Thursday, May 31, 2012

Aussie Shipping Bills Scrape Through to Mixed Reception from Freight Community

Balanced Legislation or Protectionist Half Measures?
Shipping News Feature

AUSTRALIA – There was a decidedly mixed reception today as the lower house defeated an attempt to refer a bundle of shipping reform bills to the Productivity Commission, effectively killing them off for several months. The new regulations seem to be, in some respects, a watered down version of the American ‘Jones’ Act, a piece of legislation loved and loathed with equal venom across the Pacific and feelings Down Under seem to be taking the same course, delighting unions but dismaying some freight and shipping interests.

The five bills, dealing with ‘revitalising’ coastal trading, setting up a separate Register of Australian shipping and incentivising native operators with tax breaks, have been enthusiastically promoted by International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) president and Maritime Union of Australia national secretary Padraig (Paddy) Crumlin, a man not known for his moderate speeches, who said this "was the biggest maritime reform since the passing of the Navigation Act 100 years ago." Mr Crumlin and his union have been actively pursuing a national register for the past decade.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard committed to the legislation when she addressed the 2008 MUA National Conference a few weeks after the Rudd Government was elected, now supported by the Independents and the Greens, without whom the legislation wouldn't have passed, they have fulfilled that commitment. Labor Transport Minister Anthony Albanese said in his speech:

"When this mob [the Liberals] took over in 1996 we had fifty five Australian vessels, now we have less than half that. Either we do this today and get it done, or the Australian shipping industry is done, without reform the Australian shipping industry will disappear."

Mr Albanese continued on saying the reforms were designed to ensure the continuation of Australia as a shipping nation and "not just as a shipper", and would ensure that native vessels with Australian crews would get preference on coastal shipping routes but trade would extend to foreign flagged vessels under a reformed, flexible licensing regime.

The move to delay the bills’ passage scraped by with a 2 vote majority, 71 to 69, whilst a coalition amendment to speed freight between ports, was accepted. Supporters of the bills were particularly vociferous regarding the register of Australian shipping with Labor member for the port city of Fremantle Melissa Parke as outspoken as ever quoted as saying that if the Government failed to act “an Aussie flag on an Aussie ship will be consigned to history."

Speaking after the Bill had passed Mr Crumlin was also most vehement when it came to the subject of protecting native ship workers jobs saying:

"What Australia has done today is shown the way in international shipping. The government has demonstrated that Flag of Convenience shipping can be defeated and that all seafarers have a right to work in the industry. Cabotage is back on the menu for seafarers worldwide, these bills not only protect the national flag on Australia’s coastline – they privilege it. The support of the ITF was also critical to the political will to enact these wide-ranging and internationally important reforms, and the ITF is enshrined in this legislation.

“Importantly, the legislation also provides a model for regional labour cooperation, introducing an Australian International Shipping Register which is profoundly different to a second register. The register will provide for regional workers from the Pacific and Timor Leste to work on Australian flagged ships under Australian collective agreements to ITF standards. The MUA supports this position.

“We now call upon other nations around the world to look to Australia’s example and work to protect their own national fleets, cabotage and workers – so that we can do away with flags of convenience forever. The Australian reforms will create employment, sustain business opportunities and productivity and build the national interest through an industry that has always been and always will be critical to the quality of Australia's economy, environment and way of life."