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Monday, 10 November 2008
Page: 10384


Mr RAGUSE (4:20 PM) —I rise today to speak on the report Rebuilding Australia’s coastal shipping industry. This follows the inquiry into coastal shipping policy and regulation. The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government was given the task of inquiring into coastal shipping policy and regulation in Australia in order to make recommendations on ways to enhance the competitiveness and sustainability of this sector. We are an island nation, and our economy relies on the shipping trade. Almost all of our export trade is moved by ship, and shipping plays a significant role in fulfilling Australia’s domestic freight task, carrying 24 per cent of the total freight task in 2004-05. While this is a significant contribution from the shipping industry to the national freight network, there is still room for improvement and growth in Australia’s coastal shipping industry. This report is specifically about our coastal shipping as a domestic effort, quite apart from our international effort, which in itself is very, very significant.

It had always puzzled me that, although we are an island nation surrounded by extraordinary coastline, our coastal shipping industry had been slowly sinking. The Australian coastal shipping industry has been in decline for some time. In 2005-06, the Australian registered trading fleet consisted of 46 vessels. In 1996, some 12 years ago, it stood at 75. There has been an increase of foreign vessels employed to carry goods around the Australian coast, at the cost of the Australian coastal shipping fleet. For all sorts of reasons, that permit system has been allowed to exist, and this report was very much about getting an inside view of why these arrangements were working, if they were working, and whether it was beneficial to our country to support such a scheme.

During the inquiry, as a member of the standing committee, I attended many of the hearings. The feeling and sentiment from many in the Australian maritime industry was that Australia would benefit from a revived and expanded coastal shipping sector. A revived and expanded maritime industry in Australia would complement and benefit intermodal freight transport, to name one area of industry. Containerised cargo and significant movement of domestic trade freight would certainly benefit. My electorate of Forde, while very much a landlocked electorate, is very, very dependent on its access to the ports through normal freight, through road and through rail.

There are many arguments for reviving the coastal shipping industry, and the strongest one, of course, is economic. If we revitalise the coastal shipping industry, we can free up the land transport bottlenecks, infrastructure constraints and environmental impacts that are felt in many parts of the country, including my own electorate of Forde. In this chamber I have spoken many times about the electorate of Forde and about the fact that we have very limited infrastructure in terms of rail and road and the ability to move freight around. I will talk later in my speech today about the opportunities that exist within my electorate and about why coastal shipping certainly has some major benefits for electorates like mine that are landlocked. The economic argument, of course, is really about how we improve the shipping industry. The creation of jobs, which will have wide-reaching effects beyond the shipping industry and ports, will also contribute to the growth of maritime services and associated services. In the current economic climate, anything that will stimulate and create jobs will have a net benefit. Other areas that will also benefit from a revived and expanded shipping industry are Australian defence, maritime safety and security.

I listened to the member for Fremantle and the member for Longman, who challenged me to talk about education today, and I will talk about the education and training aspects of this review of coastal shipping. But I will say a little bit more about the importance of having a well-established transport freight network, which includes road, rail and certainly coastal shipping.

If you look at the electorate of Forde, the area of Bromelton is a greenfield site for the development of industrial and freight intermodal transport. I have mentioned Bromelton many times in this House. It is an area that is within 70 kilometres of the Brisbane port. It is not currently very well serviced by road but it has the standard freight line running right through it. This facility at Bromelton was just recently named by the state government in Queensland as a state development area because of its significant value and its significant contribution to the ability to deal with and move freight. With this in mind, it is not just about rail and it is not just about road; it is also about the connection to that wonderful opportunity that we have with our coastal highways.

I said that the member for Longman challenged me to talk about education and training today, because during our discussions about coastal shipping my concentration was on the ability to train people adequately in all of the processes involved with shipping. It appears that the emphasis in the industry and the coastal shipping effort is on not only the ability to encourage people with certain skills into the industry but also the ability to train. It is interesting that there is confusion amongst many about how this training should occur. There is misunderstanding about the notion of competency based training.

I have often spoken about the need for adequate, appropriate and industry linked training and outcomes. It is also important to recognise prior learning. There is concern that it might take a number of years to train certain operatives within coastal shipping. Having a lot of people leave the industry and having the fleet diminish over time means that we lose opportunities for on-the-job training—the ability to give people competencies within a particular field. As far as I am concerned, for the industry to have the ability to revive itself, the education and training aspects are very important. The recommendations within the report look at a number of ways for us to provide adequate and appropriate training that will stimulate the industry. I have made my views known in this House before about the role that education and training plays in most industry sectors. The coastal shipping sector is one that can hugely benefit from some concentrated effort in education and training.

Of course, though, there are challenges for the shipping industry. It will need to compete. I have just talked about road and rail. While it needs to compete on timely service, reliability and competitive pricing, it probably owes its future to the fact that we can complement road and rail transport through that very process. It is very much about having a complete, overall freight movement plan for this country which will significantly involve coastal shipping.

There have been infrastructure constraints at the ports, and this has constrained the industry’s competitiveness. For this country and this government to make a commitment to coastal shipping means that infrastructure needs to be a major part of that commitment. While the processes at the ports that we observed around the country are very good and very efficient in so many ways because of our international shipping effort, there seems to have been over a period of time a lack of deliberate links to the domestic freight task. That is something that I think this report deals with very well in the detail of some of the recommendations. With these issues now presented in the report and with the recommendations in the report also, I am sure that the minister will be able to make some very good decisions about our way forward.

Recommendation 9 suggests that Infrastructure Australia create a national port development plan, which I will just mention, to address current and potential capacity constraints in the ports. This plan would then be used to direct funding to critical port infrastructure projects in Australia to address not only export capacity but also the ability to respond to the potential growth in coastal shipping. It is critical for the shipping industry to get back on its feet, and it needs port infrastructure suitable for the current and potential capacity of Australian ports. Infrastructure is directly related to providing services and boosting productivity. It is necessary to improve the policy framework for the shipping industry.

Those water highways are there. We know that a lot of Australia’s history was built on a lot of freight movement prior to our road and rail infrastructure being established, and it is clear that we now have an opportunity to link what we have established as major infrastructure in this country with coastal shipping lanes—old is new again—to support the growth of industry in this country. Certainly, it will bring an economic stimulus and an ability to commit to major infrastructure related to ports.

Although my electorate of Forde is landlocked, this push to increase our port capacity and port movements will bring huge opportunities to this country. Bromelton will be the largest intermodal port in this country. Irrespective of whether coastal shipping occurs or not, it just makes so much sense that we move forward and establish the infrastructure to support our coastal shipping efforts.

Debate (on motion by Mr Hayes) adjourned.