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Australian election update: National Fleet will boost Australia’s maritime industry

news Press Release 26 May 2022

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 revitalise 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.

“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

“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 recognise 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 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

Shipowners should work with the government and maritime unions to build a prosperous industry for everyone, according 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 characterised 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.