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Thursday, 3 December 2015
Page: 9852

Senator RICE (Victoria) (15:44): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Tourism and International Education (Senator Colbeck) to a question without notice asked by Senator Rice today relating to jobs in the shipping industry.

What a callous and cold-hearted response we got from Senator Colbeck. We have 38 workers on the MV Portland—and their families—who are facing a very bleak Christmas indeed. They are about to lose their jobs, and the response we got from Senator Colbeck was that it was very difficult and unfortunate. To be telling that to the children of those families, who are indeed looking at a very bleak Christmas—a Christmas of glum faces, a Christmas of pretty sad tidings rather than glad tidings—is not going to give them much cheer. To be telling those children that it is very difficult and unfortunate is the government's way of washing its hands and distancing itself from what is indeed an appalling outcome where we have 38 hardworking skilled seafarers who are being thrown on the scrap heap.

The minister tried to justify it by saying that it was a commercial decision of Alcoa's and one that was in the interests of efficiency. That is not going to be of much comfort to them, and we know that it was not Alcoa's decision. We know that the responsibility for this decision sits fairly and squarely in the hands of the government. It was the government who had to approve the temporary licence that was being issued to Alcoa.

The government could have said, 'No. This is not justifiable. No, there is no reason as to why there should be a temporary licence issued.' But no, they rolled over and said that in the interests of efficiency, reducing costs and ongoing viability, they would issue this temporary licence.

I want to translate for people what efficiency, ongoing viability and reducing costs really mean. I will translate Senator Colbeck's terms and what he really meant when he said 'efficient': he means tossing skilled Australian workers on the scrap heap; he means replacing them with foreign workers being paid less than $2 an hour. In fact the information we have been given is that the workers who are going to replace the workers on the MV Portland are going to be paid 66c per hour. That is what is meant by this government's efficiency.

This is an appalling outcome and an appalling situation that we are now in in Australia: an efficiency that will replace a skilled Australian worker being paid decent wage on decent conditions with foreign workers being exploited and paid at less than $2 an hour.

It is not just an attack on the workers on the MV Portland; as I said, it is a taste of things to come. The information in the government's own legislation that we rejected last week says that 93 per cent of jobs in the Australian coastal shipping industry are going to be lost. They are going to be replaced by foreign workers being paid less than $2 an hour. So we are going to lose far more jobs than just these 38 jobs that are at stake this week.

It is not just seafaring jobs; in fact it is an attack on all Australian workers. Because, if it is good enough for Alcoa to say, 'We don't want to pay our seafarers decent wages—we're going to replace them with workers being paid 60c an hour,' it is more efficient to be underpaying truck drivers. Are they fair game next? The workers on the MV Portland are part of the Australian transport industry and deserve as much as truck drivers and to be paid a fair wage. They deserve as much as freight-rail operators are paid. Is it going to be okay to pay them 66c an hour as well? Or are we going to be in a situation where those workers, particularly those freight-rail workers, are going to be out of work too?

It does not have to be this way. Tomorrow we are going to hear from US Rear Admiral Robert Reilly Jnr about how they do things in the US, where they protect their seafarers' jobs under the Jones Act. Last week we heard from the ambassador of Norway, who hold us how they protect workers there. They pay them high wages and they have a successful maritime industry.

I implore this government to reconsider and revoke the licence they have issued, and to stop playing Scrooge and give the 38 MV Portland workers, the Christmas they deserve.

Question agreed to.