Dinner Address: Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers
22 June 2015
135th Annual Federal Council Dinner
Parliament House, Canberra
Thank you for the welcome Terry [Snee, AIMPE Federal President].
It is an honour to be with you tonight for your 135th Annual Federal Council Dinner.
One hundred and thirty five years is an impressive milestone.
Your longevity and professionalism underscore a proud history and showcases the unique skills of marine engineers who have played an integral role in shaping not only the Australian maritime industry, but modern Australia.
Skilled engineers helped propel the industry as it moved from the days of sail through to steam and on to today's sophisticated engines.
Many of the skills acquired at sea were later applied to land-based machinery and, as the Minister for Infrastructure, I am keenly aware of the continuing contribution of engineers—(both at sea and onshore)—make to the growth and productivity of Australia.
As an island nation, with vast distances between our major cities—most of which are located by the sea—it makes sense for coastal shipping and skilled engineers and mariners to play a key role in the productivity of our transport network.
Yet, as we have seen, coastal shipping volumes have continued to decline and the number of Australian flagged vessels continues to fall.
In fact, only 15 major trading vessels remain in the Australian coastal trading fleet today—cut in half from 30 in less than a decade.
Australian ships on transitional licences are disappearing, too. When the current system started there were 16, today there are just eight.
The case for serious reform is crystal clear. And the government is not shirking the issue.
On May 20, I announced a substantial deregulation of coastal shipping, with built-in protections to maintain Australian skills, like marine engineering, and to ensure the payment of appropriate wages and conditions for seafarers on foreign ships operating primarily in the Australian coasting trade.
Importantly, all ships—domestic and foreign—will still have to meet Australia's strict maritime safety and environmental provisions, which are rigorously enforced by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.
Indeed, our port state control regime—administered by AMSA—is second to none in world terms.
Tonight I would like to announce two new members of the AMSA Board.
I am pleased to announce Gary Webb and Peter Toohey will be joining the Board for a three year period. I can also confirm that I have reappointed Dr Sarah Derrington for a further two years.
Gary joins the AMSA Board after finishing a nine year term as the CEO of Newcastle Port in 2013.
Peter, whom you may know and is here with us this evening, has made his career as a marine engineer.
His first-hand experience will be invaluable on the AMSA Board.
I am sure both Gary and Peter will make a positive and valuable contribution to the Board.
AMSA has an important role to play in ensuring that our waters are safe and that our marine environment is protected.
Maintaining our high standards of safety at sea and the protection of our precious ocean environment, particularly the Great Barrier Reef in my home state of Queensland, are not optional extras—they are essential to securing a sustainable future.
I am very pleased to be able to say that some of my Nationals collegaues, including Victorian Senator Bridget McKenzie—the Chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Education and Training, New South Wales Senator John Williams, and myself have been working closely with AIMPE for the past three years to maintain the high standard inherent in marine engineers qualifications.
In 2013 the Labor government attempted to reduce the training of marine engineers from three years to 12 months.
But we said no…and I secured the three years requirement by having AMSA introduce a separate marine order 72 for marine engineers thereby guaranteeing your training qualifications;
The Coalition Government genuinely cares about maintaining a high standard of skills and training and seafarer welfare.
The Australian Government has announced plans to reform coastal shipping in Australia. As an island continent we need a strong shipping industry to take a bigger share of our nation's freight task. We need to utilise vessels that are available to the trade wherever we can.
If a foreign vessel spends most of its time trading in Australian waters, it will have to pay Australian wages and meet Australian conditions.
Additionally, ships trading for more than 183 days will be required to employ a Master or Chief Mate and a Chief Engineer or First Engineer who is an Australian or who has Australian work rights.
The requirements for vessels on the Australian International Shipping Register to have two senior Australian crew on board will be maintained but the AISR will be enhanced to be able to extend to vessels which engage in both domestic and international trading.
Legislation to secure these reforms has beeng drafted and I expect to introduce it to the Parliament this week.
The Bill will be the subject of full public scrutiny through Parliamentary committee processes.
This will allow all stakeholders, including AIMPE, to comment on the detail of the measures I've touched on tonight.
It's simple economics—if you have an underutilised resource, you should maximise its utility.
I firmly believe that if we could better utilise just a fraction of the capacity on the foreign ships that visit our shores, it could make a major difference to the efficiency of Australia's sea freight movements.
In closing tonight I want to emphasise that the Government recognises that Australian skilled seafarers, such as your members, are renowned for their expertise throughout the world.
We need to maintain these key maritime skills in Australia and ensure we are training the engineers, masters and pilots of tomorrow.
In this vein, I know AIMPE has been doing some very important work with Shipping Australia on expanding cadet training, which is an important part of ensuring we have these skills for the future.
As I said at the outset, your institute has a long and proud history of influencing and undertaking change in the Australian maritime industry and I thank you for your participation and frankness in the consultation process.
Your motto is Non Sibi Sed Omnibus. I am not the most highly educated person in the room but I did do Latin at school so I can translate—Not for one but for all. It is a very worthy sentiment and one that we would all do well to bear in mind.
Before we resume our dinner, I must also thank you for the gift copy of Steady Revolutions which details your history from 1881–1990. I have a keen interest in Australian history and this is a particularly interesting warts and all telling of the story of the Australian maritime industry.
Thank you—and, once again, congratulations on your 135th anniversary.