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Thursday, 29 March 2001
Page: 26007

Mr DANBY (12:36 PM) —In supporting this legislation, the member for Batman indicated that we have brought forward an important proviso in the form of an amendment to schedule 1 of the proposed Maritime Legislation Amendment Bill 2000. The amendment arises as a result of unclear jurisdiction for ships under 500 tonnes on intrastate voyages. As the shadow minister indicated, we are concerned that these provisions leave open a loophole in the proposed legislation. Referring this schedule of the bill to a Senate committee, as Labor proposes, is a good idea, in my view. I have much more faith in the thought-out policies of the shadow minister for transport than I have in the current government.

This legislation particularly came to mind yesterday during question time when related issues of concern in the maritime area were discussed. The members for Page and Forrest were crowing in questions that they addressed to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services about the alleged benefit to Australia of the change in the crane rate lift in our ports. The questions, and indeed the answers, were extremely poorly thought out. Indeed, the member for Fisher was in here earlier questioning the member for Shortland about the alleged benefit of these changes on the Australian docks to the Australian people. I want to particularly address that issue because I believe it goes to the government's standing on all of these issues and to the fact that they have not thought them through. I was astounded when a former minister for small business, the member for Forrest, asked one of these questions yesterday in an attempt to make out that there was great microeconomic reform and benefit to the Australian people from the crane rate lift on the Australian docks.

I want to go through this very carefully. Those opposite referred particularly to the Waterline No. 26 report which says that we had an average crane rate lift on the Australian docks of 28½ containers per hour in December. Everyone supports efficiency on the Australian docks, and that is a very good thing in itself, but I want to make the point that was made by Mick O'Leary from the MUA on the AM program on 5 December 2000 when he said:

That's good but, what's so magical about this figure?

In real terms it is not just a matter of measuring productivity rates through increased crane rates. It's a simplistic view.

The real issue on the waterfront is reliability. A ship might only require 15 lifts an hour to meet its `window'.

That, of course, is an elementary point to anyone who knows anything about Australian ports. Sometimes a ship might not need 25 containers an hour lifted onto it. What they need is the correct amount of containers lifted onto them within the `window' that they are in the port so they can get in and out of there as quickly as possible.

More important is what is reflected in the ill thought-out answers to questions yesterday and, indeed, the questions themselves—that is, the benefits to the Australian people that these alleged reforms to Australian ports that were made during the dispute with the MUA have resulted in. In my view, the minister continues to remain silent on the major issue, and that is the cost of stevedoring charges before and after the waterfront dispute. The Australian Peak Shippers Association and other authorities on cargo shipping have repudiated the government's claim that higher productivity crane rate lifts have led to lower waterfront charges. Stevedoring costs have not declined and, in some cases, apparently, they have risen. According to the Australian Peak Shippers Association:

The fact is that exporters and importers have received no benefit from the `water-front reform'. Waterfront charges have not been reduced. If they had shipowners would have passed them on ...

Mr Frank Beaufort of the Australian Peak Shippers Association said that in November last year. The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services continues to link the decline of export freight rates over the past decade with waterfront reform. The issues of stevedoring costs and shipping costs are separate issues. In answer to a question that I put to him, the minister said that decreases in freight rate charges are largely due to an oversupply in shipping, and that is the real reason some freight rate charges are down. The most important beneficiary of the increased crane rate lifts is not the average importer or exporter, and I would have thought this particularly should occur to former ministers for small business or members of the National Party who are interested in exporting, and cheaper exporting at that, to benefit primary producers; the major beneficiary has been the Lang Corporation whose share price has gone from $1.16 in January 1998 to over $12 now. I find it astounding that the Australian people have paid $178 million in redundancies to the Lang Corporation, yet importers and exporters are having to pay the same charges as before the dispute.

Where is the micro-economic reform? The member for Flinders is regarded as a hero by his replacement, as was said yesterday in question time. I just cannot see the benefit. All I can see is what is well known by the Australian people: this is a government that is driven simply by an ideological hatred of the MUA. The government has given no rational benefit to the Australian people from these alleged benefits in the crane rate lift. It is all very well if the increased productivity had led to cheaper costs for importers and exporters, but it simply has not. As the member for Stirling pointed out, it has simply led to $178 million worth of redundancies being paid from Australian taxpayers' pockets and fed through to the Lang Corporation with no benefit being passed on to Australian importers and exporters. The member for Flinders, the former minister responsible for this area, said that the dispute with the MUA was designed to yield $1 billion in savings for exporters. But Chris Corrigan, Patrick's Chief Executive and Managing Director of the parent company, Lang Corporation, is on the public record as saying that he has not given any undertaking to the government to pass on the benefits of waterfront reform.

This is extraordinary. Neither the current and the former Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business nor the Minister for Transport and Regional Services has even pressured Mr Corrigan or Lang Corporation to pass on the benefits of micro-economic reform, of the extra work of maritime workers, of the higher productivity in crane rate lifts, to the Australian people. What are we spending our $178 million in redundancies for? That is what I would like to know. It is not just the Australian Peak Shippers Association and the MUA that point out that these things are not being passed on. David Trebeck, the architect of the original government plan for waterfront reform, has said that there is no evidence that the benefits flowing to shipping companies are being passed on to exporters. I asked the minister for transport to at least speak to Lord Sterling of P&O when he was in London at the `wing-ding', the `big gig', that the Prime Minister staged there for the Centenary of Federation—which the Leader of the Australian Democrats, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister all attended, with the bands and the huge cost to the Australian taxpayer—and ask him whether they would lower freight charges and stevedoring costs. At this stage, we have had no answer from the Minister for Transport and Regional Services on that issue.

Furthermore, the Deputy Prime Minister's interview with Lloyd's List following a recent international shipping symposium on safe shipping should be of great interest to this House. It particularly goes to the government's credibility on maritime issues. He said that the government did not want to see Australian shipping die but that it was determined that, in the national interest, the Australian community would have the lowest shipping costs while operating in a safe and reliable manner. That is the essence of what this government stands for. It stands for the lowest price possible regardless of the service delivered. It is not concerned about the national security implications that were quoted from General Cosgrove, who praised Australian maritime workers for their contribution to the Timor effort. It is not concerned about the possible environmental effects of its policies. It is simply concerned with the lowest price. This is a market driven government that has no other value than the lowest common denominator, the value of the dollar, and I believe that this is why it will be chucked out in six months time.

Let us have a quick look at some of the incidents that have taken place along the Australian coast—the kinds of incidents that would be avoided if this government were properly interested in cabotage and in seeing that Australian ships are able to do the same kind of work, instead of giving single-permit voyages, as it is doing increasingly, and, as the Deputy Prime Minister says, just being concerned with the issue of price. I want to mention one incident that I thought was particularly incredible. It took place off Port Kembla in 1998. A bottle was tossed off one of these ships, and in the bottle was a message. The bottle was picked up in the harbour at Port Kembla, and the message said:

Please, if you can, call ITF because we have big problem on board. No money, no food, no water. Thank you.

This related to an incident on 12 April 1998 when a Romanian crew abroad a Greek owned, Panamanian flag of convenience—a ship of shame—the Tomis Future, was noticed by a local fisherman within earshot of the vessel. The mariners waved frantically until he brought his craft closer, and then they threw the message in the bottle overboard to him. The fisherman took it back to the port, and eventually it found its way to the ITF affiliate, the MUA. ITF Australia got the crew off the ship and fed, paid and repatriated. This is not an isolated case; this is one of the dramas being enacted almost daily around our coast and around the world.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, AMSA, is the government agency responsible for maritime pollution—although, in my view, it seems to be increasingly reluctant to pursue claims about these ships of shame and their releasing of pollutants into Australian waters. I wonder why AMSA failed to take action over the bulk carrier Joint Spirit, which arrived last year in Adelaide. Joint Spirit had deliberately altered its engine room plumbing to allow oily waste to be dumped at sea rather than retained on board. AMSA failed to take action. The 1997 built 23,400-tonne dead weight ship Joint Spirit is owned by Kambra Kisen of Hiroshima and is managed by Astro Shipmanagement of Manila under dual Panamanian-Philippines registry. For its voyage to Adelaide in May of last year—we are not talking about the Ships of shame report that the member for Charlton talked about in 1992—the ship had a Korean captain and a mainland Chinese crew. While the vessel was loading barley for Japan, a Chinese crew member of the ship found his way to the Adelaide Mission to Seafarers, where he explained to the pastor in broken English about the environmental abuse taking place on Joint Spirit. He had photographs, moreover, which showed that this ship had, over a two-week period, dumped its oily sludge straight into the ocean while the vessel travelled through Australian coastal waters and while at anchorage in Adelaide. He also explained that the crew's wages were being withheld, but his main concern was over environmental issues. This is one of the reasons why the opposition are very concerned with cabotage and why we think it is not simply an issue of interest to the MUA but a matter of concern to all Australians.

Fortunately, we have voluntary organisations like the Stella Maris mission for seafarers, an organisation which cares for the wellbeing of the crews of these ships of shame, these flags of convenience ships. I recently received a telephone call from the mission. They were wondering whether a cricket ground could be found for an Indian crew that had been at sea for several months and whether they could play there for a couple of hours. With a few quick phone calls, they were in contact with the South Melbourne District Cricket Club, which I am very pleased to tell the House offered their ground to the Indian seafarers. It seems like a small thing to do, but it was very important to these sailors, who were tired, dispirited and worried about whether their families had been affected by the earthquake in India. I must pay tribute to the members of the South Melbourne District Cricket Club who welcomed these sailors and made a real difference to the crew's brief stopover in Melbourne.

The Maritime Legislation Amendment Bill 2000 amends the Navigation Act 1912 to revise the division of responsibilities between the Commonwealth and states and the Northern Territory for the safe 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, seeing that these acts are as far as possible aligned with the coverage under the amended Navigation Act 1912. Labor's amendment, to be moved by the member for Batman, is entirely sensible, and part of schedule 1 should be referred to the Senate committee.

I conclude by saying that I believe that the difference that the new minister for transport, the member for Batman, would show under a government led by Mr Beazley would be manifest in judging issues of such importance as our shipping industry not simply on its dollar value. They would have a rounded picture where elements of national security, environment and, of course, efficiency would all be taken into consideration. The opposition supports this legislation. We would like the amendment to the schedule to be referred to the Senate committee. We have a different mentality in dealing with all of these issues, and I thought it was important to make it clear that we do and would have a completely separate attitude to the `market-only' orientation of this current government.