Unemployed seafarers are demanding urgent action from Morrison Government to address the decline of the nation’s shipping industry, including investment in a strategic fleet of Australian flagged and crewed vessels to move essential goods around the coast.
Seafarers who have lost their jobs after Australian vessels were replaced by foreign ships — many registered in notorious tax havens — were joined in their protest on the lawns of Parliament House by fellow maritime workers, trade unionists, and members of parliament.
The rally heard that while 98 per cent of Australia’s imports and exports arrive by sea, only 12 Australian flagged and crewed cargo ships still operate. Australia’s fuel security is even more precarious, with not one Australian oil tanker remaining.
MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said shipping was an essential industry that was the backbone of the nation’s economy, but the Federal Government was making a choice to allow Australia seafarers to be replaced with exploited foreign workers.
“The Morrison Government hasn’t just stood by and watched the decline of Australian shipping, they have actively approved the replacement of Australian ships with foreign flag vessels crewed by exploited workers paid as little as $2 per hour,” Mr Crumlin said.
“Many of these vessels work exclusively on the Australian coast, moving cargoes between Australian ports, yet the Federal Government issues them temporary licenses that allow them to avoid local wages and conditions.
“The crew of the MV Portland saw this policy first hand, finding out from media reports that they were losing their job, with the ship to be replaced by a foreign vessel.
“When they attempted to defend Australian jobs by refusing to take the MV Portland on its final voyage to Singapore, they were dragged from their bunks in the dead of night by security guards and replaced by a foreign crew.
“Five years on, the work the MV Portland did bringing alumina to Alcoa’s Portland Aluminium Smelter in Victoria continues to be done by a foreign vessel under temporary licenses issued by the Federal Government.
“Since the Coalition Government was elected in 2013, we’ve lost half our remaining fleet of Australian cargo vessels, taking with them the jobs of more than 500 Australian seafarers.
“This campaign isn’t just about getting Australian seafarers back up the gangways of Australian ships, it’s about the importance of a strong shipping industry to the economic success of an island nation.
“The importance of fixing this broken system has been highlighted by COVID, with international shipowners using the crisis to gouge freight rates, seriously impacting Australian businesses.
“These same shipowners are responsible for keeping exploited seafarers effectively imprisoned on vessels, with hundreds of thousands unable to return home to their families for more than a year.
“As an island nation, we need to be reliant on ourselves, which means having a strategic fleet that can ensure our fuel security and keep essential goods supplied during a conflict, economic crisis, or pandemic.
“Australia is a great trading nation with a fantastic merchant navy tradition, yet the Morrison Government continues to preside over the demise of Australian shipping for purely ideological reasons.”
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