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Wednesday, 15 August 2007
Page: 191

Mr MARTIN FERGUSON (11:50 AM) —On behalf of the opposition, I welcome the opportunity to address the Maritime Legislation Amendment Bill 2007. The intent of the bill is very straightforward. It follows a process of consultation and seeks to achieve the integration of the Australian Maritime College, based in the seat of Bass in Tasmania—historically, a Labor Party initiative—with the University of Tasmania. I am pleased that the bill includes funding conditions on the University of Tasmania for five years. The objective is clearly to ensure that the Australian Maritime College continues to play a significant role as a national provider of maritime training education following the integration.

From the opposition’s point of view, and following consultation with the industry and the maritime unions, that objective is very important. We have a huge problem on the skills front with respect to our seagoing workforce. In one way or another, we have to do more to increase the attractiveness of working in the industry and to encourage people to pursue a career in the maritime industry. This is important because we have to provide a framework which ensures the integration does not dilute the AMC’s standing and, historically, its important role as a key VET provider in Australia. The Maritime College must also retain the flexibility to adapt itself as a national regional maritime VET provider. Under the integrated model it is therefore important that funding arrangements do not mean that it is forced to increase its focus on foreign fee-paying students, as has occurred in recent years to too many tertiary education institutions, especially in regional Australia.

This concern has been partly addressed in the bill by imposing funding conditions on the University of Tasmania for five years and by requiring the minister to conduct a review of the integration before the end of the five years. I would hope that the House committees are involved in that review. Importantly, I note for the benefit of the Chair of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Transport and Regional Services that that would be an appropriate job for that committee to undertake over that five-year period. Whilst it is not in the bill, it is a requirement that the university also include industry stakeholders in the development of the Maritime College business plan, following integration. That is also important because, historically, industry stakeholders have played a very important role in the nurturing and development of the Australian Maritime College. We should go out of our way to ensure their ongoing hands-on involvement in trying not only to guarantee the future of the college under the umbrella of the university but also to lift its importance, especially with respect to domestic training in Australia. That is one of the concerns the industry and the unions have expressed to me in my consultation relating to the bill before the House today.

Interestingly, some stakeholders have also put to me that graduates leave the Maritime College with a good theory base but with little practical experience. There is therefore a need to address a wide range of issues, including transferability from the Navy to the merchant marines; pilot training that includes seagoing experience; and port-specific training that addresses a wide variety of maritime conditions in Australia. Those are just a few examples of where we think there is scope to improve the performance of the college, based on recent experience.

These are some of the issues that could perhaps be addressed if stakeholders were included in the development of the Maritime College business plan. I will move the second reading amendment, to be tabled this morning, so as to also address in passing some concerns, as well as others, relating to the serious skills shortage in the maritime industry and the need for far-reaching training reform at a national level.

The second reading amendment that I will move later draws heavily on the resolution, approved by the Labor Party’s national conference, involving consultation with marine engineers and the Maritime Union of Australia in April this year. It was a very constructive discussion aimed at trying to find solutions to some of the training problems that confront the maritime industry in Australia in the 21st century. These unions, representing workers and also the views of many employers in the industry, are concerned about the skills crisis in the maritime industry and are therefore proposing sensible policy responses to address this problem after what we consider to be a decade of neglect by the Howard government.

This is important because you also have to think about the importance of the maritime industry and coastal shipping, not just international shipping, and the growing challenge confronting Australia on the freight task. Australia’s freight task is set to double by 2020 and our most important transport priority for the future is to make intermodalism work and to plan supply chains to take advantage of the different strengths of road, rail and shipping in the freight task, in association with the aviation industry. That is why a federal Labor government will focus national transport spending on not only national road and rail networks but also their integration with air, sea and inland ports to create a national intermodal transport network. That goes to the issue of making sure that we also improve our performance on training, because you are going to need a bigger workforce to confront this growing freight challenge.

A national freight logistics plan is long overdue and needs to include the shipping industry—something that has been absolutely neglected by the Howard government. The Howard government has basically said that we should vacate the field as a nation, following the last decade. Shipping, as we all appreciate, will not be able to fulfil its potential in Australia’s national freight task if there are no trained crew, engineers, pilots or officers to work in it. This is an attractive industry to work in; it just needs some government support because employers, union representatives, the workforce and their families are highly committed to the industry and they want better leadership at the national level.

It is the view of the opposition that our national infrastructure transport priorities have to focus on three things, including the issue of training, because without training and a skilled workforce we cannot achieve these three things: firstly, productivity gains in our key export supply chains, like wheat lines, coal and iron ore, and rail and ports; secondly, integration of our land transport system with air, sea and inland ports to improve productivity and general freight movement; and thirdly, easing urban congestion in our major cities. The best thing the Australian government can do to ease these urban congestion issues is to invest in freight corridors to take traffic off commuter roads and passenger rail lines. There are staggering statistics that 85 per cent of containers entering and leaving Sydney are destined for the Sydney basin itself and that 80 per cent of those containers are moved by truck between Western Sydney and Port Botany along the M4 and M5.

Let us put an end to this so-called argument about competition between road, rail and shipping. The best interests of the city as a whole have to come first, and the freight task is going to represent ample opportunities for all transport modes in Australia. There is also a clear need to further upgrade dedicated rail freight infrastructure, improve crane, road and rail freight handling at Port Botany and expand the debate beyond the current government’s focus on labour productivity to also look at the need to actually invest in some modern capital equipment, such as an increase in the number of cranes at some of our port facilities. That would be an integrated approach to increasing the efficiency of road, rail and shipping transport infrastructure.

I raise these issues because I think it is important that we have a broad debate about these issues. Labour reform in the maritime industry is important, but I think the bill does not address many of the training concerns that need to be dealt with beyond the integration of the AMC and the University of Tasmania. The important thing will be that the AMC now works with the unions and the industry to ensure that maritime training needs for the future are met. Let me say that, compared to international container movement rates, there is still potential for further productivity gains in Australia, but the big emphasis should now be on more cranes with trained crews at ports and easing other infrastructure capacity constraints.

Unfortunately, the government cannot see beyond its ideological war with the maritime unions to address these more pressing and challenging problems, which are raised with me on a regular basis by industry in criticism of the government’s very narrow approach to productivity on the waterfront, with a total focus on the workforce rather than also looking at the broad challenges going to the infrastructure bottlenecks which are a huge productivity barrier to the future of the maritime and seagoing industry in Australia. I say that because forecasts for growth in Australia’s international maritime cargo trades are staggering.

I simply say to my colleagues in Victoria: the sooner you make a decision on the deepening of the Melbourne harbour the better, because it is now not just a barrier to international vessels going to the Port of Melbourne; they also will not go into the ports of Brisbane and Sydney until we get the Port of Melbourne right. That is an absolute priority for the Victorian government to sort out sooner rather than later, in the same way that the Australian government has some challenges with respect to some of these infrastructure bottlenecks that are its responsibilities around Australia.

That is important. Let us think about it. The Australian international container trade will almost triple by 2020, so time is not on our side with respect to some of the port facilities and the associated rail and road infrastructure. Also, there is going to be an ever-increasing important debate about intermodal facilities in key capital cities such as Sydney and the absolute priority of the development of the Moorebank facility. Just as the tardiness of the Victorian government in making a decision on the deepening of the Melbourne harbour is important, there is also a requirement for the New South Wales government and the Australian government to get their heads together to get on with the development of the Moorebank intermodal facility.

This is important because bulk facilities at Australian ports present another looming challenge. Increased motor vehicles trades with specialised port requirements must be addressed over the next decade, including relocation from inner harbour areas to regional ports such as is occurring, for example, with the port of Wollongong. Grain exports are by their very nature unpredictables but could increase by 50 per cent—another challenge for the Australian community, because I think we effectively have a meltdown of the wheat rail infrastructure in a number of key states at the moment. For example, in Western Australia, if we are not careful, we will see 1,000 kilometres of the rail system—currently operated, effectively, by Babcock & Brown—falling into disarray sooner rather than later unless there is urgent government action at a state and federal level in partnership with the private sector. I could go on to refer to iron ore, coal and alumina exports, which all present challenges to the Australian community. With the growth in trade, I could also point to our requirement to not only sort out the Maritime College and its new partnership with the University of Tasmania but to also sort out a broader approach to training in Australia to guarantee that we have a trained workforce in place to meet the growth in the freight task that is going to be part and parcel of the challenges confronting Australia in the future.

We have to streamline training in this industry and create modern opportunities. Hopefully, the bill before the House is about going part way to achieving that end objective.

Interestingly, the bill also authorises the Australian Maritime Safety Authority to share its information with other Australian state and territory government agencies and other parties for the specific purposes of maritime domain awareness, maritime safety, protection of the marine environment and efficiency of maritime transportation. This is interesting because there is currently no specific legal authority for AMSA to share information gathered for its purposes with other parties. The clarification of its powers will hopefully enhance maritime safety and security, protection of the marine environment and efficiency of maritime transportation.

Our examination of the bill found no direct financial impact from this bill. The 2007-08 budget includes a figure of $61.4 million, representing the consolidated net assets that will be gifted to the University of Tasmania as a result of the integration.

On behalf of the opposition, I indicate that we support the bill. Obviously there are some riders embodied in the review after five years and also the requirement for the industry to be involved in consultation to make sure that this transfer of responsibilities is a success.

This bill has not been without controversy. It follows a long period of review in Tasmania and some local concerns in and around the operation of the Maritime College in the seat of Bass in Tasmania. I express the dismay of the opposition that the member for Bass, Mr Michael Ferguson, did not regard this bill to be of sufficient urgency and national importance for him to find time to come and address the Main Committee and the House on the bill. I commend the bill to the House. The second reading amendment lays down some of the things—such as consultation and the streamlining and strengthening of training—that should occur in Australia as part and parcel of this initiative. On behalf of the opposition, I 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 neglecting the skills, training and certification crisis in the maritime industry over the last eleven years and calls on the government to:

(1)   ensure the AMC has an independent chair;

(2)   include industry stakeholders in the development of the AMC Business Plan following the integration; and

(3)   act as a matter of urgency to consult with industry employers, unions, training institutions, AMSA, the industry skills council and State and Territory governments to:

(a)   ensure the availability of suitable maritime training and skills development arrangements to meet the skills needs of the maritime industry;

(b)   ensure there is a coordinated approach to resourcing and delivery of maritime training across all maritime training institutions;

(c)   ensure that any bottlenecks in the distribution of resources to maritime training be resolved, aimed at ensuring training expenditure is allocated to regions and to projects having the greatest demand for seafaring skills;

(d)   assist in expediting industry research on reconciling data on maritime industry skills supply and demand with the capacity of training institutions to deliver relevant training;

(e)   review the charter, management and focus of the Australian Maritime College to ensure it is responsive to the needs of the Australian and regional maritime industry;

(f)   develop a nationally coordinated scheme to ensure that both private and public shipping assets are harnessed in an effort to maximise opportunities for maritime trainees to gain sea time as a necessary part of acquiring a maritime qualification; and

(g)   consult with regional Governments on the most appropriate ways to involve regional nations in the training and skill formation strategies for the offshore oil and gas industry, to assist in meeting Australia’s skills needs and to facilitate skills transfer as a part of Australia’s commitment to regional development”.

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

Mr Melham —I second the amendment.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Batman has moved as an amendment that all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The question now is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.