Strategic Fleet makes sense as sacked BHP - BlueScope workers return to Australia

The Maritime Union of Australia says a strategic shipping fleet makes sense fleet is essential on economic, employment and national security grounds, particularly for the transport of petrol and other liquid fuels, for which there is a critical national shortage that is becoming an international embarrassment.

MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said it is a national disgrace that the day before workers sacked from two ships in foreign ports begin arriving home, senior Coalition ministers and industry leaders are again trying to kill off coastal shipping and local jobs and replacing australian workers in an Australian industry with foreign visa workers 

Earlier this month, BHP and BlueScope decided without consultation that the MV Mariloula and MV Lowlands Brilliance would be dumped immediately – with Australian ships having serviced BHP and subsequently BlueScope in this country for more than 100 years.

“After their infamous efforts to destroy car manufacturing in this country, senior ministers from the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison Government should be forced to come to Brisbane Airport tomorro to explain to decent, hard-working Aussie workers and their families why their jobs don’t matter,” Crumlin said.

“This government issued the work visas knowing they would replace these Australian seafarers.”

Australia has been non-compliant with the International Energy Agency’s 90-day fuel stockholding obligation since March 2012 and the Federal Government has since ignored several key reports, with figures released earlier this month showing Australia now has just 22 days of petrol and 17 days of diesel on hand.

“The Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison Government has been in power for more than five years and done absolutely nothing to address fuel security yet senior ministers blame everyone but themselves for their epic failure and are ideologically driven to send domestic shipping down the same path as the car industry,” Crumlin said.

The IEA mandates countries hold a stock in reserve “equivalent to 90 days of net imports” and Australia is the only developed oil-importing country without government-controlled stocks of crude oil or refined petroleum products.

“Australia is in a much worse position than when the Coalition came to power in 2013. There are now zero Australian-crewed tankers supplying fuel to our nation and just four refineries,” Crumlin said.

“This means we now import well over 90 per cent of our fuel and that will be 100 per cent before we know it unless government policy changes the direction of the industry.

“Australians would expect our Government to have a better plan and this would involve more refining here and Australian-crewed ships to carry it around the coast.

“This isn’t only a matter of fuel security but also national security. Unlike Australian seafarers, foreign crews have no background checks yet they are carrying petroleum products, ammonium nitrate and LNG around the Australian coast.”

Crumlin said a number of inquiries and reports in recent years have touched on the important issue of fuel security, including the MUA’s report titled ‘Australia’s Fuel Security – Running on Empty’ in December last year, written by shipping expert John Francis.

The ‘Running on Empty’ report found that Australia now relies on the equivalent of almost 60 full-time fuel import tankers to keep us supplied with petrol, diesel and jet fuel, which is now all carried on the international spot market, mainly from Korea, Singapore and Japan.

“The report found Australia’s reliance on foreign flagged tankers removes any opportunity for the Commonwealth to be able to requisition national flag tankers if necessary to secure minimum import or coastal distribution requirements following major economic or geopolitical disruptions,” Crumlin said.

“The cost of addressing this risk is comparatively low: even carrying Australia’s entire import volume on a fleet of Australian tankers would cost less than one extra cent per litre.

“The Australian government needs to support as a matter of urgency a number of Australian tankers as part of a national strategic fleet to ensure that some level of supplies can be maintained in the event of a crisis.”

Crumlin said Flag of Convenience shipping remains one of the world’s great tax avoidance scams, with ships exploiting cheap foreign labour and registering in dodgy jurisdictions such as Liberia, Mongolia and the Cayman Islands.

“Australian truck drivers aren’t forced to compete with $2 an hour workers on our nation’s roads, so why should our seafarers? And if the Coalition had any principles, why are cabotage provisions fine for aviation but not for shipping?” Crumlin said.

Qantas’ submission to last year’s the Senate red tape committee warned overseas carriers should not be allowed to operate on domestic routes in Australia as any changes would have substantial economic,  employment and operational risks.

"Put simply, this would be a disastrous trade negotiation strategy and deny Australian airlines a clear measure of certainty around which they can base long-term investment planning," it said.

Qantas also warned of safety risks flowing from airlines "operating in lower-cost safety regimes with different standards" and potential job losses.

“Australia should be tightening cabotage rules as it would protect local jobs, provide long term investment certainty and lower administrative and regulatory costs because Australian seafarers working in their own country do not require foreign visas,” Crumlin said.

“But it’s a simple case of double standards for unions the Government doesn’t like. The Trade Union Royal Commission along with the aggressive ongoing attacks from the ABCC and ROC are a timely reminder to working men and women in Australia that the Coalition doesn’t care for them,” Crumlin said.