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Monday, 1 December 2003
Page: 23349

Mr MARTIN FERGUSON (5:29 PM) —It is my pleasure this evening to indicate to the House Labor's support for these amendments to the Maritime Transport Security Bill 2003. These amendments follow extensive negotiations with the office of the Minister for Transport and Regional Services and the maritime unions. Perhaps this evening's debate is a lesson to the media. All too often a lot of work is done in this House which is not properly reported in the media. We only ever get reports about divisions in the House. The truth is that, with respect to many bills, there is a desire by both sides of the House to reach some accommodation in the nation's best interests. This bill, going to maritime transport and security and the threat of terrorism, is a prime example of our success as a parliament on that front.

We all know that there has been widespread concern that the government had not adopted the spirit and word of the ISPS Code with respect to labour rights. It was very clear in the new international security treaty, to which Australia is correctly a party, that the labour and welfare rights of seafarers were not to be affected by the new code—and rightly so. The opposition and the maritime workers and their representatives were therefore concerned that the bill did not clearly reflect the intent of the ISPS Code with respect to labour rights. To the credit of the Minister for Transport and Regional Services, we were able, after discussion, to reach agreement to amend the bill to make it absolutely clear that the industrial and welfare rights of seafarers and other maritime workers would not be affected by this bill. These amendments make it clear in two places—in both the purpose of the act and the definition of `unlawful interference with maritime transport'—that that is to be the case. The opposition, following consultation with the maritime unions and their members, agreed to the format in terms of the government's draft amendments. Those amendments have been agreed to in the Senate and are supported by the opposition today.

Having dealt with those important amendments, I wish to raise a few other issues with respect to the nature of this bill. During the course of the negotiations on the definition of `unlawful interference', the opposition was also—I am delighted to report—able to resolve other matters of concern to industry. I seek leave of the House to table a letter from the Minister for Transport and Regional Services, Mr Anderson, dated 27 November, going to these matters.

Leave granted.

Mr MARTIN FERGUSON —That letter covers two significant issues: recognition of the unions' role in maritime security, and the register of training and qualifications for maritime workers. I will firstly go to the role of workers' representatives—the role of the unions. The issue regarding the unions' role stemmed from initial concerns that the unions were not adequately consulted on the development of the bill. Perhaps there is a lesson for all of us with respect to this issue. In developing sensible legislation which is of major concern to the nation's best interests we should go out of our way to consult not only the workers but also their representatives, in this case the unions, to ensure that we lock in absolute support—in this case, for issues going to security with respect to the maritime industry in Australia.

As we all appreciate, the maritime unions represent workers who are on the front line in terms of defending the maritime industry against the threat of terrorism and difficulties with security. In the unfortunate event that Australia is subjected to a terrorist attack using the maritime industry, it is highly likely that the dead or injured will be MUA or AIMPE members. The opposition therefore accepts that the unions have an important role—which, I am pleased to report, is now acknowledged by the government—to play in the development and implementation of the maritime security regime. (Extension of time granted)

The unions were eager to be formally defined as a maritime industry participant. The minister was of the view that this was not appropriate, as the unions were not being regulated as such. Therefore, there was a requirement to find another way around the problem to achieve a solution. The compromise arrived at—as reported this evening—addresses the fundamental concern that unions have previously been excluded from consultation processes. At the local level, the minister confirmed the union's role as employee representatives during the security planning and implementation processes. This has now been, appropriately, codified in the regulations.

Maritime industry participants, such as ship operators, port owners and stevedoring companies, are required to demonstrate in their plans a mechanism for ongoing consultation with workers. I personally believe that not only is that important in terms of maritime security but also, as part and parcel of any workplace in a civilised world, there should be a proper process of consultation, understanding and acceptance of one's responsibility with a view to making businesses not only secure but also able to achieve the best possible outcomes with regard to their method of operation. In turn, as a result of that compromise, the Secretary of the Department of Transport and Regional Services will consider the adequacy of the consultation in the plan's going through the approval process. At the national level, the minister has confirmed that unions are a key stakeholder in the ongoing implementation of the maritime security framework—and I thank the minister for that recognition. The minister also confirmed in the letter I tabled this evening that there will be an ongoing industry consultative committee which will involve unions.

I now move to the register of maritime workers. Again, this was a maritime unions initiative to improve security on our docks and onboard ships in Australian waters. Put simply, the unions requested the government to closely regulate the security training of everyone in the industry by maintaining and monitoring a formal register. The government did not agree to this positive proposal, but again a compromise has been reached that not only satisfies the government but, importantly, also satisfies the opposition and maritime unions.

Under the compromise, the regulations will require that the security plan detail the training and knowledge required by staff with security responsibilities. Maritime industry participants will also be required to demonstrate how they will ensure adequate training for all their employees, whether they are casual or permanent. All aspects of the maritime security plan will be subject to audit by the Department of Transport and Regional Services. Interestingly, the industry participants will also be required to keep records of the training provided. These records must appropriately be made available for audit by the department—and, hopefully, on a regular basis. The department will encourage the industry to ensure that provision is made for the portability of this training to other industry employers.

The government believes this is an adequate response to the call for a national register that will deliver the same outcomes and be cheaper for government. The opposition still submits its very firm belief that a national register would be a more effective way of delivering those outcomes, but, in the spirit of the commitment we gave to the government to ensure that this bill is passed prior to Christmas because of requirements to have it operative from 1 July next year, we have appropriately agreed to the compromise.

I note that the letter of 29 November that I tabled this evening reflects the outcome of extensive negotiations on this bill. I would like to personally thank the minister and his staff—and department officials in particular—who have patiently worked hard over an extended period to get this bill to this point. I also note that the security regulation framework of the maritime industry is coming from a base that is much lower than that of the aviation industry. (Extension of time granted) The industry has had the additional hurdles of multiple jurisdictions, and I commend the eight state and territory governments for their decision to work in the nation's best interest in a cooperative way with the Commonwealth government to support a national regulatory framework. The security of ports and many vessels operating in Australian waters has historically been a state responsibility. I am delighted that my state and territory colleagues appreciated that this issue is too important to permit an inconsistent approach across Australia. They are to be commended for this decision and for their ongoing support of the federal government's coordination of the bill's development.

However, I must also indicate that, unfortunately, not everyone is happy with this bill. Obviously, this is a highly competitive industry. The opposition retain significant concerns that the Howard government has walked away from any fiscal responsibility for the additional infrastructure and cost of security required at ports. As I clearly stated in my speech in the second reading debate on this bill in this House, I contend that this puts Australian operators at yet another competitive disadvantage. Our major trading partners, as we all appreciate, are pouring billions of dollars into port infrastructure, but the Howard government will shift the cost to operators and, in turn, to exporters. In the first year for ports this will amount to about $300 million, and the ongoing annual cost is suggested to be $90 million. For Australian regulated ships the cost in the first year is estimated to be $13 million, with annual ongoing additional costs of $6 million. I consider this to be a very big slug. Alternatively, and also unfortunately, our competitors are being helped with this by their nation states—but our operators are not being helped by our own Australian government.

I also report to the House that port owners have serious reservations about many parts of this bill and the regulations. They are not fully appreciated or understood by industry. Timing, as I have indicated, was agreed and critically accepted by all. It is now the responsibility of all to work in a cooperative way to overcome those concerns at a port level and to make sure that the full intent and operation of the bill and the regulations are understood. We appreciate that there was pressure on all to make sure that the bill went through prior to Christmas. If those security plans are not agreed to by 1 July 2004, then Australian trade is placed at a disadvantage. Therefore, we clearly support the bill. We also call on the government to agree to conduct a post-implementation review of this bill 12 months after it commences. That will ensure that any difficulties can be ironed out and that industry will be guaranteed an opportunity to have its views heard by the parliament.

In conclusion, I simply reaffirm my appreciation of all those in industry at state and territory level, representatives of the maritime industry unions and employers and, appropriately, the department and the minister and his staff, who worked in association with my transport adviser, Denise Spinks. Thank you all for your assistance in coming down this difficult trail to finish this hard job before Christmas. I consider that it is a job well done by all involved.