I support the second reading amendment moved by the member for Grayndler—I do—but, frankly, I'm calling on the government to withdraw the Coastal Trading (Revitalising Australian Shipping) Amendment Bill 2017. I'm calling on the government to withdraw this bill, because it's bad for jobs, it's bad for my electorate and, I believe, it's bad for the country.
There are often occasions when bills that come before this parliament have the effect of leading to a loss of jobs.
There are times when bills that come before this parliament have the effect of leading to a loss or a reduction in
wages and income. This bill does both of those things. But it's not an unintended or incidental consequence of
the bill that there are going to be job cuts; it is the central purpose of the bill. The central purpose of this bill is
to make it easier for shipowners to take an Australian flag off the back of their ship and replace it with a flag of
another nation so that they can replace the seafarers on that ship with an overseas work crew. That is the central
purpose of the bill. It's not an unintended consequence of this bill that wages will be cut. It is the central purpose
of the bill that wages will be cut. The only reason that a ship owner would substitute an Australian flagged vessel
with a foreign flagged vessel would be to enable them to replace the crew and to reduce the wages. So, it's not
an incidental or unintended consequence of this bill that Australian jobs will be lost and wages will be cut; it's
the central purpose of the bill—and for that reason the bill must be rejected.
This is not a small matter. Over 17 per cent of our domestic freight burden is carried by our coastal shipping
fleet, and of that burden around 10.3 million tonnes is carried by ships with a temporary licence. That is more
than the 7.1 million tonnes of freight which is carried by general licence operators. What we have is a crisis.
We have a crisis in Australian shipping. Under the previous coalition government, under the prime ministership
of former Prime Minister John Howard, we saw the number of Australian registered ships plummet. We saw it
fall from 55 Australian registered ships to 21 Australian registered ships plying our domestic waters and doing
the domestic trade. We are an island nation. We sing about it in our national anthem—'girt by sea'. If we cannot
provide a workforce and a shipping fleet to enable us to move freight from one port to another, from one place
to another, we are very vulnerable indeed. So this is bad legislation. Out of national interest, all members should
reject this bill.
I have a very keen interest in this issue. The port of Port Kembla in the Illawarra is a major freight asset within
the region and within the state of New South Wales. It's got a long and proud history. As some may recall, in June
this year an Australian registered ship by the name of the Iron Chieftain was retired due to significant damage
that it sustained during a fire while unloading at Port Kembla harbour. While discharging a load of dolomite,
the belt drive system caught fire and spread along the entire system. More than 100 firefighters were involved in
fighting the blaze, which took more than five days to bring under control. The vessel will be towed out of Port
Kembla harbour after it's been emptied of fuel and all the toxic sludge has been cleaned out of the tunnels and
bilges below decks. However, as a result of the fire and the retirement of the vessel, all CSL Australia positions
on the Iron Chieftain will be made redundant, with expressions of interest being taken for voluntary redundancy.
I and the representative of the workers are concerned that the Iron Chieftain, one of our few remaining coastal
Australian flagged vessels, is going to be replaced and, with it, the crew that are being made redundant will be
replaced by an overseas crew. I hold nothing against those overseas workers. Many of them are coming from
some of the poorest nations in our region. They deserve to make a living as much as the crew who are about to
be made redundant. They are the pawns in this battle. What I am concerned about, and what the workers who
formerly worked on the Iron Chieftain are concerned about, is that this legislation, which government members
are about to support, will make it not only easier but will create a positive incentive for shipowners to replace this
with a foreign flagged vessel. This means it won't be an Australian crew working out of Port Kembla, working
out of Port Botany, working out of Fremantle, working out of Newcastle or working out of any of our coastal
shipping ports; it will be an overseas crew. It is not the fault of those overseas workers; it is the fault and lack
of vision of this government. It is a deliberate policy to make it easier—in fact, to make it imperative—for those
shipowners to replace their flag and replace their crew.
This is not just an economic issue; it is an issue of national security. There are clear synergies between our naval
and our merchant fleet. Indeed, Defence experts have long argued the importance of maintaining a domestic
maritime workforce. They have argued—and we agree—that it ensures that Australia has a pool of highly skilled
labour that it can quickly mobilise during times of conflict or other national emergencies. Furthermore, Australian
seafarers undergo stringent background checks to ensure they pose no security threats. Regrettably, overseas
seafarers, whose backgrounds are a mystery to us, do not undergo such close scrutiny. I hold nothing against
those workers. It is not their fault. It is the fault of the system that this government is putting in place.
Secondly, I want to talk about the impact on our local environment. Australian seafarers are familiar with our
coastlines and have a vested interest in the protection of our world-renowned environmental assets, such as the
Great Barrier Reef. The fact is that all the major maritime incidents to have occurred in our waters in recent
decades have involved foreign flagged vessels crewed by foreign seafarers—again, not their fault; it is simply that
our seafarers feel an ownership and environmental responsibility, and they are experts in plying and navigating
the passages up and down our coastline. They know it, not surprisingly, better than any other seafarers in the
world. They deserve a right to work on the ships that travel up and down our coastline.
It was for these economic, national security and environmental reasons that the former federal Labor government
was so determined to rebuild Australia's shipping industry, following years of neglect by the then Howard
government. Our goal was quite simple: more Australian seafarers working on more Australian flagged ships
up and down our coast, carrying more Australian goods in and out of our ports. After extensive consultations
with industry, all sections of industry, we put in place far-reaching reforms designed to reduce the costs faced by
Australian shippers and to level the playing field with their international counterparts. For Australian shipping
companies the package included a zero tax rate, more-generous accelerated depreciation arrangements, rollover
relief for selected capital assets, new tax incentives to employ Australian seafarers and an exemption from the
royalty withholding tax for bareboat leased vessels. It was a comprehensive plan. What this government has
done, to its monumental shame, is to unpick every stitch of that plan, stitch by stitch by stitch.
It is not an incidental or unintended consequence that as a result of this government's actions we will have fewer
Australian ships and fewer Australian workers working on those ships. It is not an unintended consequence; it
is a deliberate consequence and a deliberate strategy. That is why we call on the government to withdraw this
legislation and we call on government MPs to reject it. If you want to stick by Australian workers you will vote
against this legislation. You will withdraw it and you will ensure that it never sees the light of day.