Maritime Levy Campaign receives direct engagement from Australian MPs

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has again congratulated the Australian Labor Party on its win in the country’s election, saying it will be profoundly important for the nation’s seafarers. 

The party promised, and now has a mandate from the Australian public, to establish a National Fleet with improved rules on coastal trading (cabotage), which will revitalize the Australian maritime sector.

The new Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, was the architect of Australia’s short-lived 2012 cabotage law (struck down by conservatives in 2015) and is an outspoken proponent of a strategic fleet.

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“It’s a matter of understanding that there’s a national interest,” he told Daily Cargo News during the Ports Australia Biennial Conference 2018 in Darwin. “You need a maritime sector and maritime skills.”

“You don’t allow a truck to take goods from Melbourne to Sydney on the Hume Highway, with a Filipino truck, with Filipino standards — why should that be allowed on the blue highway?” he went on.

During the election campaign, both major parties came out in favour of a strategic National Fleet. 

The benefits of cabotage are clear

ITF general secretary Stephen Cotton at Davos 2020 | ITF Seafarers

“Ninety-one countries, including most of Australia’s trading partners, have cabotage laws to protect their own maritime industries,” said Stephen Cotton, General Secretary of the ITF. “Their governments recognize a slew of benefits. National security. Fair competition.

The maritime knowledge and technology a country needs. The creation of good quality jobs. Safety and security for ships and their crews. Marine environmental protection. Above all, it’s an essential step in tackling climate change.”

Most industry experts agree the policy is vital in protecting Australia’s economic and security interests.

Yet despite overwhelming support that the policy is vital in protecting Australia’s economic and security interests, lobby group Shipping Australia is continuing to prosecute an ill-informed case against the establishment of a strategic national fleet. 

“Shipping Australia’s stance is out of step with the shipowners that it is purporting to represent – I can’t believe that they’re persevering with their baseless claims that cabotage laws and the Jones Act in the USA, have been failures,” said Cotton.

“Shipping Australia has made itself largely irrelevant with its stance,” said Cotton. “We’re actively lobbying ship owners to abandon Shipping Australia and to demand that shipowners who are members of the body clarify their position and publicly retract from statements that fail to represent their interests.”

David Heindel, ITF Seafarers’ Section Chair and Secretary-Treasurer of the United States-based Seafarers’ Union International, took issue with Shipping Australia’s slur against the US Jones Act.

“Shipping Australia’s attack is ill-informed, negligent, and opportunistic given the importance of the Jones Act and its broad support by every Administration since its inception in 1920. The Act provides national and economic security for the United States and plays a role in international stability. Many of the shipping companies Shipping Australia purports to represent in Australia are in full partnership with US carriers and would resent and reject the group speaking in this way on their behalf.”

Cabotage to bring more prosperity to Australia

Profile photo of Chris Given

Shipowners should work with the government and maritime unions to build a prosperous industry for everyone, according to Chris Given, chair of the ITF’s global Cabotage Task Force.

“We look forward to the government’s plan for a strategic fleet and further work to strengthen cabotage in the maritime shipping sector in Australia,” he said. “Australian workers, particularly seafarers, suffered greatly under the previous administration and we are optimistic that this new government will take immediate steps to right years of wrong-doing, bringing back decent well-paid seafaring jobs,” he said.

Given characterized Shipping Australia Limited’s position as peddling ‘inaccurate and deceptive arguments against the globally-accepted cabotage regime.

 “We encourage major shipping lines to reject falsehoods from mouthpieces like Shipping Australia Limited and instead see this moment for what it is — an excellent opportunity for Australia to secure economic growth, foster a talented and qualified workforce, and advance sustainability in their domestic trade,” said Given.

Maritime Levy Campaign Receives Direct Engagement From Australian MPs

On the other hand, Human Rights at SEA (HRAS) has undertaken a second round of letter writing lobbying and direct engagement with 19 key members of the newly formed Australian Parliament, as well as the new Australian Prime Minister, Mr. Anthony Albanese.

The recent federal elections saw a significant shift in support for the Labor government and which, traditionally, has held positive views towards seafarers and all those workers living, working, and otherwise operating at sea.

In the letters sent, HRAS and their supporting Western Australian based Board Member, Paul MacGillivary, wrote:

“Following on from the election, HRAS is again calling on the Australian Government to take urgent steps to ensure a national funding model is made available to fulfil Australia’s international commitment to seafarer welfare under established international law of the Maritime Labor Convention 2006 (MLC).”

The covering letter sought further clarifications, which asked: “We would be most interested in hearing your thoughts on the following:

1-What does a Labor win mean for shipping and port welfare services?

2-What has been the historic focus of Labor in the maritime sector?

3-What have been the positive changes made under previous Labor Governments in the maritime sector?

4-What should the focus be for the new government regarding maritime levy funding?

5-What is your assessment of the likelihood of change in maritime levy funding under the new government?
Can we look forward to such change occurring in the near future?

The main letter text then went on to variously state:

“The incoming Australian Government’s opportunity to assure long-term seafarer welfare funding and sustainability with minimal legislative amendment must not be derailed, side-stepped, nor the proverbial can kicked-down-the-road through paralysis of internal decision-making.

“Seafarers’ working lives, wellbeing, and the upholding of a fair and reasonable recuperating environment ashore pivots on this much needed but simple development to use existing maritime levy funds for good.

“The solution and legal pathway have already been proven and it can be achieved with a simple committed focus with the setting aside of political point-scoring, and deliberate avoidance of vested self-interest.

“A core interest of both coastal states and the multi-trillion-dollar shipping industry must be the seafarer, associated supply chain workers, and de facto support to their respective families; not a primary focus on profit or deliberate and/or inadvertent absence to be a party to the upholding of access to sustainable welfare support.

“Strategically, a state-level opportunity for both national and regional leadership in terms of a concerted focus on legislative surety for welfare needs through assured access to, and use of, existing maritime levy funding must not be ducked through lack of coordinated action or failure of political will. Time is of the essence.”

David Hammond

CEO, David Hammond said: “Following the legislative precedent set by the New Zealand Labor-led government in July 2021, the prize of refining the maritime levy pathway for sustaining funding for seafarer welfare must not be passed up. This is the best opportunity to deliver a strategic win in the region.”

HRAS calls upon the new Australian Government to seize the opportunity that they have to create a sustainable and effective funding model for seafarer welfare

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