if he could point to one thing—in this legislation that is supportive of Australian industry. I've pointed to a range of measures in these amendments that, for example, change it from two days to 24 hours—changing it so that Australian ships don't have a capacity to bid—and a range of the other amendments I have spoken about. Can the minister point to one thing in this piece of legislation that is supportive of Australian industry? What each of the measures in this legislation has in common is that they're all designed to make it more difficult for Australian ships to compete with foreign ships.
And I say this: the party of Black Jack McEwen and the party of Doug Anthony wouldn't cop this sort of legislation, because, historically, one of the things that the Country Party had in common, I think, with the Labor Party in many instances was a sense of nationalism and a preparedness to defend Australian national interests, industries and jobs. There was actually that understanding there. Yes, there's a market, but this isn't a free market. You're asking Australian ships to compete around our coast doing Australian-only jobs. We're not talking about international trade. We're talking about taking freight essentially from one place in Australia to another place in Australia, just like a truck or a train, except one group has to pay Australian wages and conditions, has ships that are maintained to Australian standards, has environmental protections built in and has proper security clearances for everyone who works in the ships, versus a foreign ship that has foreign wages, foreign overheads and foreign maintenance conditions that aren't as good as those in Australia, and the foreign ship doesn't pay any tax, because it has a flag of Panama or some other flag of convenience on the back of it.
The fact is that not only are you saying, 'Oh, well, that's fair, we won't recognise there's a difference there'; you're also changing the rules in this legislation to make it harder for the Australian based ship to compete. There are real consequences. We won't have an Australian maritime skills base. We're an island continent, for goodness sake! The idea that that doesn't matter is just absurd. I say to the minister that there is an opportunity now to point to a single positive measure in this legislation that says, 'This is in the interests of Australian ships' capacity to compete.'
I rise to echo the points made by the shadow minister about this being an island nation and the great national security necessity of having an active merchant maritime. It's a little known fact that, outside Bomber Command, the Australian merchant mariners had the highest casualty rate during World War II. There's a direct link between having an active, skilled and vibrant merchant marine and naval forces, our Navy. This bill undermines it, because this bill weakens the general licensing scheme. It favours more dodgy, fraudulent temporary licences, as we saw in the MV Portland and CSL Melbourne cases. It attempts to replicate the effect of the disastrous 2015 legislation—legislation, as I stated previously, where its own regulatory impact statement had 1,000 of 1,100 seafarers being put out of work. That's the human cost of this deregulation agenda by this government.
I'm trying to work out why they're trying to do it. It can't just be that they're trying to pay homage to their farmers and to their other customers in the shipping industry, because study after study has shown that an Australian industry with true bipartisan commitment so that the shippers can invest in the latest vessels is very cost competitive. God knows, every other advanced nation in the world realises the importance of investing in this. We're alone amongst the G20 nations in not requiring domestic workers be paid domestic wages and work under domestic conditions. As I said, the Jones Act requires that US personnel working on US-built ships be paid US wages. Japan has a similar requirement. Even China has this requirement. We're alone amongst advanced nations in not saying that, for coastal trading, it should be Australian workers and they should be paid Australian wages, and that's a great disgrace.
I'm trying to understand what ideology drives the government on this. They won't talk to Australian shippers. This bill and the consultation sessions that surrounded it didn't even talk to Maritime Industry Australia, the peak body for Australian shippers. They were happy to talk to the foreign shippers—the shippers who have a direct interest in putting Australian seafarers out of work and paying foreign crews on flag-of-convenience vessels $2 a day. They were happy to talk to them but not to the Australian shippers. They also obviously didn't talk to the trade unions involved.
We need to go back to the drawing board. We need to embrace bipartisanship. We need to get rid of this ridiculous attempt to increase the tolerance limit so much that it would make the temporary licensing scheme a mockery—although I would submit that the temporary licensing scheme is already a mockery. That you could replace the MV Portland, which has done the same alumina run from the Kwinana strip to Portland for 27 years, with a foreign vessel, a flag-of-convenience listed vessel, that pays its foreign workers $2 a day for exactly the same route and claim it is a temporary licence is beyond belief. Again, when they did that for the CSL Melbourne, travelling from Gladstone down to my home port of Newcastle, it necessitated frogmarching the Australian crew off the vessel. That 50 New South Wales police personnel were used to frogmarch Australian seafarers off the vessel in the middle of the night was an attack on Australian workers. That's the agenda of this government, and this bill again repeats that. Their wish is for Work Choices on water. The government wish is to pay foreign workers $2 a day on flag-of-convenience vessels. This bill is part of that process.
This bill will lead to the denudation of the Australian seafaring industry. It will imperil our environment, it will no doubt lead to more Pasha Bulker incidents, it will no doubt lead to the Great Barrier Reef being endangered again and it will no doubt lead to all sorts of other negative consequences for maritime safety and the maritime environment. That's a great, great danger of this bill. We had a great tragedy where we had four deaths on flag-of-convenience vessels in the Port of Newcastle in the last few years. Unfortunately, this bill will weaken the current safeguards. The minister needs to go back to the drawing board. He needs to consult with the opposition. He needs to consult, heaven forbid, with the Australian shippers. He needs find a solution that can be bipartisan and that can represent a genuine investment in the Australian shipping industry, rather than repeating Work Choices on water.
We have a proud maritime history in this country. We've spoken about the link between the merchant fleet and the naval fleet. At our time of greatest need, when John Curtin showed such extraordinary leadership in this country, we didn't have a major naval presence at all. When we were under threat, he built—in such a short period of time, during wartime—three destroyers, 14 frigates, 60 corvettes and 30,000 small craft. The other thing that happened under Curtin's leadership was that we were preparing craft and assisting both military craft and merchant craft vessels for our allies in Europe and in the United States. Nothing can state those linkages more than that acute period in which our very existence as a free and democratic nation was under threat. At that time, the Australian maritime sector grew, which then expanded into the postwar period under Chifley. Unfortunately, there wasn't the same long-term foresight under Menzies that had occurred under Chifley and that occurred in the United States. A very similar thing happened in the United States. That's the context of the Jones Act. It's the link between the merchant fleet and the military needs of the United States.
I said to the minister to point to one thing in the legislation that was positive about the Australian industry, but he's been unable to do so. That's because there isn't anything positive there. This is the latest tranche of Work Choices on water. This is about ideology and a sort of bizarre logic of, 'If we have no Australian shipping industry, we therefore will have no MUA members,' as opposed to, 'What are the opportunities, including the opportunities to build and construct ships here and around the coast? What's the potential for expansion of the manufacturing sector here in Australia?'
This is what Maritime Industry Australia Ltd say about whole of the legislation:
… there is nothing in the Bill to assist Australian shipowners compete with foreign ships that have all but unfettered access to coastal trades. We held low expectations on that front and unfortunately haven’t been disappointed there.
The regulatory impact statement of this legislation is very explicit about the goal of increasing the presence of foreign vessels around the coastline. It says:
… the current framework makes it unattractive for foreign ships to enter the coastal trading sector.
… … …
These amendments … will remove the barriers that currently face many foreign flagged vessels under the current system.
I spoke before about rail, road and other modes, and the disadvantages that they're at. I want to quote them. These are Freight on Rail Group members: Aurizon; the Australian Rail Track Corporation, which is owned by the government; Ark Infrastructure; Genesee & Wyoming; Pacific National; Qube Holdings and SCT Logistics. This is what they said in their submission:
… the proposed amendments have the potential to introduce an unreasonable competitive advantage to foreign ships that may choose to compete in the domestic freight market. This unreasonable competitive advantage arises as the proposed amendments allow foreign shippers to compete in the domestic freight market against land freight transport operators that have to comply with all laws and regulations. In particular, exemptions would allow foreign ships to incur substantially lower wages, conditions and associated workplace relations costs when compared to rail, road and Australian-based coastal shipping companies.
There it is. (Time expired)
Although I might reconsider, given the support from those opposite! It's important to know what the consequences are of what is happening on this government's watch. Last year, the Australian flagged ship CSL Thevenard went to dry dock in Singapore and the crew were sacked—'You've lost your jobs.' You know what? The ship is now back on our coast as the Acacia, with the Bahamas flag. To be very clear, they've renamed the ship; it's the same ship. It's operating around the coast but, instead of an Australian flag on the back, it has the flag of the Bahamas. Instead of Australian seafarers, it has foreign seafarers. It's still operating around the coast. It had the Australian flag in 2016, just in case you think that was an accident.
The CSL Brisbane is now back on the coast. Guess what? It has changed its name from Brisbane. It's now called the Adelie. It relinquished its general licence, and guess what? It replaced the Australian flag with the flag of the Bahamas. The foreign flagged transitional general licence and Australian crewed British Fidelity was withdrawn from the coastal trade by BP. That was our last petroleum tanker. We talk about fuel security in this country. The last one is gone.
The Australian crewed CSL Melbourne, carrying Rio Tinto alumina, was replaced by a foreign flagged ship with foreign crew. The same volume of alumina required transporting. In 2016, the Australian flagged and Australian crewed MV Portland, which has been carrying alumina from Western Australia to Alcoa's Portland smelter for 27 years, was replaced by a foreign flagged ship with foreign crew. It is doing the same task. In 2015, the Australian flagged and crewed Alexander Spirit was withdrawn from service by Caltex. The Australian flagged and crewed Hugli Spirit was withdrawn from service by Caltex. The Australian flagged and crewed British Loyalty was withdrawn from service by BP. The Australian flagged and crewed Tandara Spirit was withdrawn from service by Viva. That happened in 2014. Also in 2014, the Australian flagged and crewed CSL Pacific was withdrawn and scrapped. In 2014, the Australian flagged and crewed Pacific Triangle was withdrawn by BHP. The crew were offloaded in Japan in December 2014 and replaced by a foreign crew. In what world is it okay for Australian seafarers to lose their jobs overseas and just be sent back while another flag is put on the back of a ship?
These are real consequences for the individuals involved, but there are real consequences for the Australian economy and for protection of the Australian environment and real national security considerations here. I say to the minister: I reiterate that Labor is prepared to engage constructively in dialogue for proper legislation that supports Australian based industry, but we can't support this package, which is why we are moving these amendments. I commend the amendments to the House.