House debates

Wednesday, 15 August 2018


Coastal Trading (Revitalising Australian Shipping) Amendment Bill 2017; Second Reading

10:12 am

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this, the honourable member of Grayndler has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The question now is that the amendment be agreed to. I call the member for Lyons in continuation.

Photo of Brian MitchellBrian Mitchell (Lyons, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Before I was interrupted yesterday, I was saying how it's a disgrace that every bit of this bill is an affront to Australian workers. The government is actively seeking to replace Australian ships with foreign ships. The government is actively seeking to replace Australian workers with foreign workers. The government is actively seeking to replace Australian wages in Australian waters with foreign wages in Australian waters. They're not even being covert about it. They're being open about it. It wouldn't be acceptable on land. Could you imagine walking into your local Woolworths or your local Coles and being confronted by a worker who has perhaps come in on a visa and they tell you, 'Oh, by the way, we're getting much lower foreign wages than the Australian who works next to us.' It wouldn't be allowed on land. It should not be allowed on water. Why does the government think it's okay to have one rule for jobs on Australian waters and another rule for jobs on Australian land? It's just incomprehensible to me. The coalition members, in speaking to this bill, have been ignoring the fact that the very real impact of this bill will be the destruction of the coastal shipping industry in Australia. We've already got zero Australian ships transporting fuel around our coast, which is a national security issue—and I'll talk to that in a moment.

What the coalition members are concentrating on is their desire to see superyachts come to Queensland, because apparently part of this bill takes GST off superyachts. We all want to see the economy go forward, but what concerns me is the cringing attitude of those opposite, which is that the only way to get the economy pumping, to get business moving, is to make things so easy and so inexpensive for not just the rich but the super rich—people who can afford at least $20,000 a week to charter a superyacht—in order to get them to come Far North Queensland and spend their money. That's their idea for economic recovery across the Far North Queensland area: encourage super-rich people to come and spend their money there rather than go to Fiji, Vanuatu or wherever. So it's a race to the bottom. You see those opposite trying to encourage the super-rich to get to Queensland. What's going to happen next? Fiji will make their fees cheaper so the boats will head back there again. Then what's going to happen? Queensland will have to go even lower and lower.

All this is to make it so inexpensive for really wealthy people—not just wealthy doctors and lawyers but superwealthy businesspeople—that they're just not paying their fair share. The shopkeepers, the tradespeople, the nurses, the teachers, the cleaners and the civil servants of Queensland still have to pay GST. They still have to pay their taxes and charges. They contribute to the economy as well through the things that they buy and the things that they do. They still have to pay their fair share. But those opposite think, 'Let's make sure the super-rich don't have to pay anything extra, and that will encourage them to come here.'

And that is in everything they do. It's not just in this bill. It's in the tax relief that they offer to the super-rich. We've seen those opposite introduce tax relief which will see those of us standing in this chamber, who are on very good money—let's not pretend otherwise; we are paid very good money to do this job—get a tax break in the coming years of $7,000 a year, when the average person in the street will get $500 a year. That's just not right. It's not right that we pay $7,000 a year less in tax when somebody on average wages pays $500 less. In everything those opposite do, it's about making life easier for those with money and making life harder for those without.

I want to come to the issue of fuel security, which is a very important issue relating to this bill. What this bill does is kill off Australian coastal shipping. You would think that as an island nation we should have a really strong maritime fleet. We should be employing and training the best sailors, engineers, naval officers, technicians, boilermakers and engine operators in the world. Instead, our coastal shipping fleet doesn't exist. We don't have Australian ships transporting fuel around our nation anymore.

This is not just a concern of those on this side of the House. I'll remind those opposite that one of their own senators, Jim Molan, a former chief of operations for coalition forces in Iraq who is now a Liberal senator, said that, if Australia's current stockpiles of petrol, diesel and aviation fuel ran dry, our military is effectively grounded. We don't have, in this country, the 90 days of fuel that is required under international conventions that we have signed. We don't have those 90 days of fuel. And you know what? We can't refine it here either. We don't have the capability anymore of looking after ourselves.

We don't have Australians on Australian shipping routes anymore. It's a national security issue. It's not just about jobs for Australians; it's a national security issue when you don't have crews who have gone through all the background checks. To get a job doing Australian shipping routes, you need to do all the background checks. The government needs to know who you are. What this government wants to do is allow foreign vessels, with foreign crews, to sail in Australian waters, and we don't know who the crews are. We don't know where they're from. We're talking about fuel loads or cargo loads that include some pretty dangerous stuff—LPG gas and other flammable material which can be put to all sorts of uses.

Australia needs Australian-crewed, Australian vessels on Australian waters. Let's be clear what this is about. Labor's proposal from 2012 allowed temporary licences for foreign vessels that were coming in and had to stop off at one port and then quickly hop to another port. We said that it doesn't make much sense to take everybody and everything off just to do one quick hop, so we allowed a temporary licence for a foreign vessel to do the occasional stop-off. It made sense. It was a practical concession. Those opposite, under the former Howard government and now in this legislation, have allowed a massive rort, where they granted those temporary licences carte blanche. Essentially, they locked out Australian vessels and Australian crews from Australian domestic routes all around the country.

During the Braddon by-election over the last few weeks, it was the third anniversary of the sacking of the crew of the Alexander Spirit, the last Australian vessel to carry fuel. These Australians were sacked because they knew that, if they sailed their vessel to Singapore, they were going to be replaced by a foreign crew who would then ply exactly the same route they used to. That's what happens under this government. It's an absolute disgrace. Jim Molan has expressed his concerns. The member for Canning, another former military officer, has expressed his concerns about fuel security in Australia and how we need better fuel security and better reserves. If this is to happen, we need it to be done by Australian crews on Australian vessels. Everything about this bill is an affront to Australia and to Australian workers. I can't believe that an Australian government would put its hand up and say they are actively seeking to get rid of Australians in Australian jobs on Australian vessels. It's a disgrace.

10:22 am

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I too rise to contribute to this debate on Labor's amendment to the Turnbull government's shameful Coastal Trading (Revitalising Australian Shipping) Amendment Bill 2017. If Mr Turnbull gets his way, this legislation will shut down an Australian industry, slash Australian jobs, threaten our maritime environment and decimate our maritime capacity. There couldn't be a surer marker of the very stark difference between Labor and Liberal when it comes to shipping than this bill. Labor believes that Australia needs a sustainable, competitive and growing domestic shipping industry for strategic, social, economic and environmental reasons, and the coalition doesn't. It's that simple.

In fact, the very purpose of the legislation before us today is to get rid of what is left of the Australian flagged shipping industry and sack Australian seafarers. In a rare act of honesty about the true policy intent, the government isn't even trying to hide it. It's written in black and white in the bill's regulation impact statement:

… 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.

At least the government is saying up-front that this is about making life easier for foreign flagged vessels. Those opposite want to get rid of Australian ships employing Australian workers and surrender these critical coastal trading routes to foreign operators paying Third World wages. We have seen this before in other sectors. Car manufacturing, scientific endeavours and renewables are all strategically important industries that have been sabotaged by this backward-focused, Luddite government, intent on destroying jobs and shutting down Australian enterprise.

It's hard to imagine a policy more at odds with our nation's interest than this one. As the world's largest island nation, we will always be dependent on shipping trade. In fact, 99 per cent of our international trade is served by sea. That's a massive $1.2 billion worth of imports and exports every single day. Ten per cent of the entire planet's sea trade goes through Australian ports. But this is an industry in crisis. Australia now has only 12 coastal trading vessels, down from hundreds just a few decades ago. Shamefully, 12 vessels have been reflagged to a foreign state as a result of the uncertainty and instability created by the Liberals since they have come to power.

We must have a strong local maritime skills base; but without a strong maritime industry, this simply can't happen. Every time we lose an Australian vessel, we also lose Australian jobs and risk our highly trained seafarers having to leave the industry entirely. While this is a travesty for individual workers, their families and their communities, the shrinking of our national maritime capability also brings very real national safety and security implications for the entire nation. For centuries, the merchant fleet has stepped in during times of war and national crisis to support our Navy. But if we have no local ships or local seafarers, what happens then? Consider the dire reality that Australia has only three weeks worth of fuel on hand. We are entirely at the mercy of sea trade to maintain those supplies. In the case of a national or global emergency, how can we be sure that foreign flagged vessels won't have other priorities ahead of ensuring the ongoing viability of Australian fuel supplies?

We also need to consider the environmental implications of losing our highly skilled maritime workforce. When Australian coastal trading routes are surrendered to foreign crews, with enormously variable range of skills and commitment to environmental protection, there is a much greater risk of disaster occurring. It's no coincidence that every one of the major maritime incidents in Australian waters in recent decades has involved a foreign flagged ship with foreign crews. Whichever way you look at it, this bill is a shameful betrayal of our proud maritime legacy and our future strategic interests. That's not to mention the budgetary implications of privileging foreign flagged ships, which have zero obligation to pay their fair share of taxes in our country.

There are few places in this country where the impacts of this sort of legislation will be more keenly felt than in my electorate of Newcastle. The Port of Newcastle has a history stretching back to the early 19th century. It's a critical link in our national supply chain, which manages the movement of more than 4,600 ships every year. Regrettably, the bill before us today isn't the only damage that the Liberals are doing to our port and our community. In fact, there is currently an ACCC investigation into the scandalous deal done by the New South Wales Liberal government when it privatised the New South Wales ports of Botany and Kembla. The agreement imposed a cap on the number of containers that could leave the Port of Newcastle before onerous penalties would apply. It was a blatantly anticompetitive stitch up designed to hike the port's sale price for the New South Wales state Liberal government at the expense of any future prosperity for Newcastle and the Hunter region. They've got their foot on our neck and are completely choking our port's capacity to grow and increase productivity and enterprise. Local jobs and local maritime opportunities are under attack again. This time, however, it's from the federal Liberal government.

Labor won't be a party to this travesty. We will continue to support Australian industry and Australian workers. We refuse to sign the death warrant of our nationally vital maritime industry. Labor has been long concerned about the Liberals' treatment of Australian shipping, which has ranged from callous neglect to the blatant aggression that we've seen today. When Labor came to office back in 2007, we faced a shipping industry in dire straits, with the number of Australian flagged vessels falling from 55 in 1996 to 21 ships in 2007 under the Howard government. The former Labor government undertook a comprehensive four-year review and policy development process to deliver the Coastal Trading (Revitalising Australian Shipping) Bill 2012. Through this bill, we built a standalone legislative framework that recognised the special role of vessels trading around our country's coastline. For the first time, there was certainty and a stable regulatory environment to increase competitiveness and drive investment through a licensing system which created different conditions for Australian flagged and foreign flagged vessels.

The fundamental principle underlying this legislation was that Australian shipping needs and deserves a level playing field. Foreign vessels, while they were catered for, were only allowed under the condition that no Australian ships were available and that they were to be paid proper Australian wages. We also made sure oil companies pay for any and all damage their ships may cause, and we developed Australia's first national ports strategy. We replaced a mess of confusing, often conflicting, state and territory based laws and regulations with one national regulator administering and overseeing a set of modern, nationwide laws.

Labor were on the right path. We created a strong regime and incentives for companies to flag their ships in Australia and employ Australian workers. But it needed time to work. Regretfully, time was something we didn't have, and the Liberals came to power not long after the bill was passed. I seek leave to continue my comments at a later time.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.