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Monday, 18 June 2012
Page: 3356

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (12:20): I have listened with some interest to the debate on the shipping reform package. My colleagues on this side have gone forensically through the details of the bills and have explained in the clearest of terms why these bills in their present form are not in the best interests of either the shipping industry or Australia generally. I note that the Senate Economics Legislation Committee inquiry report into these bills, which was tabled this morning, contained a recommendation by the committee's coalition members that the bill not be passed, contrary to what Senator Ludlam said earlier. I am not quite sure where Senator Ludlam was, in view of his comment earlier that the bills went through the Senate committee inquiry without any concerns being expressed—unanimously, I think is what he said. Clearly, almost half of the Senate committee was unhappy with the bills as they stood.

My interest in these bills relates to two industries in my home state of Queensland and to the workers who rely on those industries for their living. Senator Cameron made an impassioned speech earlier, no doubt more for the gallery than for the chamber, in which he said that everything the coalition does is with the intent of forcing down workers' wages and reducing their employment opportunities. Clearly, Senator Cameron's definition of working people is 'working people who vote for the Labor Party'—one of the 21 per cent of Australians who do vote for the Labor Party these days—'and who live in Labor Party electorates'. Clearly, Senator Cameron's concern for working families and jobs for workers does not extend to the state of Queensland or, in particular, to the sugar industry or the industries around the Gladstone area of Queensland. Curiously, both of those electorates do not have Labor members and are never likely to because the workers in those areas understand that the Labor Party is no longer interested in their future and in their employment prospects. I might say that the same applies to nearly every federal seat in Queensland, where the Labor Party has very few seats these days apart from a couple in inner-city Brisbane. Clearly workers in rural and regional Queensland—and I suggest in rural and regional Australia more generally—are concerned at Labor's approach to their employment and their future.

Two of the industries affected by this legislation—because it will add to their costs—are the cement industry out of Gladstone and the sugar industry of the Queensland eastern seaboard. It might be appropriate just to mention that Australia is the third-largest exporter of sugar in the world. There are some 6,000 canegrowers in Australia, with more than 4,000 farms growing sugar along the eastern seaboard of the country. The sugar industry directly or indirectly supports 40,000 jobs in Australia and underpins the economic stability of many coastal communities. In fact, it is a part of the social fabric that has woven itself through the development of coastal towns up and down the coast of Queensland.

As Senator Bushby just said, and as the evidence to the committee demonstrated, there is every prospect that with additional costs on the industry it will be incumbent upon the industry perhaps with a view to its long-term economic future to send molasses overseas for processing rather than using Australian workers in Australian mills, which it currently supports by coastal shipping around the coast of Australia to where the molasses is further processed. If the costs are the straw that breaks the camel's back, so to speak, of the sugar industry then not only workers in the coastal shipping industry but also those workers in the few manufacturing areas that still operate in Australia will be disadvantaged. There is the prospect—and evidence of this was given at the inquiry—of sugar being imported from Asia into Australia. You can imagine what that might do to this wonderful, very significant and longstanding industry, which employs, I repeat, over 40,000 people indirectly and directly along the east coast of Australia. While Senator Cameron says, 'Oh, yes, we have to look after the seafarers'—and we all want to do that—he also has to expand his horizons to see what might happen to the jobs of other workers in Australia. They will be put in jeopardy by the continual incremental increase in the cost of doing business in Australia.

Evidence was given to the Senate inquiry, I understand, by the cement industry. I do not have the figures—I was not actually at the committee—but I have been approached by those involved in the cement industry. Rather than manufacturing cement in Gladstone and shipping it to Townsville, just 600 or 800 kilometres up the road, using coastal shipping, it will become more economic across the board to use cement made in South-East Asia and trans-ship it to Townsville. The cost of shipping will be cheaper doing that. So again you put in jeopardy all of those hundreds of workers in the Gladstone cement industry. I just use that as an example. The same would apply in other cement factories around Australia.

In the fertiliser industry there is a concern that this legislation will increase red tape and, because of that, increase the cost of shipping around the Australian coastline, thereby putting to the margin those industries which still exist in Australia. I see Senator Kim Carr in the chamber representing the government at the present time. He more than most understands how Australian manufacturing industries are in peril at this present time. They are in peril because every increase in the cost of manufacturing in Australia puts those industries in danger of shutting down. We have already seen so many Australian industries move overseas. Many have moved because of the lack of productivity in the Australian workforce over many years. But, more importantly, they are now moving in droves because they understand that with the introduction of a carbon tax their costs are going to skyrocket, particularly when compared to the costs of manufacturing industries in our competitor countries.

This government looks after small groups of people. I understand that to stay in government Ms Gillard needed the support of the Australian Greens and therefore she continues to pander to their every wish. But where is her concern for the manufacturing workers that Senator Cameron spoke about so passionately—allegedly—with her introduction of a carbon tax, which she, Senator Carr and Senator Ludlam know will destroy what is left of Australia's manufacturing industries? That is apparently fine because it panders to the Greens' shut-everything-down philosophy on the Australian economy and it allows Ms Gillard to swan around the world—where is the latest conference being held, Rio?—and say she is introducing the world's largest carbon tax. She will go there and say, 'We are better than everyone else. We have a bigger tax than all the rest of you, so aren't we good?'

But why isn't she concerned about the jobs of Australians, or the jobs that used to be Australian jobs, which are rapidly and increasingly going overseas?

   This carbon tax, when it comes in in a few days time, will again add to the costs of Australian industry. Where is Ms Gillard's concern? Where is Senator Cameron's concern for the workers in the Bowen Basin and the proposed Galilee Basin coalmines? Are they concerned about that? They would answer by saying there are a lot of future investments on the drawing board in the mining industry and they are not worried about the carbon tax. I ask Senator Cameron, who brought up that ridiculous argument, to realise that mining executives can read opinion polls too, and any interest still being shown in investment in Australia by the mining industry is from those companies who are looking at the opinion polls. You do not have to be Einstein these days to read an opinion poll. They know there will be a change of government and the new government will as its first obligation on day one start the process of abolishing the carbon tax. Day two will be to remove the investment-negative minerals resource rent tax. The interest that there is in Australia's mining industry at the present time is from those international mining executives who can read and understand an opinion poll.

But, should the opinion polls be wrong and should this government continue after the next election, the jobs of so many miners in such a vast part of northern and remote Australia in particular will be put at real risk. That is why I am concerned about these bills before the parliament at the present time. The costs may not be a lot. I saw figures of costs going up 16 per cent. That was someone's estimate. It may not be correct. It may be more than that; it may be less than that. But any increase in the cost of doing business in Australia puts in great jeopardy those industries which have in the past made Australia so great and which have provided employment prospects for so many Australians.

My concern is for those industries that have in the past made Queensland so great—industries like the sugar industry, the mining industry and more recent industries like the cement industry out of Gladstone that currently contribute significantly not only to the economy of Central Queensland but to the economy of Australia as a whole. If these bills add to their costs and make them even more marginal, then their future is bleak and the future of the jobs of those workers is put in jeopardy.

This is why the second reading amendment moved by Senator Joyce is one that should be seriously considered. I know Senator Ludlam dismissed that and said, 'Don't not rely on our vote for that—it's not going to happen.' Perhaps he was as well informed on that as he was on the committee report when he said it was a unanimously supported report. I would ask Senator Ludlam to consider: what is the harm in asking the Productivity Commission to have a look at it? Perhaps what I have said about the sugar industry and the cement industry will not come to pass. Perhaps the calculations done for those industries are not precise. Perhaps in some areas they have worked on the basis of the wrong parameters. But certainly there was a wealth of evidence before the Senate Economics Legislation Committee that suggested there would be an increase in costs from the red tape and from the uncertainty that will follow the adoption of this bill. If there is anything that puts the sugar industry, the cement industry, the mining industry or other industries at risk, then it should be carefully considered. That is why Senator Joyce's amendment for the referral of this matter to the Productivity Commission makes a lot of sense. What harm can it do?

These bills, as other speakers have said, were a long time coming. They were supposed to be 'reform'. I use that word in inverted commas because, as Senator Bushby well said, after the departmental officials were asked about the extent of the reform or the rapidity of the reform there was an embarrassing silence. So these bills are not going to 'reform' the industry overnight. Why not send the bills to the Productivity Commission? These are people who are well skilled, honest, independent and who do not stand to gain or lose one way or the other. They are people whose ability and skill is in looking at this type of legislation.

I do give the government credit for these bills in that I think they were trying to do something positive. I think they were trying to improve the situation across the board. But again, as I said in relation to Senator Cameron's contribution, it is no good just looking after one small part of the workforce if in doing that you are going to put in jeopardy the jobs, the employment and the future prospects of an even greater number of workers and industries whose livelihoods depend on these industries keeping going. These industries, as we have seen so much in recent times, will not be able to continue to compete against those of our neighbours. The carbon tax—and I do not think any sane person can disagree with this—will send more and more Australian jobs offshore. Our manufacturing industries, as Senator Kim Carr knows better than anyone else, have been faltering for decades now. The increased cost of power with the new carbon tax—the increased cost of doing absolutely anything—will exacerbate the move for Australia's manufacturing industries overseas.

I just plead with senators not to let this bill and the Australian coastal shipping trade in all of its forms add to those cost pressures which will send Australian jobs offshore. It seems to me perfectly reasonable for the Senate or indeed the parliament to ask the Productivity Commission to have a look at this legislation, to see whether this bill as it stands would 'reform' Australia's shipping industry or whether it perhaps would not do such reforming but would destroy other Australian industries and jobs. That is why I urge the Senate to oppose the bill as it presently stands and to support Senator Joyce's second reading amendment to let the Productivity Commission have a good look at this and give us some really professional, independent advice on the right way to go.