The Guardian June 7, 2000

MUA takes Federal Minister to court over cabotage

by Kerry Ans

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and two other maritime unions have 
mounted a case in the Federal Court against Mr Anderson, Federal Minister 
for Transport, alleging the government is in breach of the Navigation Act 
by issuing permits for foreign owned ships to carry Australian cargoes 
around the Australian coast. The maritime unions claim that the 
government's action is in conflict with the intent of Part VI of the Act, 
covering cabotage provisions.

Cabotage laws restrict Australia's domestic shipping to Australian flagged 
and crewed vessels, except where there are no suitable Australian ships 
available. In such cases foreign vessels are granted single voyage permits. 
According to the MUA, shippers are increasingly manipulating the system by 
waiting until an Australian manned vessels sails and then rush to the 
government for a permit to contract a foreign flagged ship. Most such ships 
employ Third World country crews. They are paid minimum wages and the 
vessels are often substandard. Australian ships are forced off-shore and 
Australian seafarers put out of work.

John Coombs, in a recent edition of the union's journal, explained that the 
rorting of the permit system is really a back door route to bring guest 
workers into the domestic economy. It represents an indirect approach by 
the government to break down the cabotage laws, and possibly the 
immigration laws, given that they would not be able to abolish the laws 
outright and get the changes through the Senate.

As well as taking the issue to the Court, the union has organised a series 
of surfing carnivals in Coolangatta, Queensland and Wollongong, NSW, to 
highlight the seriousness of substandard foreign-owned shipping to the 
coastal environment. Not only do many of the ships employ unskilled, 
sweated labour, and have fraudulent certification, they also use poor 
environmental practices, running the risk of polluting beaches and the 
marine environment.

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