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Thursday, 22 August 2002
Page: 5488

Mr MARTIN FERGUSON (2:25 PM) —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport and Regional Services. Minister, can you confirm that companies are leaving the Australian Register of Ships to bypass Australian wages, taxes and immigration requirements? Can you confirm that this is in response to your shipping policy, which actively favours foreign flagged ships and guest labour in the domestic transport market? Could an Australian farm business compete with a neighbouring farm that your government encouraged into the domestic market to cut food costs by exempting them from Australian wages, taxes and immigration requirements for its workers? Minister, will you explain to the Australian shipping companies, workers, their families and the community why you are intent on shafting them, their jobs, their communities and their industry?

The SPEAKER —I remind the member for Batman that the last part of his question was, in fact, entirely advancing an argument. I will allow the question to stand, but his last part entirely advanced an argument and was outside the standing orders.

Mr TUCKEY (Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government) —I thank the member for his question because it gives me the opportunity to remind him of the legislation passed 25 years ago—as I recollect, by a Labor government—that is, of course, very seminal to the particular circumstance he raises. The coastal licence provisions, contained in part VI of the Navigation Act 1912, provide an appropriate balance between the interests of ship operators and shippers. They have remained unchanged for at least the past 25 years and were in place during Labor's term of government.

The circumstances are grossly exaggerated and silly. The fundamentals are that the arrangements continue for people to obtain work for Australian based shipping. But the continued availability of safe and internationally competitive shipping—which is crucial to retaining export markets—assists local producers to be competitive against imports and removes an obstacle to increasing value-adding commodity processing. This is the point where I say the final words of the shadow minister were silly: foreign ships are only permitted to carry coastal cargoes in circumstances where Australian licensed vessels are not available. That in itself is the fundamental point. If the vessels are available, the licences will not be issued; if they are not available, they will be issued. So people working on the land—for instance, construction workers needing cement—and others of that nature can gain necessary employment by provision of the products they need to engage in employment.

Mr Martin Ferguson —I ask that the document that the minister read from extensively be tabled.

The SPEAKER —Was the minister quoting from a confidential document?

Mr Tuckey —I was, Mr Speaker.

The SPEAKER —The minister has indicated that the document was confidential.