The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) has urged the Abbott Government to protect Australian jobs, the maritime skills base and the environment when considering changes to laws covering coastal shipping.
The call comes as the Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss voices the need to boost the country’s coastal shipping which has seen an almost 2% decrease on 2011-12. According to Truss this is indicative of a longer-term trend of decreasing amounts of coastal trade.
Truss said that the reasons for the decline in coastal shipping are ”flawed, bureaucratic and protectionist tiered licencing system,” leading to ”almost 1,000 fewer coastal voyages and almost 2 million fewer tonnes of freight moved by foreign flagged temporary licenced vessels in its first year of operation.”
The answer to the problem Truss sees in ”alleviating the misplaced burdens predecessors imposed on Australian shipping —and to help create the conditions for the industry’s growth and success.”
“Transport Minister Warren Truss today (September 18th) signaled an end to cabotage, which is the rules that level the playing field for Australian ships on our coast, using flawed data from a new report,” MUA said.
The MUA said it was highly concerned that Minister Truss in his speech to Shipping Australia “has politicized the data from the Australian Sea Freight 2012/13 report and is calling on BITRE to clarify or reissue the data.”
MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin pointed out that cabotage is not industry assistance in that no taxpayer funds are directed to the Australian shipping industry and that the industry cannot be allowed to fail.
MUA said that this could directly impact the jobs of around 1,500 seafarers in the blue water sector, and a further 500 in towage and other industries that services the blue water fleet. So, in total around 2,000 direct jobs and up to 8,000 associated jobs are on the chopping block. Many of those are in north-west Tasmania.
“Australia needs a viable, vibrant shipping industry which employs Australian workers and the Abbott Government needs to give the laws passed in 2012 time to work,” Mr Crumlin said.
“Australia is the fourth largest user of ships in the world. The industry employs thousands of Australians and cannot be allowed to fail.”
“Australian shipping should enjoy bi-partisan political support, as it has done in the past. I urge the Abbott Government to keep a regulatory framework that supports Australian ships.
“Over the life of the Howard Government, the number of Australian-flagged vessels plummeted from 55 to 21 and the 2012 changes were desperately needed.”
Mr Crumlin said the 2012 changes to the Navigation Act and introduction of the Coastal Trading Act were the biggest maritime reform since the passing of the Navigation Act 100 years ago.
“The reforms have the potential to create employment, sustain business opportunities and productivity and build the national interest through an industry that is critical to the quality of Australia’s economy, environment and way of life,” Mr Crumlin said.
“We need to maintain a regulatory framework that provides an access regime built on the principle of fair competition that provides for both Australian ships and foreign ships to meet the coastal freight needs of shippers.
“What we don’t want to see is more Flag of Convenience (FOC) ships, with their poor standards and exploited crews, take over our ports and displace Australian vessels.”