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Thursday, 29 March 2001
Page: 26001

Ms HALL (11:58 AM) —The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance and Administration, at the table, interjected during the member for Stirling's contribution: `How much did it cost?' I think that goes to the core of the issue. How much did it cost? The government is prepared to risk everything to get the cheapest price possible. This is the kind of attitude that leads to unsafe, unseaworthy ships sailing around the coastline of Australia with poorly trained crews. This is the conflict that exists within the shipping industry: a government that is ideologically driven to destroy our Australian shipping industry through bringing in foreign owned ships and letting foreign flag ships sail around the coast of Australia to compete on unfair grounds with Australian ships.

The Maritime Legislation Amendment Bill 2000 before us today seeks to amend the Navigation Act 1912, the Seafarers Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1992 and the Occupational Health and Safety (Maritime Industry) Act 1993. The legislation amends the Navigation Act 1912 to give the Commonwealth responsibility for vessels over 500 gross registered tonnes and to give responsibility for vessels under 500 gross registered tonnes to the states and territories. Included in this are some opting-out clauses which I, like the shadow minister, have some very serious concerns about, particularly in relation to the working conditions of seafarers.

The bill also amends the application of part VI, the coastal trading cabotage provisions, to quarantine these provisions from the impact of the revised jurisdictions—something I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance and Administration would support wholeheartedly. This creates a loophole for foreign flagged ships on intrastate coastal trade to avoid cabotage provisions. Madam Deputy Speaker Kelly, this poses a real threat to both our shipping industry and the environment. There was the recent incident with the Bunga Teratai Satu, one of the best equipped ships, that occurred in Queensland not far from your electorate. I think this really brings into question the issue of foreign flagged ships and the competency of crews. It has the potential to cause so much damage to our environment, to the fragile and vulnerable coastline of Australia that is very dear to all our hearts and that we want to see survive and be protected.

This government is driven by an ideological desire to destroy the Maritime Union of Australia and to maximise profit to those in the shipping industry who seek to do this by exploiting their workers. Of course the long-term casualties in this are our Australian shipping industry and our Australian environment. The government has no commitment to an Australian shipping industry. The Minister for Transport and Regional Services is quite happy to see it eroded and destroyed by creating conditions whereby the Australian shipping industry will be unable to compete with foreign flagged ships. They do not have the same safety requirements, their employment conditions are very different and they will offer the lowest cost possible for transporting cargo. All this does is put our industry under threat. It also puts our environment under threat and the workers within those industries.

In my own electorate of Shortland the coal loader Wallarah carries coal from Catherine Hill Bay to the port of Newcastle. It is an Australian flagged ship subject to Australian laws and standards. I believe this government and the minister for transport would like to see a situation exist where coal carried by the Wallarah was in fact carried by a foreign flagged ship—maybe one from Panama that would be exempt from the coastal cabotage requirements. We could have a carrier that was in poor condition, unseaworthy—a rust bucket. It could be crewed by very inexperienced, unskilled and maybe even a poorly fed crew, and the result of this could be horrendous. As that ship travelled from Catherine Hill Bay, it could run aground and cause enormous environmental damage to an area that has a pristine environment that can be enjoyed by all the people who live between Catherine Hill Bay and Newcastle. This would have a catastrophic effect.

I will return to the government's ideological obsession with the MUA. It will go to absolutely any length to destroy the MUA. We saw how it was prepared to send people to Dubai and to turn dogs and men in balaclavas against workers. Every day in question time it reinforces its hatred for the MUA, its hatred for unions. It is all about breaking the union at the expense of our Australian shipping industry. It will not stop until the MUA and, along with it, our shipping industry are destroyed. The government forgets the importance of a vibrant shipping industry that provides not only jobs for Australian seafarers but also numerous shore benefits such as insurance, lawyers and managers—all industries that create jobs for Australians. In a time when jobs are shrinking and when we have a government that does not have a commitment to Australian workers, we need to preserve every job we possibly can. All this is under threat from this ideologically driven government and minister.

Whilst this government is driven by an ideological hatred of the MUA, I appreciate the work of the union and its members, in particular, its commitment to creating a safe and viable shipping industry in Australia. Unlike the minister and his government, the MUA recognises the threat that substandard foreign flagships pose to our Australian environment. I commend the union and its members for their efforts in trying to protect our environment. The more recent efforts of the MUA and its members in ensuring the enforcement of strong quarantine regulations to prevent foot-and-mouth disease spreading in Australia should be recognised and, once again, I commend them for the work they have done in that area. Recently, at the port of Newcastle, some farm machinery covered in mud and dirt arrived from the UK. The actions of the members of the Maritime Union in Newcastle ensured that no contamination from that machinery was transferred to the Hunter.

At this point I would like to spend a little time analysing the report of the International Commission on Shipping—ICONS. That report is entitled Ships, slaves and competition and I must say that it has already been mentioned a number of times by previous speakers. That gives you an idea of the importance of this very excellent report. The committee was chaired by the Hon. Peter Morris, the former member for Shortland—my predecessor. He is a former Minister for Transport and he was the chair of the transport committee here in parliament when the Ships of shame report was produced. He is a world-renowned expert on shipping. The ICONS report is an excellent report and does credit not only to the Hon. Peter Morris but also to all those who were involved with it. ICONS played a role in bringing all the parties together to establish a common linkage in looking at ways to improve international shipping, to provide safer conditions for seafarers, to create a safer environment and to protect our world environment.

The title Ships, slaves and competition is, in itself, very interesting and really teases out thoughts about the whole issue. Of course, `ships' refers to the international operators and `slaves' refers to the many thousands of seafarers who are exploited, abused and ill treated by those in pursuit of lower freight rates and those who are not working in true competition. That brings me to competition—unequal competition that exists between those shipping companies and those involved in the shipping industry who do abide by the rules, and those who actually provide substandard shipping.

This report deals with a number of areas. The most frequently raised issues, both by way of submissions and in discussion, were: criticism of the performance of classification societies and the failure of flag states to carry out their responsibilities; ill treatment and underpayment of crew, port state control, crew competency, crew availability and fraudulent certificates; the failure of IMO members to support the IMO in the performance of its duties; and an almost unanimous call for full transparency of information in the industry—something which, if I could say so, this government should note very carefully when it is looking at the Australian shipping industry, and may I be so bold as to suggest that in all areas of government transparency is very important. The list also includes criticism of the Convention on Standards of Training Certification and Watch Keeping—STCW—white list process; passport holders without maritime qualifications; non-compliance with ILO conventions; the horrors of the international fishing industry; and the failure to give adequate recognition to quality shipping. They are all the things that we in Australia should be fighting against. All those things are important if we are to preserve our Australian shipping industry.

I now turn to the recommendations of ICONS. The recommendations were: a stronger supervision of classification societies by the European Commission and tougher policy applications by the societies to their clients; improved flag state performance; tighter port state controls and implementation of reward systems for quality ships; more rigorous inspections for ISM compliance; and severe penalties for charterers and major shippers using substandard ships—and substandard ships will appear in Australia unless the government is prepared to ensure that we do not have these substandard foreign flagships operating intrastate. Further recommendations were: the establishment of a confidential ship safety incident reporting system—COSHIRS; deterrent financial penalties on owners of detained ships; reduction in multiple inspections of ships; stricter control of manning agencies and prohibition of blacklisting of seafarers; ending the abuse and ill-treatment of seafarers and their families; and support for abandoned seafarers and seafarers welfare organisations.

This is in recognition of the conditions under which so many seafarers work on these foreign flagged ships, conditions which I am sure this government would like to see enforced within the Australian shipping industry. That can be the only reason it pursues the MUA to the extent it does. The MUA is about protecting the conditions of seafarers, which we on this side of the House are determined will happen. Other recommendations include: lifting training and qualifications; ending fraudulent practices on crewing; support for international agencies such as IMO and ILO; and designation of ports of distress. These are excellent recommendations which Australia should support 100 per cent. I implore the minister to do so because it is the one thing that can ensure some form of equal competition and it will benefit our Australian shipping industry.

In conclusion, I implore the minister to make a real commitment to our Australian shipping industry. There are many thousands of Australians who work within the industry or in industries that are aligned with the shipping industry. We are an island nation, as many other speakers have already said. We should make the most of this. To do that we need a strong shipping industry.