Speaking on Shipping Legislation Changes

It gives me no pleasure to stand here and speak on the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Further Strengthening Job Seeker Compliance) Bill 2015.


I support the second reading amendment wholeheartedly. The former Prime Minister—the former Prime Minister Abbott, that is—said that Work Choices was 'dead, buried and cremated', and I think there were a few stunts to underline that effect. But what we see today is life being breathed back into Work Choices. This is Work Choices on water, as it has been dubbed, and there are pretty good reasons for that. It is called Work Choices on water because this legislation will see the wholesale sacking of an Australian maritime workforce, the driving down of wages and the removal of people who are enjoying Australian wages and conditions and being replaced with foreign workers.

Not since the Peter Reith and John Howard-led Patrick waterfront dispute have we seen such an attack on waterfront workers, on seafarers, on the maritime industry in this country. At least then they had the courage to do it in broad daylight—there were balaclavas and dogs. They are not as visible this time but there are plenty of balaclavas and dogs in the legislation.

Member for Hughes, it was George Bernard Shaw who said, 'The government that tries to rob Peter to pay Paul can always rely on the support of Paul.' Well, the champion for Paul is at the back of the chamber. What he is proposing to do is rob a group of workers to support the profits of the companies that he supports. I argue, and all those on this side of the House argue, that Australia is a better country than that. If we want to improve our productivity, there is a better way of going about it. We made some decisions back in the 1980s that we did not want to be a low-wage, low-productivity country, that we wanted to have good and decent jobs and high productivity. The productivity improvements enhancements we have seen on the waterfront and on the waterside have gone through the roof, through cooperation—

Mr Craig Kelly interjecting

Mr STEPHEN JONES: Isn't it interesting how empty tins always make the most noise.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Vasta ): Order! The member for Throsby has the call.

Mr STEPHEN JONES: If the member for Hughes wants to learn something, he will find it a lot easier to learn something with his mouth closed. What I hope to do is paint the problems with this legislation.

I am not surprised that there have not been too many National Party speakers on this bill, because they would be ashamed to do it. We all remember November 2013, a few months after the election, where the National Party went to the wall. They went to the wall, in the name of the national interest, to prevent a company—a US backed company by the name of Archer Daniels Midland—from purchasing a controlling interest in GrainCorp. Their concern back then was to ensure that the national interest was protected. They did not want to see a foreign company come in and have a controlling interest in GrainCorp.

Where are those National Party members today? They managed to bust the former Treasurer's arm and roll him, because they thought it was not in the national interest to have a US backed multinational company running GrainCorp, a critical piece of infrastructure loading grain onto ships. But somehow it is in the national interest to have every single Australian worker—

Mr Craig Kelly interjecting


Mr STEPHEN JONES: sacked from the ships that they are loading grain onto so that not only will you not have an Australian ship; you will not have an Australian maritime worker working on those ships. Somehow that is in the national interest. Is it any wonder that members of the National Party have not been speaking on this bill? They are too ashamed to do it, because people like me will be calling them out for their hypocrisy.

This legislation is not in the national interest. If it is allowed to pass, it will allow those foreign flagged vessels working between Australian domestic ports for up to 183 days a year to do so by paying Third World wages to their crew. Meanwhile, Australian shipping companies, who are trying to do the right thing and pay Australian-level wages, will be forced out of business—and somehow that is in Australia's national interest. We on this side of the House argue that it is not.

Mariners will be out of work. Unlike the member for Hughes, who has an academic interest in this issue, I come from a region with a port, where hundreds of families rely on wages from Australian seafaring. They are the workers who are going to be thrown out of work. The men and women who put out of Port Kembla on a weekly basis are the people who are going to lose their jobs, because the champions over there for Work Choices on water could not give two hoots about those families.

Those opposite talk about unemployment and they talk about employment. If this bill is about improving employment in this country, it is a very strange way to go about it, seeing hundreds of workers thrown out of their jobs in the name of creating employment. Their track record is not too good on this. This is a government which has seen unemployment grow to its highest level in over a decade. It now has a '6' in front of it. When they came into government, we bequeathed them an unemployment rate with a '5' in front of it, so they have a pretty atrocious track record on this measure.

This legislation is Liberal Party DNA in action. This is their ideological commitment to Work Choices—to destroying Australian jobs and destroying Australian wages and conditions. This is what it is all about. It is a typical ideological agenda from the coalition. They have never seen an Australian worker that they thought was not earning too much. They want to see the cutting of wages and conditions for Australians working on our ships—

Mr Craig Kelly interjecting

Mr STEPHEN JONES: Here is the proof of the pudding. The bellicose member for Hughes up the back, with his academic interest in this issue, gave us a few examples. He did not cite the examples which were brought up in the Senate inquiry into this bill, not a few weeks ago, where we heard evidence that the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development—the minister's own department—has been advising Australian shipping companies that, to compete in Australia under the proposed legislation, they should drop the Australian flag and register overseas. Not only that, they were advised to sack their Australian workers and replace them with crews paying foreign wages. That is their solution. That is not fantasy. That is the evidence—not rebutted—that was presented before the Senate inquiry into this legislation not two months ago. I thought that with the change in prime ministership there might have been a change of heart and a change of policy, but what we are seeing from Abbott to Turnbull is a consistency of policy. There has been no change. If there had been a change in policy, we would not be seeing this legislation before the parliament.

Under Labor, through the Australian shipping reform package of legislation, we saw policies put in place that were going to rescue the Australian shipping industry, because it was in a pretty parlous state. During the Howard years the number of Australian flagged vessels working our trade routes domestically went from 55 in 1996 to 21 by the end of the reign of John Howard as Prime Minister. We revitalised the entire industry. I will just repeat those numbers, for the education of the member for Hughes: they dropped from 55 in 1996 to 21—slashed by more than a half over their period in government. And they are at it again.

There will not be an Australian flagged ship. That will be the result. But be very, very clear about this: there will not be an Australian flagged vessel, with Australian workers, working our coastal shipping industry if this legislation passes through the Senate. They know about it. They have to be honest about it. They have to be honest in saying, 'This is what we stand for.' In fact, I want to see them. I invite the member for Hughes to come down to Port Kembla, in my electorate, and say: 'I am campaigning to have you guys lose your jobs, because that is what I stand for. I am campaigning to have all of you and your families thrown out of work'—because, make no mistake about it, that is what this legislation means to workers in my electorate.

The changes proposed in this bill will put at risk the jobs of about 2,000 Australian seafarers. More than that, about 8,000 jobs in associated sectors are also at risk. But it is not just the jobs and the economic impacts—and the economic impacts are significant. We are a nation that relies on seafaring for our trade. Most of the goods that we export from this country—and we are an exporting country, committed to trade—are shipped out of our ports on our ships. Many countries in the world would not allow even the situations that we have in Australia at the moment. In the United States of America, for example, under the—prodigiously named!—Jones Act, foreign ships and foreign crews are banned from working in their coastal waters. That is, if you want to ply trade up and down the American coastline you have to do it on American made ships crewed by American workers. They would be looking aghast at the sorts of legislation this government is proposing to put in place today.

In Canada, in Japan and throughout the European Union we see similar sorts of situations. So, we in the Australian Labor Party are not alone in calling rubbish on the bill before the House today, and that is what we are doing. We are calling rubbish. We are saying that this bill is designed to do nothing more than put 2,000 people out of work. It is not just about the jobs and not just about the economic impact; it is about the environmental impact as well.

We have seen numerous examples over the past few decades of incidents when foreign flagged ships, foreign crewed ships that do not know our coastal waters and perhaps do not conform to the same safety standards and risk-management practices that ours do, doing all sorts of things that have put our environment at risk. We saw in 2010 an oil spill that occurred—up your way, Mr Deputy Speaker Vasta—when the Chinese bulk coal carrier the MV Shen Neng ran aground on the reef near Rockhampton. It was found that this ship was over 10 kilometres outside the designated shipping lane. It created a massive oil slick, one of the biggest scars in the reef, off Rockhampton, around 250 metres wide and three kilometres long. Coral bleaching has nothing on the impact of this ship and the impact it could have had on the reef on that terrible day. It was a massive oil slick. Thankfully we were able to clean it up. But this is an example of the sort of environmental risk we face if this legislation passes the House.

We know from talking to seafarers and from the examples that have come before the regulatory authorities that many vessels are taking shortcuts, doing 'rat runs' and not adhering to environmental or occupational health and safety standards, and this is the sort of thing that is going to be let loose by this government and these members who are shortly going to vote in favour of this legislation. It will see not only 2,000 workers thrown out of their jobs, including the workers who ply the coastal shipping routes out of Port Kembla, in my electorate, and not only the economic damage that will be done by destroying the Australian shipping industry but also the environmental damage that will be done as a result of the lack of standards and regulation that this legislation is going to wreak upon the Australian community.

So, this bill should be rejected. It should be withdrawn from the Notice Paper. And, if it is not, those members on the other side should do the right thing and vote with the Labor opposition to ensure that this bill never becomes law.