Monday, 4 December 2017
Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee; Report
Thank you. I move:
That the Senate take note of the report.
In taking note and speaking to this report, the Greens note that the name of the legislation is the Coastal Trading (Revitalising Australian Shipping) Amendment Bill 2017 and note that the last thing this legislation will actually do is revitalise Australian shipping. I have been in the Senate for 3½ years. The issue of Australian coastal shipping has been on the agenda for all of those 3½ years and it has been used as a political football. We have seen shipping being washed backwards and forwards by the government—with wave after wave of changes; being hit by a constant crash of wave after wave—with resultant job losses and the loss of Australian-owned and Australian-flagged ships.
Australia should have a successful coastal shipping sector. We are an island nation, and we export and import so many of our goods. But this legislation, like the government's previous attempt to change our coastal shipping legislation, which was rejected by the Senate, is not going to be the catalyst that causes Australian shipping to be revitalised. Basically that is because, in order to do so, it's going to require leadership from the government to say that just leaving it to the market to determine the direction of Australian coastal shipping is not going to deliver the changes that we require. If we leave it to the market, we have seen what happens. What happens is that it's a race to the bottom in terms of reducing costs and trying to do things at the cheapest possible rate—employing seafarers from around the world on extremely low wages and under extremely poor conditions; cutting corners so that you end up with ships that are at a high risk of polluting our precious coastal and marine environments. In order to change that, the government has to put some controls in place: to send the industry off in a different direction and to say that this reducing-costs environment is not delivering in the national interest.
It's interesting that, after the last government's attempt at changing the legislation was defeated in the Senate, the industry itself said that we needed to have certainty. That's what we heard when we last went through this. Above all, what they wanted was some certainty. They wanted to have a direction that we were going in. They didn't want the shipping industry to continue to be used as a political football. There was some incredible leadership that was shown by the shipping sector, particularly by MIAL, Marine Industries Australia Limited, who got stakeholders from across the sector together over a series of workshops over many months to say, 'Come on; let's all work together. We're not getting leadership from the government, so let us as a sector work together and work out what we can agree on on the way forward for coastal shipping.' They put together a very comprehensive report, a green paper on coastal shipping, which had support from across the shipping sector.
You would think that having that as a resource document, and having had the experience previously of legislation being knocked back by the Senate, the government would have seen that as an opportunity to move forward in a different direction. We had hoped that that would occur when we had a change of minister: a new minister who seemed to be more interested in talking to stakeholders and working out the most appropriate way forward that would deliver for Australian jobs, that would deliver for Australian industry and that would deliver for the Australian environment. But, sadly, the legislation that is being proposed is just a continuation of the same. If this legislation is passed, we know that it's going to continue the decline. It will mean that we will, effectively, have no Australian shipping sector, which would be an outrageous thing to occur, given the potential of the sector for Australia.
In speaking to this report today, I want to implore the government to not continue down this path of racing to the bottom, using coastal shipping as a political football and ending up with a total destruction of Australian jobs and Australian involvement in our shipping industry. We need to reject this legislation. We need to use the resources and the willingness across the sector to work together on what is the best way forward—government working together with stakeholders—and recognise that there is a strong role for government here. It's only by having the government working together with industry, unions and a range of organisations involved in this issue that we will be able to realise a positive future for the Australian coastal shipping industry.
The direction we're heading in at the moment is more of the same. It's where we do not need to be going. If we work together, there is the potential to steam away to a positive and productive Australian industry. I urge the government to listen to the sector and move forward in that direction. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.