Truss takes on MUA over coastal shipping claims

By: Paul Howell

Infrastructure minister and Maritime Union get into slanging match over the impact of shipping regulations.

Truss takes on MUA over coastal shipping claims
Federal infrastructure minister Warren Truss.


A war of words has erupted over the Federal Government’s plans to develop new regulations for coastal shipping, superseding a regime that has been in place only a few years.

Neither the Government nor the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) look prepared to back down at this early stage.

Infrastructure minister Warren Truss got the ball rolling last week with a speech to the Australian Shipping Association.

He highlighted the Government’s intention to roll back the key tenets of the Coastal Trading Act, saying the reforms had increased cargo rates and decreased overall shipping capacity in Australia.

The MUA quickly accused him of fudging the figures in the just-released Australian Sea Freight 2012/13 report. In particular, it says changes in the number of coastal voyages and amount of freight carried are not accurate because of a change in the calculating formula.

"There were 776 voyages in 2011-12 that did not carry any cargo. The number of vessels which did not carry any cargo was not included for 2012-13. This reduces the difference between the two years to 118 (instead of the ‘almost 1,000 fewer’ described by Truss)," the MUA says.

Further, the MUA says the numbers fail to include voyages that took place as the reforms were being introduced.

"In effect, voyages during the first four months under the existing system are not counted," it says.

The MUA also took the minister to task over the number of Australian-registered ships with coastal licences, which Truss says have fallen significantly since the reforms were enacted.

He says the number of major ships (defined as over 2,000 tonnes) active in Australian shipping fell from 30 in 2006-07 to 13 in 2012-13.

The MUA says current figures show an improvement since then.

"The number of major vessels is currently 16, indicating that the Coastal Trading Act is beginning to work," the MUA says.

"The (total) number of ships licensed under the Act has increased by 11 to 61 since the 2012 changes."

But Truss has stood by his statements and says it is the MUA that is stretching the truth.

"The union's claims of an increase in the number of ships licensed as proof of the system working are a fantasy," he says.

"There are 47 Australian-flagged general licence vessels under the Coastal Trading Act 2012, of which only 18 are major coastal trading ships, 28 are small coastal vessels and one is a scientific vessel.

"The five additional major vessels mentioned by the MUA have capacities of between 2,000 and 3,400 deadweight tonnes, which service the Torres Strait Islands. While this is an important local task it does not significantly add to our coastal trading capacity."

He did not specifically address the number of voyages taking place, but reiterated that overall capacity had fallen, along with shipping’s share of the freight task.

"The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (which prepared the Australian Sea Freight 2012/13 report) confirms that Australian ports loaded 49 million tonnes of coastal freight in 2012–13, but that five years earlier (2007–08) it was over 59 million tonnes – a 2.4 per cent average annual decline," Truss says.

"There is no basis for the MUA's speculation that it is ‘highly likely’ we have seen increases in activity following changes in 2012."

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