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Thursday, 29 March 2001
Page: 26004

Ms HOARE (12:16 PM) —I am pleased to speak on the Maritime Legislation Amendment Bill 2000. What has been made clear in the discussion so far, and I am sure will continue in the discussion to come, is that Labor members care about the working conditions of seafarers and about the environment. To have such a long speakers list on this legislation reiterates and re-emphasises that fact. The main purposes of this bill are to amend the Navigation Act 1912 and to rearrange Commonwealth, state and territory responsibilities regarding safety regulation of Australian trading ships and foreign flagged trading ships visiting Australia. It also amends the Seafarers Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1992 and the Occupational Health and Safety (Maritime Industry) Act 1993 to reflect, as far as possible, the jurisdictional rearrangements proposed by amending the Navigation Act 1912. This bill has finally come up for debate, having been introduced into this parliament on 31 August 2000 after ongoing negotiations and subsequent agreement of the states to this legislation.

The Navigation Act 1912 is the basic Commonwealth legislation that regulates most safety related operational aspects of overseas and interstate voyages by Australian and foreign flagged trading ships. Why do we have a Navigation Act dating back to 1912? As has been pointed out before and I will re-emphasise, Australia is a nation on a continent. Since Federation—that is, since the end of trade between the colonies—Australia has relied on shipping for trade, tourism, defence and security. The bill amends the Navigation Act to an arrangement based on the size of vessels to be regulated and to give the Commonwealth responsibility for vessels over 500 gross tonnage and thereby to give the states and the Northern Territory responsibility for vessels under 500 gross tonnage. This change will bring within the coverage of the Navigation Act trading ships over 500 gross tonnage proceeding on an intrastate voyage and exclude another class of trading ship previously covered by that act, that is, Australian trading ships under 500 gross tonnage proceeding on an interstate voyage.

The bill contains an option for an owner of a trading ship of more than 500 gross tonnage to apply for a declaration that the Navigation Act 1912 not apply to the ship and allows for AMSA to make such a declaration subject to conditions and consistent with prescribed guidelines. This is a significant provision and is one of the reasons why Labor is referring this bill to a Senate committee for closer scrutiny. The bill also amends the application of part 4, which contains the cabotage provisions, to quarantine those provisions from the impact of the revised jurisdiction—implications which we on this side of the House believe require a lot closer scrutiny than is being given in this bill today.

The Ships of shame inquiry was chaired by the former member for Shortland, the Hon. Peter Morris, who has had accolades bestowed upon him in this debate. I would like to add to those for his contribution to the shipping industry both during his time as the member for Shortland and as the former Minister for Transport, and more recently as the Chair of the International Commission on Shipping. Since 1988, there have been various parliamentary inquiries into Australia's shipping industry which have looked into the health and safety of workers, labour standards and foreign flagged vessels. Let us make it quite clear what we are talking about. The flag of convenience system allows a vessel to be built in one country, owned in another and registered in a third. The ships of shame are also called rust buckets, coffin ships and casino ships. Flag of convenience ships fly the flags of other nations because those countries may have cheaper or no registration costs, lower taxes, poorer standards and cheap, mainly Third World, labour.

These flag of convenience vessels pollute our oceans and they threaten our coastlines. The ships of shame make up only one in five of the world's fleet but account for more than half the worldwide ship losses and marine pollution. As the shadow minister has stated, this Minister for Transport and Regional Services Anderson and previous Howard government ministers have hung Australian shipping out to dry. It is not just the Labor Party saying that. The Financial Review last year quoted Lachlan Payne, the CEO of the Australian Shipowners Association. He said:

What's happened is that the Australian Government since 1996 has steadfastly refused to do anything to sponsor an Australian shipping industry. They have bent over backwards to facilitate the requirements of the users of shipping with the consequent increase in the use of foreign ships even in Australia's domestic industry.

As I said, that came from the CEO of the Australian Shipowners Association as recently as November last year.

We need to question why the Howard government has taken this attitude towards the shipping industry. I do not particularly believe that the Howard government has really been out to undermine Australia's trade and defence capability. I would think that the government's ministers would have a bit more integrity than to undermine one of Australia's largest industry areas. So let us look at why this may have happened. I believe that the Howard government has used the shipping industry, unfortunately, to maintain a sustained ideological attack on the MUA. As recently as yesterday, we had government ministers in here crowing about their waterfront reforms. From answers to questions at the Senate estimates hearing in May, we found out some of the details of the costs of the reforms of the then minister, Mr Reith. Up to 31 May 2000, the total funding provided to the Patrick group of companies—remember it was the Patrick group of companies, headed by Chris Corrigan, that brought to the waterfront the dogs, and the security guards, clad in balaclavas, who had been trained in Dubai—was $102,192,291 for 821 redundancies. That is over $100 million provided to the company to help the government get rid of the MUA. Minister Reith and this government failed in that respect. The P&O group received nearly $63,000,000 for 552 redundancies. These are companies that were paid to sack workers. Make no mistake about it: these companies were paid by the federal government to sack workers. During this time we found that the share price of Lang Corporation rose from $1.16 in January 1998 to $9.09. As the shadow minister suggested, the only beneficiaries of Reith's reforms were the shareholders of Lang Corporation; it certainly was not those workers whose employers were paid by this government for them to be sacked.

There have been five years of government neglect in the shipping industry which needs to be addressed in Australia or we could face a major shipping disaster. We have already faced shipping disasters, and I will outline a few cases, Madam Deputy Speaker. Let me tell you what the Maritime Safety Authority inspector found on the Malaysian flag container ship Bunga Teratai Satu when she came into Port Botany on 8 August last year. The safety inspector found that the navigational equipment was not working properly and that various other equipment on board that boat was not in safe working order. However, in defending his decision to award the Bunga Teratai Satu a coastal permit to trade in Australia, John Anderson, the minister for transport, said that Australian shipping was uncompetitive. So the minister allowed foreign vessels that were clearly unsafe, and which AMSA inspectors have found to be clearly unsafe, to travel in Australian waters. Our ALP shadow minister, Martin Ferguson, called for Mr Anderson to reveal why he allowed the Bunga Teratai Satu to operate on the Australian coast just days before authorities discovered these serious safety breaches. At that time the shadow minister said:

Australia has a Navigation Act designed to protect our environment and national interest. But this Government's policy of issuing special permits to foreign vessels appears to be encouraging foreign ships to deliberately bypass those provisions.

The Bunga Teratai Satu was not the only shipping disaster that spring. In separate incidents five seafarers were burnt to death off the Australian coast in November. Madam Deputy Speaker, can you begin to imagine what that would be like, and the kinds of working conditions those people were working under? At the same time as the Bunga Teratai Satu was being blasted off the reef, the surviving crew of the Greek owned Maltese flag of convenience XL were imprisoned and adrift just 70 kilometres from Port Hedland. The vessel caught fire on 10 November, killing two seafarers. Five days later, three more seafarers perished in an explosion on the Singapore flagged, Norwegian managed container ship Kota Wirawan off our national marine park just 200 nautical miles from Norfolk Island. Incredibly, while the Bunga Teratai Satu was still grounded on the reef, Malaysian International Shipping, the company which owns this ship—a ship which was given the go-ahead to operate in Australian waters by this minister but which ran aground on the Barrier Reef, as we all read in the papers—was being bestowed with honours at the Australian shipping and transport awards for the year 2000.

Incidents like these are almost daily events in Australian ports. There are many tales of horror since that first Ships of shame inquiry. An Indonesian radio officer, Budi Santoso, perished at sea after leaping overboard from the Panama flagged vessel Glory Cape to escape a mugging with iron bars. There was an Indian seafarer, Suhrid Bhowmik, whose hand turned gangrenous after being denied urgent medical treatment off Geraldton. Honduran Rommel Salvadore was rescued only minutes from death after climbing overboard from the Panama flagged vessel MV Hunter off Newcastle to escape abuse. Korean Bai Hyeong Ki was disfigured for life by sulfuric acid due to slack safety on board the Panama flagged vessel Sunrise Sakura in Brisbane. An unnamed Filipino seafarer was burnt alive with a shipload of Australian sheep on board the Panama flagged livestock carrier Uniceb. Two BHP workers were injured when the iron ore carrier Gigi 2 broke up in Port Kembla. These are in addition to the more than 2,000 cases of seafarers marooned around the world and the 450 detentions of unsafe foreign vessels by Australian port control during 1996 to 1998 alone.

In the year 2000 alone, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority detained 82 foreign vessels. Other incidents last year included, in August, the tanker Laura D'Amato which, as you would remember, discharged 294,000 litres of oil into Sydney Harbour. We all saw the clean-up happening. That clean-up cost has been estimated at $6.5 million. Another incident was when officers of the Panamanian registered bulk carrier Sea Star Bridge were charged after their ship allegedly ran down a prawn trawler, killing its captain, off New South Wales in June. Last May the Panamanian registered New Reach strayed from a shipping channel and ran aground on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef. It carried 1,000 tonnes of fuel. Imagine the environmental disaster if that fuel had been able to seep into our ocean. Again transport minister John Anderson said that the use of these foreign ships—remember they pose a humanitarian and environmental risk—was better than having cargo pile up on wharves because no Australian ship was available to carry it. I really do not think that is good enough for an Australian government which purports to be supportive of humanitarian issues right around the world.

As has been reported, just this month we have had the most recent report released—again from Peter Morris, who chaired the International Commission on Shipping—called Ships, slaves and competition. Mr Morris described the situation—and this is an 18-month-old inquiry that has gone on right around the world—of tens of thousands of seafarers who are being exploited and subjected to physical and psychological abuse worldwide. He was quoted as saying:

Life at sea is modern slavery. Their workplace is a ... sweatshop.

Thirteen years after Australia's original Ships of shame inquiry, we still have incidents like those that I have just outlined occurring in Australian waters. I too would like to congratulate the MUA and their members for the consistent work that they have done to alert the Australian community to the fact that these ships of shame exist, the fact that these ships of shame have been supported by the Howard government to sail in Australian waters, and the threat that these ships pose to both human lives and our environment. This most recent report found that up to 10 per cent of the shipping industry cut corners with staff and safety, often to meet low freight rates demanded by cargo owners.

In conclusion, I would like to state Labor's position on the maritime industry and the shipping industry of Australia. It is no secret to Australia's community, shipping industry participants or the workers in the shipping industry, but I would just like to read it out.

For maritime transport, Labor will:

ensure that Australian domestic shipping is crewed by workers operating under Australian award conditions under established cabotage arrangements;

encourage the continued operation of an Australian coastal shipping industry—and in doing so ensure that Australian shipowners continue to employ Australian crews and receive support comparable with international standards; and

pursue individual port productivity improvement strategies with the direct involvement of port authorities, stevedoring companies, unions and port users through initiatives such as increased competition, productivity targets in terminal leases, increased investment and enterprise bargaining.

This is how Labor will go about supporting and strengthening our shipping industry and how Labor will go about ensuring that such instances as those that I have outlined today do not keep occurring. We will do it in an inclusive manner; we will not go out there and particularly bash the owners or the workers in the Australian shipping industry. The only way that this minister has tackled the shipping industry has been to go out and attack the MUA. We promise that we will be all-inclusive. We will include all participants in the shipping industry to ensure that Australia's shipping industry remains viable and competitive. (Time expired)