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Monday, 30 March 1987
Page: 1494

Senator MICHAEL BAUME(9.10) —I think that all senators share the proper concerns about safety and health hazards on ships, but that does not mean that they share the Government's enthusiasm for these extraordinary Navigation (Orders) Regulations, which go far beyond any suggestion of making certain that the safety and health standards on ships are at least up to international standards. It is natural, of course, if conditions on a ship constitute some danger to the Australian public, that they should be dealt with. If a ship is unseaworthy it should be detained and repaired sufficiently to make it seaworthy, or fines should be imposed under the Navigation Act, and so on. There is common ground on that point. That is not the issue, despite the fact that Senator Sanders appeared incapable of emerging from his bound volumes of ancient sea tales-I think he has developed since the time of Joseph Conrad-to see what we are concerned about. We are not objecting to the International Labour Organisation Convention, although there could even be reservations about that. That is not our objection. Our objection is the extent to which what the Government is doing goes far beyond the ILO Convention under which the commerce of the world proceeds, and which will disadvantage Australia and Australian exporters if this extension of the ILO Convention is applied specifically and in a discriminatory way to Australian exports. Of course, this is the vital issue. The Government is adding to the cost burden of Australian exporters by adding requirements which are not imposed on exporters in similar countries in the rest of the world.

We have a clear and strong view, on which we support the Government, that if a ship constitutes a clear hazard to the Australian public, something should be done about it. But we then say that, if there is no clear hazard to the Australian public, why is it our business to be concerned with conditions on board if they do not match Australian conditions-unless, of course, there is a hidden agenda in the regulations? Of course, the reality is that there is a hidden agenda. Not only is there the blackmailing that has been going on to force enormous amounts of repair work into Australian yards, at incredible prices compared to those available overseas, to the benefit of sister unions that are involved, but also there is, of course, a continual attempt to try to diminish the cost disadvantage that Australian shipping companies face, and therefore their ability to employ Australian crews when dealing with competition from overseas, because of the ludicrous conditions of work that exist in the Australian shipping industry.

The people who suffer in this instance by the Government giving way to this kind of union pressure are Australian exporters, who are desperately trying at the moment to do something far more important than satisfy the petty nonsense of these particularly absurd regulations. They are trying to rescue Australia from a balance of payments crisis. To that extent they are, of course, being penalised by this Government, which is going straight down the track of kowtowing to nonsensical union demands to expand the ILO requirements into what Senator Hamer and Senator Lewis clearly demonstrated to be totally ludicrous arrangements.

What are the various criteria warranting detention of a ship as substandard? Of course, the undertaking given by Senator Grimes when he introduced the Navigation Act is that this would be finalised by tripartite consultations with industry and so on, based on the safety and health standards established by the International Labour Organisation and included in Convention No. 147. When that was introduced many senators on this side were concerned about whether these substandard criteria would be established by people who were professionally concerned with safety or health, rather than by people with a vested interest in having foreign ships detained and forced into expensive Australian ship repair yards. That is exactly what has happened. People with a vested interest have established what the criteria should be. At the time the Opposition was concerned-Senator Hamer was particularly concerned, as I recall-whether the substandard criteria imposed on foreign ships would be no more onerous than those provided by the ILO Convention. Of course, we have found that they are far more onerous.

It is interesting to see who drew up this list of criteria that is now to be met under this regulation. There were people from three Federal departments-Industrial Relations, Industry, Technology and Commerce, and Transport. Of course, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the ship repair unions and the maritime unions had their say as well.

Senator Hamer —What about the Health Department?

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —Indeed, as Senator Hamer says, what about the Health Department, seeing that the regulation is supposed to relate to health and safety? Naturally, this was totally inconsequential as far as the Government was concerned; there was no point in having the Health Department involved in a matter such as this. This was a political issue, not a health issue. As a result, the Health Department was not involved in drawing up the criteria. It became involved only after the list was completed. It was consulted and the list was referred to it after the event. As I understand it, the Health Department provided no comment whatsoever. It was excluded from drawing up the list, because it is a phoney list. It is a list that bears no relationship to the real requirements of health and safety in Australia. It is a rubbish list. What intrigues me is that the decent members of the Australian Democrats have allowed Senator Sanders's absolute nonsense, his incredible and hysterical response when he talked about weevilly biscuits, to influence them to allow this incredible, oppressive, and nonsensical set of regulations to proceed. I think it is astounding that senators with the capacity of some of the Australian Democrats senators should be hoodwinked into accepting this disgraceful regulation.

The extraordinary list has been incorporated in Hansard by Senator Hamer and has been referred to in the debate to some extent. Senator Lewis mentioned parts of it. He mentioned, of course, the need for flyscreens on portholes, ventilators and doors leading to the open deck. Well, how absolutely essential a flyscreen must be to keep out mosquitoes, because that is what the ILO recommendation is. Flyscreens are required, according to the ILO, only for ships regularly trading to mosquito infested ports. That is what the ILO recommendation is. Yet a ship visiting Tasmania, that well known tropical island south of mainland Australia, must be equipped with these kinds of screens because this Government is prepared to do whatever the maritime unions insist, even though the requirements bear absolutely no relationship to the realities of health and safety. What absolute bunkum!

As Senator Lewis said, another requirement is that a blanket be available for every berth. Blankets are absolutely essential when one is in the tropics, sailing to Asian ports! Heaven knows, a person would not get a good sweat up unless he put his blanket on at night. What on earth is going on when this Government, with no concern in reality for the health and safety of the sailors on these foreign ships but a deep concern for placating the Australian maritime unions, to the disadvantage of Australia's export effort and to the added cost of Australia's export effort at this time of crisis, is prepared to go down this track?

The reality is-unfortunately we have seen this in recent times, not just back in 1985 which was the only point Senator Sanders raised-we have seen subsequently the standover tactics and blackmail involved in getting work done in Australia, much of it totally unnecessary and certainly much of it that did not have to be done in Australia where the cost was far greater and where the burden of that cost would be carried by Australian exporters struggling in this competitive world at the moment. The clear indication, as Senator Lewis said, is that this regulation paves the way for costly, lengthy detention of foreign ships in Australian ship repair yards. We have seen example after example of it. There was a Caltex chartered vessel Penelope of York which only last year was raided by unknown persons who allegedly discovered that plumbing repairs were required. The faults were insignificant and would normally have been undertaken at the ship's next general overhaul, but the ship was delayed by union bans for at least a week. Another Caltex ship, the Arthur Phillip, was held up for 30 days because unions had refused to allow the vessel to sail to Singapore to be refitted, claiming that the work should have been done in an Australian dockyard, which would cost the company an extra $2m. Very recently, a month or so ago, the Western Australian Australian Labor Party Minister for Transport, Mr Troy, had to appeal for the release of a Western Australian cargo ship embroiled in a dock dispute over repairs at Newcastle. The Pilbara was detained in Newcastle for repairs, but a strike over the threatened closure of the dockyard left the ship stranded for more than two weeks and it was only released through the efforts of the Western Australian Minister for Transport.

Clearly many of us are concerned, as Senator Hamer said, that this regulation is simply the trigger for a whole series of rorts by Australia maritime unions, not on foreign shipowners but on Australian exporters. If the Hawke Labor Government cannot establish that link between shipping and export costs, it is being even more obtuse than it has shown so far. The reality is that it is simply doing this for the sake of the maritime unions and, as Senator Hamer said by way of interjection, effectively the union movement is running this country, particularly in this area. Various shipping people have complained bitterly about the role of the Australian Council of Trade Unions ship repair committee which was involved in those Caltex nonsenses to which I have just referred. This has a specific relevance to this issue because last year the ACTU ship repair committee made what was described by a Caltex spokesman, Mr Barry Perton, as unauthorised boarding of the Penelope of York and insisted on minor repairs being commissioned, which included replacement of light bulbs, repairs to toilet seats and so on. The company that had to do the work was nominated by the ACTU ship repair committee. It is incredible that this Government is allowing this kind of blackmail-not only allowing it but encouraging it by this kind of regulation. I do not know what the payoffs are to the Government. I am not quite certain. I do not know whether the ACTU ship repair committee and the maritime unions contribute enormous amounts to the Labor Party's funds. But if they do I can assure the Senate that they have been well rewarded for those contributions.

Senator Robertson —Watch it.

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —Every day in this Senate we hear Senator Walsh making the most extraordinary imputations about this side of the House, but the honourable senator opposite cannot take it. We have here clear evidence of people being bought off, of blackmail, and the Government imposing some ludicrous regulations which have no substance in them, in fact which were not part of a Health Department recommendation. The Health Department did not even participate in the creation of these regulations, but only looked at them after the event. What are the motives, I ask the Senate, behind the Government playing into the hands of the maritime unions in this way, providing them with the opportunity for blackmail, giving them the chance even to nominate the companies and instructing the shippers involved to get their work done at specific company works?

Here we have what I believe is a scandalous situation, which is being supported by the Australian Democrats. I do not apply the same motives to the Australian Democrats that I would apply to some members of the Government in this matter. I think that it is arrant stupidity which has encouraged the Australian Democrats to support the Government on these regulations. There is not one sound and coherent proposition that has yet been put here tonight-it will be interesting to hear Senator Button endeavour to do so-to justify the extension of the criteria in these regulations beyond the ILO's list. If Senator Button can do that effectively, it will be interesting to hear it. But as things stand at the moment the Government's preparedness to assist some of the maritime unions in their blackmailing of the shipping industry simply involves added burdens on those people struggling to get Australia out of its present mess, and that is the exporters of Australia.