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Wednesday, 25 November 2015
Page: 9038


Senator SMITH (Western AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (19:05): I am grateful for the chance this evening to make some brief comments on the Shipping Legislation Amendment Bill 2015, because it is a piece of legislation that is absolutely imperative to improving economic efficiency not just with coastal shipping around Australia but, dare I say, in the state of Tasmania. Why do we need to do this? Because the 'reforms'—and I use that term advisedly—put in place by the former Labor government had nothing to do with improving economic performance and everything to do with keeping some of their political mates very happy. This government recognises the urgent need to maintain efficient and reliable coastal shipping services as part of the national transport system. How do we know that this legislation is needed? Because industry has clearly said so. I have a number of quotes, so bear with me. I would like to quote first from the Australian Industry Group, which has said:

The Bill, by increasing flexibility in the coastal shipping trade, will provide important economic benefits to the Australian economy and allow for greater movement of Australian domestic cargo, including in parts of Australia where shipping transport is particularly vital, such as Tasmania.

Let me say, as a Senator representing a state that has over many years sent a great deal of our own money Tasmania's way through the GST distribution arrangements, that I think anything that helps Tasmania build its economic capacity is unambiguously good news for Tasmanian taxpayers and, dare I say, Western Australian taxpayers as well. You would hope, of course, that Labor senators would also think along those lines, but that is a little bit too much to expect in this particular debate.

While on the subject of Western Australia, a state for which minerals and resources are absolutely vital, I think it is also worth noting what the Minerals Council of Australia had to say in regard to this particular piece of legislation. It clearly set out the key problem with Labor's so-called shipping reform, noting:

Restricting competition in Australia's coastal shipping industry has increased domestic transport and administration costs and made it more difficult to source coastal shipping services when they are needed.

This is a particularly important point. I am not sure whether or not Senator Xenophon and others have represented the regulatory impact statement correctly. I am prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt. But, when they talk about jobs in one industry, the shipping industry, what they do not talk about is exactly these economic benefits that arise from a more competitive coastal shipping industry. I will give them the benefit of the doubt. If the regulatory impact statement does say what they say it says, that may be true, but what they do not then talk about is the benefits to other jobs in other industries that arise because you get a more competitive coastal shipping industry with reduced costs. That is the link that Senator Xenophon has not made and I think it is important to make. Indeed, that is the link that I heard some Labor senators talking about earlier today when we were having this debate.

The Minerals Council went on to use one company to demonstrate this particular point, talking about how freight charges had increased for one particular company by $3,000 a day. I am not sure why the Labor Party think that imposing cost increases like that on employers is going to help workers in other industries or to boost employment growth more generally.

If we go to agriculture, another sector that is crucial to Western Australia's economy and our export industries, what is the view of the National Farmers' Federation on the changes that Labor introduced? The National Farmers' Federation said:

… there is no evidence that the—

then current—

legislation has had any 'revitalising' effect on either Australian shipping or the broader economy. … The cost of shipping goods by sea has increased and there is a perception that the Australian coastal trade is all but closed to foreign ships, with a resulting reduction in access to freight services.

This means that the lack of competition in Australia's coastal shipping services means that other industries are paying a high price for that lack of competition and the poor access to freight services. It is not in the interests of this nation for a perception to exist that our coastal trade is closed for business. That is not good for Tasmania. It is not good for any of the Australian states.

The farcical nature of the reforms that the former Labor government introduced is not hard to demonstrate. In many respects, it reminds me of the mining tax Labor introduced, which hit Western Australia harder than any other jurisdiction. As we recall now, Labor introduced a mining tax that imposed huge compliance costs on those involved in the mining sector, which pushed up business costs, yet the tax raised barely any revenue. It was one of the greatest disasters of public policy that this country has ever witnessed.

In much the same vein, the former Labor government introduced an Australian International Shipping Register. Colleagues might be interested to know how many ships were registered on the Australian International Shipping Register. How many?

Senator Reynolds: Yes, how many?

Senator SMITH: Senator Reynolds might like to pick a number out of the air. Ten? 'Was it 10, Senator Smith?' No, it was not 10, Senator Reynolds. Was it nine? No, it was not nine. Was it eight? No, it was not eight. Was it seven? It was not seven. Was it six? It was not six. Was it five? It was not five. It was not four. It was not three. It was not two. It was not even one. No ship was registered on the Australian International Shipping Register. It is the catastrophe of the mining tax by another name. It is another piece of burdensome Labor Party regulation that has driven up business costs and failed to deliver on its anticipated outcomes.

Let us ask ourselves: why has it failed? Again, we need to go to Labor's motives on this particular issue. The plain truth is that the so-called reforms introduced by Labor were pretty much a wholesale capitulation to Labor's political mates in the Maritime Union of Australia—no surprises there. We all know, of course, that the MUA have fallen on particularly hard times. Their chant may well be, 'MUA, here to stay,' but, as we are all aware, they are now in merger talks with the CFMEU to form a militant superunion.

There was further evidence recently of the MUA's desperation in Western Australia, when that union spent a not inconsiderable amount of time—and, dare I say, members' money—pursuing a coverage application before the Fair Work Commission. Their argument was that the employees of a logistics company who prepared for delivery in the offshore oil and gas industry should be ruled to be 'waterside workers'. That is a very long bow to draw. That is a very, very long bow to draw, and I will just demonstrate what I mean. There are workers at storage and logistics facilities located a considerable distance from wharves or from the water, and the MUA have been trying to argue that they should have the right to cover these workers. As the Fair Work Commissioner rightly noted in dismissing the application:

To disturb the plain meaning of "waterside worker" would be to characterise work performed, in any location, which ultimately results in goods or materials being loaded onto a ship as the work of a "waterside worker".

Plainly, that would be a ridiculous situation, yet such is the desperation of a union movement that is losing its relevance by the day.

This legislation is about getting the balance right. It is about recognising that laws governing our shipping network need to promote economic efficiency. They need to genuinely protect workers—and Senator Abetz mentioned that in his contribution—and of course they need to actually promote economic opportunity and job creation for Australians. Our laws should not be used to try to create political and organisational advantage for particular unions. That is not their role.

I think some people have misunderstood the full impact on jobs and on industries associated with coastal shipping and have underestimated the significant growth to jobs and the economic opportunity that arise from a more competitive coastal shipping arrangement. They have misunderstood what the regulatory impact statement has been trying to say, but for the sake of this debate I will give them the benefit of the doubt.

I will keep my contributions short. For me the merits of this particular piece of legislation are clear and obvious. Economic reform is important. It is certainly in the interests of Tasmania. It is in the interests of Western Australia. The Harper review in its own way will make a considerable contribution to competition and productivity in our country over time, but, with regard to this particular issue, this is a necessary and very worthy piece of economic reform and should be embraced, most particularly by Labor senators from Tasmania.