As the Minister for Transport officially launched the International Year of the Seafarer today, the head of the Maritime Union of Australia warned that the country would pay dearly if it not take urgent measures to revitalise the Australia shipping industry - the main employer of merchant seafarers.
"Minister Albanese continues to support Australian shipping seafarers but it's now time to urgently act on a package of reforms that have now been before Government for more than a year", said Paddy Crumlin, National Secretary of the MUA.
"Ironically, in this International Year of the Seafarer our merchant seafarers are struggling for survival. Their workplaces, Australian ships, are largely dilapidated with numbers are down from 75 to 46 in 10 years. Around 800 seafarers jobs have been lost over the same period.
"Mr Albanese has been proactive with the completion of the parliamentary inquiry into coastal shipping, commitment to a total re-write of the Navigation Act and moving towards a single national regulator for all commercial vessels, but there are fiscal and regulatory decisions that need to be taken to refloat the domestic industry.
"Foreign ships now carry 99 percent of our international trade and 30 percent of domestic trade. There is a great opportunity here to substantially boost our GDP and see that more ships pay tax in Australia", said Paddy Crumlin.
"The crucial incentives that our shipping industry needs to keep it afloat and actually make a valuable contribution to our economy include:
- the introduction of a tax on ship tonnage rather than company profits
- tax concession for seafarers working mainly in the international trades and
- changes to laws and regulations so that Australian ships and crews are used, wherever possible in domestic trades.
"Minister Albanese was right on the money with an implicit warning about the '4,000 ships - including 200 oil and chemical carriers - navigating our waters every year, many near environmental icons such as the Great Barrier Reef and Ningaloo Reef'. The oil spill that hit Queensland's pristine beaches last year care of the Hong Kong-flagged Pacific Adventurer showed the pollution potential.
"As the Minister says Australia has a strong interest in making sure these vessels continue to be crewed by highly trained and dedicated seafarers. These people should, of course, be Australians. The Government's announcement of last week of $2.1 million to the Australian Maritime College's budget to lift maritime skills is the right sign", said Paddy Crumlin.