Maritime Workers and Asylum Seekers: All in the Same Boat

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) is today adding its voice to the growing opposition to the Abbott Government’s Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment Bill, which is currently before the Senate.

MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said the Bill deserves to be voted down on several fronts.


“It was with profound shock when we learned the Abbott Government’s new Bill would allow the Immigration Minister to decide in secret whether the Navigation Act 2012, the Shipping Registration Act 1981, the Marine Safety (Domestic Commercial Vessel) National Law, and Australia’s other international maritime obligations would apply to any particular vessel,” Mr Crumlin said.

“Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has failed to grasp that these laws and conventions exist to save lives at sea, to protect fragile marine environments, and to ensure proper standards in shipping.

“Time and time again, MUA members have been proud to be in the front line of search and rescue including for asylum seekers fleeing desperate circumstances, and to bring them to a safe port and landing.

“But this bill undermines maritime workers’ ability to offer that helping hand by removing a layer of accountability in a dangerous, unpredictable industry.

“Moreover, it allows Australian ships to secretly take people to any part of the world, and exempts them from any other law in the process.”

Mr Crumlin said that like many other sections of the Australian community, the MUA and its members strongly believe that genuine asylum seekers deserve a fair go.

“Asylum seekers deserve to be treated with dignity when they arrive, to have their cases heard fairly and expeditiously, and to have an opportunity to make Australia their home if they meet the appropriate internationally accepted criteria,” he said.

“The MUA represents ­maritime workers from all parts of the world, doing the hard and dangerous work of keeping ships moving and cargo loading and discharging.

“Many Australian workers and their families over generations arrived here by boat one way or another.

“The MUA has a proud history of taking stands against injustice and persecution. It is a matter of historical record that when governments attack the most vulnerable and marginalised, workers and their rights are inevitably also in the firing line.

“The tools of this type of marginalisation are fear and prejudice designed at diversion and distraction for short term political gain and opportunism or more pervasive ideological agendas.

“This is an international phenomenon and can only be objectively combated by the highest regard to international law and defined rights, particularly human and civil rights.

“Scott Morrison’s Bill demonstrably reflects a complete lack of regard for those internationally accepted standards of treatment to this area of distressed humanity.”

Mr Crumlin said the Bill, with its negative and obsessive focus against asylum seekers, also undermines governance within the maritime industry and the rights and protections of maritime workers. 

“Seafarers work in an often shadowy and dangerous industry where some multinational corporations perfected the art of tax-dodging, and safety and labour regulation evasion in a race to the bottom,” Mr Crumlin said.

“It is a difficult industry to regulate tax and labour rights and it is even more difficult to maintain decent safety standards, resulting in a long and inglorious history of loss of human life often compounded by massive environmental damage.”

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and its affiliated unions have come together with responsible shipowners and proactive governments to defend and improve standards.

Financially devastating maritime disasters and systemic failures have resulted in new international conventions from the United Nations’ International Maritime Organisation (IMO), a new ILO Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) and reform of the UN Convention on law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

“Australia generally and historically has played a leading role in these reforms by adding accountabilities, developing conventions, and leading the world in many aspects of their implementation,” said Mr Crumlin, who is also ITF President.

“The MUA and ITF are deeply concerned that this Bill undermines the maritime safety framework that maritime workers across the world rely on.”

Mr Crumlin said the Bill was the latest in a long line of examples whereby the Abbott Government has shown its inability to come to terms with the essential importance of shipping and maritime policy to Australia’s current and future growth and stability.

“The Abbott Government recently rode roughshod over the Upper House regarding visas in the offshore oil and gas industry simply because they didn’t like the Senate’s decision,” Mr Crumlin said.

“Now they want to take things one step further and legislate to put decisions solely in the hands of the Minister without any form of administrative review.

“Australia has the fourth largest shipping task in the world. We are surrounded by the equivalent of an 8-lane super highway of the sea with human flotsam and jetsam bobbing around in desperate straits and leaky boats in the centre lanes.

“Yet Minister Morrison wants to make up the traffic rules as he goes and not tell anyone? Australia is quickly developing a reputation for recklessness verging on absurdity in international maritime policy and governance.
“The MUA urges Senators to reject this Bill.”