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Monday, 10 September 2018
Page: 8508

Mr GEORGANAS (Hindmarsh) (17:12): I move

That this House notes that:

(1) this Parliament condemns the exploitation of workers and communities by unscrupulous shipping and port operators;

(2) exploitive deals with unscrupulous dictatorships are not acceptable;

(3) contracts with unscrupulous dictatorships and dictators will not stand in the international shipping community; and

(4) companies that are linked to harsh dictatorships, responsible for the suppression of democracy, are not welcome in the Australian shipping industry, and that:

(a) such companies negotiating contracts with dictatorships are on notice; and

(b) exploitative industrial behaviour will not be tolerated on our shores.

I rise to speak on my motion about one of the darkest and most disturbing parts of the shipping and transport industries—namely, port operators who operate below the radar, making deals with unscrupulous individuals, putting lives at risk and undermining the viability and sovereignty of Australia's shipping industry and port operation. One such company has expanded its operations to over 29 ports in 18 countries across the world, including right here in Australia. I'm not talking about countries that play by international rules and the norms that we're accustomed to. I'm talking about some of the most dangerous and hostile countries, led by dictators, by people who have been accused of genocide, of war crimes and of crimes against humanity, sometimes working hand in hand with these very people who have a finger in most of the companies that set up in their nations. We have a situation where port companies and port operators that do deals with these companies want to do business in Australia. In fact, one such company has its operations in the Port of Melbourne. If you have a company that does deals with despots, dictators and tyrants, who don't respect democracy and human rights, what kinds of working conditions do you think its employees are going to be working under in Australia and in other countries? Quite often, workers find themselves facing conditions that include harassment and coercion. Are we surprised when we know that the company is doing deals with some of the most dangerous dictators around the world?

Today in Australia we have a government that turns a blind eye to companies that earn a buck while exploiting workers. On top of this, workers' fundamental rights to associate freely, to join unions and to bargain collectively have been suppressed. We have examples of workers facing harassment and bullying in the workplace, and this is unacceptable. One might ask, 'Why doesn't the workforce just report this?' Victoria International Container Terminal conducted an independent survey that found that 75 to 80 per cent of people were unhappy with the management of one of these unscrupulous companies doing business right here in Australia while at the same time doing business with some of the most dangerous despots around the world. Workers overwhelmingly said that management was untrustworthy. One worker was quoted as saying, 'How can a survey go so bad and nothing happen?' How can it? Nothing was done.

Let's go back a little bit. According to a report from the International Transport Workers' Federation, the chairman and president of one of the offending companies dealing with these horrendous countries that are void of democratic governance, when asked why his company deals with countries such as Syria, Sudan, the Congo and many others, said:

I'm very bullish about Iran, Congo and Cambodia. We're taking a very long-term view. We've learned from past experience. It's okay to say that if you make investments in bad places, right now, over time, you'll gain without competition.

Let's analyse that. What does that mean? It means that, if you go into a country that doesn't respect democracy and human rights, you're doing business hand in hand with some of these despots and dictators. We need to be very careful with these companies when they come here to Australia to do business. We don't want a race to the bottom when it comes to working conditions and wages. We want safe workplaces. We want workers treated fairly here in Australia but also in some of these Third World countries where there've been all sorts of allegations about the way they treat their workers.

We've seen similar degradation in the shipping industry, more generally than I mentioned before—for example, with foreign flags that take over vessels in order to sack the Australian workers and to exploit workers. I, for one, can't stand by and watch workers screwed while shipping and port operators walk away with huge profits, not just here but in countries that have no human rights and where human rights are not respected and neither is democracy. We could easily turn a blind eye to this and a blind eye to companies that are like this. We could say: 'It's happening overseas. That's how they do business over there.' But these are companies that are breaking human rights laws and international laws and are seeking to do business here. One of them is already here in Melbourne. I personally can't stand by, and none of us should stand by and just watch this. We have international obligations, and we need to make sure people are safe. This isn't just happening overseas. It's happening here as well.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Howarth ): Is the motion seconded?