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Monday, 18 June 2012
Page: 3360

Senator KIM CARR (VictoriaMinister for Human Services) (12:38): I take this opportunity to thank senators for their comments and their contributions to this debate on the five bills that are before the chamber, comprising the government's Stronger Shipping for a Stronger Economy legislative package. These bills represent the most significant reform of the Australian shipping industry in nearly 100 years. These reforms are designed to address the 40 per cent decline in the Australian fleet over the last decade by providing Australian companies with an internationally competitive fiscal and regulatory regime to encourage investment in the Australian shipping industry. In short, this is a package of measures designed for the modernisation of the Australian industry by concentrating on the economic fundamentals of the industry and ensuring that we concentrate on productivity, innovation and the developĀ­ment of high-skill, high-wage jobs for Australians in the industry.

It stands in sharp contrast to the position taken by those opposite, which is to take the low road, to race to the bottom, to see the whole issue of competitiveness in terms of the reduction of wages and conditions for working people. This measure provides for Australian vessels paying Australian wages and conditions. It provides for jobs for Australians to be given preference. However, these new licensing arrangements do not close the coast to foreign ships. The government recognises the legitimate role of foreign-registered vessels in our domestic shipping industry and they will continue to have access to the coast, subject to Australian vessels being given the opportunity to determine whether they are available to undertake the trade.

The bills provide for open and transparent decision-making processes. They provide for flexibility in terms of variations in existing licences. Based on a collaborative approach with industry, the bills provide opportunities both for major companies and for workers to enjoy the benefits of ensuring that Australian industry is competitive while based on proper wages and conditions.

There is of course a matter of national interest here. Ninety per cent of Australian exports by volume are carried by sea. We are the fourth largest sea transport mission in the world. Incredibly, however, Australia has only four vessels participating solely in the international trade. So now is the time to take action to increase Australian participation in the international trade, and that is what this package of measures does.

Time is short, and I think there has already been very lengthy discussion on these bills. I will not delay the Senate other than to say that we would like to thank the Economics Legislation Committee for its consideration of these measures. We would like to acknowledge the fact that the committee has made recommendations that have led to a compact between employers and unions being finalised last month. These are bold reforms. They are consistent with the committee's recommendations, and the government is very proud of these achievements to ensure the protection of Australia's vital interests.

As to the second reading amendment being proposed by Senator Joyce, the government does not support such a measure. It is the same amendment as that proposed by the Leader of the Opposition. It is quite a disingenuous approach. It is not a question of having yet another inquiry; it is a device to delay, at a time when the industry needs certainty and needs to be able to move forward with confidence. This amendment is being proposed by the conservative forces in this parliament, continuing the status quo of an unlevel playing field for Australians and for Australian shipping vessels. We want to ensure that the industry has the confidence to proceed, that new investment is attracted and that we are able to proceed on the basis of innovative processes to ensure that high-skill, high-wage jobs are provided. If Senator Joyce had been confident of the Productivity Commission's bona fides, perhaps he would not have advised us to use its reports in the manner in which he has in recent times. Perhaps they are a bit rough for that purpose as well! His is clearly a view that we can hardly take as being a sincere and genuine approach, given that he suggested these reports be used as toilet paper.

The PRESIDENT: The question is that the second reading amendment moved by Senator Joyce be agreed to.