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Australian Cabotage Laws Ready for Dismantling

Australian port

Published Sep 3, 2015 7:08 PM by The Maritime Executive

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott plans to relax the nation’s cabotage laws, and local seafarers may be out of work because of it. 

As part of the Shipping Legislation Amendment Bill, Australia hopes to open its coastline to more foreign-crewed and foreign flagged vessels. Abbott states that relaxing Australia’s cabotage laws will provide a boost to the nation’s economy that could come at the expense of mariners.  

According to a report by the Australia Institute (AI), the number of Australian seafarers could drop from about 1,177 to less than 100 if the new laws were approved. The proposed amendments would allow foreign-flagged ships and crews to be paid international wages on domestic shipping routes for up to half a year. 

According to AI, the Bass Strait non-bulk freight route between Tasmania and Victoria is currently serviced by 100 percent Australian crews. But if the cabotage laws were to be implemented, AI projects that the percentage would shift to about 65 percent foreign and 35 percent Australian. AI attributes the retention of 35 percent of the Australian workers to the Spirit of Tasmania, a pair of Tasmanian Government-owned ferries. 

Additionally, the proposed legislation allows ships to anchor nearly anywhere along the coastline. Locations in which vessels would be permitted to dock include estuaries, navigable rivers, creeks, channels, docks and piers. 

According to reports, Australia’s North Star Cruises was advised by government officials to re-register its vessels overseas and hire foreign crews if they want to remain competitive if the new laws take effect. 

Meanwhile, SeaRoad, a local freight company, has stated that it would reconsider its $100 million investment in two new cargo vessels if the government amends laws forcing foreign vessels to pay Australian wages while in its waters. 

Australia’s Regional Development Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss defends the proposed laws as a means of saving local businesses from fewer shipping options and higher costs. Australia expects shipping to grow nationally by 80 percent by 2030 but contends that coastal shipping will only grow by 15 percent without relaxed cabotage laws. 

In a statement, the Maritime Union of Australia said: “The changes would dismantle the level playing field created by the former Labor Government, which allowed foreign vessels to work domestic routes but required them to pay Australian level wages while engaged in domestic trade. It is in Australia’s economic, environmental and security interests to maintain a viable local shipping industry.”