The ALP’s Transport spokesman Anthony Albanese has described the Abbott Government’s proposed deregulation of Coastal Shipping as “Work Choices on Water” during a fiery debate in the Federal Parliament.
The debate was held ahead of Liberal Member for Bass Andrew Nikolic hijacking a press conference being held by several upper and lower house MPs calling for an increase to the Tasmanian Freight Equalisation Scheme.
Ms Lambie criticised past politicians in her maiden speech for not putting an extra $200 million into the Tasmanian Freight Equalisation Scheme.
Senator Lambie is angry the Abbott Government hasn’t heeded her call.
“This is a national highway and we want … to get back on our feet. Tasmanians are stick of the hand-outs, we want a hand up,” she said today.
Lambie, fellow independent Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie and long-term Bass Strait campaigner Peter Brohier ramped up pressure on the Abbott Government to extend the Bass Strait subsidy to northbound freight.
The ABC reported that Wilkie and Lambie also want the Federal Government to drop plans to allow foreign workers to staff Bass Strait ships.
Mr Wilkie said: "Deregulating coastal shipping is an attack on Australian workers who will be replaced by cheap foreign labour. It is also an ideological attack on unions and in particular the Maritime Union of Australia and the Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers.
“Deregulating shipping will not significantly alter Bass Strait costs but instead line the pockets of the shipping lines. The Government’s claim that deregulation will significantly help Tasmania is little more than a dishonest excuse to replace Australian workers with cheap foreign labour.
“What is needed is a new scheme to directly subsidise the cost of moving people, vehicles and freight to and from Tasmania by sea. Yes this means more money upfront but it will translate to savings for Canberra over the long term.
“The key point here is that Bass Strait is the most significant brake on Tasmanian economic development and bringing down the cost will boost the economy and community and reduce Tasmania’s dependence on other federal handouts."
Mr Brohier said the Tasmanian Freight Equalisation Scheme had fallen far too short, urging the Abbott Government to expand the scheme to include all freight across Bass Strait, including goods destined for international markets after brief stopovers in Melbourne.
''It is widely understood that these omissions were the primary cause of Tasmanian dependency on mainland welfare,'' he said.
Mr Albanese said the Abbott Government was driven by ideology that says: "when in trouble on an issue, attack workers. That is their reflex position. They do not understand the reforms that were introduced by the former federal Labor government and they do not understand what the challenges are for the shipping sector in Tasmania.”
Mr Albanese said changes to the 2012 Coastal Trading Act were made because ”we want a level playing field for Australian shipping. We want them to be able to compete with their international competitors on an equal basis.
“So we undertook measures such as slashing tax rates on Australian shipping companies to zero; introducing a seafarers tax offset to encourage the employment of Australians, something that this government is trying to abolish now; and creating the Australian International Shipping Register, allowing foreign-owned vessels limited access to tax relief provided that they hire Australians as senior officers and commit to investment in skills training.
“They are the sorts of measures that we undertook. In Tasmania, a $37.5 million fund was set up to help Tasmanian companies overcome obstacles to increase exports.
“But what we see from this government is an attempt to throw all of that out. They say that workers who staff ships around the Australian coast should not be paid Australian wages.
“Just think about that. At the same time, we are having a debate about the China free trade agreement, where Andrew Robb says it will not allow Australian wages and working conditions to be undermined by Chinese wages and working conditions.
“If a truck that goes from Melbourne to Sydney happens to be owned by a Filipino who brought in a Filipino worker in order to drive that truck, that driver cannot be paid foreign wages. Shipping cannot be undertaken in those circumstances either.
“It is not just about the undermining of working conditions. We know that, if you look at where incidents have occurred around the coast—incidents that have a significant impact on the Australian economy—they have involved foreign-flagged ships.
“We know that flags of convenience represent a problem not just for the economy but also, potentially, for the environment due to the damage that can occur, such as what occurred off the Gladstone coast just a few years ago, and national security.
“It amazes me that those opposite, who speak a lot about border security, are quite prepared to have the Australian flag completely disappear from the Australian coast. This is not Work Choices; this is Work Choices on water. That is what they want. “They want Work Choices on water to enable the replacement of what remains of the Australian shipping industry.
Liberal Member for Lyons Eric Hutchinson moved a motion in the House of Representatives that the House:
(l) acknowledges the detrimental results of the former Labor Government's coastal shipping regulatory changes introduced between 2009 and 2012 which have significantly impacted on Tasmania;
(2) agrees that the number of major Australian registered ships with coastal shipping licenses fell from 30 in 2006-07 to just 13 in 2012-13;
(3) recognises that the Coastal Trading (Revitalising Australian Shipping) Act 2012 adversely affected the Australian maritime industry, with Tasmania losing its international shipping service because of changes to cabotage;
(4) recognises the great potential of a coastal trading sector unconstrained by needless red tape and distorted shipping arrangements;
(5) notes the review into coastal shipping undertaken as a matter of priority by the Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development with its findings currently being considered by the Minister's office; and
(6) urges the House to reform the Coastal Trading (Revitalising Australian Shipping) Act 2012 to mitigate the damage that has already occurred, particularly in the state of Tasmania.
"The changes to coastal shipping in 2009 and again in 2012 under the Coastal Trading (Revitalising Australian Shipping) Act 2012, particularly in relation to cabotage rules, damaged our nation's competitiveness, decreased productivity on our vital coastal shipping routes and pushed up costs,” Mr Hutchinson said.
"Higher costs have seen manufacturers in aluminium, cement and fuel refining have no choice but to use coastal shipping for their products and raw materials, and a number of these businesses have closed in recent years as a result of dramatically higher rates for coastal shipping.”
But ALP Member for Franklin Julie Collins said Mr Hutchinson ’s motion was aimed at diverting attention away from the fact that the Liberal Party, since coming to office in September 2013, has done nothing at all about Bass Strait freight.
"Despite all of its promises, it has done nothing. It promised a lot and it has delivered nothing,” Ms Collins said.
“It has had the Productivity Commission report that was referred to by the member for Lyons since 7 March this year. What has happened to it? Nothing.
“We have had Minister Truss come down and, essentially, say that the Joint Commonwealth and Tasmanian Economic Council will look at it. That was in June.
“There is still nothing from that report. We have had the members for Bass, Braddon and Lyons talk about the possibility of the Tasmanian Freight Equalisation Scheme being opened up to north-bound exports.
“And then, of course, in the last few weeks we have heard this murmuring about coastal shipping. But coastal shipping, of course, is really talking about the wages—the wages of the Australian workers on the ships.
“This government has never seen a worker's wage it does not want to cut. We have seen that recently. We have seen it with the ADF and we have seen in the past, because it will take every opportunity it can to attack workers.”