Labor Government will end the Coalition’s war on the existence of Australian shipping: Albanese

The ALP National Conference has resolved to end the Coalition’s war on Australian shipping and pledged to convene a meeting of key stakeholders within 100 days to chart the way forward should Labor win office in next year’s federal election.

ALP Transport spokesman Anthony Albanese told the Conference in Adelaide it was time to deliver certainty to the sector and a future for Australian crews.

“The next Labor Government will end the Coalition’s war on the very existence of an Australian shipping industry,” Albanese said.

“I want to see the Australian flag, on the back of Australian ships, with Australian seafarers, around our coast.”

MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin made reference to Labor’s 2012 changes to the Coastal Trading Act as unfinished business, with the MUA set top play a central role in further improvements to cabotage rules. 

“Albo, you’re a believer - let’s get our merchant navy back, this is unfinished business for us,” Crumlin said.

A resolution put up by the MUA and passed unanimously states that Labor will “in the first 100 days of government convene a meeting of all maritime unions and current industry stakeholders to progress the plan for the Australian merchant fleet and coastal shipping”. 

“Further this meeting will discuss international trade opportunities for Australian seafarers in the shipping of Australia resources: Gas, Coal, Iron Ore, Oil, Fuel and commodities.”

The resolution says that Australia needs a revitalised, strong Australian-flagged shipping industry with a secure workforce and that cabotage remains an important policy objective for economic, environmental and national security reasons.

"Maintaining a domestic shipping industry is critical for an island nation. Over 99 per cent of trade to and from Australia is carried by ship. Australia has the fourth largest shipping freight task in the world. With the expansion of Australia’s commodity trade, international shipping is becoming busier. Cruise shipping is also growing rapidly, delivering more international tourists to Australia, and around the coast,” the resolution says.

"Labor will work with industry and the relevant unions to ensure Australia maintains on its general shipping register sufficient bulk liquid/gas ships to support continuity of petroleum and gas supply, and exports of LNG.

"Labor will amend maritime laws to revitalise the Australian shipping industry with more effective regulatory arrangements, more contemporary foreign seafarer visa requirements, improved corporate and seafarer tax incentives and workforce development measures so Australian shipowners can compete fairly and employ more Australian seafarers, and to attract related functions to develop a maritime industry cluster.  

"Labor will foster Australian shipping and trained Australian seafarer jobs and provide incentives for new investment in Australian ships and maritime skills [and] remove loopholes favouring use of foreign temporary licensed ships over Australian ships in coastal trade.” 

The resolution says Labor will implement new foreign seafarer visa requirements that incorporate labour market testing and undertake a review of Australia’s maritime security policy settings to close any gaps or weakness in the maritime supply chain, including the interface with flag of convenience shipping.

Labor will also establish a permanent standing group with members from the State police forces, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau to liaise, communicate, share information and facilitate investigations of deaths or suspicious deaths including disappearances from international vessels in Australian waters.

Speakers included MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin, WA Branch Secretary Christy Cain and WA Branch seafarer Vicki Helps while new ALP Vice President Mich-Elle Myers presided over the session.

“There was one in eight merchant seafarers died in this country in the second world war. This country was built on the Australian merchant marine and it secured us in times of peace and war,” Crumlin said“We’ve got a right to work in our own country, we’ve got a right not to compete against overseas foreign workers that don’t have migration visas and security clearances, working on $20USD a week under slave labour conditions in our own country, travelling between Australian ports in an Australian domestic industry.

Crumlin took a somewhat sarcastic swipe at former ALP Minister for Resources Martin Ferguson, who oversaw a decline in the number of Australian fuel refineries and Australian-crewed fuel tankers.

“We have the right to have our oil refined in our own refineries for our own industries and as for you Mr Ferguson, you were part of the reason we send all of our oil up to Singapore and then bring it back,” Crumlin said.

“So thank you for securing the great vision of Australian Labor - just for the record, if you happen to be listening in the boardrooms of [the Australian] Mines and Metals [Association].”

Cain told the conference that it was core business to ensure Australian jobs, Australian wages and Australian conditions remain for domestic shipping.

"The shipping industry over the last 30 or 40 years is the forgotten industry – out of sight, out of mind. It should be unfinished business for every ALP member and every trade unionist,” Cain said.

"We blame Reith, we blame Howard, we blame Turnbull and we blame Cash. We’ve all been to disputes and we’ve all been to sit-ins but now we have a policy, a platform to even this up.

"If we’re fair dinkum about local content, about Australians having the right to work in their own country, then seafarers have that right – the right to work on decent wages and decent conditions in their own country."

Helps gave a very personal take on the future of the industry.

“I am an intensely proud member of the WA Branch of the maritime division of the CFMMEU. I am also a proud Australian seafarer, thankful to the Australian shipping industry for the work that life provides and I carry in me a sense of purpose and hope for this industry,” Helps said.

“Imagine if you will a vast island nation, rich in resources and innovation, imagine now that that island nation’s shipping industry, once vigorous proud and determined and an incubator of world class maritime skills and providing a layer of national security by tightly held cabotage service by Australian ships and manned by Australian seafarers whose carriage of fuel and freight is always without compromise.

“Imagine now if you will the end of that shipping industry, imagine an island nation reliant on foreign-owned and manned shipping for all that it needs.

“Just imagine an island nation running out of fuel, held to ransom by whichever multinational corporation is prepared to race to the bottom and increase its profits and exploit its workers.

“This is unfortunately our shared story, a story that could very well end in depleted fuel supplies and the lights being turned off.

“This too is unfortunately our shared story of closing off our borders to those seeking asylum while throwing open our borders to economic exploitation and greed.

“I ask that together we write a new chapter in Australian shipping, one that upholds Labor values and one that reinvigorates a proud and determined shipping industry.”