Senate applauds seafarers
The Federal Senate last week passed a resolution applauding Australian ships and Australian seafarers for their role during the deployment of Interfet forces in East Timor, acknowledging the role Australian merchant shipping plays in peacetime and calling on the Government to promote Australian flag shipping. The resolution contrasts starkly with the Howard Government's policy of favouring cheap, substandard foreign shipping at the peril of the national flag fleet. The Government has refused recommendations by the industry, the unions and its own appointed shipping reform group to provide fiscal support to the Australian shipping industry. Instead it has opened up the domestic transport industry to "guest workers" and exposed the Australian coast to pollution. The Maritime Union of Australia points out that world shipping is dominated by flag of convenience vessels registered in tax havens like Panama and Liberia, where they are not required to meet international safety or labour standards. According to submissions to a recent international inquiry, the International Commission on Shipping, many of these ships are crewed by poorly trained or fraudulently certified crew from third world countries. Exploitation of labour and tax avoidance enables these ships to offer cut rate freight rates, which are driving Australian ships out of business. Seven Australian flag ships have been taken out of operation in the past 18 months. The Senate resolution says in part that the Senate: * recognises and applauds the role that was played in supporting the Interfet force deployment in East Timor by Australian civilian ships; * acknowledges that the role of Australian civilian ships in East Timor continues the significant and enormous role that the Australian Merchant Navy has historically played in the ever increasing peacetime carriage of trade, both internationally and domestically; * requests that the Government promote the flying of the Australian flag rather than flags of convenience.