Senate debates

Thursday, 12 November 2015


Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee, Report

6:02 pm

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As the Deputy Chair of the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee, I wish to report to the Senate that we held a legislative hearing in Canberra on 7 September, a Monday afternoon, and we had a number of witnesses. What came out of this inquiry is absolutely frightening. I have just sat through, as you have too, Mr Deputy President, general business when we were talking about the loss of Australian jobs. What we have here will be the loss of an Australian industry. All those Australians out there need to be very aware of what the government is trying to do with this legislation. To put it in a nutshell—this is a no-brainer—we are an island nation. I believe we have the fourth largest shipping task in the world. But through the intelligence of this government, being led by Mr Truss—I know that is an oxymoron, putting those two words together—the Shipping Legislation Amendment Bill proposes to do away with, exterminate, get rid of, the Australian shipping industry.

Those out there listening to this debate might think, 'What has this bloke been on at lunchtime?' I am not making this up. It is absolutely frightening what they want to do. They want to get rid of Australian flagged ships and they clearly want to get rid of Australian seafaring jobs. It is well known that there is a lot of coastal shipping, shipping that moves between the states, between the capital cities, and no-one is more reliant on that than our friends and colleagues down in Tasmania because, lo and behold, they are also an island like we are. They do not have a highway running between the top end of Tassie and Melbourne where we can truck everything across.

What really highlighted the problems with this bill was the evidence of one of the witnesses, a Mr Bill Milby. Mr Milby heads up North Star Cruises. North Star Cruises are on the top end of that great half of Australia, the western side. They run the Northern Star—I think it is called the Northern Star—ship out of Broome. Its crew are all Australian. I tell a lie: there might be one Kiwi on there. They are all young Aussies, captained by a very experienced Australian captain. They run tours and cruises between Broome and Darwin and back and that beautiful part in between.

Mr Milby attended a function or a seminar or something which was attended by Minister Truss and his officers from the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development. Mr Milby raised concerns and said to them—not to the minister but to his officials—'If we are going to get rid of Australian jobs and Australian ships and allow foreign seafarers to come in and foreign flagged vessels, how the heck can I compete? How can I keep my 52'—I think the figure was 52—'employees employed who are all Australians, bar maybe one Kiwi, who predominantly live in Western Australia, down the south, but head up to Broome'—and there are a number of people that live in Broome—'and work the dry seas and tours?'

He was told something by the department, by an official, Ms Judi Zielke—and Ms Judi Zielke and I are no strangers to each other for a number of reasons, but particularly through Senate estimates and this inquiry—who is the Executive Director of Surface Transport Policy, ably backed up, Mr Milby told us, by Mr Michael Sutton, the General Manager of the Marine and Shipping Branch. They did not deny it. They tried to do the weaselly little bit about, 'We didn't really say the words that might have been reported in the paper.' But they did.

In the end, this is what came out: when Mr Milby asked, 'How do I compete; what do I do?' he was told by these officials, 'De-register your Australian vessel; go offshore, get a foreign flag and get rid of your Australian crew and employ foreign seafarers.' That is just one tiny little bit. As part of the inquiry, we actually got on record from the department—the government itself clearly said—that over 1,000 seafaring jobs will be gone: no Australians. That raises a number of issues. One is the environmental problems that may result because of the Great Barrier Reef. We have had a couple of incidences where foreign vessels have tried to take a shortcut across the reef. We know that happens.

But one of the biggest issues for me, apart from that mob over there saying they are glad to get rid of the Australian shipping industry, is national security. Mr Deputy President, you and I and my colleagues on this side of the chamber and in that other house over there, on the opposition benches, have had to listen to the national security beat-up at certain times coming from the former Prime Minister and ably backed up by every senator in this place, every minister—the whole lot of them. Sometimes it was warranted, but, by crikey, they were really pulling out the dog whistle: to actually think that there are Australian vessels that were carting fuel between our cities, between our refineries, from Brisbane down to Melbourne and wherever, and that we are prepared to not have a clue, to not have any Australians, just foreign seafarers. Do we think this is a good idea as a nation? Do we honestly believe that it is a brilliant idea to say to the Australian shipping industry, 'Go away; get lost', all in the name of delivering cheaper freight rates for maybe the cement industry, or maybe some of the miners? Let me tell you, I am supportive of the mining industry, but they do give me the screaming abdabs when they go out there and start screaming about how they want to be more productive, and what it means is just turning over more for their shareholders, but they are happy to do away with Australian jobs.

Not only that, but we talk about training, and our masters and our captains. These are not degrees that are obtained—you have a listen over there—you do not find them in a Weeties box; you actually have to have years and years of experience, you actually have to be out there and know what you are doing. You do not go to a pastel-coloured classroom in some TAFE for three weeks and say, 'Look, I've got a couple of hundred bucks to spare; I think I want to be a master.' We are going to kill off every opportunity we have created for this island nation to sustain itself and employ our own ships, running in and out of our ports, so we eliminate a lot of the problems. Some people out there may think I am being racist or—what do they call it, with all this nonsense; is it homophobic?—xenophobic. I knew it was one of the 'ophobics'! Call it what you like, but I will stand up for Australian jobs.

And the United States of America, that great aircraft carrier of freedom floating between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans: not even they would do that, because they have the Jones Act. The Jones Act says very clearly that, for national security, all shipping between US ports is done by United States flagged vessels and United States crews. So, I am really dying to listen to the argument coming from that side. Just one of you out there in fairyland, I am pleading with you: come and give me all the reasons in the world you think it is a fantastic achievement to get rid of—I was going to say 'sink', but I do not think it is the right word!—an Australian industry that we are so reliant upon, because we may have a couple of industries, being mining or cement, that do not even own any ships but just want to make a few more bucks. Are we prepared to watch over 1,000 jobs go?

I just want to give you a breakdown of those jobs. I asked the MUA, and the reason I asked the MUA is that they know where all the seafarers are. I said, 'Give us a quick breakdown,' and they told me. Very quickly—I do not have a lot of time—I am going to go through that, so those opposite can come and try to challenge me or whatever they want to do. In the Bass Strait, 382 Australian jobs will go—and these are the government's figures; they have said over 1,000; they are not disputing it. In LNG, in my fantastic part of the world, and of course Queensland and Victoria, 176 jobs will go. In the petroleum and gas trade, 72 jobs will go. In the dry bulk trade, it will be no fewer than 226 seafaring jobs, mainly in the eastern states of Victoria and New South Wales. In the bauxite and alumina trade, 136 jobs will go, mainly in Queensland and New South Wales. In the Northern Territory, servicing remote Aboriginal communities and other communities, it will be 302 jobs. In cruise shipping, with 17 Australian operators—and I talked about Broome and the Top End—it will be approximately 150, and we know what states they will be from. Also, approximately 500 jobs will go from Carpentaria Management Services, Paspaley Pearling Company, Port of Brisbane, V.Ships, Gardline and P&O Maritime Services, mainly in the Northern Territory and Queensland. The MUA has actually come back and said that it is closer to 1,980.

So, I extend that invitation once again: can someone please come and challenge me, take me on, show me where I have got it wrong? If you vote for this, I will make sure that every Australian seafarer gets your name from my mail. (Time expired)

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.