Truss launches new coastal shipping debate

Infrastructure minister believes Labor reforms to the industry have fallen short of it targets

Truss launches new coastal shipping debate
Task is growing but Australian registered fleet is not


The nation is to embark on another major debate on how to make coastal shipping work.

The previous Labor government investigated the industry in its first term and introduced reforms, in an effort driven by then-transport minister Anthony Albanese, and Labor did the same in the early 1990s.

Infrastructure Minister Warren Truss says that while the Options Paper: Approaches to regulating coastal shipping in Australia seeks input on reforms to revitalise coastal shipping, the government wants to look at "the broader framework as to how we can ensure that shipping plays a bigger role in our national freight task".

But Truss believes the last set of reforms have fallen short, not least for customers who find it cheaper to ship from Asian ports than between Australian ones.

While stating his support for Australian shipping, Truss points out that, in 2002-03, there were 33 Australian registered vessels with a deadweight tonnage of 2,000 tonnes or more but that, as of last December, there were just 16.

"Clearly they have not achieved their objectives, so it's appropriate that they specifically be examined," he says.

He adds that the former Government had "claimed it would result in more Australian flag ships plying the trade, that it would also result in there being a substantial increase in employment on Australian ships and more companies wanting to flag vessels in Australia. That simply hasn't happened. The number of ships flying Australian flags continues to decline.

"They set up a second register under which ships could operate with substantial tax concessions and also with less regulatory requirements. There is not a single ship on that second register and so the whole fundamental reforms that the previous government introduced have failed."

Australian shipowners have welcomed cautiously the release the document.

"While the options outlined span the breadth of reasonable to extreme − the release of the Options Paper represents an opportunity to inject some fact into the hysterical debate around coastal trading," Australian Shipowners Association (ASA) Acting Executive Director Angela Gillham says.

"The Australian domestic shipping task has always been regulated and has always been met by a mix of local and foreign vessels.

‘It is not in the long term national interest to open the coast and kiss the remainder of the local industry goodbye.

"We look forward to discussing with the Government how we can make some measured but significant changes that reduce unnecessary administrative burden and provide the long term policy certainty that the Australian shipping industry needs to grow."

Submissions close on May 31 and the options paper can be found here.

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