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Thursday, 31 May 2012
Page: 6486

Ms O'NEILL (Robertson) (10:45): I note the comments of the member for Mayo. He says we have security issues, that we need this industry desperately to be revitalised. The fact is we carry 10 per cent of the entire world's seaborne trade. There are just 21 flagged vessels. We have four that operate internationally, down from 55 in the 90s. We actually do need to do this. A great productivity measure for this nation is getting this legislation through and bringing about the possibility for jobs and revitalisation of this industry.

These bills will bring shipping back to Australia and these bills absolutely reveal our Labor values: beliefs in our nation, beliefs in our people and beliefs that we can share and respond to the reality and opportunities that are here. The innovation of Australians is up for grabs today. We going to make it possible with this legislation. These bills will bring jobs back and opportunities to our shores.

I want to acknowledge the members of the MUA here and send a hello out to all of those current and former merchant seamen in the seat of Robertson. I particularly want to mention Seamus O'Reilly who is a stalwart supporter of the Labor Party and a great advocate for the union itself.

This government will not let this nation drift aimlessly into the future. We will plan for it, prepare for it and establish the conditions for prosperity for the many, not just the few. We have a great opportunity to rebuild our local shipping industry and with it the economic, environmental and security benefits. We are not without peers in this cause because, while the former Howard government was overseeing the decline in our own industry, around the world Germany, the UK, France, the Netherlands, Japan and South Korea all embarked on extensive and successful programs to rebuild their shipping industries. These countries that were bold and brave and innovative like this government have reaped the benefits of a strong shipping industry and it will be this Labor government that delivers the same benefits for Australia.

This suite of bills tackles the major hindrances that companies face when they are trying to trade in Australian coastal waters. They follow on from the work that this government has already done in protecting the rights of seafarers. We have achieved this through ensuring the Maritime Labour Convention applies to vessels entering Australian waters. This convention ensures that good working conditions are maintained on Australian ships and that the seafarers working on all other ships that enter Australian ports have good working conditions. So spurious arguments by those opposite that Australian wages on Australian ships will make this industry uncompetitive are just plain wrong. These bills level the playing field to ensure that Australians can compete with our neighbours in the Asia-Pacific in cost effectiveness and service delivery.

This is about reducing red tape, bringing back the incentives and creating industry, not just providing subsidies. This package will bring much-needed reform to tax laws around shipping. It will introduce a zero per cent tax rate exempting qualifying income from shipping from taxation. It will introduce accelerated depreciation arrangements for assets, cutting the time in half from 20 years to just 10 years, creating demand and encouraging the purchase of new assets. This is about rebuilding opportunity for people in this nation. It is a Labor piece of legislation. These are vital reforms. They provide incentives, they create demand and they encourage the purchase of new assets within the shipping industry. Businesses will also have the option to roll over relief for selected capital assets under this new suite of bills.

Importantly, this government will introduce tax exemptions for seafarers working overseas on qualifying vessels that are at sea for more than 90 days in a tax year. This significantly will remove disincentives that exist for companies employing Australians and will level the playing field for Australian flagships in the international employment market. This means jobs for Australians who want to be seafarers. I can think of many of the young men who I have taught on the Central Coast over the years imagining a life at sea, and we are going to bring that possibility to this nation. It is a very important part of the delivery of this legislation today.

The Gillard government will also diversify the Australian Shipping Register to encourage a growth in Australian flagships by establishing an Australian International Shipping Register to be paired with the reformed Australian General Shipping Register. This will make sure that the master and chief engineer are preferably Australian residents, while the balance of the crew may be foreign residents paid at internationally competitive terms and conditions of employment. Key elements of the register are access to the tax exemption and other tax incentives introduced in this legislation. The same environmental, safety and OH&S standards—and I know that that matters to the members in this chamber and the people that they represent—will apply to the AISR vessels as they apply to the general registered vessels, and a seafarers bargaining unit will be formed for the purposes of negotiating terms and conditions for seafarers on international voyages.

The Gillard Labor government sees strong shipping as part of a strong economy. We are proud that this package is the culmination of more than four years of consultation with the industry, unions and regulators. What do the others say? They say, 'Wait, let's have a Productivity Commission inquiry.' In fact, what they are saying is, 'Be afraid.' That is what we hear from them day in, day out. We say, 'Believe in Australia.' We say, 'Be bold.' We say, 'Be active, get out and make these things happen,' and that is what this legislation will do. It is a piece of enacting and enabling legislation.

We have seen recommendations from the House of Representatives inquiry unanimously supported from over 65 submissions. We have seen industry and unions come together to discuss the implementation in the Shipping Policy Advisory Group. We have received over 40 submissions on the discussion paper released in December 2010. The opposition continues the same old cry, 'No, no, no.' They are determined to oppose the chance for Australian ships with Australian workers to compete on a level playing field against foreign ships to carry Australian goods on the Australian coast. During their last term of government, when the coalition scrapped the capital grants assistance, they scrapped accelerated depreciation and they scrapped, with it, the Australian shipping industry. All the while, the Howard government tripled the number of trading permits to foreign flagged crews from fewer than 1,000 in 1999 to more than 3,000 by 2008. And they stand here and make the bleating noise of 'no' when that is what they actually did: take away the Australian industry. What the Liberals and Nationals took away, the Labor Party will rebuild.

However, this goes beyond just economic arguments. A strong shipping industry has vital security repercussions for Australia. These include the opportunities available for transport of nationally important or sensitive goods, the capability increases of a heavy shipping fleet for defence purposes and, at its most basic level, the economic value and strategic importance of the commodities carried by the ships. Similarly, steel, aluminium and petroleum account for a large percentage of Australia's coastal cargo movements and have important strategic value. Should we ever face a defence crisis, it will be crucial to maintain a supply network of our own resources to protect our economic activity. Having a robust Australian flagged fleet will ensure that we are able to maintain economic and manufacturing supply chains during times of conflict both here and abroad. These are important considerations in the national interest.

The maintenance and logistics of our resource supply chains are important considerations as a source of our national wealth. Our resources are often in remote and inaccessible locations, making coastal shipping a vital link in the chain when transporting large quantities of goods around Australia and to our neighbours. It is important to realise that the loss of one ship or one port will have great repercussions throughout our economy. We as a government appreciate the importance of an Australian coastal shipping industry and the major contribution to our security and economic wellbeing that it makes. Other modes of transport are helpful but they do not provide a serious alternative to coastal shipping for the commodities moving by sea around our shores.

To facilitate mode switching on a large scale, an enormous expansion of interstate road, rail and pipeline infrastructure would be required—and we can be absolutely certain that those opposite would never be investing in that. For the most part we think our solution is a very, very helpful one for this country. So, instead, we offer this suite of legislation: a practical, enabling and visionary set of bills that breathe life into the current cadaver-like state of the Australian shipping industry. We stand ready to reinvigorate a vital industry that enhances our status, our security, our business capacity and interest, and it will create jobs, sounding a message of new jobs through the foghorn of the good ship Labor.

As usual, those with a miserly view of this country, those who oppose everything, who fear the great failure of this nation on a daily basis—those opposite, those of the Liberal-National Party coalition—do one thing: they oppose and say no. For the young, the free, those who understand that this great country is indeed girt by sea, our side offers a transformative suite of shipping legislation. I commend the bill to the House and urge its passage at the earliest opportunity.