Shadow Minister for Innovation, Industry, Scienceand Research Kim Carr and Maritime Union of Australia national officer Mich-Elle Myers at Mackay Harbour.
Shadow Minister for Innovation, Industry, Scienceand Research Kim Carr and Maritime Union of Australia national officer Mich-Elle Myers at Mackay Harbour. Zizi Averill

How ALP plans to ensure ships sail under an Aussie flag

AUSTRALIAN-MADE ships, sailing under the Australian flag, crewed by Australian workers. It's a vision the Labor party has revealed for Mackay ports as the election edges closer.

Maritime Union of Australia national officer Mich-Elle Myers said she could remember a time when the vessels in ports like Mackay would be crewed and regulated by Australians.

Yesterday, when Ms Myers looked over the Mackay port, both ships docked in the harbour were flying foreign flags.

Pointing to the Fanoula she said it was registered in the West African nation of Liberia.

"It's a flag of convenience," she said, "most of them are".

Under international law, merchant ships must be registered to a specific country. In order to minimise safety standards, wages and taxes, Ms Myers said shipping companies would fly under flags with looser standards than Australia.

It's an international practice that is widespread in the shipping industry, and Ms Myers said it was crippling Australia's maritime industry.

Ms Myers was visiting the Mackay port to "spread the word that we need to save Australian shipping".

She was joined by Labor Senator Kim Carr, Labor candidate for Dawson Belinda Hassan and Labor candidate for Capricornia Russell Robertson to propose new policies to restore Australian shipping in cities like Mackay.

The decline of local seafearing jobs is a concern to Ms Hassan, who said she "grew up seeing these ships being loaded by Australian workers".

As Shadow Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research Senator Carr said he was committed to improving the enforcement of coastal shipping laws, ensuring local seafarers were given the first opportunity to move freight between Australian ports.

As an island nation, Senator Carr said, it was "ridiculous: that Australia's flag flew from fewer vessels than Switzerland, a landlocked nation. Currently there were 14 Australian flagged vessels, compared to Switzerland's fleet of 400.

Senator Carr called for the establishment of a strategic shipping fleet "that can be called upon in times of crisis".

He said the Labor party would establish a taskforce, comprised of shipping companies, union and government representatives, to establish a fleet of 12 oil tankers, container ships and gas carriers.

Senator Carr said shipping companies would designate ships to be manned by local workers and sail under the Australian flag.

Ms Myers estimates the policy would employ hundreds of workers.

Senator Carr admitted a fleet of only 12 vessels was a limited defence in a national state of emergency, but he said "it's better than what we have at the moment".