Shipping Legislation Amendment Bill 2015

I was not going to contribute to this debate on the Shipping Legislation Amendment Bill 2015, but after those last two contributions from the crossbench I do want to add some thoughts. Firstly, I want to commend the contribution by Senator Muir.

I thought it was a very considered and well thought through speech. He has obviously thought very deeply about these issues. While I am disappointed that he is not supporting the government on what I think are much needed reforms, I do commend his contribution and also his open mindedness to continue to discuss what might be the best way forward here.

Senator Lazarus is right that there are serious issues with our coastal shipping sector. He is also right that it has been in decline for decades. But that has of course occurred with a variety of different regulatory structures, including a very strong coastal shipping regime which was established to try to protect our industry. There is no doubt about that but, on that objective, it has seriously, seriously failed, on the numbers that Senator Lazarus presented. We may all disagree with what needs to be done and what needs to change—because we all want to support our shipping industry—but, clearly, the current system is failing and clearly something needs to change if we are serious about rebuilding a strong shipping sector in this country.

I take issue with some of Senator Lazarus's comments. He mentioned that, as a Queensland senator, he had consulted with a variety of Queensland stakeholder groups. He then went on to mention that he had not spoken to anybody who supported reforms to these regulations. He must not have consulted very wide, because he must not have spoken to the Queensland sugar industry—the second biggest agricultural exporter in the state; he must not have spoken to the cement industry and he must not have spoken to the beef industry, the biggest agricultural sector in the state. All of those industries do rely to some extent on our coastal shipping network—sugar more than most—and it is failing them. It is failing them because right now it is cheaper to import sugar from Brazil to Melbourne, where a lot of soft drink manufacturers are, than it is to send sugar from North Queensland to Melbourne. That is a problem. It is a problem if we want to maintain a strong cane-growing industry in our country—and, as a Queensland senator, I certainly want to do that. So I urge Senator Lazarus to take a leaf out of Senator Muir's book and come to this debate in a constructive fashion—and, if there are other ideas on how we can reform this legislation, to get what we all want, please bring them forward.

The government is only proposing to return the system to something very close to what was in place before 2009 when the Labor Party changed the regulations. Before then, there were permit systems available and there was still a process that had to be gone through, which is what is envisaged under this bill, and it was not open slather t foreign flagged vessels. There was a workable coastal shipping sector. Notwithstanding that there were pressures on our coastal shipping sector, it was a system which was able to support the needs of our agricultural sector as well as provide some business for our domestically flagged vessels. So I take with a grain of salt some of the more outrageous claims from Senator Lazarus that somehow this bill will open the gates to massive amounts of asbestos and security risks along out coastline, when these laws were in place for more than a decade previously and there was no evidence of any of that occurring.

I want to finish by commending the efforts of the Deputy Prime Minister, Warren Truss, who has worked long and hard to find a solution to this. It is incredibly important not only for our shipping sector but also for our entire nation to find a way forward here. I am not hopeful that this particular solution today will receive the support of the parliament. However, I know the Deputy Prime Minister is committed to moving forward and trying to find a solution. I urge all senators, but particularly those senators on the crossbench to engage in good faith with the Deputy Prime Minister and try to find a solution for our shipping sector, for our agricultural users of shipping and for our entire nation.

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