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Monday, 28 May 2012
Page: 5671

Mrs MIRABELLA (Indi) (12:45): I rise to speak in support of the amendment. The arguments were very eloquently put by the Leader of the Nationals. It is a very sensible amendment at a time when the Australian economy and manufacturing are undergoing very challenging circumstances. It is incumbent on all of us in this House to ensure that new legislation passed does not add to the uncompetitiveness of Australian industry, as is the case with much that has passed this House of late, particularly the carbon tax. Industry has been hammered left, right and centre. Little regard is given to the long-term viability of the manufacturing sector. This amendment is very sensible in that it aims to ensure that legislation is not passed that causes more damage to a fragile manufacturing and industry situation.

What we all want is a competitive industry, a viable coastal shipping industry that adequately and competitively services Australian industry. We have heard from industry that the legislation will do anything but that, that it will cause great damage, add to costs and add to import replacement. That is an extremely unsatisfactory situation. The impact of these bills will be an absolute flood of imports into Australia, because currently it is as cheap, or costs the same, to bring cement from China to Australia as it is to take it from one Australian port to the other. The impact of these bills, if they are passed, will be to make those international imports competitive and cheaper than shipping from one Australian port to the other. Anyone on any measure would say that is absolutely insane and it is what is going to happen. It is causing great consternation to the industry. New research from Deloitte Access Economics has said that the coastal trading bill will cost the economy up to $466 million in the next decade and that we will see freight charges increase by 16 per cent. Conservative estimates are that it will kill off 570 full-time Australian jobs.

This is an attack on Australian industry at a time when it can least afford it. It is rushing this legislation through as a sop to the Maritime Union of Australia instead of looking to the national interest to see what is the best possible scenario for the Australian shipping industry but also for Australian industry. It is not just industry that will be affected. It is agriculture as well. Sugar is already being shipped from overseas directly to Australia because it is cheaper than shipping it from eastern Australia. So we have sugar being imported to the southern ports of this nation because it is cheaper. The legislation will only exacerbate these sorts of situations.

Quite ironically, we have Australian industry that is at the cutting edge of technology to reduce their emissions, like Australian cement producers who are leading the world in technology for low-emissions production. Yet this bill will make cement from China, Indonesia, Taiwan and Thailand cheaper and radically undercut Australian suppliers just on the shipping costs alone. So, at a time when the government has legislated for the world's worst and most expensive carbon tax, it is providing an absolute disincentive for Australian industry to continue the good work that they had started well before the carbon tax legislation was even mooted.

We will see Australian jobs go, a worldwide CO2 increase because it is cheaper to manufacture overseas, and the government refuses to acknowledge these basic facts. You have to ask the question: when so much is at stake, why is the government not waiting until the Productivity Commission has reported on the impacts of this legislation? Why do they want to rush it through? What have they promised the Maritime Union and why are they afraid of allowing full scrutiny of the very valid issues that are concerning Australian industry across the board?

Whilst the bills may promote protectionism of Australian shipping, what is the impact going to be on Australian manufacturing and industry? At a time when it is acknowledged—and all you have to do is visit any manufacturing hub around Australia—that Australian manufacturing is doing it tough, and Australian industry is doing it tough, where is the proper analysis of the impacts that this legislation will have on Australian industry? Ironically, it is being promoted as an environmental reform and as being important to protect the environment, but that is another furphy.

We see that the minister has referred to shipping incidents that could potentially cause damage to our environment—they have included references to a coal ship that was grounded on the Great Barrier Reef—but omitted that the accidents were not foreign vessels operating coastal voyages but international vessels, and that will not change as a result of these bills passing into law. So there is a bit of mixing of the facts and the truth to make a case. It is almost as if the government decided: 'They're our mates; they've extracted their price. We've got to pass these bills and we'll make up whatever excuses and reasons we need to to ensure that this legislation passes, because that's what will keep the Maritime Union happy,' and that is just not good enough. Day after day after day we hear that the government are consumed with their own survival, with their internecine warfare and with keeping happy their mates who nominate them and put them into parliament at the expense of providing national leadership, of governing for all Australians, of all Australian jobs and of all Australian industry.

Dry bulk shipping users in Australia are extremely concerned and extremely anxious about their competitiveness when they look at the impacts of these bills, because they are extremely dependent on freight to move their goods around the country. We look at—we have mentioned cement and sugar—fertiliser, bauxite, iron ore and gypsum. When you look at all these goods many of them are absolutely critical to our modern economy and to our growing economy, so what will we do with these bills? What we will do is rely on imports instead of providing an opportunity for domestic manufacturers of, say, cement and gypsum to be part of whatever aspects of our economy are growing, and those segments will be taken up increasingly with buying imported products.

It is quite unusual that the government have gone on this very heavy-handed approach because, when we look at the facts, we see that 70 per cent of Australian coastal shipping is already undertaken by domestic vessels. It is extraordinary that the government have not been able to actually demonstrate what the economic benefits of these bills will be. Their own regulatory impact statement and of course the analysis undertaken by Deloitte Access Economics show that there is a decrease of economic activity in this country. Even on their own analysis they recognise that there is going to be some damage.

So what is some of this damage going to be? It will lead to an increase in coastal shipping and of course that means, necessarily, an increase in freight rates by up to 16 per cent. That is a scenario where domestic ships replace foreign ones. Again, that is an enormous increase in the cost structure for Australian manufacturers and Australian industry. We have had the usual scaremongering from the government incorrectly claiming that this is all about using cheaper labour and cheaper wages, but the reality has been that under the Fair Work Act Australian award wages have been paid to employees operating on a coastal shipping voyage.

But the government does need to acknowledge that it is definitely more expensive to use Australian ships. Why is that? Let us just look at some of the conditions—and these are extraordinary conditions; we need to remind ourselves that we live in a global world and we need to be competitive. These conditions include, approximately, taking one day off for every day worked—that would add an extraordinary cost to using an Australian ship—and increased annual leave of an extra five weeks. These are real costs that are borne by those who use Australian flagged vessels. Again, where is the thorough review of the economic impacts of these bills?

Why can't the government wait for the much respected Productivity Commission to present them with their analysis? The answer is that no-one from the other side of the House in this debate has considered in any serious way the impacts on Australian industry and on Australian manufacturing. How can you claim that you want to help manufacturing and how can you claim that you want to pursue reforms to ensure that the Australian economy is ready to be part of the global economy when you refuse to listen to and refuse to acknowledge the very real costs and decreasing competitiveness that industry and manufacturing will be hit with through these bills? It is really quite telling that, even in the objects of these bills, there is a failure to include a statement regarding international competitiveness. So it is not even on the agenda that these so-called reforms are aimed at making the Australian shipping industry more competitive.

These are ill-considered bills. They are being rushed through, and you have to ask yourself: why would the government be trying to rush them through? (Time expired)