Freight Rail

Union calls for coastal shipping reforms to be scrapped to protect local freight jobs

The Rail, Tram, and Bus Union (RTBU) has signalled its opposition to coastal shipping reforms that would enable foreign-flagged ships to compete for domestic freight volumes.

The proposed reforms, released in a discussion paper by the federal Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, would remove the five-voyage minimum for temporary licenses, remove tolerance limits for temporary licence voyages, and enable the automatic approval of temporary license applications.

Union national secretary Mark Diamond said the changes would directly impact the rail freight sector.

“This proposal would drain money from the Australian economy at precisely the worst time. Foreign owned shipping operators do not pay Australian wages or Australian taxes, and do not operate to Australian safety standards. Their profits are repatriated overseas,” he said.

“We would also likely see an increase to rail freight pricing due to the reduced rail volumes. Freight rail requires critical mass in order to recover its fixed operational costs.”

As coastal shipping would compete with rail freight due to its competitiveness over long distances, jobs in regional centres that underpin the interstate freight network would be put at risk.

“These reforms will decimate jobs, many of which are concentrated in regional Australia in towns including Kalgoorlie, Port Augusta, Albury, Parkes, Narrabri and Moree,” said Diamond.

“Up to 10,000 direct and indirect jobs are at risk if foreign-flagged vessels with third world labour practices are allowed to undercut Australian conditions. This will be a sucker punch to Australian workers.”

Submissions by the Freight on Rail Group (FORG) to previous coastal shipping reform proposals have highlighted the potential of foreign flagged shipped undermining the Australian rail freight sector.

“Major investments in rail terminals, infrastructure and rolling stock have been made by
rail freight companies in Australia,” the FORG submitted in 2017. “Changes in legislation, if they do provide exemptions from regulation for foreign flagged vessels that choose to participate in domestic coastal shipping, could seriously jeopardise these investments and would have a negative impact on the recent federal budget commitments in rail infrastructure.”