The Australian: Minister, MUA talk shipping reform

By Elizabeth Colman for the Australian. Originally published here

The Turnbull government is reconsidering its hardline coastal shipping changes after unprecedented talks with the militant maritime union, casting doubt on its plan to open waterways to cheaper foreign competition.

Infrastructure Minister Darren Chester is reviewing the coastal shipping bill, which reverses Labor’s 2012 changes, after a fierce backlash from the unions and crossbench senators.

It is the first sign of a break in the deadlock over the proposed changes that were defeated in the Senate in November and that have been branded by Bill Shorten as “Work Choices on water”.

The proposals are a hot-button issue in marginal Tasmanian seats where Coalition politicians have campaigned on the policy of ­deregulating coastal shipping, saying it will cut freight costs.

Last month, seven Tasmanian Liberal senators petitioned Mr Chester to reintroduce the legislation in its current form during budget week. The move was spearheaded by senator Eric Abetz, who slammed Labor’s reforms as a deal for the benefit of the Maritime Union of Australia.

Mr Chester’s predecessor Warren Truss took a tough stance against the union over its opposition to the proposals. However, The Australian has learned Mr Chester, who took over from Mr Truss in February, met (former) MUA deputy national secretary Mick Doleman and executive policy ­officer Rod Pickette this month.

Mr Chester’s chief of staff, Robert Curtin, subsequently wrote to MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin saying: “The Minister will be happy to meet you in order to work together to ensure the ­viability of the coastal shipping industry in Australia.

“The Government is willing to work collaboratively with all shipping industry participants, including the Maritime Union of Australia, to build the coastal shipping industry in Australia.