An international team of maritime heavyweights recently travelled to Australia and urged the government to save its shipping industry through sound, time-tested policy.
SIU Secretary-Treasurer David Heindel was one of six panelists who testified Feb. 6 before the Australian Senate’s Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee. Heindel also serves as chair of the International Transport Workers’ Federation’s (ITF) Seafarers’ Section.
Also testifying at the hearing in the capital city of Canberra were Jim Given, president of the SIU of Canada and chair of the ITF Cabotage Task Force (which met earlier in the week); Johnny Hansen, president of the Norwegian Seafarers’ Union; Joe Fleetwood, national secretary of the Maritime Union of New Zealand; Jacqueline Smith, ITF maritime coordinator; and Deirdre Fitzpatrick, executive director of Seafarers’ Rights International.
Collectively, they implored the Morrison government to reverse the decline of the Australian shipping industry and invest in the creation of a new strategic fleet to aid Australia’s emergency response capacity to natural disasters. They spelled out models that would help Australia move to protect the nation’s economic, environmental, fuel and national security interests by boosting its merchant fleet.
The session began with an extension of solidarity and support to the Australian people for the tragic loss of life and property and catastrophic damage to Australia’s unique natural environment caused by recent wildfires across that region. The international group also acknowledged the significant emergency maritime response to the crisis.
Union leaders and researchers appearing before the committee presented details on current maritime cabotage legislation around the world. They explained why a strong domestic maritime industry is critical to safeguarding Australia’s economic and national security – providing jobs, protecting the environment, and providing emergency assistance during natural disasters.
They noted that 91 countries representing 80 percent of the world’s coastal UN Maritime States have cabotage laws restricting foreign maritime activity in their domestic coastal trades.
Heindel stated, “Our (U.S.) domestic maritime cabotage laws have produced 40,000 American vessels built in U.S. shipyards. They provide roughly 650,000 sustained American jobs with $41 billion in labor compensation and ultimately contribute $150 billion in annual economic output.” He added, “Ultimately, the United States, like any nation, can only truly count on its own civilian mariners to get its troops and supplies to any combat zone. Without U.S. strategic sealift capability, supported by cabotage laws, U.S. enemies would become emboldened, U.S. commitments would become worthless, and American wars would become home games, according to former U.S. Transportation Command leader General Darren McDew. This could be said for any nation and certainly could be problematic for an island nation like Australia or New Zealand. Further, the economic benefits of having citizen crews contributes heavily to the country and local communities in labor income and a sustaining tax base.”
Given told the government officials, “The reason for our appearance before you today is to discuss the importance of retaining and reinvigorating a domestic marine shipping industry. I’m regularly reminded of how the Coasting Trade Act in Canada, and the Jones Act in the United States, are so integral to the overall success of our shipping industries and such a large contributor to the economies of both Canada and the United States of America. These policies are often regarded by our colleagues in Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia as the gold standard for the protection of seafarers’ rights, and the safety of our domestic maritime industries. Not only do strong cabotage laws ensure that domestic seafarers retain their jobs, they are also tremendous catalysts of economic growth for countries with such policies in place.”
The case also was made that cabotage not only provides jobs for a country’s mariners and shipyard workers, but also safeguards foreign seafarers against exploitation posed by liberalization in the global shipping industry and so-called flag-of-convenience (FOC) vessels, the owners of which usually pay sub-standard wages and flout safety laws.
“Most shipowners want to earn as much money as possible, so if they can use cheaper crews, they will do that,” Hansen said. “A lot of Norwegian shipowners changed their flags on their vessels and this issue has been escalating.”
Smith told the senators that the only ones benefitting from FOC ships are the shipowners. The delegation also countered arguments from opponents of cabotage laws who take the erroneous view that if laws enable domestic shipping companies to charge higher rates, costs are passed on to consumers.
“What is the true cost, and what is the true cost we should focus on?” Given asked. “Is it the cost to the shipping company? Or the cost to Australia? As politicians, and as community leaders of the country, are the people not more important than the profit, because that is what it boils down to.”
Given said the administration must examine laws through the prism of local jobs, national security, fuel security and protecting the environment.
The delegation also renewed the call from maritime unions attending the ITF Cabotage Task Force meeting in Sydney to act immediately to purchase the Aurora Australis, to strengthen Australia’s disaster response capacity as a first step in the creation a strategic fleet of Australian-crewed vessels and reinvigoration of Australia’s domestic shipping industry. The ship is a multi-purpose research and resupply ship scheduled for retirement later this year.