Pressure is mounting on Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss to apologise to a Western Australian cruise ship operator who was given advice from the Department of Transport to re-flag his vessel and replace its crew with cheap foreign workers in order to remain competitive.
North Star Cruises Australia (NSCA) representative Bill Milby said in his submission to the Senate inquiry into the Government’s proposed changes to coastal shipping laws that senior bureaucrats had advised him to re-flag his vessel overseas and replace his 50 Australian workers with foreign crew.
Mr Milby repeated his claims at last night’s hearing in Canberra after effectively being called a liar by both Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss over the past week.
Mr Milby said he was proud of the fact NSCA was an Australian company that employed Australian workers and that he was left "speechless and dumbfounded" that public servants would canvas the option of him dumping his local workers.
Milby told the Senate inquiry: “I don’t have an issue with the people who gave that advice because if you read the legislation and the explanatory memo, they were telling me the truth. I’m not trying to pick a fight with the Prime Minister or the deputy PM but I don’t like being told I am lying ... I take very strong offence at that.”
Senior bureaucrats later confirmed they had discussed with Mr Milby the idea of re-flagging his vessel and replacing his crew with foreign workers on two separate occasions.
Asked if there had been an economic and social analysis of the close to 1,000 job losses expected with the bill, the bureaucrats described the job losses as an “opportunity cost” and that the bill’s regulatory impact statement assumed “they would get other jobs”.
I question time today, Abbott again refused to apologisie while Truss arrogantly dismissed Milby’s concerns and the loss of Aussie jobs as “trivial issues”.
ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver said an apology was necessary.
“Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss must apologise to Mr Milby given his claims of departmental advice to sack Australian workers have now been proven correct,” Mr Oliver said.
“This is more clear evidence that the Abbott Government is not acting in the best interests of Australian workers. It is a national disgrace that the Abbott Government wants to trash yet another Australian industry due to its ongoing ideological crusade.”
Truss told parliament on Monday that if that advice had been given, it would be inaccurate because it wasn't possible under the planned changes for an Australian cruise ship with foreign crew to operate year-round on the Australian coast.
ALP Transport spokesman Anthony Albanese accused Mr Truss of not understanding the policy implications of his own legislation.
He said Mr Abbott must at the very least apologise to Mr Milby for calling him a liar.
"It may well be that ignorance or stupidity is his excuse rather than treachery, but this is treachery when it comes to Australian jobs," he said.
A report by the Australia Institute into the Government’s legislation, released last Friday, estimates that only 88 Australian seafarer jobs will remain under the Department’s preferred option for policy change.
This represents a loss of 1,089 Australian seafarer jobs, or 93 per cent of the current workforce.
This would result in the likely loss of these skills from the country altogether in the longer term.
The ACTU convened a National Shipping Industry Summit last week that bought together unions, politicians and business to ensure a long-term sustainable Australian shipping industry into the future.
MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin questioned the Abbott Government’s plan to dismantle the Coastal Trading Act, which dictates that ships trading between Australian ports must be crewed by Australian workers, or pay Australian award wages.
“The question needs to be asked as to why a bureaucrat advised North Star Cruises Australia to shift their business offshore when this highly contentious piece of legislation hasn’t even passed the House of Representatives, let alone the Senate,” he said.
“When did it become okay for the Abbott Government to consign tax-paying Australian workers to the dole queues because that’s where the majority of Australian seafarers will end up if Mr Abbott is successful in dismantling the Coastal Trading Act.
“Australian crews are the most highly trained in the world and all have high-level security screening. As a result Australian-flagged ships are demonstrably safer than FOC shipping and have a strong record in protecting our pristine coastline.
“All the Abbott Government wants to do is introduce exploited foreign labour in a race to the bottom through Flag of Convenience (FOC) shipping. The Abbott Government’s proposed changes raise serious questions on national security, fuel security, jobs and skills and protection of our environment."