Maritime Union of Australia National Secretary Paddy Crumlin has applauded the decision by the United States Congress to reaffirm its strong support for the Jones Act and the US domestic maritime industry.
The Jones Act deals with cabotage - or coastal shipping - and requires that all goods transported by water between United States ports be carried on US-flagged ships, that those ships be constructed domestically, and that they are owned and crewed by US citizens and permanent residents.
The Congress decision comes at a time when the Abbott Government is actively considering watering down Australia's national security by decimating our coastal shipping fleet through its plans to deregulate the shipping industry.
"It is pleasing that the United States Congress sees the ongoing importance of the Jones Act for reasons of both national security and economic benefit,” said Mr Crumlin, who is also International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) President.
"Unfortunately, many other parts of the world cannot count on the strong support of their government to act in their national interest and support cabotage. That’s why the MUA strongly urges the Abbott Government to retain and improve the Coastal Trading Act.
"It is in the national interest to retain and grow the coastal shipping industry. The Abbott Government’s changes could directly impact around 2,000 direct jobs and up to 8,000 associated jobs - so 10,000 Aussie jobs could be on the chopping block.
"There are persuasive national security, employment, economic, supply chain security, skill retention, environmental and strategic reasons for retaining policies that provide fair competition to enable Australian coastal shipping to prosper and grow."
“Australia is not seeking to ramp up to the Jones Act standard but rather, settle on a cabotage model that is based on fair competition and which supports an ongoing role for Australian-registered ships supported by foreign ships, that provides trade certainly and freight rate stability for shippers.”
US Congress enacted the strongest statement of support for the Jones Act and the American domestic maritime industry since the Merchant Marine Act of 1936.
The measure was included as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 3979), which noted that the national security benefits of the domestic maritime industry and the Jones act are “unquestioned.”
The bill states that the Jones Act and the American domestic maritime industry are vital to “the national security and economic vitality of the United States and the efficient operation of the United States transportation system.”
The legislation has been approved by the US House of Representatives and the Senate and is expected to be signed into law by the President.
US Presidents from both sides of the political fence have long supported the Jones Act.
“America needs a strong and vibrant US-Flag Merchant Marine. That is why you can continue to count on me to support the Jones Act and the continued exclusion of maritime services in international trade agreements.” - Barack Obama, 2008
“It’s important for presidents to embrace the Jones Act. I have, [for] five-and-a-half years as the president, supported the Jones Act, and will continue to do so.” - George W. Bush, 2006
The Congressional statement of support for the Jones Act as part of the National Defense Authorization Act specifically states:
"The national security benefits of the domestic maritime industry are unquestioned as the Department of Defense depends on United States domestic trades’ fleet of container ships, roll-on/roll-off ships, and product tankers to carry military cargoes;
"The Department of Defense benefits from a robust commercial shipyard and ship repair industry and current growth in that sector is particularly important as Federal budget cuts may reduce the number of new constructed military vessels; and
"The domestic fleet is essential to national security and was a primary source of mariners needed to crew United States Government-owned sealift vessels activated from reserve status during Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom in the period 2002 through 2010.”
United States Seafarers International Union (SIU) Secretary-Treasurer David Heindel said the US experience has been that strong cabotage laws help support domestic jobs as well as bolster US national security.
“Especially in times of crisis, shipping is essential to national security and as a nation, you need to think twice about allowing essential skills to be placed in the hands of non-Australian interests,” Mr Heindel said.
“What you don’t want to see is more Flag of Convenience (FOC) ships, with their poor standards and exploited crews running in and out of environmentally sensitive waters and displacing Australian vessels.”