Ship Reform On Course

Minister outlines New Year strategy for Australian shipping.

The Gillard government is moving to reclaim our coastal waters. It is closing the doors to foreign ships carrying domestic cargoes between Australian ports, without accountability or any other impediment, with exceptions only under emergencies and only once the vessels come under Australian laws – no longer a law to themselves.

In a move that made headlines in December the Minister for Transport Anthony Albanese announced the government would consider the abolition of Continuing Voyage Permits. Immediately the Murdoch Press ran a single-handed opposition to the policy on their front pages.

Single voyage permits would be limited to emergencies, when lives or the community are at risk, such as fuel urgently needed to power a hospital.

Under the proposed new rules the only other foreign ships plying the coast will operate under temporary licences on nominated trades for specified periods. Crew will come under the Fair Work provisions.

A full licence to trade on the Australian coast would now only be available to ships crewed with Australian seafarers, owned or operated by Australians.

The new temporary licences replacing CVPs would be restricted to nominated trades for a specified period based on a requirement to introduce Australian crews and not undermine the existing Australian vessels.

These would apply to foreign vessels operating under Australian laws and Australian ships plying under a proposed Australian international register. On the coast it has been already determined that the crew would be covered by the provisions of the Fair Work Act 2009 on Australian wages and conditions of employment, workforce standards, crew competencies, environmental and safety laws. The union contends the same shall apply internationally.

In other words foreign ships would now be governed by the same laws that apply to Australian vessels, thus ending the decade long double standards exploited by the Howard government and freight forwarders at the cost of Australian industry, security, the economy and environment.

The proposed restrictions on foreign shipping, including Australian internationally registered vessels, in our domestic trade come hand in hand with the long touted incentives for investment in Australian shipping – tonnage tax, accelerated depreciation, royalties withholding tax.

Ship owners taking advantage of the fiscal incentives such as tonnage tax would be required to train an agreed number of officers and ratings annually.

With this in mind the government is to set up the Maritime Workforce Development Forum to improve maritime skills and training outcomes and develop mechanisms for workforce planning and sharing of resources in the delivery of training.

“It’s about being able to secure reinvestment in our industry again,” said MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin. “We can now rebuild our coastal fleet. There’s probably the capacity to have many more Australian crewed ships on the Australian coast and to revitalise the Australian maritime industry in the process. But to do that you need investment and certainty.

“We should be able to walk up the gangway in our own country, carrying cargoes between our own cities as part of the domestic transport network and do it with the full support of the Australian government and legislation,” he said.

As well Australian seafarers working on international trades would be eligible for tax exemptions. These would kick in when working over 120 days overseas with those working over 180 days on a qualifying ship being tax exempt. This will help open up new opportunities for employment while securing existing ratios such as the North West Shelf LNG trade.

COMPACT

The announced shipping reform package, however, is conditional on a compact between industry and unions to deliver productivity and efficiency reforms, along the lines of the Rio framework agreement.
Ship-based cost reduction targets are to include a review of minimum crewing levels by shipowners, the maritime unions and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

Reforms would not come at the expense of job safety or the environment.

A second proviso is the introduction of riding gangs on board vessels involved in the coastal trade to undertake additional maintenance. They would be employed on terms and conditions of employment established under the Fair Work Act.

“We have to do our bit, if we are going to rebuild our coastal industry, if we’re going to attract investment back into the country to replace those 30-40 ships and add another ships gone under the Howard Government shipping doctrine of help yourself to our country and it’s jobs,” said Paddy Crumlin.

“We have to come to terms with having an international register to replace the flag of convenience ships carrying most of our international cargo,” he said.

“However the international register can’t be used to substitute Australian vessels in the domestic trade. We’ve told the regional Pacific unions and our members from Vanuatu to Fiji and PNG that we would be developing opportunities for them to have quality of work within our region and have the protection of the MUA,” he said floating the vision of the union becoming more international in character.

“We have the capacity to provide employment into the future, to attract investment back into our country, to build the union not only to deliver security of employment, not only to deliver wages and conditions for ourselves and our families, but also to deliver a political and industrial capacity to defend our right to work in our own country against the Howard type attacks in the future.”

The national secretary also put on record the union’s gratitude to the MUA crew who had done the hard yards in the blue water industry to keep it going until the reforms came through.

“These 30 ageing ships have been only been kept in the trade by the professionalism of Australian seafarers to maintain these cranky creaking old ships as the union worked this industry and political process through to some sort of solution.

“If they go does anybody seriously think they are not going to go after the offshore,” he said. “Over time they would gradually try to remove Australian crews from every area of offshore operation as is the case in many countries around the world.

“Of course there would be a fight, we will fight every time an Australian ship goes. We fought over the Stolt, we fought over the CSL ships, we fought over the Rio ships. But there’s one thing in fighting and another thing in winning if you haven’t got the legislative framework and the investment framework to assist.

“The offshore industry isn’t protected by cabotage,” he warned. “There’s no cabotage protecting any of our seafarers working in the FPSOs, rig tenders and dredges – and there are numerous examples of attempts to introduce foreign labour into these areas.”

“It is our hardcore membership working in the relatively more low paid domestic blue water shipping industry who have been the bulwark of the defence of the industry,” the national secretary said.

“Those seafarers are staying with the older vessels under enormous economic challenges, rebuild the Australian industry, rebuild cabotage, rebuild it from the ground up, give us the support that we need to go on the campaign offensive in building the political and the industrial agenda. They are the real heroes and they are the future of the industry. That’s the real story. All Australian seafarers in all other aspects of the industry need to actively support them to get behind this campaign.”

The Minister announced he would establish three reference groups to advise on key elements of the reforms:

• arrangements to replace Part VI of the Navigation Act

• tax changes

• maritime workforce development arrangements.

The reference groups, which will include representation of the MUA and other maritime unions will start work in January and will be asked to complete their work by the end of May.

A full Regulatory Impact Statement will be developed as part of the documents on which the government will base its decision.
Mr Albanese made the announcement at the union’s Sydney Branch Conference at the Cypriot Club in Stanmore on December 1.

For more details of the government’s ship reform package go to: