Senate debates

Thursday, 19 March 2015


Australian River Co. Limited Bill 2015; Second Reading

12:45 pm

Photo of Jan McLucasJan McLucas (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Mental Health) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak today to the Australian River Co. Limited Bill 2015 on behalf of the opposition, and to add some personal comments of my own. The bill gives effect to the abolition of the Australian River Co. Limited, ARCo, which was announced in the 2014-15 budget. The bill contains provisions to give effect to the proper transfer of functions, assets and liabilities from the Australian River Co. to the Commonwealth—in fact, to the Department of Finance—ahead of the Australian River Co.'s deregistration. The bill also contains provisions to ensure that the Commonwealth is the Australian River Co.'s successor at law in relation to contracts and other instruments, including insurance policies.

The Australian River Co. was originally created on 1 October 1956 as the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission, which then operated around 40 ships. It became the Australian Shipping Commission in 1974 and was subsequently incorporated as ANL Limited. In 1989 it became the Australian National Line, and finally took on its current name in 1998. The original purpose of the company was to establish, maintain and operate or to provide for the establishment, maintenance and operation of shipping services for the carriage of passengers, goods and mail. In 2002 the then Howard government wrote to the board requesting that the company be managed with a view to it being wound down. Since then, that is how the company has operated. During our term in government we continued the process of winding down the company, selling off the last of the company's two ships—both bulk bauxite carriers—during 2012.

The company itself ceased to trade in August 2012, when the last of the ships were sold. According to its last publicly-available annual report, as of 30 November 2013 its only ongoing operations relate to the management of legal and insurance matters for the company, particularly workers' compensation liabilities. The company has no employees and no premises; it only has a board comprising three members and a company secretary. Upon deregistration, the remaining assets, activities and liabilities of the company will be moved to and taken on by the Department of Finance and, as such, the opposition will of course be supporting the bill.

I also want to make some comments about the issue of coastal shipping, particularly a matter that affects coastal shipping in Northern Australia. A report on coastal shipping and the need for change was circulated around the industry in February, putting forward options for discussion which include proposals for foreign ships to take up our coastal shipping. We heard during Senate estimates just last month that this could potentially impact around 2,500 jobs and threaten Australian wages and conditions. Our maritime industry does not need the threat of job losses or the loss of Australian conditions and wages so that we can provide additional competitive labour to foreign shipping companies employing foreign workers at, we have been told, $3 an hour. The Australian shipping industry is vital for areas such as controlling our ports and for providing the training and skills needed for our future generations of maritime workers. But I am concerned that the government has moves afoot that will threaten the future of Australian flagged shipping and the many jobs that flow from it.

In my home town of Cairns we had a locally-owned cruise company, Coral Princess Cruises, that was founded more than 30 years ago by Captain Tony Briggs and that employed about 120 people. In 2005 Coral Princess Cruises built its $30 million flagship, the Oceanic Discoverer, in Cairns. It had been a great success for Coral Princess Cruises, so much so that Captain Briggs was considering construction of another ship to match Oceanic Discoverer. But this has all changed. Captain Briggs was so concerned about proposed changes to coastal shipping and the threat to his business that he sold it. It is now in the hands of Singaporean interests. The Abbott government had already given a foreign company operating a Bermuda-flagged cruise ship, the Caledonian Sky, open slather on a route that was in direct competition with the Coral Princess Cruises route. Captain Briggs believes that the changes have already been made, and rightly said this decision by the government was 'exporting jobs'. And he is right.

Foreign ships do not have to employ Australians—they can employ cheaper foreign crew on lower conditions and without the need to comply with Australian OH&S and industrial relations rules, and without the need to pay tax. The member for Leichhardt said that the decision to give Caledonian Sky the licence to operate the itinerary was, and I quote, a 'stuff-up'. Frankly, this is an appalling excuse that has cost Australia jobs. It should never have happened. It flies in the face of any plans the government has to develop Northern Australia.

Here was a local company employing local people, paying tax, having its ships built locally and contributing significantly to the economy in my town. I cannot imagine that Captain Briggs was heartened to hear Mr Entsch describe it as a mere 'stuff-up'. Like my colleague in the House Mr Anthony Albanese, I believe we need an open, transparent and wide-ranging debate on whether we want to continue to see Australian flags on ships around our coast. Anything less will send a message to other Australian owned or flagged ships that their very existence is under threat.

Having said that, to return to the Australian River Co. Limited Bill 2015, I confirm that the opposition will be supporting the bill, as we continued, when we were in government, to implement the strategy.

12:52 pm

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (Victoria, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank Senator McLucas for her contribution and commend the Australian River Co. Limited Bill 2015 to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.