Monday, 22 October 2018
Shipping Registration Amendment Bill 2018; Second Reading
I rise today to speak on the Shipping Registration Amendment Bill 2018. This bill will make minor amendments to the shipping registration process in order to modernise the system. The amendments remove the shipping registration certificate from existing regulations and allow them to be directly approved by the national regulator, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. By taking the certificate forms out of the regulations, they can be updated and changed as needed, without going through the lengthy process of amending the regulations themselves.
The bill includes a suite of other minor associated reforms, including requiring the Australian Maritime Safety Authority to publish forms on its website, clarifying responsible authorities for a variety of existing provisions, creating the ability for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority to exempt some ships from ship marking requirements—for example, heritage ships—and allowing the authority to specify the forms that must be used in applications for shipping registration.
Labor support these minor reforms, but we are somewhat disappointed that, whilst the government are bringing forward legislation on these very minor reforms, what they're not doing is addressing the need for an Australian shipping industry to actually get the support of the government—indeed, at each and every step they are busy undermining it. We know that Australia does need a domestic shipping sector. The combined value of our sea-going exports is over $400 billion every year. That represents about one-quarter of our GDP. Our shipping task is in fact the fifth largest in the world. This industry is simply critical to the health of our nation. But this government is overseeing an industry in decline as Australia's merchant fleet and its proud workforce are disappearing.
I've spoken many times in this chamber on the importance of Australian shipping, but there are some points that are worthy of repeating because it seems that the government just doesn't get it. The existence of a vibrant Australian shipping industry serves Australia's economic, environmental and national security interests. A strong shipping industry supports Australian jobs. The shipping sector trains highly skilled and highly valued workers. These are skills which are critical for Australia to possess as an island continent. They represent the continuation of a proud industry that is linked so much with Australia's history. A strong shipping industry supports our environment. Australian seafarers know our coast and care for our maritime treasures—maritime treasures like the Great Barrier Reef. In fact, all of the major maritime accidents to have occurred in our waters in recent decades have involved foreign flagged vessels crewed by foreign seafarers. A strong Australian shipping industry is also vital for our national security. We know that there's an absolute link between the merchant fleet and our navy. The existence of a strong maritime workforce ensures there's a pool of highly skilled labour that can be mobilised in a time of conflict or national emergency.
But these issues of the national interest are of no interest to this government. Labor has always prioritised more Australian seafarers crewing more Australian flagged ships and carrying more Australian goods around our coastline. The former federal Labor government spoke to industry, unions and the community. We listened to what they needed to prosper and we reformed shipping in the legislation in 2012. But this government seems determined to either ignore that legislation or undermine it. We made it easier for Australian shipping companies to do business. We created a zero tax rate for Australian shipping companies and made a range of regulatory changes which made it easier to employ Australian seafarers. We created the International Shipping Register to allow Australian flagged vessels to employ mixed Australian and foreign crews on internationally agreed rates and conditions. We created the first National Ports Strategy. We removed complex and conflicting state and territory laws with one set of modern national laws and one regulator, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.
The opposition at the time said they would undermine it were they come to office, and that is certainly what they have tried to do. In 2015 they introduced their infamous 'WorkChoices on water' legislation—legislation designed to have the Australian flag on the back of Australian ships replaced by foreign flags and Australian workers replaced by foreign workers being paid foreign wages and conditions. This attack is something that wouldn't be seen in other sectors. If you want to transport goods from Brisbane to Melbourne down the coast on the blue highway you should, of course, have to pay the same courtesies and conditions that apply if you're transporting those goods down the Newell and Hume highways.
The fact is, though, that under this government they want to see the blue highway being used by foreign ships with foreign workers being paid foreign wages and working under foreign conditions. That wouldn't occur if you were talking about truck drivers on the highway. You have to have an Australian registered truck and you have to have an Australian employed under appropriate wages and conditions. That should be what happens if you are using the blue highway as well. But the government are simply so determined to undermine the rights of people who happen to be members of trade unions and who have a history of acting collectively—a proud history—in the Maritime Union of Australia and other unions, including the Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers. Those unions do have proud histories of acting collectively. Under this government, the way to solve that is to simply remove those people from the workforce and have them replaced. That doesn't make sense at all, so, whilst the government are focused in this legislation on some very minor amendments, I say to them that we've now had myriad ministers: Minister Truss came and went, and then Minister Chester came and went, and then we had Minister Joyce, who came and went, and now we've got the new minister, Minister McCormack, and he's struggling to hold onto his job because he's under threat from Minister Joyce, who thinks it would be appropriate for him to come back. I say to Minister McCormack that this is an opportunity for him to differentiate himself from his predecessors and actually implement a policy that would be supported by Australian industry, who were here last week having their national conference.
We are determined to work with industry, to work with unions, to work the community sector and to work with all those who use Australian shipping and to reach out across the chamber and work with those opposite as well in the national interest. But our national interest demands that we have an Australian shipping industry, and on this side of the House we will certainly fight for it. I commend the bill to the House.
I rise today to speak on the Shipping Registration Amendment Bill 2018. The Shipping Registration Amendment Bill 2018 introduces sensible reforms. These changes will make the shipping registration system more flexible and more responsible to a crucial industry in Australia's economy. Despite the rife and rocky seas this government is facing, Labor will be supporting these reforms. The bill places decision-making about the form of shipping registration certificates and application processes in the hands of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. This is the right decision. Furthermore, the bill makes other important changes to the shipping registration system. These changes clarify existing provisions and make technical tweaks to improve the registration process. These changes are the right moves. They remove red tape and simplify the processes for an important Australian industry. We want the shipping industry to have the best possible conditions to flourish as a sector.
As an island continent girt by sea, Australia sits in a relatively removed part of the world. We rely on the shipping industry for almost all our imports and exports. Importantly, almost one-tenth of the global sea trade flows through our ports. We know how important shipping is to the Australian economy, but there is a problem: Australia's own merchant fleet is disappearing, along with the skilled workforce it trains and employs. Despite the continued importance of shipping, we're not attracting and training enough employees to the industry. We must keep in mind that, for all Australia's economic advances, industries like shipping have continued to have relevance even today. Both jobs within the industry and jobs that follow from this industry are important today and for Australia's future prosperity. We should relish our task to put the wind back in the sails of the proud industry, not just to anchor our economic prosperity but also to protect Australia's environment and security interest.
Commercial shipping and defence shipping do not exist in isolation. There are clear synergies between Australia's naval and merchant shipping fleets. Domestic maritime workforces know shipping. They know the ins and outs of how to maintain vessels, and this is important not just in times of peace and prosperity but in times of war and national emergency as well. Importantly, Australian seafarers who are employed in this industry undergo stringent background checks.
By safeguarding our support for the Australian shipping industry, we ensure that those who have the most intimate knowledge of our coastlines are the ones who are guiding ships along them. We're ensuring that those who have vested interests in protecting Australia's natural beauty are entrusted with the navigation of the ships. History supports this stance. All of the major maritime accidents that have occurred in recent decades have, unfortunately, involved foreign vessels with foreign crews.
Who could forget the images of the Pasha Bulker, run aground on a beach near Newcastle? The ship had an entirely foreign crew and did not heed the storm warnings requesting ships to move further out to sea. The ship was beached, and the resulting clean-up operation cost the Australian public $1.8 million.
Another foreign ship with a foreign crew, the Shen Neng 1, also caused unprecedented environmental damage to one of Australia's most important natural attributes. When the Shen Neng 1 collided with the Great Barrier Reef, it was over 10 kilometres outside the shipping lane. The reef still bears a three-kilometre scar where the ship irreparably damaged precious coral and destroyed marine life.
When it comes to ensuring that our natural beauty is protected for generations to come, we must put environmental protection first. Foreign ships with foreign crews do not have the interests of Australia's precious natural environment at heart when they sail through our waters.
Unlike this government, Labor understands the importance of the shipping industry. Australian seafarers should be provided with secure work. It is important. The former federal Labor government had a clear goal: more Australian seafarers crewing more Australian-flagged ships carrying more Australian goods around our coastlines. When we were in government, we created the international shipping register. This allowed operators of Australian-flagged vessels to employ mixed Australian and foreign crews on international rates and conditions.
We also enacted the first major rewrite of Australian maritime laws in over a century. These updates ensured that oil companies must take financial responsibility for all damage that is caused by their ships. We developed Australia's first National Ports Strategy. Furthermore, we replaced a myriad of confusing and conflicting state and territory laws with just one regulator administering one set of modern national laws. If upheld, these reforms would have ensured that our maritime industry continued to remain in the best shape.
The government were not satisfied with white-anting these reforms when they were in opposition. Once elected, they raced to scrap the reforms altogether and sink what remained of the industry. All of us want to reduce the cost of doing business in Australia, but we need to do better. Reducing transaction costs faced by strategically critical industries is good but cannot come at any cost. The government's proposed changes in 2015 touted removing red tape to strengthen the shipping industry. I'm sorry, but since when does removing red tape equal removing Australian jobs and drowning the entire domestic industry? Along with that legislation was a regulatory impact statement. The statement laid bare the true intentions of the government. The RIS confirmed that all of their savings from the legislation were going to come from shipping operators sacking their Australian crews and replacing them with foreign ones.
We need to make sure that this doesn't happen. It is very important that Australian jobs stay here. Shipping is an incredibly important industry. Whilst my electorate of Werriwa may be landlocked, our industries depend on shipping to survive. For this reason, we support the reforms in the Shipping Registration Amendment Bill 2018, but we will be keeping an eye on the government's treatment of this critical industry.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Shipping Registration Amendment Bill 2018. It's a topic that I have spoken on a number of times in in place. As an island nation, our coastal shipping fleet is a vital part of our nation's infrastructure. For an island state like Tasmania, my home state, it is even more critical. Over 99 per cent of Tasmania's freight volumes are moved by sea. The timely and efficiently movement of passengers and goods between Tasmania and the mainland not only means hundreds of local jobs but also supports key Tasmanian industries in the tourism, agriculture, forestry, aquaculture, mining and manufacturing sectors.
Over 12.5 million tonnes of freight is moved through Tasmania's publicly owned ports, and forecasts indicate these volumes will increase. An additional $2.4 million of freight has moved through Port Latta, which is in my electorate. Eighty per cent of Tasmania's sea freight is for interstate trade. With only 17 per cent international exports, a small amount is direct overseas freight. The ports of Burnie and Devonport are Tasmania's two major freight ports and are based in my electorate. These ports are well serviced by three Australian owned and crewed shipping companies: Toll Shipping, which operates our of Burnie; SeaRoad and TT-Line, which both operate out of my hometown of Devonport.
All three companies are investing in the Bass Strait route. Toll Shipping has announced that its two new Bass Strait freighters are expected to start operating on 1 March next year. The vessels will operate between Burnie and Melbourne and are purpose-built at a cost of $170 million. The project also includes $141 million to upgrade terminals, wharfs and berthing facilities at both ports. SeaRoad launched its $110 million Searoad Mersey II vessel in 2016. That lifted the operation's capacity by 62 per cent. TT-Line are also in the process of replacing its two Spirit of Tasmania ships with larger vessels to cater for increased passengers, vehicles and freight. At the moment, all three companies have the confidence to invest.
Tasmania's maritime industry is part of our way of life. It is part of our who we are and of our heritage. Like hundreds, if not thousands, of Tasmanians, my family has a connection with the sea. My father was a seafarer on the Princess of Tasmania, the Empress of Australia and the Abel Tasman, whichsailed the Bass Strait between Sydney and Devonport and then Melbourne and Devonport.
While this side of the House welcomes this legislation and will be supporting it, one has to question how long there will be a viable Australian shipping industry that will actually need ships to be registered. The actions of the coalition indicate that what they want to do is destroy Australia's shipping industry. It seems that their ideological bent against the Maritime Union of Australia has warped their logic. In their efforts to wipe out the MUA, it appears that they are prepared to wipe out Australia's shipping industry as collateral damage.
When Labor was last in office, we took a number of steps to rebuild the Australia's shipping industry. We had a simple goal: more Australian seafarers, crewing more Australian flagged ships, carrying more Australian goods around the Australian coastline. Labor made a number of reforms that the shadow minister at the time and the member for Grayndler has articulated to the House. This included a zero-tax rate for Australian shippers and other regulatory changes to make things easier, including the establishment of a single national regulator. Labor reforms were about balancing the playing field. They were developed in consultation with the industry. We also established an international shipping register, allowing operators of Australian flagged vessels to employ mixed Australian and foreign crews on internationally agreed rates and conditions.
Importantly, Labor's changes did not preclude the use of foreign vessels. They simply required firms needing to move freight between Australian ports to first seek out an Australian operator. When none were available, foreign vessels could be used so long as they paid Australian-level wages on domestic sectors. That all makes perfect sense and seems very fair. We also enacted the major first rewrite of the nation's maritime laws in almost a century, making sure that oil companies pay for any and all damages that their ships may cause. We also developed Australia's first National Ports Strategy. However, for Labor's suite of reforms to work, they needed time.
In 2013, upon the coalition's election, those sitting opposite set about destroying the industry, with their first piece of legislation designed to open up our waters to foreign flagged ships with foreign crews. Notwithstanding the risks to national security, fuel security or the environment, the coalition was determined to wipe out the Australian shipping industry. They said that was not the case, but you only had to look at the regulatory impact statement that accompanied that legislation. That document confirmed that nearly all the savings expected to be produced by that legislation—88 per cent—was to come from shipping operators sacking their Australian crews and replacing them with cheaper foreign crews.
Tasmanian owned shipper SeaRoad said at the time it could possibly be forced to replace local crews with foreign workers. There are people in my electorate working for SeaRoad—literally hundreds of them. SeaRoad was also concerned that this bill could ultimately lead to reduced services and increased prices. The government's own modelling on that bill anticipated that four of the six ships servicing Bass Strait would be foreign flagged if that bill were passed. That would have been a disaster for Tasmania. Fortunately, though, the Senate rightly blocked that legislation.
We had hoped, by now, the government would have come to their senses. But, no, they are back at it again. A bill has shamefully passed this chamber putting Australian crewed vessels at a competitive disadvantage. If it passes the Senate, it will allow temporary licences for foreign flagged vessels to significantly vary their freight volumes and days they are carrying domestic freight, while at the same time making it almost impossible for an Australian general licensed ship to contest those movements. This means Australian shippers simply won't know what is being carried until after the event. In effect, this means any half-smart foreign operator and compliant local freight company can game the system to use foreign flagged ships. The end result would be that these proposed changes would make it easier for foreign ships with exploited crews to operate on the Australian coast.
I've been accused when standing in this place and talking about Australia's maritime industry of only supporting the Maritime Union of Australia. But there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs not just in Tasmania but across this country that would be lost because of this government's ideological attacks on our maritime industry. I will stand here every day to support those 400-plus workers associated with the maritime industry in my electorate. I will be here protecting their jobs.
Bizarrely, this government did not even consult with Australia's peak shipping industry body, the Maritime Industry Australia Ltd, or MIAL, on this bill. MIAL membership includes Toll, SeaRoad, ANL, North West Shelf Shipping Service Company and BP Shipping, just to name a few. No Australian maritime business, except Carnival Australia, which is a cruise operator, were invited to participate in the consultation sessions on the changes to the coastal trading act. How can you possibly consult on shipping changes without actually speaking to the shipping companies? If the minister had consulted with MIAL he would have heard this, which is from MIAL's media release in September last year:
… 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.
This is a damning indictment from Australia's peak shipping industry body on this bill.
I have made a number of calls on this government in this place to give a 100 per cent guarantee that under its proposed legislative changes Tasmania's domestic sea freight task will continued to be serviced by Australian flagged and crewed ships across the Bass Strait. It is very concerning that, to date, not a single member of the coalition is prepared to give that guarantee, not even the Tasmanian Liberal senators. That's why there is not a Liberal member of the House of Representatives sitting opposite. But I once again make that call. If the government can give a guarantee Tasmania's fair share of the GST will remain, it should be able to give a guarantee that a shipping lifeline is secured.
Each sitting week I look with interest at the legislative agenda for the Senate, and each week the coastal trading amendment bill does not appear. I guess that tells us the government do not have the numbers to get the legislation through. And why would they when the legislation contains provisions that would make it easier for Australian flagged ships to replace Australian crews and those very workers who are from my electorate? I will also be watching in the Senate how Tasmanian Nationals senator Senator Martin votes. Senator Martin is from my home town and was previously the Mayor of the City of Devonport, a city that has a very long seafaring tradition, with many workers in the city of Devonport attached to the maritime sector. Senator Martin is on the public record opposing changes to our coastal shipping laws. I would like to remind the senator and his new National Party colleagues what he has previously said on this issue as reported in The Advocate newspaper when Senator Martin stood at the last general election when he was still at that time formally the Mayor of the City of Devonport. This is from the newspaper article:
Alderman Martin said an Australian presence in coastal shipping was needed.
He is quoted directly in the article:
"I don't believe in getting in cheap labour and losing Australian jobs over that," he said.
Let's hope Senator Martin keeps his word to his community, which didn't elect him—he was put in there through the demise of Senator Lambie. But, if he wishes to be re-elected, he should stand up for those maritime jobs that are in the hundreds, if not thousands, in Tasmania.
Senator Martin should also take note of correspondence that I received from local people in our community on this issue when debating coastal shipping legislation in August of this year. One such piece was from Callum, who is a local master mariner, and one that Senator Martin would like to continue to so-called represent. Callum says:
I just watched the video of you—
speaking against the Coasting Trading Amendments Bill in the House of Representatives and wanted to thank you for your passion and efforts in looking to secure the Bass Strait for future generations.
I am a third generation Master Mariner.
My late grandfather … came to Australia from Scotland as an Extra Master Mariner and became the first Principal of the Australian Maritime College.
He was a key figure in establishing an amazing training facility—
which is world renowned—
and the subsequent high standard of Australian Seafarers, particularly Master Mariners and Deck Officers.
My point is we are on the brink of losing all of his hard work and the hard work of many others. It would be absolutely devastating to lose the Bass Strait.
The impact it would have on my family and many others in Tasmania, Victoria and Nationally would be monumental.
Recently I received another piece of correspondence, from Monica, who wrote to me in response to an editorial in the local paper that was written to support maritime jobs:
… … …
Finally, recognition of the impact on Tassie of the selling off of Australian coastal shipping and the jobs that go with it!
I am a Cadet Engineer … I'm also studying at the Australian Maritime College in Launceston.
When I finish my course I would like to have an ongoing job in the shipping industry and in Tasmania.
It seems there would be little chance of that if the government's proposal to amend the existing Coastal Trading legislation goes ahead!
I have read the draft ALP policy platform proposing "a strong Australian flagged shipping industry with a secure Australian workforce".
Which is fantastic!
… … …
In the next election, will you as the Labor candidate for Braddon be campaigning for locally-crewed and owned shipping for Burnie & Devonport?
I can assure both Monica and Callum that Labor will continue to campaign for locally crewed and locally owned shipping operations out of Burnie and Devonport. Their correspondence symbolises what I spoke about earlier many times in this place—the connection between the people of Tasmania and the sea. It's a connection that goes beyond transporting passengers and freight. I shudder to think what would happen if Tasmania were left to the mercy of foreign-flagged ships and crew, particularly in difficult economic times when volumes may not be as profitable as they are now. Do they just all leave and leave Australians' freight task to someone else to pick up? Maybe the state or federal government need to then go into their pockets.
As I said at the beginning of my contribution, Labor will be supporting this bill. But the bottom line is that there is a very real difference between the two sides of politics when it comes to shipping. Labor strongly believes Australia needs a viable, competitive and growing domestic maritime industry. The coalition doesn't.
Famously, when the current Prime Minister assumed his office, he awarded every member of his cabinet a lapel pin, which was the Australian flag. Now, tellingly, it wasn't this flag. It wasn't this flag that he put on the lapel of every one of his cabinet members. And there's a very good reason for that. Most of his time over the last five years he's been conspiring with shipowners to have this flag—
removed from the back of Australian vessels so that it can be replaced with the flag of a foreign nation. Over the last 20 years, international sea freight to and from Australia has nearly doubled. But, at the same time, the number of Australian-flagged ships has been going down and down and down. And at the same time the number of Australian seafarers working on ships up and down the Australian coastline has been going down and down and down.
Australia is an island continent, located in a relatively remote part of the globe. Almost all of our imports and exports are transported in the hull of a ship. A 10th of global trade flows through our ports. Statistics on vessels operating on the Australian coast between 2014 and 2015 reveal the decline in Australian-flagged vessels. In the major trading fleet, there were four vessels registered to Australia for major international trading—a decrease from nine between 2005 and 2016. For coastal trading, there were 20 registered ships—down from 32, 10 years prior. In 2016 there were 27,516 ship arrivals in Australian ports by 5,719 foreign-flagged vessels. Port Hedland was the busiest Australian port for foreign vessels.
However, despite our obvious reliance on the maritime industry, Australia's own merchant fleet as well as the skilled workforce it trains and employs are fast disappearing. The disappearance of our merchant fleet and skilled workforce has correlated with an increasing use of flag-of-convenience vessels used to transport cargo around the Australian coastline. Currently, the International Transport Workers' Federation has declared 35 countries to be flag-of-convenience countries. The crew on flag of convenience vessels can earn as little as $1.20 an hour. They have less training and are often unaware of our country's fragile coastal environment, directly making Australian seafarers unemployed and, in effect, effectively taking their jobs under this industry of rorting and vandalising Australian workers' rights.
A recent example I would like to remind the parliament of is the CSL Thevenard, which had been operating around the Australian coast for nearly a decade carrying cement, fly ash, gypsum, mineral sands and other goods. This work had been conducted safely by qualified Australian seafarers. Last year, the ship was sailed to China, purportedly for dry-docking, where its Australian crew were sacked. There were 40 Australians who worked that ship. They were from Tasmania and South Australia, and one of the crew members was from my electorate, coming from Moss Vale. With extraordinary indifference to the fate of this crew and hundreds of other workers like them, the coalition government issued the company that owns this ship a temporary licence, allowing it to continue to operate in Australia with a new crew of overseas workers. I do not blame the overseas workers. Many of them are coming from some of the lowest-waged countries on earth. They are only struggling to do what they can to put food on the table of their families back home. I do however blame the Australian government, which has facilitated this direct transfer of Australian jobs from the former Australian crew to these overseas workers.
Collectively, in 2016, Panama, Liberia, and the Marshall Islands accounted for the registration of more than 60 per cent of shipping vessels—a marked increase from only four per cent of ship registrations in the 1950s. Other countries not traditionally associated with the shipping industry are increasing their presence on international waters via ship registration. This includes landlocked countries like Mongolia, not known as a centre of maritime navigation. We have only to look at the impact flag-of-convenience shipping has had on the United States and Britain—once proud shipping nations. Research has shown that over 70 per cent of privately-owned American ships are registered outside that country. In Britain, it has been reported that the majority of ships are now registered under flags of convenience, with only a third of British-owned vessels registered under a British flag.
Our task must be to prevent the demise of our proud shipping industry. It's about more than jobs and skills, as important as those are. There are also sound national security and environmental reasons for us to do so.
Regarding national security, there are clear synergies between our naval and merchant fleets. It is not uncommon for people to have moved between one service and the other in the course of their working careers. Defence experts have long recognised the importance of maintaining a domestic maritime workforce. It ensures that Australia has a pool of highly skilled labour that can quickly be mobilised during times of war or other national emergencies. Furthermore, Australian seafarers undergo stringent background checks to ensure that they pose no threats to our national security. By contrast, overseas seafarers, whose backgrounds are a mystery to us, do not undergo such close scrutiny.
Can I talk about the environment. Australian seafarers are familiar with our coastlines and have a vested interest in the protection of our world-renowned environmental assets, such as the Great Barrier Reef. They have a vested interest in it because, like all Australians, they take great pride in the fact that they belong to a country with such a magnificent maritime coastline. It is a fact that all of the maritime accidents that have occurred on our waters in recent decades have involved foreign-flagged vessels crewed by overseas seafarers.
The Labor Party understands the importance of the shipping sector and the need to provide Australian seafarers with secure work. The former federal Labor government had a goal. It was quite simple: more Australian seafarers crewing more Australian-flagged ships carrying more Australian goods around our coastline. In government, Labor created the international shipping register, allowing operators of Australian-flagged vessels to employ mixed Australian and overseas crews, on internationally agreed rates and conditions. There are currently around 12,000 vessels recorded on this register. Labor also enacted the first major rewrite of the nation's maritime laws in almost a century, made sure that all companies pay for any and all of the damages that their ships may cause, and developed Australia's first national ports strategy—all visionary; all long overdue.
The coalition government, quite simply, does not have the best interests of our maritime industry at heart. Once the coalition government were elected, they quickly moved to scrap Labor's reforms altogether and to dismantle what had remained of the industry. All of us want to reduce the cost of doing business in Australia—but not at any cost. It is simply not possible for an Australian shipping operator to compete when the rates of labour being offered by foreign-flagged vessels are as low as $1 or $1.20 an hour. If that is the race to the bottom that the government is encouraging and urging upon Australian shipowners, then it is a race to the bottom that we must resist with great vigour.
The legislation and policy that have put ideology ahead of our national interest should be resisted. So we will support this legislation, but a government that is committed to securing the future of an Australian maritime commercial shipping fleet and the workers upon that fleet should be introducing—or, should I say, reintroducing—legislation which mimics the former Labor government's legislation, which was designed to secure the future of our maritime industry.
Globalisation has helped to fuel a race to the bottom, and we believe that we should not be in contention for this race. There are much better ways for us to compete than on the basis of offering shipping with the lowest rates of pay in the world. We should prevent the demise of our proud shipping industry, protect our fragile coastal environment and ensure our national security. I do support the bill before the House, but I also support calls from the industry that the government reintroduce the bills that they had to amend and remove the Labor reforms so we can get back on the path of ensuring that we secure the future of our proud maritime industry.
I rise to make a few brief remarks about the Shipping Registration Amendment Bill 2018. Further contributions from the Greens will come when this matter goes to the Senate and our spokesperson, Senator Janet Rice, has the opportunity to speak on it more fully. What's become clear is that, every time the government introduce a shipping bill to this place, it's either because there are technical or minor amendments, as is substantially the case with this bill, or because they're seeking to further deregulate the industry, as they have moved to do in the past.
Most people in this country would scratch their head and wonder why it is that Australia, as an island nation with a once proud shipping fleet, has seen the number of Australian-flagged vessels drop and drop and drop at the same time as trade has gone up and up and up, especially as other countries have had the foresight to realise that, like the UK, for example, when you have a country with lots of coastline and you have a substantial reliance on shipping, it is actually an opportunity. What the government could be saying is that we've got an opportunity to secure and grow an Australian shipping industry, to grow the number of registered Australian vessels, to bring in some revenue for the government and to skill up our workforce. Other countries have done that successfully, but we're going in the opposite direction. Why are we going in the opposite direction? We're going in the opposite direction because, for too many years, accelerated by this government—but it kept on going under Labor, it must be said—we have seen a rise in the government statement that, even though we are heavily reliant on getting goods from place to place within Australia, as well as from Australia to overseas or from overseas to Australia, on our coastal shipping routes, we don't care what flag is flown on the back of those ships. As a result we have seen the decimation of our local shipping industry.
If the government were sensible, they would understand that, in exactly the same way as we can look at and regulate and potentially get some benefit, including taxation benefit, from goods that we ship by other means around Australia, we could be doing that for all the goods that are shipped from port to port around our coastline. By regulating that, by limiting the instances in which overseas-flagged vessels are able to come here and do the work of transporting from port to port around Australia, and by getting some taxation revenue from it, it could be a win for everyone. The government could increase the revenue—and that's the lesson the UK government have learnt—and we could grow jobs domestically. But, instead, we are seeing a hollowing out of our workforce and we are seeing so much of the work done on our ships that are transporting goods—and I repeat this: in many instances, just from one port to another within Australia—by people who are paid substantially less than if there was a local enterprise agreement.
How does this sometimes happen? It sometimes happens like this. You have an overseas-flagged vessel that's registered somewhere else—it doesn't matter where it's registered—and the people who are working on that vessel, before they leave their home country to come here, are asked, 'Do you approve enterprise agreement X, which will apply to your working conditions?' and they approve it, and they approve it in instances where sometimes the local union or the local workforce doesn't even know that the agreement is being signed. It is just approved.
In many instances those agreements that are signed are well above the conditions that the workers would experience in their home country. Many of them are living in near-poverty in less developed countries than Australia, so who can blame them? It is a completely legitimate position for them to take. I certainly don't blame the people who are signing up to the deals. They see an opportunity to come and do some work, including around Australia, and get paid substantially better than they would otherwise get. But these deals are at substantially lower rates than if they had been negotiated here in Australia. That leads to exploitation of the overseas workers. When they realise that they are getting dudded the employer says, 'You can arc up if you like, but we'll just send you back home.' So they are in a very tenuous position. But it also undercuts local wages and stops the development of skills here.
We're seeing with the shipping industry a repeat of what we saw with the mining boom. With the mining boom, 83 per cent of profits went overseas. After the boom was over we did not end up with a hugely skilled workforce here in Australia. The profits went overseas and the skills went back overseas as well. We lost a massive opportunity to skill up the country and use the money and save it for a rainy day. Instead we said, 'We don't care how much money we send overseas.'
The same thing is happening with shipping. We are missing out on a massive opportunity. We should be having a discussion. Instead of this bill, this minor technical bill that's before the House—or instead of previous bills the government has introduced that have just been about seeking to deregulate everything—we should be saying, 'Let's design a shipping policy that works for us.' We shouldn't be saying, 'Let's write a shipping policy that suits big multinationals who want to come to Australia and travel around Australia and then leave Australia.' And if that requires a shipping policy that says that some of these big multinationals might have to pay a bit more for the privilege of coming here or moving things from port to port, but in return we're going to end up with fewer people unemployed and more skills here, then that's a discussion that we should be having. But the government seems incapable of having that discussion. In doing so, we're going to miss out, in a number of ways, on potential boom industries of the future.
One of those industries that is looming, and that we have got to get behind, is liquid hydrogen. The IPCC has told us, crystal clear, that we have to get off coal. They told us a couple of weeks ago that, to have a decent chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees, two-thirds of the world's coal-fired power stations need to shut down by 2030. That is 11 or 12 years away. That is how quickly we need to transition if we're to avoid dangerous global warming. One fuel that could replace coal and gas—and the fracking that is required to extract huge amounts of gas in Australia—is renewably produced liquid hydrogen. Everyone is engaged in a race to see who can be the first to produce it cheaply and renewably, and then turn that into an industry. We have the opportunity here to be putting not LNG into the freighters that are shipping it off overseas but perhaps some form of solar fuels. Whether that's in the form of ammonia or whatever—to transport it—that's what everyone's racing to find out now. We could be exporting clean, renewable energy in the form of solar fuels to the rest of the world. And if we got our shipping policy right we could be making some money out of it and training locals up to work in that industry. But it's never going to happen if we just say, 'The only answer is to let big corporations write our shipping rules'—and that is what is happening with this government at the moment.
One of the other reasons that we have to have a better discussion about how we regulate our shipping industry than what is being suggested in this bill is that, when we have tighter regulation, we are able to better protect our environment. As the previous speaker, the member for Whitlam, said, it's the case that the big incidents in Australian waters have come from overseas-registered ships. There are many places along our coastline where we would benefit from having local captains or pilots with local knowledge who are able to navigate what can at times be very dangerous waters, and it would be better for our environment, as well as for our people, if we were to get back to having a properly supported Australian shipping industry. But, again, that's not high on the order of priorities for this government.
So, whilst this bill in and of itself isn't seeking to bring about great reform, it's notable that it's a missed opportunity and that it comes on the coat-tails of other efforts by the government to wind back support for a proper shipping industry in Australia. As mentioned, when this bill gets to the Senate, our transport spokesperson there will make it clear that the Greens stand for a proper shipping policy in this country to revitalise our shipping industry because that is good for people and that is good for the planet.
This legislation, the Shipping Registration Amendment Bill 2018, makes the shipping registration system of Australia more flexible, and transfers the registration process to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. It effectively simplifies the registration process, particularly when changes need to be made to the registration process itself, and that is something that Labor welcomes and supports.
As the minister pointed out in his second reading speech, approximately 12,000 vessels are currently registered on the Australian general shipping register. Most of those vessels, I suspect, are likely to be fishing or tourism vessels, because the reality is that Australia has very few cargo ships domestically registered and flagged. For an island country with—as the member for Grayndler quite rightly pointed out—around $400 billion annually exported through shipping, which represents about 90 per cent of our exports, it should be a national concern that so few of those ships are registered in Australia.
It is not just Australia that has lost its shipping fleet over recent decades. In fact, over the past four decades, in deadweight tonnes, the ratio of merchant ships flagged in developed economies has fallen from around 55 per cent in 1980 to about 25 per cent today. Panama, Marshall Islands and Liberia alone now account for around 56 per cent of vessel registrations based on deadweight tonnes. Countries including Malta, Antigua, Barbuda, Bahamas, Cyprus, Gibraltar, Saint Vincent and Cambodia are also places where ships today are being registered. All of those countries I named are not exactly countries that are thriving. Indeed, they are all developing countries. The ships, however, whilst registered in those countries, are owned by entities that are based predominantly in Greece, Japan, China, Germany and Singapore. None of those countries could be described as developing. The trend to shift the registration from developed economies to developing economies is done for particular reasons. In particular, it is because the places that those ships are registered are generally considered to be low-tax jurisdictions. But, more importantly, once the ships are registered in those countries and carry the flags of those countries, they can employ much cheaper, Third World labour from countries where seafarers are paid a pittance, as other speakers on this side of the House have quite rightly pointed out.
The trend in Australia over recent years has been identical to the international trend. I quote from a Senate inquiry that reported back to the house in July 2017. It's the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee. I noticed that the member for Whitlam used some of the same statistics. I want to quote directly from paragraph 1.29 of that report. It says:
Statistics on vessels operating on the Australia coast in 2014-15 reveal the decline in Australian-flagged vessels:
Those statistics paint a very clear picture about the demise of Australian shipping.
One shouldn't be surprised that we have had that demise, because, for the last two decades, coalition governments have been doing their best to destroy the Australian shipping industry. We had the Patrick dispute 20 years ago, where the Patrick Corporation and the coalition government led by then Prime Minister John Howard, with support of his minister Peter Reith, connived and concocted a scheme to sack Australian shipping crews, replace them with scab labour and ultimately replace them with foreign shipping crews.
A paramilitary antistrike force with guns and dogs was used to escort hardworking Australian sea crews from their jobs and have them replaced with more compliant workers. There was no consideration for those workers' families and no consideration for their livelihood or for their future. The only concern of the Howard government at the time was the interest of the corporate profits. It was only court action and Justice North's court judgement that scuttled the Howard government's plan.
It was, however, not the end of attempts by coalition governments to get their way and to dismantle the Australian shipping industry, because coalition governments have never given up on their tricky schemes to cut out Australian seamen from Australian shipping. Why have they gone down that course? For two reasons: firstly, to destroy the Maritime Union of Australia and, secondly, to ensure that increased corporate profits flowed to those companies that were using the shipping.
Every piece of legislation that this government introduces with respect to shipping further opens the door to Australian seafarers being replaced by overseas crews. That is not in Australia's economic interest or in the national interest, let alone in the interests of the workers who are already in that industry and the environment of this country.
For example, the International Energy Agency requirement for fuel stock reserves would have countries have a 90-day supply of those reserves. Australia falls short of that 90-day-reserve quota not just by a little but by a lot. According to one analysis, Australia holds 21 days of petrol, 16 days of diesel and 19 days of aviation fuel. That is roughly 20 per cent of the requirement of the International Energy Agency.
That leaves Australia clearly vulnerable to the mercy of overseas shipping operators and foreign entities for our fuel supplies. It is not a good position to be in. It occurs simply because corporate greed is put ahead of national security and local jobs. If there is a conflict with another country and we only have, at best, 21 days of petrol supplies, where does that leave Australia? That's particularly the case given that my understanding is that some 75 per cent or thereabouts of our own crude oil is exported overseas, and most of our petrol is imported from overseas, so we don't have the capacity to refine it here in Australia.
The other concern that I have as to all of this has already been raised by other speakers from this side of parliament. We also have a responsibility to try to protect the Australian coastline and the environmental assets that are there. As other speakers have already made clear, it's Australian seafarers who not only understand the Australian coastline well but also value, and are likely to protect, that coastline—more so than seafarers from other countries on ships that are flagged in other nations.
Of course, the concern with all of this comes down to the missed opportunity that arises, because shipping in itself represents a huge economic opportunity for this country. Quoting the figure of $400 billion each year of exports, one can see the amount of volume that equates to that figure, and, therefore, the amount of economic activity it generates. It would be in the national interest to have as much as possible of that product handled and transported via Australian-flagged ships, where tax to the Australian government would be paid by not only the operators but also the seafarers when they earn their own income. So the income tax generated would have to be massive.
It would be akin to suddenly saying, 'We will wipe out the Australian trucking industry or the Australian airline industry,' if we were to turn our backs on those two industries. Yet we don't, because they operate within our landmass, and we tend to take the view that what's outside of the landmass doesn't really matter. But it does matter, because it's still part of Australian territory. But, regrettably, it is not on this government's radar to look at the opportunities that shipping provides and to support the industry so that it will not go backwards but rather will grow. If we consider that, we now have a situation where it is not only the shipping that has been essentially put into foreign hands; much of the resources that those ships carry are also controlled by foreign entities. And we have now allowed the port of Darwin, for the next 99 years, to be effectively controlled by a foreign entity.
We are clearly going down the wrong track, in terms of not only national security measures but also generating and building the economy of Australia. Shipping represents an opportunity to do that. This legislation, whilst it will be supported by our side of parliament, only makes a minor difference to the shipping regime in this country and does nothing to grow what could be a major economic asset for the future of this country.
I'm very pleased to rise to sum up on the Shipping Registration Amendment Bill 2018. Before I get to my overall remarks about the legislation, I just want to pick up on the member for Braddon's criticism of Senator Steve Martin, as I believe those remarks were ill-advised and misdirected. In Senator Steve Martin, a former Devonport mayor and a very good local government member as well, the Nationals have someone who is passionately committed to fighting for Tasmania and is getting things done, achieving outcomes—delivering. He is the sort of regional representative you want in this parliament. I support his endeavours. He's advocating for better logistics for his state and for more infrastructure and improving the freight task, by air, by road or by sea. If it's advancing Tasmanians, Senator Steve Martin will no doubt be pushing it, and I certainly commend him for his efforts.
To the actual bill before the House: the government is committed to ensuring efficient shipping registration continues in this nation. This bill will ensure that this happens by making minor technical amendments to the Shipping Registration Act to allow for the remaking of the Shipping Registration Regulations, prior to their sunsetting date of 1 April '29, and I heard the member for Makin, in his introductory comments, talk about that very thing. These are minor technical amendments. It's important that shipping gets this sort of legislation passed.
The bill maintains the existing shipping registration framework and does not alter the policy intent or substance of the Shipping Registration Act. The bill will reduce the regulatory burden on the Australian industry by ensuring the shipping registration regulations will no longer be required to prescribe the forms for shipping registration certificates. Instead, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, AMSA, will approve forms, providing flexibility to change certificates as needed to suit government and, most importantly, industry. The amendments to the Shipping Registration Act ensure that shipping registration regulations are remade according to modern drafting standards. This is in contrast to the present situation, where any changes to the form of a certificate must be tabled in the parliament.
Currently in some provisions of the act, the head of power needed to give the regulations authority is either missing or unclear in its wording. This bill will correct those errors by clarifying the head of power for those regulations and ensure that the Shipping Registration Act and shipping registration regulations comply with modern standards.
I thank those members who have contributed to the debate on this bill. I commend the bill to the House.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.