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Monday, 10 September 2018
Page: 138


Mr JOSH WILSON (Fremantle) (17:27): I am glad for the opportunity to speak on this motion, and I thank the member for Hindmarsh for bringing it forward for our debate and consideration. I acknowledge the contributions of all members. The member for Hindmarsh raises a very important issue. You wouldn't like to think that in Australia today you could have a company or companies operating in our ports, or anywhere else for that matter, with a track record of labour rights violations and safety standards breaches, not to mention other kinds of exploitative behaviour.

This week in the parliament we'll debate the modern slavery legislation, which looks to combat the scourge of employers—if you can call them that—who prey on vulnerable people and subject women, men and sometimes even children to work practices and conditions that are characterised by coercion, danger, wage theft and abuse. You wouldn't like to think that any company with a record of such conduct would get a foothold here in Australia, and you would think that, in an island nation like ours, where shipping is our lifeline and where port efficiency and safety are critical to our wellbeing, we would be particularly wary and watchful of such conduct in areas like stevedoring and shipping.

Yet, as the member for Hindmarsh and other members contributing to the debate have outlined, concerns have been raised about the Victoria International Container Terminal company, an offshoot of International Container Terminal Services Inc., which, since 2014, has operated at Melbourne's Webb Dock. The parent company, ICTSI, seems to concentrate its operations in countries that suffer from and struggle under authoritarian regimes, apparently seeing in these circumstances the opportunity to profit from the lack of regulation and systemic integrity. There have been reports of ICTSI port operations in countries like Nigeria, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Honduras and Syria, among others, that include worrying examples of conduct that is not consistent with basic workers' rights or with international efforts to sanction oppressive autocratic regimes.

A Victorian offshoot of ICTSI has now been established, and it may be the company intends to expand operations at other ports. I note that the terminal licences in Fremantle are currently out for tender and under negotiation for renewal. It may be that ICTSI in some form or other is interested in those licences, just as it was interested in the Melbourne operations. That would be a concern, based on what appears to be the record of this company in other countries. All of the opposition member contributors to the debate—and we're the only contributing members in this debate—have essentially argued from a simple principle: there is no place in the world for companies that undermine or attack workers' rights. They are fundamental human rights, and Australia should be active and uncompromising in protecting those rights in our country and advancing the protection of those rights elsewhere.

That's why the larger issue here is about having the right filters in place. We should be able to, and we must, screen out operators with a track record of seriously bad conduct. I'm glad that Labor is prepared to consider a regulatory framework at the national level to ensure that companies with a history of involvement in illegality or corruption are blocked from access to Australian government procurement processes or other contractual arrangements. Without such a framework, which is commonly known as a debarment policy, there will always be the potential for companies with a track record of unacceptable and illegal conduct to bring their dodgy practices to Australia or to run away from their responsibilities and failures elsewhere.

When the OECD Working Group on Bribery in International Business Transactions reported on Australia's business fraud and anticorruption integrity protections operations back in 2015, it was the lack of a transparent and government-wide debarment framework that was noted as a persistent shortcoming and something that should be addressed. The imperative to put this in place is probably sharpest in relation to critical infrastructure, and there is no better example than our ports. They are literally the gateway into and out of Australia for the vast bulk of our material engagement with the world. As I've noted before, the government decided to walk away from Labor's work on the National Ports Strategy, just as they have walked away from Australian shipping and Australian seafarers. Both these forms of neglect put us at serious risk. They present an economic risk, of course, because bad practice in our freight network places a layer of cost and inefficiency over everything. But the risk goes further than that. The absence of a careful and supportive ports and shipping strategy also puts our sovereign self-sufficiency in jeopardy. It means we're not in control of the import and export gateways that are essential to our social and economic wellbeing.

In conclusion, I support this motion. Really, it should be a pretty cut and dried approach in this area. Companies that have a record of exploiting workers and breaching human rights standards and companies that work hand in hand with oppressive regimes and, indeed, seek out those opportunities because they mean less scrutiny and more profit should not be able to waltz into Australia and set up shop here.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Howarth ): There being no further speakers, the debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.