Labor’s plan for Strategic Fleet

Labor Party

More than most nations, Australia is dependent on seaborne trade.

Shipping accounts for 90 per cent of the international goods trade but 99 per cent of our imports and exports of goods, including fuel.

Despite this, Australia is now in a situation where less than half a per cent of our seaborne trade is carried by Australian ships, forcing us to reply on foreign governments and companies for our essential imports.

In times of conflict and crisis, our economic sovereignty and national security are dependent on Australian seafarers working on Australian ships.

Protecting and growing Australia’s maritime sector and seafaring workforce is vital to our economic sovereignty and national security.

That’s why an Albanese Labor Government will protect Australia and rebuild our strategic fleet.

This announcement forms a part of Labor’s plan for a Future Made in Australia, creating jobs and building industries.

Other elements of this plan include the National Reconstruction Fund, the National Rail Manufacturing Plan and the Defence Industry Development Strategy.

What’s the problem?

Over the past 30 years, the number of Australian-flagged vessels has shrunk from 100 to less than 20 – and it is in our national interest to change that. For the past eight years the Morrison-Joyce Government has stood idle as large multinationals dumped Australian flagged and crewed vessels so they could hire overseas crews.

This has destroyed the jobs of Australian seafarers and created a situation where none of the vessels our nation relies upon to deliver its essential supplies of crude oil, aviation fuel and diesel are registered in this country or crewed by Australians. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed weaknesses in our supply chains and highlighted our current dependence on foreign suppliers and transporters for our key commodities.

The sorry episode of the MV Portland in 2016 was emblematic of the Coalition’s undermining of Australian shipping and Australian seafarers and has had a lasting impact on the industry. The loss of Australian fuel refining capabilities – prompting the Coalition to inject up to $2billion into the industry to guarantee sovereign refining capability, albeit for only a few years – further underscores the importance of rebuilding a sovereign shipping capability to secure our supply chains.

The pandemic has shown us how vulnerable supply chains can be to external events, while the risk of global or regional conflict leaves us vulnerable to the actions of foreign powers.

Without a strategic fleet, Australia’s essential supply lines – including fuel imports – are vulnerable to the decisions of foreign governments or the whims of international shipping companies.

With 99 per cent of our imports coming by sea, it is essential that Australia has its own sovereign, independent maritime capability on which we can safely rely.

Labor’s Plan

An Albanese Labor Government will enhance Australia’s economic sovereignty and national security by creating a Maritime Strategic Fleet to secure our access to fuel supplies and other critical resources, even in times of global instability.

These vessels will be Australian flagged and Australian crewed.

We expect the vessels will be privately owned and operate on a commercial basis, they will be available for requisition by the Defence Forces in times of national need, whether that be natural disaster or times of conflict.

As a first step towards establishing a strategic fleet, an incoming Albanese Labor Government will appoint a Taskforce to guide it on the establishment of the Fleet as quickly as possible. The Fleet is likely to include up to a dozen vessels including tankers, cargo, container and roll-on-roll-off vessels.

This Taskforce will include representatives from the shipping industry, major charterers, unions, Australian business representatives and the Department of Defence.

An Albanese Labor government will act immediately to close loopholes in the existing regulatory framework to help rebuild Australian shipping. The Taskforce will also advise on how best to enforce existing coastal shipping laws and what legislative or regulatory reforms are necessary to reinvigorate Australian shipping.

Investment in our plan

An Albanese Labor Government will establish a taskforce – including representatives from the shipping industry, unions, business and the Department of Defence – that will provide advice on the composition of the fleet and any public support required.

We expect that the fleet will be privately owned and commercially operated with some support from the Government.

This will ensure that in times of national crisis or disaster there are Australian flagged and crewed ships ready to assist.

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