Wednesday, 16 October 2019
ANL Legislation Repeal Bill 2019; Second Reading
I present the explanatory memorandum to this bill and move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
What a great pleasure it is to move the second reading of the ANL Legislation Repeal Bill 2019. Maritime trade is vital to Australia's economy. International shipping carries 99 per cent of our imports and exports by weight, connecting Australia to the world.
Our domestic maritime industries are vital to Australian tourism and to our transport networks. These industries, including fishing and aquaculture, are significant employers of Australians, particularly in our regional and coastal communities.
Across Australia, shipping and maritime trade directly or indirectly supports people's livelihoods and lifestyles.
As a government, it is our duty to ensure Australia's regulatory framework for our maritime industries remains up to date and fit for purpose, and meets community expectations to support safety, protect our marine environment, and facilitate trade.
This includes supporting the efficient operation of maritime businesses by removing unnecessary regulation.
Today I present the ANL Legislation Repeal Bill 2019.
The bill repeals the ANL Act 1956 and the ANL Guarantee Act 1994.
These two acts set out arrangements relating to the former Commonwealth shipping line 'ANL', or 'Australian National Line', which was owned and operated by the Commonwealth during the last century.
From this time, CMA CGM has traded in our region under the name ANL. Transitional arrangements are long concluded, and the Commonwealth has ceased to have any stake in the ANL shipping line.
Following the sale of ANL in 1998, most provisions of the ANL Act have no longer had any legal or practical effect. For example, provisions relating to the structure and staff of the government business ANL became defunct as a result of the sale and privatisation of the ANL shipping line.
One key exception is the provision of the ANL Act protecting the use of the business name 'ANL' and other associated terms, such as 'Searoad'. These provisions have recently impeded the business operations of a small number of maritime businesses, including by impeding the re-registering of website names and registration of trademarks.
This is despite the affected businesses having used their names for many years in good faith.
The protected name provisions of the ANL Act should have been removed around the time of the sale in 1998. Having sold the ANL shipping line, the Commonwealth no longer needed to protect these names. However, the protections were retained through a historical oversight.
This bill corrects that oversight to honour the sale of ANL in good faith and remove unnecessary and unintended barriers for the affected maritime businesses.
This will allow these businesses to get on with their operations and making important contributions to our national economy, without interference from unintended, historical regulatory barriers.
The bill also takes the opportunity to repeal a related piece of spent legislation—the ANL Guarantee Act.
The guarantee act empowered the Treasurer to guarantee loans made in respect of the former government shipping line ANL. Similar to the ANL Act, the guarantee act has been effectively obsolete since the 1998 sale of ANL so should also be removed as an unnecessary and outdated piece of legislation.
I thank the Treasurer for his agreement to repeal these two acts simultaneously.
His support enables the efficient use of the parliament's time to remove two related and outdated pieces of legislation and remove unnecessary historical barriers to maritime business.
I commend the bill to the House.
I rise to speak on the ANL Legislation Repeal Bill 2019 and, from the outset, signal that the opposition will be supporting the legislation but also moving a second reading amendment, particularly in relation to Australian shipping. I note that this bill repeals the ANL Act 1956 and the ANL Guarantee Act 1994. The legislation, in essence, as the minister has said, is a tidy-up of the arrangements that were put in place when the Australian National Line was sold by the Howard government in 1998. At the time of the sale, employee entitlements were transferred to the new owners, along with all physical assets and the ownership of all business names and associated intellectual property. It has since become apparent that, due to the original ANL Act not being repealed, whilst the Australian government no longer owns the business name of the Australian National Line the current owners' use of it is compromised.
The ANL Act lists the business name 'Australian National Line' as a name protected from unauthorised use. The original intent of protecting the name under the 1956 act was to ensure that parties not associated with the Australian National Line would be unable to use the name, or similar names, as a trading name. Since the sale, in essence that is no longer necessary. Instead, what has come to light is that the owners of ANL, CMA CGM, now face limitations on registering and re-registering domain names and other intellectual property, due to the 1956 protection of the name ANL still being in place. This has left the Australian government exposed to the risk of legal action. The opposition agrees that it is unreasonable for this impediment to be in place and therefore supports the legislation.
Similarly, we support the repeal of the ANL Guarantee Act, another piece of legislation that has not been required since the sale of ANL in 1998. The old guarantee act was in place to provide that the Commonwealth government guarantee any loans or other financial undertakings given by the then government-owned entity.
Whilst I note that the coalition government is prepared to take action to support one international shipping line, I do think it is incredibly disappointing that it won't lift a finger, frankly, to support and rebuild our domestic shipping industry. As an island nation and a nation of islands, we are reliant on shipping for so much of our domestic and international freight task, a shipping freight task that is the fourth largest in the world. Virtually all of our imports and our exports come and go by way of ship, and one-tenth of global sea trade flows through our ports. Strong management of shipping is crucial to our national security and our economic and also our environmental interests.
But on this government's watch we are now in a situation where less than half a per cent of our seaborne trade is carried by Australian ships. That percentage is rapidly heading towards zero, with regular reports of operators removing Australian flagged vessels from service. There will come a time under the watch of this government when we will see no Australian flagged vessels in our waters if we don't do something now. Under this government's watch, the number of Australian flagged vessels has fallen, on the reports that I have, to 14, but in fact I think it is lower than that; it is now at around 11. For the six years that this government has been in office it has stood idle, when it should have been supporting our shipping industry.
It's not just about Australian flagged vessels; it's about what comes because we have Australian flagged vessels. We have increased national security when it comes to fuel. We have a pipeline of training for regional jobs in the maritime industry. Our ports are able to access Australian trained pilots. We have a fantastic Australian Maritime College in Tasmania, and we have the capacity, if we have Australian flagged vessels and an Australian shipping industry, to provide the training pathways for those wonderful AMC graduates to then be able to get high-paying jobs in this country. It means that, for our defence forces, we are able to supply a pipeline of people trained in the shipping industry that then can jump into the Australian Defence Force, into the Navy. It is not just about Australian flagged vessels; it is what that means for the entire Australian maritime industry and jobs in the maritime industry.
This government, frankly, has been not just asleep at the wheel but prepared to actually trash what is in place currently to try and build that shipping industry. No nation should surrender its economic sovereignty in this way. No nation should decide that an entire sector, the maritime industry, is not worthy of support to get jobs into our regions, and yet that is what this government has done. Those opposite see no value in the existence of a vibrant domestic shipping sector, or any other part of maritime industry for that matter. They have twice sought to rip up the reforms made by the Labor government aimed at protecting Australian shipping, under the guise of reducing costs. The parliament twice has rejected those reforms, calling out the legislation as bad for Australian passengers and freight, bad for Australian workers and bad for Australia's national security. All the while, each and every coalition transport minister undermined policy settings put in place by the former Labor government that sought to enhance and rebuild the Australian shipping industry. In particular, the repeated misuse of temporary licences by this government has enabled foreign flagged ships with crews paid a pittance to continue to regularly transport goods between Australian ports—work that can and should be done by Australian maritime workers paid Australian wages under Australian conditions.
I met yesterday with a senior maritime worker who was here on another matter, but he was telling me he is the only Australian working on a ship that regularly plies the Australian coast. It doesn't go anywhere else; it only goes from port to port in Australia, shipping goods between Australian ports. He is the only Australian who works on that ship at all. When you've got people coming through the Australian Maritime College desperate to find berths on ships and to get to the level of being able to become pilots in our ports, and you've got a ship regularly trading right around the coast of Australia—in fact, that is all it does—and there is only one Australian citizen working on that ship and being paid Australian wages, there is something very, very wrong. But, rather than present a vision to support and rebuild Australian shipping and Australian jobs, and all that comes from that, the Deputy Prime Minister has recently announced a further round of consultation on coastal trading reforms.
I remind the House that, in July 2012, following extensive consultation with industry and with unions, the former Labor government attempted to revive Australian shipping with a substantial reform package. That package included an international shipping register, the first national ports strategy in this country, a single national regulator to administer a national set of laws, a zero corporate tax rate, more generous accelerated depreciation arrangements, rollover relief for selected capital assets, new tax incentives to employ Australian seafarers and an exemption from the royalty withholding tax for bare-boat leased vessels. The reforms needed time to bear down, but they would have supported a substantial revival of the Australian maritime industry. However, as soon as this government—which is now in its third term—came to office in 2013, it began a concerted effort to undermine every single one of those reforms.
Through two failed rounds of legislation and the ongoing high use of temporary licences, the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government has done all it can to weaken the Australian shipping and maritime industries. Almost seven years into its term of government, it has quietly contacted the maritime industry stakeholders to begin looking for support to 'reform' coastal shipping—and I say 'reform' because so far what this government has done when it comes to its so-called reforms of coastal shipping has been to do everything it possibly can to undermine the capacity of Australian jobs in this industry. That is what the government has done.
I've seen a copy of the government's correspondence to industry, signed by the Deputy Prime Minister. It includes a letter and a two-page note titled 'Why do we need coastal trading reform?' I know why we need coastal trading reform. It's because we want to get more Australians into work in Australia's maritime and shipping industry. I'm not convinced, on the basis of what the government have put forward to industry, that that is in fact what they're intending to do. Read together, the letter and the two-page explainer set an incredibly narrow frame for such a crucial debate.
The government has ruled out big reforms while leaving the door open to undermine protections for Australian flagged vessels. While it notionally rules out opening up the coast, it leaves open achieving this by stealth, through further exploitation of temporary licences. While it claims protections for Australian vessels are critical, it flags that new approaches are certainly possible. Further, it explicitly rules out even a conversation on proposals put forward to save Australian shipping, like a strategic maritime fleet, mandating use of Australian vessels, large tax concessions, or subsidies. I ask the Deputy Prime Minister why the government has ruled out all of these things if the purpose of the consultation is to actually improve coastal shipping. I would add that the purpose of any consultation should be to grow and expand jobs in the maritime industry, particularly those in our regions.
Crucially, the fact sheet notes that the 2018 seafaring skills census recently conducted forecasts a skills shortage by 2023 and goes on to comment how 'Australian mariners are unable to complete their sea time locally'. What on earth is the government doing, if there are people coming through the Australian Maritime College in Tasmania being completely unable to find a berth on a ship to get the sea time that they need to be able to then progress through their training pathway?
We've got Australian seafarers who want to work, who want to work in Australia and who want to pay their dues through the maritime industry—and it takes a long time to train someone up to be a pilot at port, and rightly so, because it's a very dangerous and very important set of skills to have. We've got all these people who are very keen to participate in this industry and very keen to learn and develop, but they can't actually do that in their own country. What on earth has the government been doing? We've got a new generation dreaming of going to sea, but they cannot get the training. Even if they did get the training, the jobs are simply not there for them when they are finished. This is in spite of Australia's economy having the fourth-largest shipping task in the world.
I go back to where we started: we've got the fourth-largest shipping task in the world. We're heavily reliant on shipping for export and import, yet the Australian jobs in this industry are on the decline. What has government been doing to ensure that Australian mariners and Australians who want to go to sea get the training they need to advance their career or get a start in this industry? There is no career pathway for Australian master mariners, marine pilots or our harbour masters. How is it in Australia's best interests to be recruiting these critical maritime workers from overseas or having to attract them out of our defence force—out of our critical navy, which has a substantial workforce shortage as well? How is that in Australia's national interest?
I urge the Deputy Prime Minister to also answer this simple question: what is the government's actual policy when it comes to Australia's shipping? The industry does not have time for more reviews. Our economy does not have time for more and more reviews. This is a third-term government with no plan for our economy and certainly no plan for how Australian shipping contributes substantially to that economy and to jobs across the country.
Turning back to the correspondence that the minister has circulated, I note the fact sheet also states that if reform is pursued, stakeholders have to agree where there is middle ground. When there are, as I said, just 14 or fewer Australian flagged vessels operating on our coast, I'd say to the Deputy Prime Minister: what is 'middle ground' for coastal trading when there are now only 14 or fewer Australian flagged vessels on our sea under his government's watch?
Shipping is an important national strategic industry. Maintaining a domestic shipping industry is critical for Australia as an island nation. Labor remains committed to working with stakeholders to revitalise Australia's shipping industry. Unlike those opposite, Labor believes in a strong and vibrant maritime industry, and we will always support Australian seafarers, maritime workers and Australian flagged vessels.
While supporting this legislation, Labor would also welcome the support of the chamber in standing up for Australian coastal shipping and Australian maritime jobs in this country. We can't have a strong and secure economy if our nation is completely reliant on foreign vessels to provide our fuel, to bring the goods that we need into our markets, to carry our exports and to move products around our coastline.
It is pretty clear from the letter that the minister has circulated to the industry, with a submission date of less than four weeks, that this is not a consultation process. This is a process designed to get an outcome, which, again, is an outcome for the government to try and pursue the watering down of the protections and the growth in reforms that Labor put in place for coastal shipping.
I know that there are many in the sector that have been confused by what the government's purpose is in circulating the letter. There are some who are indicating that they're simply not going to participate, because they see this as another round of the government's attack on those reforms and another attempt to get its legislation through the parliament. I hope that is not the case.
That being said, whilst we're supporting this legislation, I will move a second reading amendment.
Further to my amendment, which I will move at the end of this speech, I call on the Deputy Prime Minister to be honest with the Australian people and to tell us why the government has ruled out even discussing proposals that will in fact save Australian flagged vessels and save Australian shipping. What is the government doing to ensure Australian mariners and Australians who want to go to sea can get the training that they need here in this country and on Australian vessels? What is the government's policy on Australia's shipping and Australia's maritime industry? What is a middle ground for coastal trading when there are now 14 fewer Australian flagged vessels on our seas on this government's watch?
Labor does have a proud history of supporting the vital role that Australia's maritime industries play in securing our economic, environmental and national security needs. We remain committed to revitalising the industry and supporting maritime workers. With that, I move:
That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:
"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:
(1) notes this Government's record of undermining the Australian shipping industry; and
(2) reaffirms that Australia's economic, environmental and national security interests are best served by a viable and competitive shipping industry".
The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Ballarat 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.
Australia is a big island, with the sixth-longest coastline in the world. The only way to get here or leave here, or to import or export goods, is via air or sea. There is no bridge or tunnel to other nations. We are, as our national anthem reminds us, girt by sea. We inhabit a region with strong maritime cultures, our closest neighbours being Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, South-East Asia and the island nations of the Pacific.
As a wealthy nation with a vast coastline, surrounded by countries eager to trade, you would think the Australian merchant maritime fleet would be the envy of the world. You would think that a nation that has taken more than 200 years to develop would have itself developed a rich and diverse maritime sector producing the best maritime engineers and shipbuilders, sailors, officers, technicians and navigators, graduating from world-class maritime academies. I'm pleased to say that the AMC in my state does a world-class job. But, as the member for Ballarat notes, people are graduating from the college and unable to get the training they need in Australia to operate on ships. They have to go offshore. It's just incredible that, in Australia, an island nation, graduates of the Australian Maritime College in Tasmania have to go overseas to get the qualifications they need to go into the maritime industry. It is absolutely incredible.
Under this Liberal government, Australia's maritime fleet is a shadow of its former self. There were 13 Australian flagged ships left in Australia at last count, when I did my research; we are now down to 11 ships. There were 100 ships just 30 years ago; we are now down to a tenth of that. The Liberals have absolutely demolished this country's merchant maritime capabilities, and all because of their obsessive hatred of the maritime unions.
Labor is supporting the bill before the House today, the ANL Legislation Repeal Bill 2019, as all it really seeks to do is tidy up some redundant legislation by repealing the entirety of the ANL Act, which applies to an entity that no longer exists. Whilst we support the bill, the member for Ballarat is seeking to attach an amendment to the bill calling the government to account for its absolutely appalling mishandling of Australia's shipping sector.
The legislation before this House today unfortunately does nothing to restore Australia's once proud shipping industry. It does nothing to unwind the damage done to our maritime fleet—a fleet that now barely exists. The extreme right-wing economic conservatives over there on that side may well shrug their shoulders and say, 'Well, why should Australia have a maritime fleet if it's cheaper to import and export goods on foreign vessels using foreign crews?' But that is a narrow and shallow perspective that does not take into account Australia's wider national interest.
Australia's overreliance on foreign vessels and foreign crews now exposes our nation and our people to threats of both national and economic security. We do not allow foreign soldiers to defend our shores simply because they're cheaper. We do not outsource our Royal Australian Navy to the cheapest bidder. We don't expect the Chinese to patrol our waters and then bill us for the service. How then is it acceptable, from a national security point of view, to have all our food, all our fuel and all our goods entering and exiting our nation on foreign vessels? How is it acceptable to those opposite to have foreign vessels with foreign crews plying domestic Australian routes as a matter of course instead of—as it used to be—a matter of exception and only under the strictest rules? If we are to be a secure nation, we must be a self-reliant nation. We need Australian ships and Australian crews on Australian domestic routes, and, ideally, Australian ships with Australian crews bringing fuel to Australia.
An Australian shipping industry is about so much more than just ships and crews. It's about shipbuilding, manufacturing, support services, components, IT, navigation services, education and training. It's about national security and national identity. It's about having assets that can be called upon to assist in times of national emergency, natural disaster and war. Professor Sam Bateman from the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security at the University of Wollongong, a former member of the Australian Navy, recounted this tale from the late 1990s: 'When Australia was assisting Timor-Leste in the fractious days following independence from Indonesia, the Australian government had to charter 27 cargo vessels to carry Australian troops and stores. All 27 vessels were foreign owned.' What an indictment. It is clear that to those opposite Australia has little hope of reclaiming its place on the high seas.
We need a national conversation about both rebuilding our own maritime sector for the 21st century and taking a global leadership role to ensure the international maritime sector meets minimum health and safety standards and rates of pay for foreign crews. It should be unthinkable in a civilised society such as ours to accept that ships are arriving in Australian harbours that are barely fit to be in service—that are likely to sink at sea and thereby doom the desperate, poorly paid men who crew them. We should be doing more to insist that every vessel that visits this nation meets minimum standards and is crewed by people earning proper rates of pay and living under UN-sanctioned conditions on board. There should be no more sly nods and winks and no more turning a blind eye by the authorities. This is a function that used to be done by unions, but those opposite have so hobbled unions that they are no longer able to carry out these inspections. If that's to remain the case, then it is those opposite who must bear the responsibility for what occurs and they must insist that more Australian Border Force investigators are appointed to carry out this important work.
The unpredictable nature of our region's geopolitics, as well as the instability and risks from beyond our region, shows just how irresponsible it is to rely on foreign ships and foreign crews. By doing so, we are openly exposing our vulnerabilities to the world. Regional disputes, including disputes that are occurring today, could well impact on our shipping and freight paths and even on our ability to utilise foreign ships when we need them. One example of this is, of course, fuel security. I have often been heard in this place talking about how fuel security under this government is at such a low. My voice has joined the chorus of concerned experts calling on this government to do something to ensure that Australia maintains the recommended level—the required level—of fuel reserves. It is required under international treaties that countries have at least the equivalent of 90 days of fuel in reserves. This is established with the International Energy Agency, and it's something most countries strive to comply with. These 90 days effectively act as a security blanket in case something goes wrong and supply is disrupted.
In August, it was widely reported in Australia and elsewhere that the government has been looking to the US for assistance in replenishing Australian stocks. Things are so bad. Articles throughout the year, based on the Department of the Environment and Energy's interim report on the liquid fuel security review, show that we now have less than 30 days of fuel reserves. We have one-third of what is required under international treaty. If this paltry supply of fuel is exhausted, everything is grounded. Everything grinds to a halt, including our defence assets. It is common knowledge that we are dependent upon fuel imported from regions like the Middle East, Africa and parts of Asia—imports brought to our shores by foreign flagged, foreign owned, foreign crewed ships. We are the only import-dependent country in the IEA that is not satisfying our obligations to stockpile fuel to the required standard. Australia is in a vulnerable, high-risk position in which our reliance on other people's ships and crews makes us highly sensitive to disruption.
The fact is that this government, which makes so much of its national security credentials otherwise, simply seems not to care. They seem to have no interest in being proactive and building the contingencies and buffers against increasingly uncertain global energy conditions. One thing they could do is rebuild the Australian domestic shipping fleet. I am unyielding on this. I have spoken about it several times. Tasmanians are at the forefront of this. We have a number of crews who have been sacked from Australian owned vessels. The vessels go offshore and the crews are sacked while overseas. They're given tickets to come home on the plane, and then those ships are returning, sometimes under new owners, with foreign crews being paid as little as $2 an hour and doing the same work that those Australian crews used to do. It's just absolutely unacceptable.
There is no denying that we, as an island country, need a domestic maritime fleet underpinned with a strong legislative and regulatory framework. We need to protect our national interest. Our national interest has to come first. It has to come before the private interests of the shipowners. We need to put our national interest first. By relying on foreign crews on foreign ships, we are exposing ourselves to people and interests who may not share Australia's interest in security. Australian crews have to undergo security and background checks. They have to undergo certain levels of training. There are stringent conduct expectations.
We need to know that, when ships are freighting dangerous or valuable cargo, the cargo is managed, stored and shipped appropriately and securely. It's not good enough to sign a form and say, 'Yes, everything's good,' because, as we all know, the inspections are not being done to the requirements or to what is needed to ensure that these ships and what they transport are managed safely. We need to know who the people crewing these ships are. We need to protect our national interest and ensure that our ongoing ability to operate continues in the wake of disruption. We need Australian crewed, Australian owned ships.
I'll just come very briefly to the Jones Act in the US. The US is hardly, one would think, a socialist state that would have these sorts of things for no reason. The Jones Act requires that vessels operating on US domestic routes must be American owned and American crewed. The US are a highly privatised, highly corporatised nation, yet even they know that it is in their best interests to have American crewed, American owned vessels plying their own routes. If the Americans can do it, why don't we have the same rules here?
It beggars belief. I'm staggered by it. When I think of the national security implications of not having an Australian fleet and, frankly, the political benefit to the government of going out there and saying they're going to rebuild an Australian maritime fleet—with the jobs that would come with it and the national security implications that would flow from it, it's an absolute political goldmine for those opposite to do it—I shake my head.
I alluded earlier to the reports of Tasmanians being woken in the middle of the night and being told that their contracts had ended and they were being replaced by cheaper foreign crews. I want to see these days come to an end. The member for Ballarat rightly mentioned that we are down to about 11 vessels. Australian ships have about 0.5 per cent of Australian trade. We could double Australian trade and still have only one per cent. The state maritime shipping is in saddens me as much as it angers me. We are an island nation surrounded by sea. My state is surrounded by sea. We should have the biggest, richest and best maritime fleet in the world—that we can be proud of. It should be part of our national identity. Yet we have allowed it to wither away. I fully support the member for Ballarat's second reading amendment. This government must be held to account for the way it has absolutely destroyed and demolished Australia's maritime shipping industry.
In the brief seconds I have left I want to mention that Tasmania's Seafarers Memorial Day is on from 11 am on 20 October in Triabunna in my electorate. Unfortunately, I can't be there, because I'll be on a plane coming here. I wish them all the luck for the day.
It gives me great pleasure to rise following the contributions from the member for Ballarat and the member for Lyons on the ANL Legislation Repeal Bill 2019. As the member for Ballarat made very clear in her remarks, Labor does not oppose this legislation. As she clearly mapped out, this legislation is really tidying up historical errors in two pieces of legislation. The bill before us now will repeal the ANL Act and the ANL Guarantee Act 1994. Effectively it will remove the current restrictions on the protected names associated with the former government-owned shipping line—the Australian National Line. We all know that that shipping line was sold. In recent years it has become apparent that the continued existence of the ANL Act and the ANL Guarantee Act poses a statutory bar for the new owners who are continuing to use the ANL trademarks, IP and web addresses. The repeal of these two pieces of legislation makes sense. It will provide CMA CGM, the new, French owners, with the legal clarity and certainty that they are entitled to in order to conduct business. There is no opposition from the Labor bench here in that regard.
I wish to speak now to the amendment moved by Labor's shadow minister, the member for Ballarat. It highlights the extraordinarily shocking record that this government has in the Australian shipping industry. The deliberate and active undermining of this industry, its representative union and the workforce is literally gobsmacking and completely ignores the critical need for a strong, vibrant coastal shipping industry for this nation. I'm going to come to some of the reasons now.
I come from Newcastle. The port of Newcastle is a key part of our region. Indeed, the people of Newcastle have a very proud maritime history. The port of Newcastle has been in operation since I think the 19th century. It was around 220-odd years ago, I think, that that port first started to be used. The first exports of coal, of course, came from Newcastle, and coal remains the main staple of the Port of Newcastle. It has been a critical link in our national supply chain for a very long time—as I said, centuries. That port in Newcastle is managing movements of more than 4,600 ships a year.
Regretfully, the suite of policies that we have seen from this government and, indeed, from consecutive conservative governments has done nothing but undermine the viability of our shipping sector. It's not just the laws around manufacturing making our shipping industry less and less viable; it's the treatment of the workforce that is particularly astonishing and worrying. Just as the member for Lyons spoke about some of his constituents who were woken in the night to find out that they had no job, I too had men from Newcastle who were on the high seas—on their way to the China Sea, in fact, aboard the MV Mariloulawhen they received an email on their ship in the dead of night saying BHP had cancelled the ship's contract and the entire crew had lost their jobs. This was just last February. This is not old news. It absolutely came out of the blue for those men on the ship.
I remember speaking with David Grant, a seafarer from Tighe's Hill, a community in my electorate of Newcastle. He said that the email was completely unexpected and it certainly didn't help that they were literally in the middle of the China Sea, with a terrible internet connection. So it was very hard for them to get any real information. It was very difficult for them to speak with their families at a time when they needed to reach out and try and reassure each other. Even worse was that those men had taken a two-year wage freeze because the company said they couldn't afford to pay them more. They took a two-year pay freeze in order to keep the company going and those ships running, and that's the recompense they were given. That's how they were repaid. They were sacked in the middle of the night via an email. These were men who had been working at sea for years. In Dave's case, he'd worked at sea for seven years. He wanted to continue doing so. Many of these men are generational workers. They are working in an industry in which their fathers, uncles and grandparents also worked. They're very, very proud maritime workers. They're highly skilled maritime workers. They've finessed their craft and are amongst the best in the world. That is the result of the terrific training that has previously taken place in Australia and of the strength of the MUA and the collective movement for maritime workers.
I know many on the government benches are terrified of the MUA. They speak often about the CFMEU and MUA merger and what that now means for Australia. But I think what often gets lost in all of that is an understanding that that is an organisation that is there to protect and represent the interests of those working men and women, and it has done a great job in doing so. You need a strong collective labour movement to combat shocking exploitation like the sacking of those men without any warning in the dead of night while they were out in the middle of the China Sea. It's not just that they were sacked. They also knew that they were going to be replaced by a foreign crew that would be paid as little as $2 an hour.
The policies of this government are completely implicated in these kinds of actions, because this government has continued to issue temporary licences for routes like the one that was being travelled by MV Mariloula and, indeed, MV Lowlands Brilliance and others that were clearly engaged in permanent work and have been doing so for year after year. This government allows those temporary licences to be issued for those routes and, in doing so, enables that kind of treatment of working men and women—where they can be sacked on the spot and replaced by foreign workers who are often in very vulnerable positions and at the mercy of exploitative practices from a range of foreign flagged vessels.
Again, the work of the MUA in Newcastle in particular—I want to give a very special shout-out to them— combined with that of the International Transport Workers Federation has been extraordinary in trying to call to account those foreign flagged ships and companies that are not treating their workers properly. I was very fortunate, as a candidate back in 2013, to work alongside the ITF when they boarded foreign flagged ships in Newcastle and did their inspections. There were ships where the crew had not been paid for three months. It was unclear whether they had enough rations in the coolroom to get to the next port safely. Without the intervention of an international labour movement, without the spotlight of the media being shone on those examples, I fear gravely for what would have happened to those men aboard that ship. They had no communications with their families. They hadn't been paid, and their food and water supplies were unlikely to last them to their next destination. I praised the MUA and the ITF for calling out those kinds of dodgy, shonky operators in the industry. That's the job of a labour movement. That is the noble cause of a labour movement, and it is so often overlooked by members opposite, who have a very blinkered view about trade unions in Australia. I want to put those examples on record to show why you need organised labour in this country.
I would also like to point out that it's not just this government's propensity to issue temporary licences for routes that are clearly permanent ones travelled by those vessels. There is a whole suite of other policies that are plagued by conservative governments, both federal and state, and this is playing into the decimation of the Australian shipping industry. I would like to highlight the fact that the New South Wales Berejiklian Liberal government have not seen fit to overturn what was very clearly one of the dodgiest secret deals ever done by a state government—when they were selling off our precious ports. They actually have a caveat at Newcastle now. When they privatised the Newcastle port, they did this secret little deal that protects Kembla and Botany from having effective competition from a container terminal there, to inflate prices for the other two ports. So they got good prices into the New South Wales government coffers, but it was totally at the expense of Newcastle. We now have an agreement where the government has imposed a cap on the number of containers that can leave the Port of Newcastle before incredibly onerous penalties will be applied. This is blatantly anticompetitive. Thankfully, the ACCC is taking this up as an issue, and it is a subject before the Federal Court now. I sincerely hope that the court finds that this, as the evidence before me would suggest, is the most dodgy of deals ever stitched up by a state Liberal government, in secret, behind closed doors. That agreement needs to be torn up, and the New South Wales state government needs to take their foot off the neck of our economy in Newcastle, so that we can have a port that is able to diversify its economic base there. It's critically important.
They also took their $12.7 million off the table for a passenger container terminal. We would have liked to have cruise ships calling into the Port of Newcastle. The people of Newcastle were very excited about having a cruise-ship passenger terminal there. We were making some inroads there. I see that they want to build one down in a part of Sydney where the locals actually don't want one. Well, they might want to think about relocating that money and those energies and—instead of trying to force the people of Sydney to take a cruise-passenger terminal that they don't want—taking that terminal up to Newcastle. They might want to put that $12.7 million, and a bit more, on the table so that such a terminal could be built in Newcastle.
We want jobs. We want Australian ships. We want Australian flagged ships back, traversing our nation's waters and our coastline. We want Australian men and women to have good, secure, well-paid jobs on those ships. My colleagues have articulated before that it makes good economic sense. It makes good sense from the point of view of our national security. It is absurd that the world's largest island state would have less than 11 national ships that we could still call part of our national fleet.
Labor had a terrific plan to rebuild a national strategic fleet for Australia. The government would do well to adopt our plan.
This bill, the ANL Legislation Repeal Bill 2019, is a sad reminder of the demise of Australian shipping in this country. I will go back to the origins of some aspects of the shipping industry, particularly post-World War II, in Australia. Immediately after the war, the Australian Shipping Board was established to operate an Australian national fleet. In 1956, the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission took over the Australian Shipping Board's operations. At the time there were some 42 vessels, mainly cargo ships and bulk carriers, that operated in our waters. In 1989, the Australian National Line was established, and that took over from the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission.
In 1998, the Australian government sold the Australian National Line—or, at least, it sold the business and the trading name—to the French company CMA CGM, and that was effectively the end of a national shipping fleet in this country. At the time of the sale, ANL operated 12 vessels. It had been reduced to a very small player in the shipping market. It was also argued at that time that ANL was no longer viable and had been operating at a financial loss. Of course, the value of a national shipping line is not solely determined by the profit-and-loss statement. That is a very narrow perspective on value.
In post-World War II years, shipbuilding underpinned the growth and economy of Whyalla in South Australia. It created jobs right across the local economy, from shipbuilding to home construction and community services. The demise of Whyalla shipbuilding—it ended in 1978—has had a major economic impact on Whyalla and the Spencer Gulf region of South Australia.
More broadly, a national shipping line creates Australian maritime jobs. Not only does that employ Australians, but also, importantly, those crews pay tax to the Australian government, unlike the crews of all the other vessels that are not Australian-owned that operate in our waters.
It also ensures that maritime skills are not lost. It is never in the national interest to become completely dependent on overseas countries for specific skill sets. We are already seeing that with so many other skills where Australia is becoming dependent—indeed, reliant—on skilled workers from overseas, either because industries in this country have closed down, or because we have stopped training people due to the cuts made to vocational education and training institutions in this country.
The associated issue with foreign shipping operators is that they have been known to employ unskilled workers on wages and conditions likened to slave labour. Slavery in the Western world was outlawed 100 years or so ago, but as a nation it seems we turn a blind eye to slavery and worker exploitation by outsourcing to overseas entities work that could be done by Australians. In doing so, Australia is complicit to that exploitation.
There is, of course, a national security value associated with operating a national shipping fleet, as other speakers on this side of the House have already pointed out. In times of conflict or natural disaster, it is reassuring to know that, as an island nation so dependent on overseas exports and imports, we have a national shipping capability. That's why, in the lead-up to the 18 May election, Labor committed to the establishment of a strategic fleet of Australian flagged vessels and to stopping the abuse of temporary licences—which this coalition government has been so willingly prepared to issue.
In the midst of so much instability in the Middle East—and every day we hear new stories about what is going on there—Australia has around three weeks of fuel reserves in stock, effectively leaving Australia dependent on overseas operators for both the supply and the transport of fuel. A fuel shortage would cripple Australia, and yet we do not even have the ability to guarantee the transport of fuel from overseas, because we have no national shipping fleet. It's more than just an embarrassment; it is actually a major national security issue. As I move around my electorate, it is one of the issues that is of most concern to people I speak with. Most people are prepared to accept government decisions on a whole range of matters, but they simply cannot understand how our national government can allow Australia to be left so vulnerable—and, quite frankly, I don't understand how we can leave ourselves so vulnerable.
It is not good enough to say that, in the event of an emergency or a crisis, we will lean on our allies. They may not be in a position to assist us—albeit that they might want to. Yet we have allowed ourselves to fall into that position. As has already been pointed out by others, even under our international obligations we're expected to have a minimum of around 90 days of fuel supply in this country. For years that has not been the case. This is not a new phenomenon that has happened in recent months or even recent years because of instability in the Middle East; this has been the case for several years, and as a nation we have done nothing about it—and it's high time that we did.
Associated with national security comes the value of surveillance of Australian territorial waters by Australian crews, who would have a patriotic interest not only in ensuring Australia remains safe but also that biosecurity for our country is not jeopardised in anyway way. I have no doubt that Australian crews, once they are on board a ship and operating in Australian waters, and even beyond, would always be vigilant with respect to ensuring that Australia is not in any way put at risk by any party or by any other entity. Along with biosecurity risks is also the risk of environmental damage that has occurred in the past, and which, in all cases that I am aware of, has been caused not by Australian operated vessels but by foreign operated and foreign crewed vessels. They don't have the same interest in caring for our country as Australian crews would have.
To those who say that the Australian National Line was not profitable and that it should have been sold off, my response is that it is near impossible to put a dollar value on the national security, the biosecurity, the environmental security and the skills security associated with operating a national shipping fleet. We don't put a dollar value on the costs of our national security agencies or our defence forces—nor should we. Likewise, we should not simply dismiss the dollar value of entities because of the book value at the end of the financial year. Likewise, Australia should not ignore the national security value of maintaining a shipping fleet, which has other benefits for the country than just the transport of cargo.
One of those benefits I'm going to refer to is related to the transport of livestock from this country to overseas destinations. It was only last month that this parliament passed legislation to appoint an Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports. That appointment was made necessary because of the abuse of export animals that had occurred for many years in this country, particularly with respect to the exporting of sheep. We had the case of the Awassi Express in 2017, which was probably the latest issue that triggered the current public debate on live sheep exports.
We appointed an Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports in response to animal welfare issues which arose because those sheep were being transported by foreign owned and foreign crewed vessels. Had they been exported on Australian owned and Australian crewed vessels, it is highly unlikely that the sheep would have suffered, and the sheep would probably not have died—or at least not in the numbers they did—and we might not have had the need to appoint an Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports. That position also comes at a cost, but I'm sure it's not being factored in when we talk about the cost of maintaining a shipping fleet in this country. It's a classic example of sometimes needing to look beyond the direct costs associated with a particular industry sector.
As other speakers have already pointed out, 99 per cent of all imports to and exports from Australia are transported by ship. It's also been said time and time again that Australia is an island nation—and that's absolutely true. But, more than that, it's an island nation that imports and exports a considerable amount of products every year. In fact, we have the fourth-largest shipping freight task in the world. Our whole economy depends on the exports from this country. We are one of the biggest exporters of minerals, gas and the like, not to mention the imports that we now have to bring in from overseas, literally on a daily basis. Yet Australia has no input into the transport of those goods, whether imports or exports. It's all managed by overseas entities.
I wonder how many other countries would allow themselves not only to be so vulnerable but to miss out on such an important industry sector. I doubt that other countries who had the same opportunity as Australia to develop an industry, based on shipping exports, would not have done so. Yet we in Australia are prepared to miss out on those opportunities because we simply look at the bottom line of a particular industry sector.
Of course, Labor supports this legislation in principle, although I speak in support of the amendment moved by the member for Ballarat. But it certainly highlights the bigger issue here, and that is that we as an island nation have allowed ourselves to become so dependent on other countries for the import and export of our goods—goods which sustain our economy, goods which create opportunities for us to build our economy on and goods which we should always be in control of.
The ANL Legislation Repeal Bill 2019 repeals the ANL Act of 1956 and the ANL Guarantee Act 1994 to remove outdated legislation and unnecessary restrictions on business.
These two acts set out the arrangements relating to the former government shipping line ANL, Australian National Line, which was owned and operated by the Commonwealth during last century. In 1998 the Commonwealth sold the ANL shipping line. Following transition of the ANL shipping line to a private business, most provisions of the ANL Act ceased to have any legal or practical effect. The key exception is provisions in protecting the use of names such as ANL and Searoad.
Once the Commonwealth had sold the ANL shipping line, these protections should have been removed but were retained through an historical oversight. Recently, these protections have impeded a small number of maritime businesses seeking to undertake activities such as re-registering website names and registering trademarks, despite these businesses having used the names in good faith for many years. This bill repeals the ANL Act to correct that oversight by removing an unintended and unnecessary barrier impeding business operations and to honour the sale of ANL in good faith. This will allow these businesses to get on with their operations and to continue making important contributions to our national economy.
Like the remaining parts of the ANL Act, the ANL Guarantee Act became obsolete following the 1998 sale of ANL. The power for the Treasurer to guarantee loans made in respect of the former government business ANL has long ceased to have practical effect. Both acts should therefore be removed as unnecessary and outdated pieces of legislation.
I acknowledge and thank the Treasurer for his agreement to simultaneously repeal the guarantee act to support the efficient use of the parliament's time. Removing outdated and spent legislation is part of the Australian government's duty to ensure Australia's regulatory framework for our maritime industry remains fit for purpose and supports the efficient operation of our maritime businesses. I would like to thank honourable members for their constructive contributions to the debate. I commend the bill to the House.
The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Ballarat has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question is that the amendment moved by the member for Ballarat be agreed to.