Speaking Up for Fuel Security: Assistant National Secretary Ian Bray's Submission to the Senate Inquiry

Today, Assistant National Secretary Ian Bray spoke at Australia's transport energy resilience and sustainability, at the Sydney public Hearing.

Below is his speech.

Seafarer Glen Mallon, MUA Researcher and Policy Co-ordinator Penny Howard and Assistant National Secretary Ian Bray

I speak to you today on behalf of all the seafarers who crew Australia’s remaining fuel tankers. The ongoing closure of refineries around Australia means we now import 91 per cent of our petrol and diesel – up from 60 per cent in 2000 – and this number will continue to rise with two more refineries in Queensland soon to be on the chopping block.

In recent times we have seen the work of our vessels undermined by lowest common denominator foreign competitors. These foreign vessels are able to undercut Australian operators by using crew on serf wages, maintaining shoddy safety standards, and cutting vital environmental protections.

By allowing Flag Of Convenience foreign vessels to undercut Australian vessels and Australian standards in supplying this fuel, we are creating an international race to the bottom in our domestic waters.

Companies that pay their crew $2 an hour tend to be equally unethical when it comes to environmental and safety standards. As the crew of Australia’s remaining fuel tankers obviously we are deeply worried about livelihoods, our families, and our futures. Yet the fact is we are equally troubled by the other factors we are putting at risk.

We are worried about the wellbeing of our pristine coastal waters, and the Great Barrier Reef. We are worried about the future of training and maritime skills for our young people, who are crying out for decent, quality jobs.

We are worried about Australia’s economy, which will now be at the mercy of foreign supply lines. And we are worried about our national security at a time when terrorist group Al-Qaeda has openly declared their intention is to target international fuel ships. More than half of Australia's fuel comes through the Straits of Hormuz to Singapore and then through the narrow Straits of Malacca, an area already notorious for its piracy.

We believe that a serious environmental disaster in Australian waters is inevitable - whether it is by storing large volumes of petrol in large tankers in Port Phillip Bay, Moreton Bay or Botany Bay or by moving tankers around the Great Barrier Reef - when run by those unfamiliar with Australian waters and conditions.

Inspections carried out on some of Vitol and Viva’s tankers give us a snapshot of the kids of ships being used to import fuel to Australia. Since August 2014, they have used: - three ships that have been detained at least once; - a Vietnamese ship with crew paid less than $2 per hour; - a United Arab Emirates-owned ship which violated the conditions of the Temporary Licence issued to the ship under the Coastal Trading Act in order to evade their responsibilities under the Fair Work Act – the Fair Work Ombusdman is currently investigating this matter; and - a tanker that recently ran aground in Estonia being used as a storage tank for up to 100,000 tons of fuel in Port Phillip Bay.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) detains an average of one international tanker every month, because their inspectors found that they pose ‘a danger to the ship or persons’, or ‘an unreasonable threat of harm to the marine environment’. However, AMSA only has the resources to inspect about half of the hundred international tankers visiting Australia every year.

By way of reference: before the Tandara Spirit was removed this year the five Australian-crewed tankers have never been detained once in 36 years of service.

Oil majors Caltex and BP, who are adopting a similar position to Viva on coastal trading vessels, are preparing to remove ships off the coast and the jobs of Australian workers.

Despite changes to the structure of Australian fuel refining, there still remains significant volume of product carried on Temporary Licences by Flag of Convenience ships.

We ask you to demand in parliament that existing coastal trade be carried by safe and reliable Australian crewed ships.

We must ask ourselves: what happens if there’s a terrorist attack on a fuel tanker? Australia only has about three weeks worth of fuel supplies.

This leaves us completely exposed to an attack, or simply to unexpected fluctuations in international market forces. Should we not continue to run refineries and Australian-crewed vessels as an insurance policy against any interruption in the global supply chain?

In addition, there is the risk of contaminated fuel. There have been examples in recent times when entire tankers have had to be sent back to Singapore. One of these left the Navy dangerously low on fuel. These examples weren’t deliberate but it is not inconceivable that fuel loads could be a target.

Refining here means we know the quality of the fuel and Australian crews ensure that fuel is delivered as it left the refinery. Indeed, the NRMA and other key organisations have been raising concerns about Australian fuel security for some time.

A stable fleet of Australian ships on long-term contract is the only way to ensure our future fuel security and proper environmental protection. These ships could be partly on the Australian International Shipping Register and partly on the Australian General Register to provide companies with additional flexibility.

We don’t understand why Australia won’t follow the US example that has served that nation so well. America’s Jones Act requires that all goods transported by water between US ports be carried on US-flag ships. With this simple principle they ensure national fuel security, environmental standards and working conditions - all while providing quality jobs for US citizens. Australia is an island nation.

The lifeblood of our economy is fuel, and we are deeply concerned that the country is needlessly throwing itself on the mercy of international forces beyond our control.