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Wednesday, 28 February 2007
Page: 131


Mr ALBANESE (6:51 PM) —I wish to speak to the Migration Amendment (Maritime Crew) Bill 2007, in particular to support the second reading amendment moved by my colleague the member for Watson. Labor does regard the measures in this bill as being a step forward. However, it does not go far enough in developing that comprehensive security strategy that is necessary. We know that around 600,000 maritime crew visit Australia each year. We know also from reports that there can be some real concern as a result of a lack of proper scrutiny of who is coming here and the circumstances.

In 2005 the Australian Strategic Policy Institute published what was a very comprehensive report that raised real concern about the arrangements that were in place for Australia’s security. The report was titled Future unknown: the terrorist threat to Australian maritime security. It particularly raised concerns about the lack of security for foreign flagged vessels carrying ammonium nitrate around Australia’s coastline. We know that ammonium nitrate could have a devastating impact on our cities, yet we have no proper security and scrutiny of these vessels.

We know also that organisations such as Jemaah Islamiah and Abu Sayyaf have focused some of their attention on potentially engaging in a maritime terrorist attack. And of course we know, and were reminded by the Bali bombing, that indeed Australia is a target and that these organisations operate very close to our borders.

We also know that, in this region, the incidence of piracy is the highest of anywhere in the world. This raises real concerns. I think the government has failed, whilst creating this special visa class, in not developing a comprehensive security strategy. That is why the member for Watson’s amendment has been moved in this parliament. In particular the member for Watson’s amendment:

... condemns the Government for its failure to provide necessary maritime security and protect Australians, including:

(1)   its careless and widespread use of single and continuing voyage permits for foreign vessels with foreign crew who do not undergo appropriate security checks;

(2)   permitting foreign flag of convenience ships to carry dangerous goods on coastal shipping routes; and

(3)   failing to ensure ships provide details of crew and cargo 48 hours before arrival”.

I have already referred to the concern with regard to foreign flagged vessels carrying dangerous goods into our city ports and around our coastlines. But it is also of concern because, as the Terrorism and Security Monitor report of July 2003 stated:

Ship security has grown into a big issue in the war against terrorism, according to the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre. Freighters carrying fuel or chemical cargoes could be hijacked and used in indiscriminate terrorist attacks on ports. During the first quarter of 2003, the number of reported cases of serious pirate attacks has increased to 103 from 87 a year ago. Vessels most commonly attacked were chemical and oil tankers, container ships and general cargo carriers.

The centre observed a disturbing change in the pattern of pirate attacks.

One of the concerns here is that the government has been quite prepared and extremely diligent in its preparedness to raise alleged security concerns with asylum seekers, but here we have a situation where it seems to be less concerned about the potential danger of real, large-scale security concerns that can be created by a failure to properly address these issues.

The issue of foreign flag of convenience ships also goes to the issue of Australian jobs. We hear a lot of rhetoric from those opposite about Australian jobs. Here we have a situation whereby maritime workers from this nation are essentially being undercut in terms of their wages and conditions if we have a laissez-faire attitude towards people working on flag of convenience vessels coming into this nation. We know that often these workers are kept in extraordinarily poor conditions and are exploited by companies and many of them are from extremely underprivileged backgrounds. The exploitation that has gone on means that they are victims themselves. So we have a bad result all around—we have Australian jobs being lost, we have Australian wages and conditions being undermined and we have an extraordinary level of exploitation.

The Maritime Union of Australia is a union that I think has a proud history in this country of standing up for the national interest. Many of those opposite are quick to dismiss the role of unions beyond just defending wages and conditions. Well, I think it is a good thing that the Maritime Union of Australia’s union colleagues who came before engaged in activity such as pointing out that it probably was not a good idea to send pig-iron to Japan prior to WWII, because it would come back to us as it did.

The concerns that the union has expressed about the effectiveness of the maritime visa has a number of aspects. One is that it is essentially $1½ million worth of window-dressing on maritime security. There are concerns about the extent of the failure to deliver a proper maritime security benefit and concerns about the online application process. Certainly, it is unfortunate that the government has not even considered looking at the IMO convention No. 185, which would require all international seafarers to have a biometric identification card. This would of course prevent qualification fraud. Australia is, of course, a signatory to the FAL convention, the 1965 Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic. This convention allows for seafarers to travel without a visa between countries which are signatories to the convention. Therefore, there is concern about some of these arrangements and whether they go far enough.

Labor welcomes the Senate inquiry opportunity that will arise from this bill. It will be an opportunity for people in the industry to express concerns. We think that the maritime visa is a step in the right direction, but we would urge the government to adopt a much more comprehensive strategy.