Key stakeholders from the maritime sector gathered in Melbourne today for the second Coastal Trading – Industry Discussion forum.
Three Senate crossbenchers, Labor and the Greens again gave their support for the future of Australian shipping but all urged the need for unions, business and the Government to work together as the industry continues to face difficulties in the current environment.
This grouping alone would ensure the Government’s deregulation Bill could not pass the Senate, while three more crossbench Senators voted against the previous Government Bill in November.
With the inclusion of moderator Greg Smith, a former Deputy President of Fair Work Australia, solid progress was made with agreement to form a number of sub-groups to continue working towards common goals.
The Maritime Union of Australia was represented by National Secretary Paddy Crumlin, Maritime International Federation Executive Officer Mick Doleman and Policy Executive Officer Rod Pickette.
The MUA focused on the importance of certainty for investment in ships and maritime infrastructure, for employment security and maintaining the maritime skills base.
The MUA believes the political objective is to win the support of the Government to reintroduce a new Bill that commands wide political and industry support.
"Shipping is a national strategic industry. It is an essential part of the nation’s infrastructure to move goods and people. An island nation requires a national shipping industry for its security,” the MUA discussion paper says.
"Maintaining and growing an Australian domestic shipping industry makes economic and strategic sense. It is socially desirable. It contributes to the nation’s security – security for its people, security for its economy.
"Australian businesses and Australian workers are entitled to have a prime stake in such an important national industry. Transferring the entire Australian shipping industry to foreign control would be an economic and strategic mistake. The Senate has already rejected that approach.
"A commercially astute regulatory framework supported by internationally competitive fiscal incentives and backed up by targeted industry policy measures that values Australian businesses, Australian seafarers and which draws on the best entrepreneurship and technologies can deliver an efficient and competitive Australian shipping industry.”
Maritime Industry Australia Limited, formerly the Australian Shipowners’ Association, also supports the Australian coastal shipping indiustry but has its own take on the future of the sector.
"Of paramount importance to all businesses and industries involved in this debate is the need for stability in policy and regulatory settings. Equally important within those settings is the ability to make commercial decisions for the long term to provide stability and certainty to the business and to be internationally competitive,” MIAL says.
"To truly gain value from the Australian Maritime Industry the entire industry must be considered in fiscal and regulatory structures, and these must be made international competitive.”
MIAL is calling for a range of corporate tax measures and an expansion of seafarers’ tax benefits.
The main opposition came from Shipping Australia Limited, whose aim is to break apart the Coastal Trading Act 2012 and deregulate the Australian shipping sector by adopting Deputy Prime Miniter Warren Truss’ Shipping Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 (SLAB)
Shipping Australia believes there are "conflicting aims" to revitalise Australian shipping and to make coastal shipping economically efficient.
"Shipping Australia strongly supports the object of the SLAB, recognising that such an approach will: enable efficient coastal sea transport, reducing the cost advantage of import substitution of domestic products and thus saving Australian jobs, encourage a modal shift from road and rail to sea, minimising greenhouse gas generation and improve safety in longhaul transport,” their submission says.
"It is quite appropriate that the forum also discuss other potential initiatives, such as taxation reforms, which could assist in reinvigorating an Australian shipping industry. These initiatives, should be developed as a separate legislative package and not complicate the object of coastal shipping reform.”
The meeting at times became a slanging match between Crumlin and Shipping Australia chief executive Rod Nairn, who made the outrageous claim that “his clients” pay their seafarers US$40 an hour.
Crumlin replied that under the ITF TCC Agreement, the hourly rate for the Rating occupation (Able Seafarer) is US$1,806/month for 4 weeks of 40 hours/week plus 103 hours overtime for a total hours of 263, which equates to US$6.87/hour or AU$9.51.
He said that on 1 January 2015, the ILO Minimum Wage for Able Seafarer increased from US$585 basic a month to US$592. At present then, the ILO minimum delivers an hourly rate of US$2.25 .
And a Vietnamese ship that replaced the Australian ship, the Tandara Spirit was found by the ITF to be paying US$2.00 per hour.
Before the forum began, Senators voiced their disapproval of the way the Turnbull Government has handled the sacking of the crew of the MV Portland.
Independent senator Jacquie Lambie slammed as “disgusting” the government’s backing of Alcoa’s decision to use foreign workers on the Western Australia to Victoria route, which has been sailed by the MV Portland for 27 years, telling The Australian newspaper it defied the wishes of the Senate.
“The crossbench senators are sick of getting bitch-slapped by this government," Lambie said. “This is about Australian jobs.”
Senator Lambie attacked Employment Minister Michaelia Cash for backing Alcoa’s move, which is illegal under coastal shipping laws without a special licence, which was granted by the government in October.
“I’m fuming with Michaelia. If she wants some sort of rapport with me, she will cancel those licences immediately."
Lambie today reiterated her desire to get something to the Parliament as soon as practically possible.
This would also involve putting information to the Parliamentary Budget Office for proper costing.
“We want to move things as quickly as possible, not just on shipping but also ship manufacturing,” she said.
"We want you stay in the water and preferably with Australians on these boats - we need those maritime skills.
"The Government has had its chance and now it’s your turn to tell us what you need, although we appreciate that one size doesn’t fit all."
Independent Senator John Madigan told the Australian that granting the licenses was a “back-door way” of getting through the coastal shipping legislation after the Senate defeat, accusing the government of failing to “play with a straight bat”.
At the forum he said that while there are differences, we are getting a more frank discussion with each meeting.
"The Government says we need to be innovative but they too need to be innovative and offer a level playing field. It should not be a race to the bottom,” Madigan said.
Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party Senator Ricky Muir said he would like to see outcomes driven by industry.
“We are an island nation and we need a shipping industry. Without you there is no coastal trade and this is tied to manufacturing. Once we lose a skill set it takes a long time for it to build back up,” Muir said.
"But no-one here thinks it will be easy and you might need to compromise. What I’d like to see is for everyone to find common ground and forge a way into the future. There is a really good opportunity here for those in the room, as opposed to the Government coming forward with another bill and then you all say this doesn’t suit us."
Greens Senator and Transport spokesperson Janet Rice reiterated her party’s long-standing support for the Australian coastal shipping industry.
ALP Transport spokesperson Anthony Albanese could not attend but was ably represented by his chief-of-staff.