MUA Responds To The Oz Attack On Australian Shipping

When the Australian resurrected the infamous Peter Reith from the political grave - presumably because the Coalition now support a tonnage tax and ship reform - the National Secretary wrote the following letter to The Australian. Many of our members also wrote in.

Reith has severe credibility issue on shipping industry reform

Former Howard Government workplace relations minister Peter Reith should be the last person sticking his head up to comment to the media about shipping industry reform ("Crackdown on shipping 'could raise costs' ", 3/12).

Mr Reith has a severe credibility issue. He never instigated any shipping policy reform during his time in office, despite numerous undertakings.

Nothing less could be expected of Mr Reith when he was quoted as saying the current Federal Government's plan for the shipping industry was 'obviously a deal' for the MUA 'at everybody else's expense'.

This is ludicrous and typically shows no attempt at analysing the policy; he is just having another bash at unions.

Mr Reith's comment that Australia's merchant shipping fleet 'can't possibly be competitive' is a perfect example of the thinking that was displayed by the Howard Government that has led this island trading nation to have a dilapidated shipping fleet, for the first time since colonisation.

Foreign ships pay no tax and rely largely on regulation from countries like Liberia and Panama, who have by far the largest fleets in the world.

As was the successful case in the UK, which the Gillard policy is largely modelled on, Australia - the fourth largest user of ships in the world - can easily add value by improving the Australian shipping register. This was something that was beyond Reith and Howard despite more than 10 years of reviews and promises.

All Australians should remember the role Mr Reith played in the conspiracy behind the waterfront dispute, and that the Federal Court concluded that there was an 'arguable case' of conspiracy by Patrick, the NFF, and the Federal Government - including Mr Reith.

It is also worth noting that the National Party and the Coalition both announced pro shipping policies in the last election, including a tonnage tax system.

Paddy Crumlin,

MUA National Secretary,



More backing for ship reforms

Andrew Scott at sea on one of the few Australian ships left:

It is a bit flimsy to suggest that the enforcing of a stricter cabotage regime is a protectionist approach.  We would not allow foreign truck drivers to transport goods on our roads using trucks registered in a foreign country, so why do we continue to let foreign crews transport goods around our country on foreign ships? 

It is important not to see these proposals as a government that is getting into bed with the maritime unions, rather as the much needed shot in the arm for an industry that has been in steady decline for many years, and although in the short term it may have a negative impact on the price of goods transportation it will ultimately create a domestic competition that will drive prices down.

Andy Campbell of North Queensland:

Great news - such a big coastline and so few ships doing the domestic trade.  Hopefully it will lead to many trucks being off the road and a reduction in the road toll, if the reforms are supported by the public.  Also the fuel cost per tonne/mile of shipping is the cheapest of all transport methods i.e. trucking and rail. And the ocean does not need billions of dollars maintenance. The benefits are really a no-brainer so let's support Aussie coastal shipping.

Maritime Mick of Sydney:

Foreign ships in our coastal trade have not lowered freight rates; all they have done is fatten the profits for foreign shipowners who take their profits overseas.  They register their ships in foreign tax havens to avoid scrutiny of their operations with the minimum of safety and crewing standards.

They do not contribute to Australia's GDP.  Their foreign crews do not contribute to Australian society in the way of paying mortgages, supporting families and paying taxes or contributing to the future maritime skills base Australia needs.  

We are an island nation.  Foreign crews are poorly trained and poorly paid.  One only has to look at all the recent shipping disasters around the coast the last few years to see the danger they pose to our environment.

As for Llew Russell and Shipping Australia maybe they should be replaced with cheap foreign labour.  Llew Russell represents the interests of foreign shipowners and what is best for them, not the interests of Australian shipowners or what's in the best interest of Australia.           

Ben of Offshore WA:

It's about time!  Despite higher wages for Australian seafarers, Australian ships are competitive when given a level playing field. Foreign vessels operating on the coast using the permit system have massive cost advantages against Australian vessels.  Their crews are permitted to access low income tax rates.  

The vessel operators aren't paying Australian tax levels on fuel. They're accessing much cheaper registration from flag of convenience states. They also seem to be involved in more than their fair share of incidents on our coast.

There's also the point that Australia's coast has been opened up more than just about any other to foreign vessels.  Most of Europe and the US are much more restrictive.  This is finally a worthwhile initiative of this government.  I didn't vote for them, but I'm applauding them!

Clive of Tamworth:

Surely a locally owned and operated shipping industry is essential to Australia.  Of course the importers are going to complain, but those complaints are probably not justified as any rise in costs will apply to all and, to the end consumer, will be minimal.  A crew of 12 being paid Australian rates for a few days to carry ten to fifteen thousand tonnes of goods is not going to add much to your Chinese-manufactured DVD player.   

Mike of Sunnycoast Qld:

This is not just about union power.  We need to ensure we have Australian services owned by Australians.  We shall just be priced out of everything until we have no way back and no skills even if these services that are cheap now suddenly become NOT CHEAP in the future.

Just look at Qantas engineers.  We are just becoming corporations slowly selling our control to Asian and overseas control because they have the cheap labour and all the money.


I was offered a permanent job by the foreign ship owner of a vessel which had been working in the Australian offshore oil industry. They were quite happy with my performance as part of the Australian crew.  The vessel usually employs UK officers who work tax-free.  In reality all this means is that the wages are lower because of wage competition.  The proof of this is that where tax is paid by UK seafarers the wages are correspondingly higher.

The combination of a strong Australian dollar, and the requirement to pay tax whilst working alongside everyone else who is 'tax free' meant that I would have been the lowest paid officer on the ship.  I had to decline the offer.  

Australian tax law is particularly punitive against seafarers, who are required to pay Australian tax in situations where other Australians can claim to be non-resident for tax purposes - this needs to change.           

Fireman Tim:

The UK introduced these shipping reforms and added over US$8 billion to the tax coffers that wasn't there before.  Business wins, tax office wins, Australia wins.

 John Lamb of Brisbane:

Perhaps then we can rid at least our coast of sub-standard rust buckets crewed by low wage "seamen" who can't function in a common language officered by watch keepers whose "Certificates of Competency" arrived from Panama or some other bolt hole with the rations in return for cash but free of examination.

Flags of Convenience shipping began as a useful tool for minor players but now even "respected" owners use them.  I wouldn't put to sea with some of these amateurs.

Michael of Melbourne:

Sorry you're wrong.  The Navigation Act does not stop foreign shippers from competing against Australian shippers, there is no protection offered in the Nav Act from these companies.  

Any shipper based anywhere in the world can operate in Australia as long as the following are met: (1) that seafarers employed on the ship shall be paid wages at the current rates ruling in Australia, and (2) that the ship is not in receipt, either directly or indirectly, of any subsidy or bonus from a foreign government.

Any company can operate in Australia's shipping chain, and many Third World, tax free uncontrolled companies based in Liberia, Panama, and Mongolia do.  I wonder if those supporting these foreign shippers are aware that they are supporting countries in which Blood Diamonds along with the income from these registered merchant ships support dictators?