Australia’s Federal Government is proposing greater flexibility for coastal shipping and new training opportunities in a discussion paper aimed at boosting coastal shipping activity.
Releasing the government's Coastal Shipping Reforms Discussion Paper this week, Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Darren Chester said coastal shipping could take long distance cargo off our highways and railway lines to ease future freight demands on the national transport network.
“Currently, 15 percent of Australia's domestic freight is moved by ship, but with Australia's extensive coastline and broad network of ports, there is the potential for shipping to play a larger role in the national freight task,” Chester said.
“However, it has become clear that limitations in the current regulatory system are working against that potential being realized.
Proposed changes could see the removal of rules put in place by previous governments aimed at protecting Australian shipping against foreign-flagged vessels. The discussion paper proposes removing the existing minimum five-voyage requirement for temporary license applications for domestic shipping which would allow for organizations to apply for single voyages instead of the current five. It would also allow for the removal of the mandatory consultation time with domestic shipowners when there are no Australian vessels of the right type to carry a cargo.
“We need to address a range of administrative issues in the Coastal Trading (Revitalising Australian Shipping) Act 2012, which place unnecessary burdens on shipping companies and the Australian businesses that rely on coastal shipping.”
The discussion paper also proposes the introduction of a number of seafarer training initiatives aimed at developing and retaining critical maritime skills in Australia, Chester said.
Maritime Union of Australia Assistant National Secretary Ian Bray welcomes the Minister’s engagement with industry. "However, we don't think there is enough focus at this stage on protecting local jobs and the discussion paper omits most of the industry proposals put forward in the industry Green Paper which was developed through exhaustive meetings over a long period of time.”
The discussion paper proposes to extend the geographical reach of the Coastal Trading Act to include voyages to and from the mainland and places in Australian waters such as offshore installations.
The paper’s authors wrote: “This change would allow petroleum companies to obtain a license enabling foreign-flagged vessels to undertake this type of movement – the carriage of petroleum products from offshore installations in Australian territory to the mainland – potentially increasing the use of Australian refineries.”
Bray said the proposed changes would make it easier for the Minister’s Delegate to provide Temporary Licenses to foreign ships and make it more difficult for Australian ships with Australian crew to compete in the coastal trade.
“The Paper has not addressed proposals aimed at growing Australian content in coastal shipping such as the Strategic Fleet concept, that provides an opportunity to achieve better coordination between Navy objectives and the commerciality of the merchant shipping sector,” Bray said.
The discussion paper also fails the test of developing a long-term policy for manufacturing, fuel and energy security, and other core Australian industries largely in decline or abandoned to which Australian shipping is an essential service provider, he said.
"A strong domestic shipping fleet with Australian crew is vital to the national interest - whether it's from a jobs, environmental or national security perspective."