Seafarers demand Morrison Government act to save Australian shipping industry

| February 11, 2019

A campaign demanding the Morrison Government take action to save Australia’s coastal shipping industry will kick off today, with television advertisements highlighting the plight of the nation’s last iron ore vessels, which were axed by BHP last month.

Seafarers from aboard the MV Mariloula and MV Lowlands Brilliance, who were informed by email that they no longer had a job transporting iron ore for BHP from Port Hedland to the BlueScope steelworks in Port Kembla, took their message directly to Prime Minister Scott Morrison ahead of his address at the National Press Club today.

They will be spending the week meeting with key MPs and Senators to outline the personal impact of BHP’s decision, the broader impacts on the viability of the local shipping industry, and the urgent actions the Federal Government must take to save Australia’s remaining coastal trading fleet.

Their experience also features in a television commercial which states:
BHP has sacked nearly 80 Australian workers. These skilled and passionate seafarers were sacked by email while at sea, hundred of kilometres from home. With the help of Scott Morrison’s Government, BHP replaced the Aussie jobs with exploited overseas visa workers. Scott Morrison says: “If you have a go, you’ll get a go”. Really Mr Morrison?

Ben Sirasch, a seafarer of 10 years who was onboard the MV Mariloula when the news came through, said he entered the profession because he thought it was “an industry that was going to last a lifetime”.

He believes that shipping is not only an important industry for an island country, but it also plays an important role in ensuring the economic security of the nation.

“There’s no Aussie [fuel] tankers left in Australia,” Mr Sirasch said.

“It’s pretty scary that we only hold less than two weeks of fuel in the country, but we don’t have any tankers to run fuel around, so basically we’re sitting ducks if anything happens.”

Maritime Union of Australia National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said BHP’s decision to replace Australian seafarers with foreign vessels crewed by exploited workers was only possible because of the willful inaction of the Federal Government.

“BHP’s decision to axe these last Australian iron ore vessels — ending more than a century of local seafarers carrying resources for BHP — was only possible because the Morrison Government issued permits to foreign-crewed ships to undertake this work,” Mr Crumlin said.

“It is essential that the Australian public understand that this could not have occurred without the direct involvement of the Morrison Government.

“It is the government that provides the Temporary Licences to the foreign ships that will continue to undertake the work. It was also this government that allowed Maritime Crew Visas to undermine local workers, leading to their replacement and sacking.

“The Australian Government not only has the power to save these jobs, but they must do so for the sake of the entire industry and the critical role it plays.

“Our campaign has a simple demand: we want the Morrison Government to immediately withdraw all temporary licences for foreign ships that have been contracted to replace these Australian ships in this domestic trade.”

Mr Crumlin said that as an island nation it was essential Australia maintained a strong domestic shipping fleet.

“Ensuring coastal trade is undertaken by Australian vessels with appropriately trained crews adhering to Australian laws and regulations doesn’t just support local jobs, it protects our national security, insures us against global conflicts and economic shocks, and protects our natural environment.

“When local seafarers are replaced by vessels registered in tax havens and crewed with exploited foreign labour, all of that is put at risk.

“With each Australian vessel that is lost, the viability of our local shipping industry takes a hit. As a country, we also lose the contribution these ships provide to the Australian economy through employment, tax revenue, and supporting local maintenance and provisioning businesses.

“Australia’s increasing reliance on foreign shipping is not in the national interest and it is undermining our economic and national security.”