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Wednesday, 8 October 2003
Page: 20811


Ms HALL (12:44 PM) —As I sat here listening to the previous speaker debating the Maritime Transport Security Bill 2003, I became quite perplexed over his lack of understanding of how the shipping industry in Australia is working today. To listen to him, you would believe that the government were determined to ensure the safety of our ports, and that they were bringing in a new safety regime that would actually make our ports more secure. Whilst I am not going to speak against this legislation—and I will deal with it in some detail—I think it is important to note right at the outset that this government's policy of allowing foreign owned ships to operate within Australia has really jeopardised our safety from both an environmental point of view and a shipping point of view. I represent within this parliament a coastal electorate that has had a long association with the maritime industry in both peacetime and wartime. Many residents of the Shortland electorate work within the maritime industry. I have spoken to them on many occasions and they have actually expressed to me concern about this very issue.

The government's approach to any legislation dealing with the maritime industry always leaves a lot to be desired. Unfortunately, its handling of this important piece of legislation reflects its ideological hatred of and lack of commitment to our Australian shipping industry. This is to the detriment of Australia as we are an island nation that is noted for its maritime expertise. Internationally, Australians working in the maritime industry are highly respected for their knowledge and professionalism, yet this government has constantly undermined an Australian industry that provides jobs for Australian workers. The Howard government's approach to the Australian shipping industry is very different from the approach being adopted by overseas governments. For instance, those in the UK appreciate the importance to their nation of a strong shipping industry from the point of view of both onshore and offshore activities. There has been considerable effort put into rebuilding the industry over there because of the benefit that it gives to a nation. Within the European Union there has been a commitment to the industry, including a commitment to developing the skills in that industry. Compare that with what is happening in Australia. The industry has been undermined by this government, by the skyrocketing number of continuous voyage permits and single-voyage permits that have been given to overseas flagged ships and by the ideological hatred that it has towards the union. This has actually driven its shipping policy, rather than it looking at what is best for us as a nation. Believe it or not, this is reflected in this legislation, as I will discuss in more detail in a moment.

Since September 11 many nations have taken a greater presence in international shipping for both security and environmental reasons. Serious concerns about port security have surfaced, and internationally this concern has been addressed by nations ensuring that there is a continuing pool of their own nationals that have maritime skills and expertise. A nation having control over and encouraging growth within its shipping industry actually ensures that there is greater security, because there are enormous security implications when you hand the control of an industry such as shipping over to another nation. In Australia, unfortunately, the scales are heavily tilted against the Australian industry, as I have mentioned, with the government issuing continuous voyage permits and single-voyage permits and the different treatment that these overseas flagged ships have. The current tax and regulatory system favours foreign ships with foreign crews. This is not in Australia's interests from the point of view of our security, our industry, our country and our economy.

This legislation has implications for the Australian shipping industry. Historically, the maritime industry has not been subjected to the same level of security as have other industries, such as the civil aviation industry. For a long period of time workers within the maritime industry have been expressing to me their concerns about the fact that the security implications of the overseas flagged ships and their operations within Australian waters have been ignored by the government. Even though we have this legislation, I do not think that has been addressed properly. This legislation is endeavouring to introduce a marine security framework to address the threat of terrorism. Whilst it is doing that through establishing a maritime transport safety regulatory framework, providing for adequate flexibility within the framework to reflect a changing threat environment and implementing the mandatory requirements that are in line with the SOLAS convention, and while it also ensures that it identifies Australian ports and the port facilities within them and that other marine industry participants operate with approved maritime safety plans—and there are a number of other items—I believe it does fail to really address a number of issues. I would like to concentrate on this for a moment. The legislation has been forced upon the government in response to the lead taken by the International Maritime Organisation, so do not for one moment think that it is an initiative of this government. This government does not introduce initiatives in the area of the maritime industry unless it is to wreak havoc upon it. That is very important to remember.

There is a commitment by transport ministers to meet the international deadline for compliance of 1 July 2004. In short, port operators and shipping lines are concerned about some of the problems with this piece of legislation: the prescription of the regulatory framework and the inconsistencies that exist within it. It is no surprise here that the government has failed to consult with the unions—and with the MUA in particular. This minister would walk away from any meeting with the MUA. By failing to consult, what has happened is that we do not have legislation that is the best legislation. The most important thing is for this piece of legislation to ensure the safety of Australian ports. This government's failure to talk to the unions has created a real weakness in this bill. It fails to reflect the general tenor of the ISPS code, which fostered a more cooperative approach to the detection of terrorist threats and the prevention of security incidents. That is a very important factor. We listened to the previous speaker, who rabbited on about what a wonderful job the government is doing and who talked about Iraq. But he failed to talk about the most important thing when you are developing legislation: talking to the stakeholders to ensure that you have the right sort of legislation to actually implement what you are trying to do.

There is also an apparent contravention of Australia's obligation under clause 10 of the ILO freedom of association convention. There should be no interference with the fundamental rights and freedoms of maritime port workers. Of course, this government would pay little attention to that. There is the potential for these provisions to limit the right of access of seafarers to welfare agencies. Once again, that is something I do not think this government is particularly concerned about. The bill fails to recognise that foreign ships pose much greater security risks than do Australian ships. It is very important to note that this government's performance in this area over a long period of time has been very lax. The number of foreign flagged ships, crewed by foreign crews, that enter Australia and the lack of control that the government has in place should raise concerns in everyone's minds.

I see that the member for Newcastle has joined us here in the chamber and will speak next. Earlier—it was this year or last year—we visited a ship in Newcastle harbour, Angel 3. It is interesting to note that that was a Maltese flagged ship which was crewed by Burmese people, and the captain of the ship was Greek. It has a very interesting history. The ability to be certain that the safety of either those crews or our ports could be assured was not there. I feel that this government has failed in many cases. You have Ukrainian seafarers on Maltese ships, and this government makes absolutely no connection to ensure that there is safety. This government has such a history of undermining and distorting our maritime industry simply because it is philosophically opposed to an Australian ship industry manned by Australian workers. Its ideological opposition to the MUA drives all its endeavours in this area.

This legislation has also failed to clearly coordinate proposals for maritime security with the activities of other relevant authorities once again. It fails to communicate with all key stakeholders. Unfortunately for Australia, this government's failure to give proper recognition to the union's role and its failure to work with the union once again undermines all aspects of this bill. If you do not include the workers and you do not develop legislation that is inclusive then you have problems. There is also some conflict between the departmental secretary's power to issue orders and the power of the harbourmasters. This has not been sorted out. The government says that this will be addressed when it comes to the regulations but, quite frankly, I do not think that is good enough. We should know what the regulations are prior to this bill being passed by the parliament.

This government's obsession with destroying the MUA is leading to lost opportunities for the Australian economy, Australian industries and Australian workers. There has recently been an independent review of the Australian shipping industry. This review of shipping was chaired by two former transport ministers, the Hon. John Sharp and my predecessor, the Hon. Peter Morris. He was responsible for the Ships of shame report and the report of the International Commission on Shipping inquiry into shipping safety, which was titled Ships, slaves and competition. They tabled a report last Friday at a conference in Brisbane. That report homes in on some of the important aspects of this particular piece of legislation.

I will turn to the section of the report that deals with national security and share with the House what the review noted. Under the heading `National security', it noted that there was an inconsistency between the government's policy for coastal shipping—that is, to obtain the cheapest priced shipping services by accessing foreign ships—and its policy to support border protection. As I said earlier, on the one hand, foreign ships flagged in one country and crewed by a different nationality are coming in and out of Australia's ports without proper scrutiny, while on the other hand the government talks about strengthening border protection. This highlights a real inconsistency and this government fails to address that in this legislation. It treats foreign flagged ships in a more favourable fashion than Australian flagged ships. To be quite honest, that is not good enough. If we have legislation that is about ensuring security in our ports, we need something just a little better than that.

The previous speaker, the member for Moncrieff, made an interesting point when he highlighted the importance of having a strong security regime in our ports similar to the US government. The review noted measures undertaken by the US government to limit the access to its coastline of vessels and crews from nations regarded as having a high degree of security risk. We have a free flow of foreign flagged ships. The US government has recognised that these foreign flagged ships create problems and have put a high degree security around them.

It is unfortunate for us that the Australian government have absolutely no commitment to our shipping industry. They are prepared to allow foreign controlled ships to take over our shipping industry. That is very sad, and there is no report that has been conducted anywhere that supports this. All the reports and all the evidence show that the way to ensure the country's interests are met, and that we have a strong economy, is through our own strong national shipping industry. The way to ensure security is through an Australian shipping industry. To be quite honest, this legislation demonstrates yet again that we have a government that will not consult and that does not have the interests of Australia at heart.