MOST LIKELY: Hay Point near Mackay is one of Australia’s busiest ports and one of the most likely to be affected by potential shipping reforms.
MOST LIKELY: Hay Point near Mackay is one of Australia’s busiest ports and one of the most likely to be affected by potential shipping reforms. Stuart Higgins

Almost 2000 jobs to disappear if shipping reforms go ahead

CLOSE to 2000 jobs could vanish, with Queenslanders the worst affected, if government reforms to coastal shipping pass and allow more foreign companies and crews to compete with Australian vessels.

If successful, the changes led by Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss would allow more ships crewed by foreign nationals to carry cargo between local ports.

Workers could fall under foreign rules, so would not be covered by Australian workplace laws or wage requirements unless the ships operated here for more than six months a year.

The Maritime Union of Australia estimated 1944 jobs would disappear, including 938 from Queensland, New South Wales and the Northern Territory.

A further 226 jobs would be lost from bulk trading routes along the eastern seaboard.

Queensland's Port of Gladstone and Hay Point near Mackay are among Australia's busiest ports, and are the most likely to be affected.

International Transport Workers Federation national secretary Padraig Crumlin compared the reforms to allowing foreign truck drivers onto Australian roads while being governed by their native country.

"We would say, 'Leave it to the Manila department of transport to do'," he told an inquiry into foreign shipping.

"It is the equivalent."

He said international seafarers would also have less power if their bosses did the wrong thing.

"If you are an Indian or Ukrainian or Filipino seafarer, you are not in a position to fight back or go to your ombudsman.

"You will be out of a job."

The Senate inquiry into foreign shipping was launched following the mysterious deaths of two Filipino sailors aboard the Sage Sagittarius coal carrier in late 2012. Their deaths occurred amid allegations of homophobic abuse and violence on board.

Sage Sagittarius
In the space of six weeks, three men died on board the MV Sage Sagittarius as it travelled through and beyond Australian waters in 2012.

The Department of Border Protection also warned that foreign ship owners - often cloaked by shell companies - would be "attractive" to terrorist groups and organised crime gangs.

The inquiry also highlighted the risks for Queensland waters, with the ITF noting every major oil spill in Australian waters in the past decade has been caused by a foreign-flagged ship.

The government expects the reforms would add $677million to the national economy, including $19million a year saved as companies pay foreign seafarers less than their Australian counterparts.

Mr Truss's office would not answer questions about potential job losses from the reforms, but would wait to read the inquiry's report, due this week.

He told Parliament in mid-2015, "simplifying rules for moving cargo will show Australian waters are once again open for business".

Opposition infrastructure spokesman Anthony Albanese describes the proposed reforms as "Workchoices on Water".

"The way forward for Australia is not a low-wage race to the bottom but using our innovation, our skills and our capacity to grow our maritime sector," he said.