Shayne Neumann MP
Federal Member for Blair

Australian Labor
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Shipping Legislation Amendment Bill 2015


I rise to speak on the Shipping Legislation Amendment Bill 2015.

It is a blatant and brutal attack on Australia's workers.

In some countries religion, in some countries language and in some countries culture divides the major political parties.

In Australia, it is always industrial relations.

Since the Labor Party was formed, those parties which call themselves conservatives or liberals have constantly attacked workers and their representatives.

This piece of legislation is yet another blatant and brutal attack on the Australian workforce and their representatives.

It threatens 10,000 jobs and endangers the Australian shipping industry, an industry which is absolutely vital for Australia's economic, environmental and security interests.

It abandons Labor's reforms to revitalise the Australian shipping industry before these reforms had time to work and puts nothing in their place.

It deregulates the Australian shipping industry and removes preference for Australian flagged and crewed ships to operate around our coast.

It permits foreign flagged ships to work Australian waters for longer periods before their workers are subject to Australian law—the Fair Work Act wage and conditions standards.

I will repeat that: it basically permits foreign flagged ships to work in Australian waters for longer periods before their workforce is subject to Australian law in relation to wage and conditions standards.

The legislation is nothing more than the Liberal government's latest attempt to float Work Choices.

That is what it is about: bringing back an industrial relations system that was expeditiously and effectively overturned by the Australian public at the 2007 federal election. The coalition parties, the National and Liberal parties, have not learnt. They have not learnt one little bit from that defeat.

They are going to try to bring Work Choices onto our national blue highway.

The importance of this highway to our economy could not be clearer.

We are an island nation.

We have one of the longest coastlines in the world—longer than the coastlines of the United States, China and Mexico.

We depend on shipping for 99 per cent of our international trade.

The latest data from the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics reveals that 1.2 billion tonnes of cargo moved across Australian waters in 2012-13—an 8.8 per cent increase on the previous year.

We, on the Labor side, recognise that a viable shipping industry is absolutely crucial for Australia's economic, environmental and security interests, but not every government does.

When we came to power in 2007, the shipping industry was in decline.

The industry—like so many areas of the Australian economy, community and society—had suffered and shrunk under years of Howard government neglect.

In 11 years of that government, from 1996 to 2007, the number of Australian flagged vessels working our domestic trade routes had more than halved, dropping from 55 to 21.

So we took action to repair this.

We made a commitment to do it.

Just as we committed to, and put funding into, overturning the neglect in hospitals, schools, highways and telecommunications, we took action to revitalise the Australian shipping industry.

Labor governments invest in vital infrastructure to make sure our schools, hospitals, telecommunications and highways—whether it is coastline, rail or road—are improved.

Over a three-year period, from 2010 through to 2012, we consulted with stakeholders and made sure that we engaged in a parliamentary process to give both sides of politics, as well as a parliamentary committee, the opportunity to examine what then became the Coastal Trading (Revitalising Australian Shipping) Act 2012.

We engaged in extensive stakeholder consultation.

We crafted those reforms based on the recommendations of that parliamentary inquiry.

We were about bolstering the local shipping industry and helping to make sure it effectively competed with overseas competition.

We required companies shipping goods between domestic ports to seek an Australian ship in the first instance. However, our reforms allowed the participation of foreign owned ships if an Australian ship was not available.

Those reforms included the following: taxation incentives for Australian flagged ships to encourage employment of Australian seafarers, a new 'second register' with tax benefits for ships engaged predominantly in international trade, coastal shipping reform and a workplace package focused on maritime skills development.

Labor governments often focus on skills development, but coalition governments always seem to be letting the market determine those issues.

Labor governments always seem to be making sure that the skills, talents and abilities of our workforce are enhanced through government initiation and action in consultation with industry.

These reforms needed time to work.

They needed a government that recognised and defended Australia's national interests in terms of shipping.

We did not get that when the coalition government came to power; we did not get that at all. We have seen that the Abbott-Turnbull Liberal government had vowed to repeal Labor's reforms.

The government's hostility towards these reforms was clear from the start—it is not a stretch to say that.

The government has dealt with the Australian shipping industry with the same callous disregard it has shown in relation to the renewable energy industry.

However, the bill we are debating today goes beyond simply abandoning Labor's reforms.

It deregulates Australia's domestic shipping industry, removing preference for Australian flagged and crewed ships to operate around our coastlines. There is a single permit system authorising foreign flagged ships to work the Australian coast for 12-month periods under the legislation. This single permit system will allow and encourage so-called flag-of-convenience ships—ships which fly the flag of a country other than the country of ownership—to compete against Australian flagged ships.

However, there is a crucial difference between a ship that flies an Australian flag and one that does not, and I will outline a few of those.

Australian flagged ships are subject to Australian standards of safety and environmental compliance; flag-of-convenience ships are not.

Australian flagged ships operate under Australian taxation and industrial relations laws at port and in the open sea; flag-of-convenience ships do not.

Australian flagged ships employ Australians and must pay them Australian wages; flag-of-convenience ships do not and will not.

Our laws regulating flag-of-convenience shipping in Australian waters are in our national interest.

They are not unique. Canada, Japan, the United States and the European Union countries all do this.

They have comparable laws that strongly regulate their coastal shipping to protect their national interests.

In America, they have the 90-year-old Jones Act, which bans foreign ships and crews from US domestic shipping routes. All attempts, by a number of people, to change that have failed.

So, what is the government doing?

The government knows that deregulating our shipping industry will cause the wholesale loss of jobs. We also know that, because of the work that has been done by the Australian Institute in its submission to the inquiry that looked into the Shipping Legislation Amendment Bill 2015.

The cost-benefit analysis of the government's bill that was undertaken by the Australian Institute estimates that only 88 Australian seafarer jobs will remain under the department's preferred option for policy change included in the legislation that is before the chamber today.

The government modelling assumes significant job losses in Tasmania and in the Australian cruise line sector based out of Cairns in Queensland.

I am surprised that the Tasmanian Liberal representatives were speaking on this bill, as well as any LNP members from Queensland speaking in relation to this, bearing in mind the impact on the tourism industry, which has so suffered by virtue of government action—both the Campbell Newman Liberal government, which was dispatched by Queenslanders at the end of January this year, and the current government that sits opposite us.

In fact, 88 per cent of the claimed 'deregulatory savings' from this bill are from the replacement of Australian wage standards with Third World wage standards.

How low can those opposite want Australian wages to go?

That is where the savings are coming from. It is not red-tape reduction. It is actually a lowering of standards—of wages and conditions—for workers who work in this sector.

It is a heartless calculation of 'deregulatory savings' when you remember that over 10,000 Australians work directly or indirectly in the industry.

What this government is doing today through this legislation is all about making deregulatory savings, and the way they are going to get them is to cut wages for those people who work in the sector. They know it. The explanatory memorandum says it. They know what this is about. But one after another the speakers on that side of the chamber, in the government, have fudged this and have actually not mentioned it at all, when it is crystal clear from the government's own documentation, which we have seen, that that is how they are going to do it.

They are going to cut wages and conditions in the same way that the Howard government cut wages and conditions with Work Choices. And the Australian people dispatched them, in November 2007.

This bill also significantly extends to 183 days each year the time for which foreign flagged ships can operate in Australian waters before they are subject to Australia's workplace standards.

It ushers in the prospect of Third World wages in the Australian coastal shipping trade.

It will see Australian workers sacked and replaced with 90 per cent foreign crews paid at far lower rates and not subject to Australian laws on wages and working conditions.

While the government has modelled the 'deregulatory savings' on the basis of slashing Australian wages and conditions, it has not modelled the cost of job losses in local communities, up and down the coast and in Tasmania as well.

We have three Liberals over there on that side who are from Tasmania and who are going to vote for this legislation to cut jobs in their area.

The government has not modelled the loss of spending and has not modelled the loss of tax revenue or the higher welfare bill, with unemployment Newstart benefits having to be paid, that will flow from this bill.

The government has ignored the negative impact of its policy on people—on families, individuals and communities. It has failed to model the impact that its plan will have without the income support to vulnerable young people, unemployed for months at a time.

Those on this side of the chamber have referred to the experience of Mr Bill Milby of North Star Cruises.

An apology has still not been rendered by the former Prime Minister, the member for Warringah, or indeed the current Deputy Prime Minister, the member for Wide Bay, who alleged that Mr Milby was not telling the truth, that he was inaccurate in what he had to say when he was told, allegedly—and he was infuriated by this—that he basically had to put off his workers, re-register his ship and engage in the process of Work Choices on water.

Mr Milby still awaits that apology, and I hope the government members opposite will give him that apology, because he deserves it, without a shadow of a doubt, based on the evidence that has come out at the Senate inquiry in relation to this legislation.

We recognise what the Abbott-Turnbull Liberal government does not recognise: that a viable shipping industry is vital to our interests.

We understand that a home-grown maritime industry is absolutely crucial.

We rely on it for 99 per cent of our international trade, which has grown at an annual rate of seven per cent since 2007.

It is a shame that those opposite do not recognise that. It is a shame that they do not recognise that what this legislation is all about is an attack on workers' rights and conditions. It is a shame that they do not fess up and tell the truth about the 'deregulatory savings' and the cost and impact this is going to have on Australian families and communities.

And it is a shame that those opposite will not actually get up and defend their communities; they will just defend their right-wing, market driven extremist ideologies on industrial relations.