There can be no greater betrayal of the national interest than when an Australian government facilitates the sacking of Australian workers. Labor’s shadow infrastructure and transport minister Anthony Albanese argues the Turnbull Liberal-Nationals stand accused, and guilty.
Betrayal of the national interest is what is happening today as the Turnbull government continues its ideologically charged attempt to have Australian shipping workers sacked and replaced with cheap foreign labour.
Last November the Senate rejected government legislation that would have allowed ships crewed by foreign mariners earning third world wages to undercut Australian vessels crewed by Australians.
The wording of the legislation clearly stated the intent was to encourage Australian ship operators to sack their Australian crews, reflag overseas and hire cheap foreign labour. The Senate’s rejection of this Bill should have been the end of the matter.
“Blatant abuse of the intent of existing law.”
However, evidence before a recent Senate committee hearing has proven the government has been seeking to achieve its aim of destroying Australian shipping jobs through the back door.
Last October, even before the Senate rejection of the Work Choices on Water legislation, the government gave aluminium producer Alcoa a licence allowing it to replace the MV Portland with a foreign ship and a foreign crew. The licence was issued under existing legislation that allows the use of foreign ships for domestic shipping for temporary work in cases where no Australian ship is available.
This was a blatant abuse of the intent of existing law.
The Portland already had an Australian crew. And its work was anything but temporary. The vessel had been shifting resources between Western Australia and the Victorian town of Portland for more than two decades.
Nonetheless, the government issued the permit and the Portland’s Australian crew was ordered to sail the vessel to Singapore, where it was to be scrapped and replaced by a foreign vessel with a foreign crew.The crew refused to do so.
The resulting industrial dispute ended on 13 January 2016, when five crew members aboard the vessel were thrown off the ship after being dragged out of their bunks by security guards at 1am.
During the dispute, then-Transport Minister Warren Truss had very little to say, holding himself up as a disinterested bystander.
However, at a recent Senate hearing into the increasing use of foreign vessels registered in so-called Flag of Convenience nations like Liberia, it emerged Mr Truss was up to his armpits in this issue.
“Disgusting betrayal of the national interest.”
The committee heard that Mr Truss knew as early as December 17 that 40 Australians were going to lose their jobs and be replaced by a foreign crew on a ship with a foreign flag.
The minister received this information from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which had received an application from Alcoa for accreditation for the foreign workers who were being positioned to take over these jobs.
Yet for the following four weeks, as the Australian crew conducted industrial action and the vessel sat idle, Mr Truss did nothing to attempt to save their jobs.
Mr Truss’s inaction makes him complicit in putting people out of work: real people with real families to feed, and real bills to pay.
This is a disgusting betrayal of the national interest.
It is in the nation’s economic interest to retain a vibrant domestic shipping industry for the jobs it provides and the maintenance of a maritime skills base in this country.
Having a local maritime industry is also in our national security interest, given that we know the backgrounds of local shipping companies and their Australian workers.
While the government seems to have no time for national security arguments, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection has a different view.
“Obsessed with reducing shipping costs at any cost.”
The department’s submission to the Flags of Convenience (FOC) inquiry offers a blunt warning on the security implications of increasing use of foreign-flagged vessels.
“There are features of FOC registration, regulation and practice that organised crime syndicates or terrorists may seek to exploit.’’
The department says that in many FOC nations, there is a lack of transparency about the identity of the owners of vessels and insufficient enforcement of maritime standards.
“Limited compliance regimes and lack of adherence to international conventions and standards can contribute to a decreased or limited crew capability and diminish a ship’s general sea-worthiness. Both factors can contribute to a heightened risk to the environment or other shipping, potentially leading to a compromise to biosecurity, for example through poor ballast water management or by causing marine pollution.”
Protecting national security and the environment should be core business for any responsible federal government, along with supporting jobs.
But the Turnbull government has no time for such arguments.
It is obsessed with reducing shipping costs at any cost – including the livelihoods of hundreds of Australian workers and their families.