Turnbull neglects to mention merchant navy and fuel security in Lowy Speech

Turnbull neglects to mention merchant navy and fuel security in Lowy Speech

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has spectacularly failed to mention either fuel security or the role of the merchant navy in helping protect vital ports and infrastructure in his speech to the Lowy Institute in Sydney.


Less than two weeks ago, the last Australian-crewed fuel tanker, the British Fidelity, sacked its crew, leaving Australia entirely at the mercy of foreign-crewed vessels and increasingly exposed to the risk of supply shocks in mega-refineries in Singapore and elsewhere.

The Government is also pressing ahead with changes to deregulate Australia’s coastal shipping industry, which according to its own figures would see more than 90 per cent of Australia’s seafarers sacked and replaced by exploited foreign labour.

Mr Turnbull said this week’s terrorist attacks in Brussels “remind us once again of the global threat of terrorism, the need to be vigilant at home, to maintain the security of our borders (and) to ensure our laws provide our security forces with the tools they need to keep us safe.”

He later said: “The advantage of our island geography, our effective border protection and counter-terrorism agencies mean we have confidence that we know who is arriving.”

Maritime Union of Australia National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said the increasing number of exploited foreign seafarers working on our coast were a security concern as the relevant visa – the Maritime Crew Visa – requires nothing in the way of security or background checks.

 “It seems the prime minister’s new-found commitment to national security doesn't extend to coastal shipping,” Mr Crumlin said.

“Malcolm Turnbull should put his money where his mouth is on national security and commit to ensuring the future of Australia’s merchant navy – one in eight of whom died protecting our nation during the Second World War.”

Australia moves 99 per cent of its freight by sea and has the fourth largest shipping task in the world.

“Shipping is an industry vital to Australia’s national interest and of course we should have a strong coastal shipping fleet rather than deregulation and subsequent race to the bottom,” Mr Crumlin said.

“The Turnbull Government’s hypocrisy is breathtaking - they want to remove hardworking Australians who pay tax in this country and replace them with exploited foreign labour on as little as $2/hr who are employed on Flag of Convenience shipping, which is itself a global tax scam and national security risk.

“We need to maintain a maritime skills base, as well as protect jobs, the environment and ensure national security. 

“Fuel security is a major threat – not just in terms of being left solely at the mercy of international markets but heaven forbid, should there be a refinery fire in Singapore or a terrorist attack on shipping lanes, Australia only has three weeks’ supply of petrol at its disposal.”

Even Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan questioned the Government’s priorities, telling ABC radio on December 9 that Defence Force officials have described fuel security as the "greatest military threat" facing the nation. 

In 2000 Australia imported 60 per cent of its fuel and that number is now well over 90 per cent and rising. In 2025, it is forecast to be 100 per cent and the MUA doesn’t think that’s good enough.

The Federal Department of Industry’s own consultants estimate that by 2016-17, the equivalent of between 53 and 64 full-time tankers will be required meet Australia’s needs.

Since 1995, the number of Australian-flagged product tankers working the coast has reduced from 11 to 0.

Media Contact: Darrin Barnett 0428 119 703 

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