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Tuesday, 24 November 2015
Page: 8845


Senator STERLE (Western Australia) (19:39): I am going to break from tradition. Normally I do not read speeches let alone emails that are sent to me, but I do wish to read this into the record. I know that comes as a shock to Senators Polley and Bilyk—but not to you, Madam Acting Deputy President O'Neill. I received an email on 22 November from Mr Brent Middleton. I have never had the pleasure of meeting Brent, but I want to relay his words to the chamber. As you would be well aware, we will be debating in this chamber the Shipping Legislation Amendment Bill—about which I have had a lot to say.

A government senator interjecting

Senator STERLE: There is some commentary from the other side of the chamber, but I am going to ignore the stupid interjections because this is about Australian jobs, and I do not think Mr Brent Middleton would appreciate those interjections—so I will not name the senator concerned. Mr Middleton starts off with:

Dear Senator Sterle—

So that proves I have never met Mr Middleton. He continues:

I am writing in regard to the Shipping Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 which is due for debate in the Senate in the very near future.

I began my career as a Trainee in 1999 and over the years served on coastal and overseas trading ships such as Crude and Product Tankers, Container Ships, Bulk Carriers, RORO's, Bass Strait Passenger Ships, CSIRO Research, Customs and Fisheries Patrol to where I am now a Ship's Captain in the Australian Offshore Oil and Gas Industry, servicing all manner of platforms, rigs and installations involved in the exploration and production of oil and gas.

The arguments for why Australia has an essential need for a coastal shipping industry are many and lengthy. I appreciate that your time is valuable so will summarise some key points that I believe are essential for consideration:

Qualifications and experience held by Captains, Officers and Crew, including local knowledge of the coastline, increased familiarity of domestic and state regulations and increased care due to being in their own countries waters.

Ongoing skills base of seafarers that supply other related professions such as Harbour Pilots, Harbour Masters, Great Barrier Reef Pilots, Harbour and Salvage Tug Crew, Marine Surveyors, Port Operators and Maritime Regulators - without a maritime industry to supply these professions we will soon become totally dependent on importing foreign labour.

Health, Safety, Environment, Marine Pollution and Quarantine Regulations—I have seen first hand how ships operate in South East Asia and the way that garbage and dirty bilge water is often discarded overboard is utterly disgusting. Our pristine coastline must be protected.

Maritime Security and Border Protection—This Government has been hailing 'stop the boats' for years but they appear completely happy to allow foreign ships to take Australian cargoes between Australian ports without having the same level of security checks and clearance that is required by Australian seafarers.

Tax revenue from Australian seafarers and take home pay that is spent here in Australia—this Government continues to say they need more money yet don't appear to want our tax dollars which is essentially the Government's income, while they strip away from health, education and the elderly, or see us support ourselves, our families and contribute to the economy with the money we bring home.

Australian jobs for Australians—this legislation is in direct contradiction to their efforts to reducing unemployment.

Potential for precedent to be used against other Australian industries and workforces.

I am 36 years old and have dedicated the past 18 years to a career in the Australian Maritime Industry, the first 12 of these years was to progress to Captain. I support my Wife and two young sons with one more on the way. I am a professional and proud Ship's Master and Australian seafarer who wants nothing more than to work on his own coastline and support his own family whilst contributing to a safe and efficient Australian Shipping Industry.

I sincerely thank you for your time in reading this and hope that you consider the points I have raised.

Yours faithfully, Brent Middleton

I am proud to say that I have read this. I did not seek Mr Middleton's approval to read this, but I think he would give me his full approval.

This is the kind of thing that has been driving me in debates on this issue. We have not had the legislation before us in the chamber yet, but I have been part of a Senate inquiry and part of the shipping forum held in Melbourne, and I can say to you, Brent, and to all your mates that you can count on me and you can count on everyone on this side of the chamber.

I sincerely hope and pray that we can count on our crossbenchers, and there are a number of crossbenchers whom I have had the privilege of working alongside. I will name a couple—Senator Lambie and Senator Madigan—because they were at that shipping forum that we had in Melbourne. I cannot speak for them to say that they will stand and protect Australian jobs, but I could safely hint that they were also very disappointed, when we had the Senate inquiry, to hear that, if the government senators pass this piece of legislation, no less than 1,900-odd Australian seafaring jobs will be gone. I will not go too much on it, as we will have the opportunity to debate that. I believe tomorrow it will be on.

Brent, mate, we are in your corner. You can let the other 1,900-odd know that there is no way known that the Labor senators will leave you hanging out there. We know we are an island nation. We know the importance of Australian shipping. The sad part is that, if this were another industry, I could not see Australia's plumbers, Australia's truckies, Australia's nurses or Australia's road workers sitting idly by watching governments put through this place legislation that would completely cease the Australian coastal shipping trade.

As Brent mentioned in here, this is not to mention just national security, which we know and have heard about a lot lately, unfortunately, because of last week's scenario in Paris, and yesterday in Belgium does not help. But that should be even more reason why we should as a nation grow up and stop putting in pieces of legislation—probably because we have some fixation that, if we do away with 1,900 seafaring jobs on our coastline, we might be able to damage a union on the way through.

This could not be further from the truth from our side, because this is not a blue for the MUA alone. This is a blue for all those 1,900 seafaring jobs. I mentioned in this chamber last week roughly from each state where they will be lost. And no more so than my colleagues: once again Senator Polley and Senator Bilyk. That is twice you have got your name in here, so could you leave me alone! Coming from Tasmania, you would understand the importance of an Australian coastal shipping trade.

Brent, on that, mate, we are with you. We will not desert you. I will be encouraging and standing with Greens, who I know are not supporting this legislation. I can quite categorically count on a number of crossbenchers who have said to me very clearly they will not support this bill. It is absolutely disgraceful that we even have this piece of legislation in this chamber and no more so when we took evidence in our inquiry. The operator of North Star Cruises, Mr Bill Milby, was in the papers. He has the True North, that wonderful vessel that plies the tourism trade from the most pristine coastline in the world between Broome and Darwin and who employs Australians—52 of them and I believe there is one Kiwi.

There are 17 other companies along that coastline that work with Indigenous communities and work with the traditional owners. They give a once-in-a-lifetime experience not only for Aussies who do not know that part of the world and visit for the first time but also for international guests and international visitors. Mr Milby was told in no uncertain terms by Mr Truss's trusty officers from the department that, if he wanted to compete in Australian waters, he had to de-flag his Australian vessel—go and get a foreign flag. When he asked about his Australian crew—the 52 that he employs— and what to do with them to compete with overseas seafarers, he was told uncategorically, 'Sack your Australian crew.'

I am not making that up, because Senator Heffernan was with me. In fact, Senator Heffernan was the one that asked the department officials, 'Was that true?' Once we go through a little bit of bureaucratic namby-pamby—the way they carry on and do not want to answer the question directly—finally they came clean and said, yes, they did. Anyway, Brent, to you and all the rest of your mates: mate, you can count on Labor.