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Transcript of doorstop interview: Darwin: 12 February 2016: employment in Darwin; worker exploitation

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SUBJECT/S: Employment in Darwin; Worker Exploitation.


It’s good to be here. Can I also acknowledge the traditional owners of the land upon which we meet, and pay my respects to their elders both past and present. I acknowledge my parliamentary colleagues, Warren Snowden and Andrew Giles, and indeed also acknowledge Luke Gosling, the Labor candidate for Solomon. Because we need a change in this city, we need a change in this nation, when you have a Government in Canberra willing to aid and abet companies to rob Australians of their jobs. That’s what’s happened. Six months ago I arrived in Devonport, and spoke to the crew of Alexandra Spirit, the first vessel, in recent times at least, where of course they were asked to sail a ship to Singapore and hand over the ship.

They obviously staged a very effective protest for as long as they could but they didn’t just hand over their ship when they arrived in Singapore. They handed over their jobs. They handed over their jobs to foreign crew who could be paid as little as $2 an hour. So this is not just about your rights at work. This is about your right to work in this country.

What’s happening is that you have a Federal Government aiding and abetting companies to take Australian crew off Australian vessels and replace them with foreign crew who, as Thomas said, are also being exploited. This is conduct that is un

-Australian. This is conduct that is egregious and should be censured, should be condemned.

The reason, of course, the Government has chosen that path is last year, the Minister for Employment in the Senate sought to repeal the Labor Government’s enactment of the Coastal Trading Act. The Coastal Trading Act was about trying to

rebuild and reinvigorate the maritime industry for exactly the reasons already outlined by some of the workers. To make sure first and foremost that workers on those vessels and in our territory are paid Australian conditions of employment, first and foremost. To make sure there is some security of employment. To make sure that there are environmental standards that are adhered to; to make sure that there are no challenges to our national security.

There were indeed many reasons why we enacted that legislation and the Government sought to repeal it and it failed in the Senate and so the Government went outside the Parliament, in contempt of the will of the Parliament and chose to provide temporary licences to companies so that they could allow foreign crew to take over our ships.

That’s effectively what happened in the dead of night, as we saw with MV Portland, we saw security guards take people off those vessels; take them from their workplaces as has been said, and we saw with Alexandra Spirit they had to hand over the ship and their jobs; and we saw with CSL Melbourne even the police were engaged in removing those workers from their workplaces, of course to lead to the replacement ultimately with foreign crew.

Now, this is not just happening in the maritime industry. You have a government here that is willing to see the capacity for unemployed Australians to be deprived of their opportunities for work and will quite happily engage with expanding temporary work visas where there is no genuine demand for labour because the labour was already here.

We will always need workers from overseas from time to time, and where there is demand of course we would encourage it. But a national obligation of any Government is to make sure that citizens of this nation have the first opportunity to work.

Not only has that not been happening in Canberra as a result of the Turnbull Government. What is happening is not only are they not giving opportunities first to employment that arises for people that live here, that are part of this nation, part of their communities in this nation, they are actually forcibly removing people who live here and replacing them with people who don’t. And that is unconscionable conduct. Labor is utterly opposed to it. We will pursue this debate and pursue this argument and pursue this matter from now until the election. Because I believe, in my heart of hearts, the Australian people do not support such action. They do not support that conduct by our government to willingly enable companies, in some cases multinational companies, to sack Australian workers and replace them with people on $2 an hour. It is not something that will ever be supported in my view by the overwhelming number of Australians in this country and for that reason we must continue to fight.

So I pay tribute to the MUA, not just for today, but also for their efforts in Canberra. In the last two sitting weeks there has been a presence of the MUA and their members. And I would just ask you, to urge you in fact, to keep up your struggle until we see the return to Australian crew, to Australian vessels and vessels in our own territory paid Australian wages and conditions.

Thanks very much.