The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) has again identified the meanness of spirit of the Abbott Government with the formal introduction to the Parliament of plans to deregulate the Australian maritime sector on the International Day of the Seafarer.
The International Day of the Seafarer is an official day of observance by the United Nations, marked annually on 25 June.
The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) aims to increase public awareness of the world's 1.5 million seafarers and the difficult work they do, often in treacherous conditions.
But rather than celebrate with Australian seafarers, Transport Minister Warren Truss instead formally today introduced the Government’s plans to throw out the Coastal Trading Act and replace it with cheap foreign shipping.
MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said that if the Parliament passes Minister Truss’ repeal bills, it will sound the death knell for the Australian shipping industry.
“These changes could directly impact around 2000 direct jobs and up to 8000 associated jobs – so that’s 10,000 Aussie jobs on the chopping block,” Mr Crumlin said
“It takes a special kind of Government to spend nearly two years in power and then pick the International Day of the Seafarer to try to obliterate an entire industry in a proud shipping nation.
“But following on from other missteps such as car manufacturing and defence ship and submarine building, the Abbott Government’s blind hatred of unionised workforces has again trumped both their common sense and the national interest.
“Cabotage is a normal way to deliver domestic freight securely, safely and predictably for many maritime nations including the United States, Japan, China, Indonesia and the Philippines.
“Fortunately, this decision is yet to pass the Parliament and we urge sensible Senators to carefully consider this legislation before casting their vote, particularly when the Upper House only last week agreed to an inquiry into the high cost of cheap shipping.”
The announcement from the Government comes in the same week as the coronial inquest into three suspected murders onboard the Panama-flagged MV Sage Sagittarius in 2012.
In addition to the suspicious deaths, the coroner has heard allegations that guns were being sold on board and that assaults on and intimidation of the crew were widespread.
The case was covered by the ABC’s Four Corners program and the Australian Senate last week decided to launch an inquiry into Flag-of-Convenience shipping.
Flag of Convenience refers to the practice of shipping companies to register a vessel in a port based in a country with lax rules and regulations, such as Panama, Liberia or Marshall Islands. The ship then flies the flag of the “host” nation.
The purpose is to reduce operating costs or avoid regulations in the vessel’s real home country.
The Inquiry by the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee will examine the national security, fuel security, environmental, social and economic impacts of
FOC shipping and revisit the 1992 Ships of Shame Inquiry.
Hawke-era Transport Minister Peter Morris sat in the gallery of the Glebe Coroner’s Court on Tuesday and told Australian Regional Media: “Listening to some of the proceedings today just confirmed my worst fears of yesteryear … for the crew and the exploitation of crews, little has changed.”
Mr Crumlin said the murky world of FOC shipping needs to be investigated as widespread bullying and intimidation are rife, while workers are often paid as little as $2/hr.
“Flag-of-Convenience shipping is riddled with morally ambiguous, and sometimes criminal, practices yet the Australian Government wants to make ships of shame the new normal rather than the extreme exception,” Mr Crumlin said.
“The Australian public deserves to know what the Flag-of-Convenience shipping alternative actually means, including its impact on national security, fuel security, jobs and the environment.”
Mr Crumlin added that the Senate Inquiry into Fuel Security is due to report today, yet the Government has pushed ahead with its plans to kill off the shipping industry regardless.
“Australia is already down to four refineries and two Australian-crewed vessels carrying fuel around our coast, compared to eight refineries and 11 vessels in 1996,” Mr Crumlin said.
“Australian refining and Australian shipping remain a vital part of ensuring Australia’s fuel security into the future and unless the Government does something, we are forecast to have no refineries and no Australian shipping by 2025.
“This places Australia completely at the mercy of foreign markets and we would have no insurance policy against any major supply shock – whether it be from a refinery fire in Singapore, a terrorist or piracy attack in the Straits of Malacca, or environmental tragedy on the Great Barrier Reef.”