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Tuesday, 13 September 2011
Page: 9955

Ms O'NEILL (Robertson) (19:51): I rise to speak in support of the Navigation Amendment Bill 2011. This bill implements our international obligations under the Maritime Labour Convention. As a Labor member of this parliament, I will always fight for the working conditions of all Australian workers. We need to think about the working conditions of our seafarers when we consider safety in Australian workplaces. That is what this bill does. After all, our seafarers working on ships engaged in commercial activities play an indispensable role in our trading economy. Because of this, it is vital that their working conditions are in line with international standards and practices. This bill aims to do this.

The Maritime Labor Convention is often referred to as 'the seafarers bill of rights'. It was established in 2006 by the International Labour Organisation, and it provides comprehensive rights and protection for the world's 1.2 million seafarers. Indeed, as stated by the International Labour Organisation, the shipping industry is the world's first genuinely global industry and one of its most economically important. It is estimated that 90 per cent of trade is carried on ships, and seafarers are an integral part of the international economic and trade system.

I want to acknowledge the speech made by the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport yesterday in which he outlined the reform package Stronger Shipping for a Stronger Economy. The aim of this important reform is to correct the lack of action in the shipping industry in the Howard years. There are four key elements to the reform, but the establishment of the Maritime Workforce Development Forum is one of those that is critical to progressing key maritime skills and training priorities. That is an element that is clearly linked to the development of a workforce ready to take advantage of opportunities provided by our burgeoning export market and increased domestic transport task.

What truth Edmund Barton spoken when he said, in the lead-up to the Australian Federation, we are:

… a nation for a continent and a continent for a nation.

As the largest island continent on earth, our trading industries and national prosperity have always been dependent on the shipping industry.

Because of the global nature of the shipping industry, the International Labour Organisation rightly determined that there should be international standards, regulations and principles applicable to the entire industry. Seafarers on Australian ships generally do have good working conditions, and the implementation of the Maritime Labour Convention will not result in a significant change for them. But that is a reflection of our long history as a trading nation engaged in the maritime industry.

One of the things that I have the pleasure of doing every year in my role as the member for Robertson is attending a memorial service for people from the merchant navy, people who have given their lives to working at sea. It is held every year at Norah Head, just under the lighthouse, on the great Central Coast shore. At that service one of the stories that is retold of the history of merchant shipping in Australian waters is of the very first casualty during the Second World War, where a marine vessel went down off the beach at The Entrance. There was an amazing loss of life so close to our shores in an attack by the Japanese at that point in time. There is risk involved in this profession, in this industry, and it is important that we recall that on that particular day.

We need to continue to work to improve the conditions in the maritime sector. It is important that Australia, by ratifying the Maritime Labour Convention, assists in enabling it to come into force and achieves the consolidation of more than 60 international labour organisation standards entertained over decades. Commencement of the Maritime Labour Convention requires the ratification of 30 member countries, with a minimum of 33 per cent of gross tonnage represented by those countries. Currently about 15 countries have ratified the Maritime Labour Convention, with ratification pending for three others.

The convention is comprehensive and deals with matters including the minimum requirements for seafarers to work on ships. It deals with conditions of employment, accommodation, recreational facilities and food and catering. Importantly, it deals with health protection; medical care; welfare; and social security protection, compliance and enforcement. Australia can play its part in ensuring that a global standard is successfully implemented and enforced, and that is what this legislation will achieve. Once the ratification target has been achieved by the International Labour Organisation, the convention will come into force 12 months later.

As a member of this parliament I look forward to the great advancement in workers' rights that will occur after this convention commences. After ratification, ships of all countries will be subject to inspection in any country that has ratified the convention. If a ship does not meet a minimum standard then the ship will be subject to possible detention.

This bill effects the implementation of the Maritime Labour Convention into Australian law. It is firstly important to recognise that these amendments only apply to Australian ships with a gross tonnage of 200 and over. They do not apply to ships engaged in freighting. Additionally, the requirement for ships to carry documentation as evidence of compliance applies only to ships of 500 gross tonnes and over engaged in voyages to or from ports outside of their country of registration.

The Navigation Amendment Bill implements the Maritime Labour Convention under Australian law through a number of means. First, the bill removes inconsistencies between the Maritime Labour Convention and our Navigation Act. This is vitally important in ensuring that the Navigation Act operates according to the principles and language practices of the Maritime Labour Convention. This assists in ensuring that the Navigation Act is applied and enforced in accordance with those international standards.

Second, the insertion of section 45A of the Navigation Act and the revision of section 46 significantly advance the manner in which workers' rights are enforced in the maritime industry. The new section 45A gives effect to standard A.2.1 of the MLA. This standard specifies that all crew members on a ship with a cargo of greater than 200 tonnes are required to have an employment agreement. The master of the ship is subject to criminal liability if they take a ship to sea without employment agreements that comply with section 45A of the act. This is an immensely important means of ensuring that the working rights of the crews of ships are properly determined and properly enforced.

Third, these amendments recognise the well established international, Commonwealth and state standards that both owner and master are liable for such breaches. Importantly, these provisions improve the clarity of the legislation governing the rights of workers in the maritime industry. They ensure that owners and masters of ships are subject to appropriate liability and that seamen are provided with appropriate rights. Another important provision in the amendment bill is the proposed section 53, concerning the availability of information in regard to the conditions of employment. This section states that the regulations may prescribe that the owner of the ship is required to make available to the master and seamen information in regard to their conditions of employment. This really does represent a significant modernisation of current provisions in the Navigation Act, and it will certainly improve the accessibility and clarity of information in regard to the rights of maritime workers.

Another significant example of this modernisation is division 10 of this amendment bill, relating to the payment of wages. Proposed section 70 of the Navigation Act will clearly set out the required content of regulations relating to the payment of wages. Requirements in section 70 are comprehensive, and they relate to the frequency with and method by which wages are to be paid; permitted deductions of payments to masters and seamen; and payslips. The requirements are written in modern language and will greatly assist in improving the manner in which these regulations are made and enforced.

I am proud to support a government that believes that workers' rights are human rights. It is this party that will always respect the rights of workers and believe that labour is not just like any other commodity. It is this party which values the role of the International Labour Organisation in having advanced the rights of workers globally. Indeed, it is through the advancement of workers' rights that global living standards have improved over time. This is while recognising the importance of a degree of appropriate flexibility in labour markets as provided in the Fair Work Act.

The Maritime Labour Convention demonstrates the effectiveness of the International Labour Organisation in modernising and improving workers' rights on a global scale. The ratification of the Maritime Labour Convention will represent a victory in global agreement and cooperation. As a member of the Australian Labor Party, I am confident that the ratification of the Maritime Labour Convention will improve global workers' rights. Additionally, I believe that the ratification of the Maritime Labour Convention will improve the rights of seamen from Asia-Pacific nations, who make up 60 per cent of global maritime workers. That is, of course, definitely worth supporting. Australia can and needs to do its part in ensuring that the Maritime Labour Convention is enforced. Once the convention is ratified, Australia will certainly play its part in upholding, regionally and globally, the rights of maritime workers. (Quorum formed)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms S Bird ): I should indicate to members that it is my intention, although it is after eight o'clock, to allow the member to conclude her comments before calling the deferred division.

Ms O'NEILL: We truly are a nation continent and a continent nation. The advancement of air travel and air freight has changed much, just as the NBN will bring even more change to how we connect from our island home to the rest of the world. But the movement of physical goods to and from our shores and the prosperity of our nation will always be inextricably linked to the global shipping trade. As global citizens aware of our international obligations, it is important that we ensure that the Maritime Labour Convention is ratified and enforced globally and that we enforce it in our domestic law. In duly exercising the authority to govern secured at the last election, the Gillard government has committed itself to ensuring that responsible and commendable legislation will be advanced. This legislative amendment is both commendable and responsible. I commend the bill to the House and urge its prompt passage through this place.

Debate adjourned.