Monday, 4 December 2017
Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee; Report
by leave—I wish to make a brief contribution on this report, and I just have to let the Senate know that the Labor senators are in full opposition to this report. That's no disrespect to the government, but this piece of legislation has been around now for about three or four years and I, for the life of me, cannot understand what the heck this is all about. This is deregulation by stealth. It is absolutely sending a terrible message to Australia—to Australia's security, Australia's environmental issues and Australian jobs.
I don't have the figures in front of me, because we've gone through this a number of times, but back in the Howard government years we had 50-odd Australian registered vessels with Australian skippers, Australian engineers and Australian seafarers. We are now down to four, and every day or every month we turn around and another Australian ship is deflagged. We are flooding our country with foreign seafarers who are being terribly exploited. The government can talk about all sorts of things—how wonderful it is they can give temporary visas when they can't find Australian ships. The truth of the matter is that they do not want to find Australian ships.
I want to tell the world this: the worst offenders are the fuel companies and the mining companies. Make no mistake. They brag about the billions and billions of dollars that they profit from our resources. Do they give a fat rat's backside about Australian jobs? No, they don't. It's just disgraceful. We cannot support this bill, we will not support this bill, and I'm darn well, as long as I'm in this place, going to fight every single day for Aussies to have our jobs. I am not xenophobic, but, for crying out loud to that side over there, from the previous Minister Truss, now to Minister Chester, who is just dancing to the government's tune!
North Star Cruises is an honourable Australian-owned company that runs cruises between the ports of Broome and Darwin through the dry season. It employ 60-odd Australians. At the last count, there was one Kiwi on there. That's fine, but the other 64 out of 65 are Aussies—the captain, the engineers, the staff, the whole lot—earning Australian wages and paying taxes in Australia. When Mr Milby was notified that this government and the previous government, the Abbott government, wanted to deregulate and make it as cheap as possible for others by not having to pay Australian wages, he went to a briefing of the department—the old department of transport, but every time a Prime Minister gets knifed, it gets a new name. It's the same mob. Don't be fooled. It's the same people who are anti Australian jobs. Mr Milby went to the personnel—and I know who the person is because she and her staff appear at estimates all the time—and he said: 'North Star Cruises is running these beautiful cruises out of Broome to Darwin. We recognise Indigenous content and cultural sensitivity when we're in and out of the ports; we do all sorts of stuff like that, which makes it even more fun.' He said, 'How the heck can we do this? How can I compete?' Let's make no mistake—when we deregulate our domestic shipping industry, it says to those across the Arafura Sea and the Indian Ocean, 'Come in, and you can compete.' Competition, for that side of the chamber, is good. You've got to have competition. It doesn't matter if you put people on their backsides out in the streets. Competition is good, as long as the bosses can still make a heck of a lot of money at the top end of town. And when he said, 'What do I do?' one of Ms Zielke's crew said, 'Sack your Australian crew; employ a foreign crew.' I can't confirm it was Ms Zielke, because it's been going on for years, but it was one of her crew and she was in the room at the time. I would probably say it was her, but she can defend herself at Senate estimates.
I put the challenge out here in this public house: come and tell me I'm wrong. Not one member of the government can tell me I'm wrong. Not one member of the government has dared to have the public blue. I'd rather be outside there than hiding in here in privilege. In every hearing we've had, I've challenged every single one of them to tell me I'm wrong. And what came out of this? They have this phobia. It's got something to do with, 'Let's kill the MUA; we mustn't have the Maritime Union of Australia'—who, I must say, are my friends because they do the right thing. If I were a seafarer, I'd be a member of the MUA; make no mistake about that. If I were a waterside worker, I'd want to be in the MUA. I asked the MUA to do some research into how many Australian jobs will be lost in Australian domestic seafaring if this bill gets up with the help of crossbenchers? I hope every single crossbencher is listening to this. They came back with a figure of about 1,100 jobs.
Some people might say, 'Big deal; close a mine, and we'll lose that.' But what the heck are we talking about? We live in a world now that is just crazy. At every opportunity, we turn around, and there is terrorism around the world. Something's going awry around the world. We might not call it terrorism, but people are being killed by bombs here and there. We know of ISIS, and we know that they'd love to get into further parts of the world and destroy our way of life, and the government can't even have an honest conversation about our national security. I talk about Australian jobs—Australian seafarers, Australian captains, Australian engineers, Australian-built ships, Australian-owned ships and the Australian owners of ships, who want to make a living too; they don't want to get down to the lowest rupiah to contest—and I get silence. None of them can put up a good fight. For crying out loud, we are an island. Everything that comes in and out of this nation, apart from on planes, is reliant upon shipping.
I'm going to put this one out here to all those listening: in the United States of America, foreign-owned vessels are not allowed to operate in their domestic ports. Every single ship that goes into every single North American port is (a) American built, (b) American owned, (c) crewed entirely by Americans and (d) captained by an American. They run this line because of national security. I'm sick to death of this country, where we have Prime Ministers who think that they need to win a few votes so they put out a calendar—or a magnet for your fridge that says, 'Don't be a Lert, be alert!'—or some damn thing. When we talk about national security now, after what we've seen around the world, and when we want to maintain our national security, we want to know who's coming into this country, and we want to know that whoever is operating in and out of our domestic ports is paid a living wage, not screwed down like the ITF have found over the years.
There has only been one case recently—this year, one shipping company: paying $1.80 an hour for their seafarers. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars! Let alone the poor devils that lost their lives on the Sage Sagittariustwo at sea; one went missing overboard; one, somehow, fell through the hull; and one was pushed into a crusher when unloading in Japan. The captain owned up as a gun runner, he ran guns—proudly. And our defence and security forces couldn't find him. There was a trial going on in Sydney—this is the sort of nonsense that's going on—and halfway through the trial a reporter, Owen Jacques, from the Sunshine Coast, was down in the court. At the smoko break he walked up to the prosecutor and he said, 'I know where Captain Salas is.' No-one else knew where Captain Salas was. He said, 'I've got the register here. Here it is. Tomorrow he will be on X ship'—whatever the name of the ship was—'and he's coming into Gladstone port.' I nearly just said, 'bugger me', but I won't do that because it's unparliamentary: for crying out loud! All of a sudden our agencies thought, 'Well, we better get up there and we better grab him so he can come and talk for himself.' Anyway, to cut a long story short, this is what this mob over here want to do. And it is absolutely disgraceful that they think they can get away with this.
There is no way known that Labor will support this crappy bill—absolutely no way. I would encourage every single Australian who gives a fig about their kids and our national security, let alone our environmental issues—because Aussie ships don't run up against the Great Barrier Reef—and our apprenticeships, our engineers, our skippers, our masters, our seafarers and our waterside workers. There is nothing wrong with saying that we want Aussies doing it first. By the same token, if, for some reason, we cannot find an Australian ship to cart the cargo, there are laws now where we say, 'Well, go and find one anyway, as long as that foreign crew is paid our wages.' I gotta tell you, for all the people down in the departments that are helping this government draft this, sometimes there's a bit of me that says, 'You know what? What would be the argument if we said we're going to do this to your jobs—if we were going to deregulate the public sector? If we can't find an Aussie, well, bugger it. We don't want to pay Aussie wages; let's put some foreign workers on and exploit them.'
Senator Cameron interjecting—
No, you're right, Senator Cameron. I shouldn't give them an idea! There's no way on earth that this little fat senator is ever going to support this terrible bill. I condemn it.