Government vents as shipping reform Bill sinks in Senate

Failure to ameliorate crossbenchers’ concerns seals coastal tilt’s doom

Government vents as shipping reform Bill sinks in Senate
Shipping reform has foundered in the Senate.



Despite having little cross-bench support and therefore little chance of being carried, the Senate’s failure to back shipping reform has led to a political war of words.

Much of the heat was generated in Parliament between Tasmanian senators Jacquie Lambie, the independent, and Liberal Richard Colbeck, with claim and counter claim on the reform Bill’s merits, with Colbeck pushing the government’s line and Lambie saying though reform was needed, those offered would not work for more than a narrow band of interests.

Outside federal parliament, however, it is a setback for stevedore DP World, which is relying on coastal shipping reform to bolster its Burnie expansion plans.

"We are disappointed and a bit surprised by the votes against the proposed legislation from some Tasmanian Senators," chief corporate development officer Brian Gillespie says.

"Unfortunately, this will slow down our immediate plans for Burnie. 

"We still believe that there is a strong economic and environmental case for improving sea freight from Tasmania to Australian and International ports. 

"How else are we going to make Tasmanian exports price competitive and at the same time take 150,000 long distance truck journeys off the roads in mainland Australia?

"Design engineering work on Burnie will continue but the $30 million order for cranes and equipment is on hold while we review the situation."

Weighing in from the House of Representatives is infrastructure and regional development minister Warren Truss, who insists "thousands of Australian jobs, both on land and sea" are now threatened.

"We want our cement made in Australia, our alumina refined in Australia, our sugar used in Australia, our oil refined in Australia," Truss says.

"Our current shipping laws are putting at risk the viability of many land-based industries dependent on domestic transport services.

"As our shipping industry declines there is increased pressure on our roads and railways to undertake tasks that could be better done by ships.

"Our shipping industry has become uncompetitive and this is demonstrated by the massive decline of Australian registered ships over the past seven years.

"In 2006-07, we had 30 major Australian trading vessels with a General Licence, and by 2013–14 the number had declined to just 15. Similarly, we have seen major declines in shipping's share of Australia's freight task, declining from 27 per cent in 2000 to 17 per cent in 2012.

"This is in spite of an almost 60 per cent increase in freight volumes across Australia over that time.

"Labor's Coastal Trading Act has been a disaster for local businesses and the need to reform is clear, however the Senate doesn't seem to appreciate that fact, and has entrenched an environment where our shipping industry will continue to decline and businesses will fail.

"Industry is keenly aware of the dangers, with one submission to the Senate inquiry into the legislation stating the industry is at risk of operational shut downs and potential job losses.

"This decision is a missed opportunity to implement a single, streamlined permit for all ships, replacing the cumbersome three-tier system currently in place.

"The legislation would have also allowed Australian and foreign ships to be treated equally and removed significant costs from the regulatory framework.

"The Australian Government remains committed to improving our national prosperity and we will revisit the legislative framework and try again to make Australia's shipping industry competitive."

Senator Ricky Muir points out that seafarer jobs are likely to plummet if the reform passes as is.

"The Australia Institute's submission also notes that the cost-benefit analysis estimates only 88 Australian seafarer jobs will remain under the department's preferred option for policy change," Muir tells the Senate.

"This represents a loss of 1,089 Australian seafarer jobs, or 93 per cent of the current workforce."

However, he insists reform is needed.

"In reviewing the Senate committee report, I was astounded at some of the evidence given which demonstrates that there is a desperate need for reform.

"The committee heard about a ship, chartered by Incitec Pivot Limited, which could not unload additional fertiliser at Geelong due to the tolerance limits on the licence.

"As a result, the ship sailed from Geelong to its Adelaide destination only for the additional fertiliser to be loaded onto trucks and taken back to Geelong.

"According to Incitec Pivot Limited this was at an additional cost of about $75,000, but it also placed an additional 40 B-double trucks onto the road between Adelaide and Geelong."

Independent senator Glenn Lazarus invoked strategic and security considerations along with jobs.

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