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Thursday, 31 May 2012
Page: 6474


Ms HALL (ShortlandGovernment Whip) (09:54): I will start my contribution to this debate on the Shipping Reform (Tax Incentives) Bill 2012 and cognate bills by congratulating the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport on coming up with reform legislation that I think will reshape and revitalise the shipping industry in Australia. It is no surprise to me that members on the other side of this parliament are, once again, saying no to a piece of legislation that will really turn around the shipping industry.

Furthermore, it is no surprise to me that members on the other side of this parliament are opposing the legislation, when you consider that when they were in government they almost demolished the Australian shipping industry to the stage where there are now very few Australian flagged ships circumventing our nation or carrying Australian products.

There are four elements of this reform package. These include tax reform, and establishing an International Shipping Register which requires the master and chief engineer to be Australian residents whilst the balance of the crew may be foreign residents paid at internationally competitive rates. My predecessor, Peter Morris, when he was in this parliament, was the chair of the former House of Representatives Standing Committee on Transport, Communications and Infrastructure. That committee brought out the report, Ships of shame, which showed how foreign flagged ships were exploiting the crews who were working those ships. The opposition, when they were in government, perpetuated the situation that existed there.

Another reform is the new licence regime to provide clarity and transparency to long-term planning and set clear boundaries around the necessary role of foreign vessels on our coastal trade. Also included in this bill, which I think is very important, is a Maritime Workforce Development Forum of industry, unions and education providers to improve access to maritime training.

The shipping reform embodied in this legislation was subject to widespread consultation. There were over 65 submissions received by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications inquiry. The Shipping Policy Advisory Group, comprising shipping, industry and unions, advised the government on how the inquiry recommendations might be achieved. A discussion paper was released in 2010. Over 40 submissions were received. Advice was given from three reference groups on specific implementation issues in regard to the regulatory reform, taxation and workforce issues, and an exposure draft of the legislation was provided to industry. There has been considerable consultation. Members on the other side of this parliament are not really interested in more consultation; they just want to see a further destruction of the Australian shipping industry.

This reform package is about ensuring that Australia's domestic and international trade is undertaken by Australian registered ships—in other words, it is about an Australian shipping industry. It creates opportunities for investment in job opportunities for Australians and regional seafarers.

There are very few trading ships owned and registered in Australia. Only four of the thousands of trading ships carrying Australian exports are Australian registered. This legislation is about ensuring that we really do have a shipping industry, along with all the associated industries that flow from having a vibrant shipping industry. It is an absolute disgrace that Australia, an island nation, with highways surrounding it, has four registered Australian ships. I have actually visited some of these flag-of-convenience ships and seen the crews that are staffing them. A ship can be flagged in Malta, Greece or wherever. It is then staffed by a crew from Burma. Their level of exploitation has been well documented. So not only are we creating a vibrant shipping industry but we are creating a situation where those people who are crewing Australian ships have to reach a certain standard.

In the 15 years prior to 2012, the number of Australian registered ships fell from 75 to 25 and is declining further. I think that is unacceptable, and I wonder how members on the other side of this parliament can oppose legislation that is about creating a vibrant shipping industry in our country.

This reform package facilitates the long-term growth and stability of the Australian shipping industry for both domestic and international trade—something everyone in this parliament should be supporting. It encourages investment and growth in Australian registered shipping. This can only benefit our domestic and international supply chain. It has got to be good for all businesses and all aspects of our Australian economy. It will contribute to a reliable and competitive service for shippers and it will develop a sustainable Australian maritime workforce—all really positive, good outcomes which should be supported by both sides of this parliament. It will maximise the Australian content of the domestic shipping industry, build Australian content in international shipping through the Australian International Shipping Register, encourage investment in the shipping industry and support the long-term interests of a competitive shipping industry.

What do those on the other side of this parliament say: 'Send it off to the Productivity Commission!' At the commencement of my contribution to this debate, I outlined the level of consultation that has already taken place. I have outlined the decline of the Australian shipping industry overseen by those on the other side of this parliament. As to sending this off somewhere else, as proposed by those on the other side of this parliament—they want anything that will avoid change to the shipping industry, anything that will avoid creating a sustainable shipping industry with all the associated industries that will flow from that. I think they should hang their heads in shame. It is just this 'no' philosophy that they have. But I think that this is a little bit different—this is ideologically driven. Those on the other side of this parliament would do anything to see the maritime industry within Australia destroyed. That is what they want to do—destroy the maritime industry rather than embrace this wonderful reform that has been introduced by the minister after extensive consultation with all those involved in the shipping industry. Hang your heads in shame! You are not about Australian jobs. You are not about Australian industry. You are just about constant opposition—opposition to everything.

Also included in this legislation are taxation incentives: the introduction of a zero company tax rate to replace the current corporate tax rate, and the reintroduction of accelerated depreciation—something that those on the other side of this parliament removed; they really have a lot to answer for—as well as changing the royalty withholding tax provisions. This is all consistent with international best practice. We have seen other countries embrace their shipping industry with massive reforms and massive promotion of their own shipping industry—the UK comes to mind. But those on the other side of this parliament want to destroy our shipping industry. And we are an island nation. Hang your heads in shame!

In addition, a labour relations compact has been reached between shipping owners and the unions. Everybody involved in the industry is happy with the reforms. Everyone is happy, except the opposition. Why aren't they happy? Because they want to destroy the industry. They want to say no. They want to destroy the industry. I have already demonstrated how the Australian shipping industry declined when they were in power and I have also demonstrated how they have supported the activities that happen on the ships of shame that circumvent our country's rules through their permit system. They really have a lot to answer for.

This shipping reform is good for the economy because it helps diversity and it will be complementing the resources and manufacturing sectors rather than going down the track of trying to destroy this very important industry. Australia has a long freight transport corridor, an enormous coastline and high levels of population density in our major cities. We cannot ignore the importance of the shipping industry. Australia is a trade- and maritime-dependent nation. It depends on shipping for 99 per cent of its trade. So if we do not have a strong shipping industry it will be an enormous economic loss to our country. Ships are the least energy intensive of all freight transport modes. A strong shipping market will also provide solid competition with rail and road, providing incentives for the other modes of transport to be more efficient. Australian shipping reform is good for Australian jobs. Securing a strong Australian shipping fleet in turn secures the supply chain and creates hundreds of new long-term Australian jobs. I think it is an absolute no-brainer. For those on the other side not to be supporting this legislation, not to be supporting a strong shipping industry within Australia, I would argue, as I have argued throughout my contribution to this debate, is not about Australian jobs, is not about the Australian shipping industry. Rather, it is about destroying an industry because of their ideology and the fact that they are prepared to sell Australian workers and the Australian shipping industry short.

We do not need any more reports. There have been so many reports that have demonstrated the benefits of a strong Australian shipping industry. We do not need to refer it off somewhere else and delay it so nothing happens. What we need is action. What we need is an opposition that, for once, can look at the benefit for the nation as opposed to their own self-interest and support good, sound legislation that is good for the economy, good for growth and good for Australian workers.