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Wednesday, 8 October 2003
Page: 20801

Mr MARTIN FERGUSON (11:54 AM) —The Maritime Transport Security Bill 2003 is an exceptionally important bill. It goes to the security of Australians and, importantly, it is central to a key debate about the stability of our critical infrastructure, which in turn is related to international trade. The maritime industry is the linchpin for our trading opportunities as an island nation. It is also central to our requirements in terms of creating a larger economic cake and, in doing so, ensuring that we maximise job opportunities in Australia.

Labor has been the party that has continually reminded the House about the importance of a safe, viable and efficient fleet and maritime industry. The debate today is not just about security but also about our need as a nation for a highly skilled work force of seafarers and waterside workers. It is a debate about our requirement for a modern Australian fleet—one that is able to serve our needs both in times of war and in times of peace. This debate is also about the flow-on and supportive industries, such as engineering, maritime training and freight forwarding, which are part and parcel of a nation having a viable shipping fleet. If we as a nation do not have a modern, safe, viable, efficient and secure industry, we lose opportunity in life.

I contend that for too long the Howard government have claimed that Australia is a shipping nation, not a nation of shippers. For too long they have had their heads in the sand about the importance to Australia of shipping as an industry in its own right. Recent skirmishes in East Timor and the Solomon Islands have left Australia exposed, with a requirement to use ships owned overseas and manned by foreign crews. I do not think that is acceptable to Australia as a nation, from a trading or a defence point of view. Our problems on that front are related to the fact that the Howard government's maritime and shipping policy is driven not by Australia's best interests but by an ideologically narrow approach to life. There has been a total focus by the Howard government on Australia having cheaper shipping costs, achieved by busting unions and sacrificing Australian jobs and the Australian industry.

The government has shown its contempt for Australian shipping by refusing to level the playing field. This is what the debate about maritime security is also about: a level playing field in shipping policy in Australia. The Australian Shipowners Association has regularly highlighted 10 pieces of legislation that discriminate against the Australian industry in favour of foreign shipping companies. The single and continuous voyage permit system has been manipulated to undermine the legitimate cabotage provisions that are by no means unique in the world. The Australian parliament has endorsed legislation in the past to protect our domestic trade for the same reason that the United States fiercely protects its domestic coastal trade for security, environmental and other reasons. Labor has continued to identify the security and environmental risks associated with foreign flagged vessels and foreign crews being given unfettered access to the Australian coast and ports at the expense of the Australian shipping industry, shipping workers and their families.

Instead, the approach taken by the Howard government since March 1996 has been to open the door to foreign shipping companies and foreign seafarers. It was only last year that the then minister for immigration finally, after a long campaign by the opposition, took some notice of Labor's calls and placed minimal restrictions on continuous voyage permits. It is a start, but the situation is not good enough for Australia. It is not good enough for Australia's best interests.

The bill before the House is about maritime security, but that is only one element of a far more complex picture. The reality is that the stability and sustainability of this industry is also fundamental to our maritime transport security and our nation's desire to protect itself against the threat of terrorism. The Australian Labor Party and the maritime unions are not lone voices on these matters. I refer to the fact that the Australian Shipowners Association recently released an independent review of Australian shipping. It is also exceptionally important to note that, in commissioning that report, the shipowners called on the expertise of two former transport ministers to conduct the inquiry and prepare the report: John Sharp, the National Party transport minister, and Peter Morris, the long-term Labor Party transport minister and a highly respected person internationally in terms of shipping policy.

These former ministers consulted widely. They went out of their way to speak to an extensive cross-section of Australian industry, government, the community and industry players. The report shows that the priority issue identified by the review was the need for policy clarity. It states:

If all sectors of the industry are unanimous on any single issue, it is the need for Government to enunciate a clear, certain and consistent policy towards the industry, and for regulatory activities to be carried out in a consistent way.

The review, the report of which is a public document, heard concrete evidence from the industry players that uncertainty was stifling investment decisions. Specific new and existing projects are at risk as we speak because government is not doing its job to provide regulatory certainty. In relation to the permit system I have referred to, which is a recipe for destroying the Australian shipping industry, the report found:

The process most criticised was the administration of Part VI of the Navigation Act 1912 and in particular the issue of single voyage and continuous voyage permits. While no one suggested to the Review that there is never any justification for the carriage of cargo by foreign ships, there is a widespread view that the permit system is being misused to enable foreign ships to become regular operators on the coast.

The report then went on to say:

Development of regular coastal services is being inhibited by what is seen as capricious administration of the permit system that favours foreign operators at the expense of Australian enterprises.

That is a report of some standing, prepared by two respected former ministers for transport, one from either side of the House. I believe that the current Minister for Transport and Regional Services would be minded to listen to the findings of his former colleague and his predecessor. That takes me to the bill before the House this afternoon. It is correct that this bill should be debated after the Morris-Sharp review came to some specific damning conclusions in this regard. I go for example to conclusion VIII, which says:

The Review notes the apparent inconsistency between the Government's policy for coastal shipping, i.e. to obtain the cheapest priced shipping services by accessing foreign ships, and its policy of strengthening border protection.

The report then states:

The Review notes measures to be undertaken by the US Government to limit access to its coastline to those vessels and crew from nations regarded as having a high degree of security. The Review received evidence that Australia risks losing access to US markets due to the use of foreign flagged vessels and crews that do not have the high degree of security required under their strengthened border protection regime.

They are pretty telling comments from the report of the Morris-Sharp inquiry. I think it is important that the House considers these comments today in considering the maritime security bill. They are very chilling findings. They are very chilling conclusions coming from extensive discussions with Australia's maritime players—workers, shippers, governments and unions. It was an exhaustive, comprehensive inquiry which was about strengthening the Australian shipping industry and promoting and protecting Australian jobs and, in doing so, protecting the Australian community against the threat of terrorism, a live threat made worse by our involvement in the Iraq war. Also pertinent to this bill is the conclusion and warning in relation to the cost of maritime security. The report says:

Evidence was provided confirming that increased security would result in increased costs that will be borne by the shipping task.

Yes, it would be borne by the shipping task, not by Australian governments. The report then states:

Australia faces the challenge of remaining competitive, as some competitor's governments will meet all or a portion of the increased security costs. Therefore any new measures would need to be pursued within competitive bounds.

I refer, on the basis of that report, to a comment by the spokesperson for the Minister for Transport and Regional Services to the Australian on 20 August of this year, which shows the risk that this view is not being heard in government circles. The spokesman said that there was no chance the federal government would provide any contribution—any money—for the actual costs of added security to the shipping industry. He said:

Security in doing business, whether it's aviation, ports, maritime, down to football games—we don't pay for security.

I believe this comment shows the flippant disregard of the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Anderson, for current threats to security from terrorism. The opposition contends that it is not reasonable—if anything, it is unacceptable—for the Minister for Transport and Regional Services and the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia to say that the threat of terrorism is a normal, accepted part of doing business. I do not accept that. I especially do not accept it because the shipping industry is at greater risk of a terrorist threat today because of Australian government policy with respect to our involvement in Iraq.

If the government want to make those political decisions which make the terrorist threat to Australia bigger, I contend that the government should also bear some of the costs of protecting Australia against the threat of terrorism. The government cannot say, `We're going to make political decisions about, for example, our desire to merely do whatever the US says with respect to involvement in Iraq,' create an environment in which we are at risk of a greater terrorist threat and then say to Australian industry—which must remain competitive in an international sense—that industry itself will bear the added cost of security as a result of political decisions that were made with respect to international issues.

Let us not forget that the terrorist threat to Australian business rose significantly when the Howard government ignored the views of the Australian people and waded into the Iraqi conflict with the United States. A political decision was made by this government. Therefore, it is the responsibility of this government to bear some of the added costs of the consequences of our involvement as a nation in the Iraqi situation. Those costs are reflected in the increased costs of security—for example, to the aviation industry and also to the shipping industry. The facts show that the Commonwealth government is not bearing any part of those additional costs to industry at all. They will be borne by industry. In doing so, the Australian government will make Australian industry less competitive in an international sense. That in turn raises serious questions in terms of job security and our ability to sell exports in the international market.

These issues should not be taken lightly. They are very serious issues. They are issues being rammed home to me on a regular basis by representatives of the airline industry in Australia, by representatives of the shipping industry and also by companies that rely on the aviation and shipping industries to compete in the international market. I contend that Australian business and other tiers of government will pull their weight, but it is not acceptable for the Australian government to again walk away without bearing any responsibility.

The Executive Director of the Association of Australian Ports and Marine Authorities, Mr John Hirst, recently reminded us in the press that in the United States the federal government has allocated $US1 billion to port authorities to upgrade security. Therefore, the US government has effectively weighed in of the order of $A1.53 billion to batten down the security hatches but the Australian government is weighing in nothing at all. What a comparison. The costs to Australian industry as a result of the changes embodied in this bill are not insignificant. The explanatory memorandum, I would suggest to the House, has a conservative estimate. We are informed that the set-up costs to security related ports, including port facilities within these ports, could add up to $300 million, with ongoing costs of up to $90 million per annum. With the US and other countries subsidising these costs, the level of disadvantage to Australian industry is high, given that this government is not providing any assistance at all.

To be correct, for administrative purposes only, the government has allocated a sum of $15.6 million over two years for supposed maritime security. But what is it going to be spent on? Not meeting the costs of extra security at a shipping or port level but merely going to departmental costs to put in place the rules or the regulatory regime. Industry will bear the costs of the regulatory regime. The government will establish the regulatory regime and do nothing about the costs of implementing the regulatory regime.

This was often the type of function the department funded previously as part of its normal business and administrative requirements, but we all know that, given the parlous state of the Department of Transport and Regional Services' financial position, what was normal in the past is no longer possible under the current minister's lack of leadership and accountability. I also remind the House that the department of transport, in an administrative and financial sense, almost went to the wall earlier this year because of overspending and mismanagement as a result of commitments made by the Minister for Transport and Regional Services at the last election, which were uncosted and unfunded. This is important because it is about time that the Charter of Budget Honesty also applied to the Howard government in terms of election commitments.

The Department of Transport and Regional Services was described as being almost broke just after the recent budget in reports given by the secretary to senior departmental officers and in briefing notes that were made available to me. I in turn made them available to the Australian community. Mismanagement, and a lack of leadership and accountability by the Minister for Transport and Regional Services, put the department in that unacceptable situation. But I do commend the department and its staff in trying to do the best possible job in very difficult circumstances. Therefore, I note that in many areas of transport policy the department is now depleted.

I have been informed, and perhaps the minister can answer this question in his response to this debate, that the department does not have one officer with seagoing maritime skills, which are pretty fundamental when you are thinking about maritime security in Australia. Compliance with the ISPS Code in the passage of this bill will require the department to approve hundreds of maritime safety security plans. You must have the expertise in-house to be able to handle those questions. I shudder to think how that will be handled if the skills in the department are not rebuilt as a matter of urgency. The explanatory memorandum to the bill has described the bill as being designed:

... to enhance maritime transport security by:

establishing a maritime transport security regulatory framework, and providing for adequate flexibility within this framework to reflect a changing threat environment;

implementing the mandatory requirements in Chapter XI-2 and the International Ship and Port Facility (ISPS) Code of the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention, 1974, to ensure that Australia is aligned with the international maritime transport security regime;

ensuring that identified Australian ports, port facilities within them, and other maritime industry participants operate with approved maritime security plans;

ensuring that certain types of Australian ships operate with approved ship security plans;

issuing International Ship Security Certificates (ISSCs) to Australian ships which have been security verified so that these ships will be able to enter ports in other SOLAS Contracting Countries; and

undertaking control mechanisms to impose control directions on foreign ships that are not compliant with the relevant maritime security requirements in this Bill.

As we all appreciate, it is a large and complex bill that has been subject to the barest level of consultation with the maritime industry. In truth, and in accordance with Howard government form, the maritime unions were ignored until the last moment. I do not believe that that is right, because it is maritime workers who are at the coalface and who are open to the threat of terrorism. Workers should be entitled to be consulted on these issues at first hand. They also play a key role in international forums on safety and security issues. The ISPS Code, which the bill is designed to implement, acknowledges the key role of those labour organisations, their members and workers.

No other country has taken such a blinkered approach to consultation on key legislation for this industry. No other government would be so arrogant and ideologically driven to ignore the valuable contribution that people who work in the industry can offer. The Maritime Union of Australia and the Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers wrote a detailed submission setting out their views on the exposure draft of this legislation. When my staff checked last week, those organisations had not heard back from the department. There is not even any evidence that their submission was read by the department or the minister's office.

These criticisms aside, the opposition do accept the importance of this bill. We will support it today on a highly qualified basis. We also acknowledge that there are time constraints with respect to the consideration of this bill, as the legislation must be in place to enable all security plans to be finalised and each operator issued with an ISS certificate by 1 July 2004. If that deadline is not met then our industry operators and their workers will be disadvantaged both internationally and domestically. However, the opposition will not permit this to obstruct the parliament's legitimate responsibility on behalf of the Australian public to ensure the bill will work and is appropriate.

It is also worth noting that the maritime industry and the members of the House of Representatives have only had a short amount of time to consider what is a very detailed and complex piece of potential legislation. It is important that all parts of the industry have the opportunity to comment and be treated seriously in that process. In supporting this bill I therefore foreshadow that the opposition is not 100 per cent comfortable with the bill in its current form. We will therefore be seeking in the other place to refer this bill to a committee. We reserve our right to move amendments in the other place if our concerns and those of the industry are not properly resolved.

I would also like to identify a recurring problem with the minister's development of critical legislation. Too often, a bill is circulated for consultation with industry and introduced to parliament. Too often, much of the detail in the bill is to appear in regulations that accompany the bill but are not available when the bill is debated. The minister then expects the parliament, industry and the opposition to simply trust him with the regulations that will be drafted when the department gets around to it. I believe the regulations which underpin the bill and go to its operations at first hand should be available as part of this debate. The minister has again asked the opposition to take a leap of faith and trust him that the regulations will be okay. I suggest today that the minister has to do the right thing by bringing the draft regulations before the Senate committee then circulating them to all industry players who seek to comment on the bill.

The opposition is not about obstructing the passage of the bill. We understand its importance, but we also want transparency with respect to consideration of the bill. It is also important that in the handling of the bill we overcome an apparent conflict between the new powers to be exercised by the departmental secretary to issue orders and the current powers of the harbourmaster delegated through state legislation. The industry argues that clear requirements on the secretary to consult with the harbourmaster, for example, should be included in the actual bill, not in the regulations. I think this is legitimate and should be properly considered. In the same way, the ultimate authority and responsibility for the safety and security of a vessel has always rested with the ship's master. The powers of the secretary must also be clear in this regard. It is important, because people need to know their responsibilities with respect to the operation of this bill.

In the context of my earlier comments about the government favouring foreign shipping operators, it is also important that the Senate committee thoroughly investigate claims that the bill applies more lenient prosecution and enforcement arrangements to these operators. That is unacceptable to the opposition. It is also important that the bill adhere to the intent of the ISPS Code to ensure that Australian shipping is in concert with and in step with our trading partners. That is a fundamental requirement for Australia to be able to compete in an international environment.

In conclusion I confirm that the opposition will support the bill, although our support is conditional. In the opposition's second reading amendment the government is condemned today for its antishipping industry policies. As I highlighted in my earlier comments, the Sharp-Morris review drove these concerns home. They are shared across industry and, as the Sharp-Morris report highlights, they are shared across the political divide. The government must also be condemned for its tardy approach to developing and consulting on this bill. A draft of the crucial supportive regulations is not available, and they are central to the implementation of the bill and the requirement by the port authorities and the industry to have the proper security processes in place by 1 July next year.

I have circulated a second reading amendment going to our concerns. We will seek to refer the bill to a Senate committee to make sure that it receives proper attention and that some of the questions that we have posed today are actually answered by the government if they are not answered in the minister's response to the debate. I ask that the regulations be brought forward as a matter of urgency. As a result of the Senate process, the opposition will then consider any necessary amendments. I therefore move:

That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

“whilst not declining to give the Bill a second reading, the House condemns the Government for:

(1) sacrificing Australia's national interest and risking security with their anti-Australian shipping policies that favour foreign vessels and crew in the name of cheap shipping costs; and

(2) being tardy with the development of this important maritime security framework by not properly consulting the whole industry”.

I commend the amendment to the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lindsay)—Is the amendment seconded?

Mr Melham —I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.