Reforms to revive our shipping industry (15/03/2012)

Shipping.jpgMr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (16:46): A strong economy needs a strong shipping industry. Indeed, an island trading nation like Australia most certainly needs a strong shipping industry and a strong maritime workforce. It has been a part of our history and it is essential that it be a part of our future, but we have some unique challenges. Our geographic location, off the major trading routes and with dispersed trading ports, affects the economics of our shipping industry. We also have an ageing workforce. It is a highly skilled workforce. It cannot be replaced overnight. It is a workforce that cannot be turned on and off like a tap

That is why the government has embarked on a robust reform program to regenerate Australia's shipping industry. The reforms will rebuild our nation's shipping industry and will help attract shipping investment in Australia. And these reforms will provide a new framework for revitalising domestic shipping and protecting it in the long term. They are the key to revitalising Australian shipping.

Rebuilding an industry that has been allowed to decline is a difficult task. There are four key elements to the Labor government's shipping industry reform package. The first is tax reform to encourage investment in new and more efficient ships to enhance the industry's productivity, including a zero tax rate and a seafarer tax exemption. The second element includes an Australian international shipping register to help grow our international fleet. The third is a new licensing regime to provide clarity and transparency to enable long-term planning and to set clear boundaries around the necessary role of foreign vessels in our coastal shipping trade. Finally and critically, there is the establishment of a maritime workforce development forum to progress training and to help us build the highly skilled maritime workforce of the future.

In relation to each of these four initiatives, I congratulate the Maritime Union of Australia for its work in cooperation with the government and I particularly refer to those officials and members of the union from Port Kembla in my electorate of Throsby. We know that we need a package of reforms, because no single measure alone can help to revitalise the shipping industry. Workforce skills and training are one of the biggest challenges facing the industry. As I said, we have an ageing workforce and at the same time our need for highly skilled seafarers is growing rapidly as our shipping traffic increases.

Many newspapers today are carrying a story based on a Deloitte Access Economics report. They include my local paper, the Illawarra Mercury. The conclusions in the Deloitte Access Economics report are wrong and therefore the newspaper reports that reported these conclusions as facts are also wrong. The report is factually incorrect in regard to the operation of the new licensing system. The Deloitte Access Economics modelling is based on the assumption that all temporary licences will be phased out over five years and that all coastal cargo will be carried on Australian licensed vessels. This has never been suggested at any time by the government. There are no plans to restrict the number of foreign vessels in Australian waters. The reforms are simply about levelling the playing field for Australian ships so they can better compete.

The second area on which the reports are wrong goes to the issue of wages. Foreign ships operating on the Australian coast already have to pay Australian wages. The government's shipping reforms do not change this at all. The Labor government believes that all seafarers working on vessels in Australian waters should have the benefit of Australian workplace relations laws and a fair safety net of employment conditions. The Howard government excluded foreign ships from protection under Australian laws. This allowed foreign seafarers working in Australian waters to be paid significantly less than Australian employees performing work on the same routes. This is the equivalent of allowing foreign workers to come to Australia on 457 visas but not requiring that they are paid the same minimum entitlements as Australian workers. Quite simply, we on this side of the House think this is wrong and unfair and that is the reason we are introducing this package of reforms. As well as being unfair, this is a disincentive to employ Australian crew.

We are delivering, in this package of reforms, the future prosperity of the nation for working Australians, ensuring that we have an industry—and a workforce within that industry—to carry the trade that we so much rely on.

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