The Maritime Union of Australia is demanding to know whether the Turnbull Government even has a document outlining its reasons to grant a temporary licence to Alcoa, which led to the sacking of MUA members onboard the Aussie-crewed MV Portland.
In a highly embarrassing admission, the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development has been forced to correct evidence given by two of its most senior bureaucrats to a Senate Committee on 8 February 2016.
Department head Mike Mrdak and senior official Michael Sutton said the reasons for granting the controversial licence had been tendered in the Federal Court in a case brought by the MUA and would be provided to the committee.
But this week, Department Deputy Secretary Judith Zielke wrote to the Committee Secretary, to change their evidence. Under the title – Correction of Evidence Provided to Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislative Committee - Ms Zielke stated:
“I wish to advise that no document identifying the reasons for the decision to grant a temporary licence to Alcoa in October 2015 was produced or tendered in court.”
Therefore, under questioning from ALP Senator Stephen Conroy during the Committee hearing, both senior Departmental officials answered falsely.
Senator CONROY: “Has the delegate produced reasons for the decision to grant a temporary licence to Alcoa… have you produced written reasons?”
Mr SUTTON: “Yes. It was done in the context of the Federal Court action that was initiated by the Maritime Union of Australia.”
Senator CONROY: “Are they publicly available?”
Mr SUTTON: “They were certainly tendered in court.”
Mr MRDAK: “We would be happy to take on notice to provide those to you.”
“This means the Department of Transport is either highly incompetent or deliberately mislead the Senate committee. It is in the national interest for the Department’s reasoning to be tested publicly,” MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said.
“Unfortunately, as was the case with Western Australian cruise ship operator Bill Milby, the Department of Transport appears to be systematically undermining the right of existing Australian seafarers to work in their own country.
“You have to wonder how far up the chain of Government this goes because not only has there never been a case to issue the Alcoa licence, the Turnbull Government has refused to cancel it.”
The Turnbull Government issued Alcoa with a Temporary Licence in October 2015 which enables the company to avoid Australia’s cabotage laws, which lay out the rules for domestic trade.
At 1am on January 13, five crew aboard the Alcoa-owned ship the MV Portland were woken by up to 30 security guards and intimidated into leaving the vessel following a 60-day dispute.
The Portland had carried alumina between Western Australia and Victoria for more than 27 years.
The MV Portland has since sailed to South-East Asia to be scrapped, however the domestic trade between WA and Victoria remains and is now being done by foreign ships with exploited crew on as little as $2/hr.