The Maritime Union of Australia has questioned the priorities of the Abbott Government when it comes to maritime security ahead of the Prime Minster’s national security statement in the Federal Parliament today.
Senior leaders from the United States Coast Guard and the Australian Federal Police signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Friday in the US to highlight opportunities for collaboration at a time when the Abbott Government is trying to water down Australia's national security by deregulating coastal shipping.
The memorandum reportedly seeks to benefit the US/Australia partnership by strengthening maritime cooperation, promoting personnel development, and fostering research into civil maritime law enforcement.
“This agreement allows the Coast Guard and the Australian Federal Police to combine our strengths in common missions, interests and capabilities,” said Coast Guard Vice Adm. Charles D. Michel.
"It highlights our joint efforts to disrupt transnational organised crime syndicates targeting Australia."
MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said this announcement sits at odds with Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss’ ongoing efforts to unwind the Coastal Trading Act and open up Australia’s coast to foreign shipping and severely limited background and visa checks for international seafarers.
“On the one hand we have stronger ties between our two nations on law enforcement with respect to transnational organised crime syndicates but on the other hand the Abbott Government wants to open up our coast to all comers – carrying such substances as car and jet fuel, diesel and ammonium nitrate.
“It doesn’t make sense and indicates the Abbott Government is on yet another ideological crusade against unions, pushing blindly forward without thinking of the consequences. We expect Warren Truss to put up legislation before our Parliament in the first half of this year and we’re gearing up for a fight.
“Thankfully, any decision on coastal shipping requires legislation and sensible Senators – whose disallowance of the Abbott Government’s move to remove visas in the offshore oil and gas sector was then overridden by Assistant Immigration Minister Michaelia Cash last year - will again have their chance to voice concerns.
“The MUA strongly urges the Abbott Government to retain and improve the Coastal Trading Act.It is in the national interest to retain and grow the coastal shipping industry. The Abbott Government’s changes could directly impact around 2,000 direct jobs and up to 8,000 associated jobs so 10,000 Aussie jobs could be on the chopping block.
"There are persuasive national security, employment, economic, supply chain security, skill retention, environmental and strategic reasons for retaining policies that provide fair competition to enable Australian coastal shipping to prosper and grow."
The US has some of the strongest protection for its domestic shipping industry in the world, through the Jones Act, which requires that all goods transported by water between United States ports be carried on US-flagged ships, that those ships be constructed domestically, and that they are owned and crewed by US citizens and permanent residents.
US Congress enacted the strongest statement of support for the Jones Act and the American domestic maritime industry since the Merchant Marine Act of 1936.
Presidents from both sides of the political fence have long supported the Jones Act.
“America needs a strong and vibrant US-Flag Merchant Marine. That is why you can continue to count on me to support the Jones Act and the continued exclusion of maritime services in international trade agreements.” - Barack Obama, 2008
“It’s important for presidents to embrace the Jones Act. I have, [for] five-and-a-half years as the president, supported the Jones Act, and will continue to do so.” George W. Bush, 2006
United States Seafarers International Union (SIU) Secretary-Treasurer David Heindel said "the US experience has been that strong cabotagelaws help support jobs as well as bolster national security. The primary purpose of national cabotage laws are to promote national and homeland security.
Weak or no cabotage laws would hamper any nations ability to meet its strategic sealift requirements."
“Especially in times of crisis, shipping is essential to national security and as a nation, you need to think twice about allowing essential skills to be placed in the hands of non-Australian interests,” Mr Heindelsaid.
“What you don’t want to see is more Flag of Convenience (FOC) ships, with their poor standards and exploited crews, take over ports and displace Australian vessels.”