Monday, 18 June 2012
Shipping Reform (Tax Incentives) Bill 2012, Shipping Registration Amendment (Australian International Shipping Register) Bill 2012, Coastal Trading (Revitalising Australian Shipping) Bill 2012, Coastal Trading (Revitalising Australian Shipping) (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2012, Tax Laws Amendment (Shipping Reform) Bill 2012; In Committee
by leave—I move amendments (1) to (7) on sheet 7235 together:
(1) Clause 28, page 23 (line 10), after “specify”, insert “, to the extent known,”.
(2) Clause 28, page 23 (line 11), omit “, which must be 5 or more,”.
(3) Clause 28, page 23 (line 17), omit “(if known)”.
(4) Clause 28, page 23 (line 18), omit “(if known)”.
(5) Clause 51, page 35 (line 1), after “specify”, insert “, to the extent known,”.
(6) Clause 51, page 35 (line 2), omit “, which must be 5 or more,”.
(7) Clause 51, page 35 (line 8), omit “(if known)”.
Obviously, what we wish to do with these amendments to the Coastal Trading (Revitalising Australian Shipping) Bill 2012 is make sure that we are more expedient in how the licensing provisions are dealt with. The current schedule 3 licensing arrangements, we feel, are cumbersome and are going to create a range of problems and impediments that have been spelt out. Some of those impediments can be seen in areas, for instance, where people have to have five voyages in 12 months. We are going to have people who basically say, 'I only need two; I need to get to five, so I'm going to have to try and work out how to get around that,' so we will have the contriving of ways to get up to a certain limit. The amendments omit the five-voyage minimum requirement. The amendment is to the fact that an application for a temporary licence must include at least five voyages in a 12-month period. One of the exposure drafts of the Coastal Trading (Revitalising Australian Shipping) Bill 2012 set the minimum number of voyages at 10 in a 12-month period. As noted in the explanatory memorandum:
There was broad consensus from industry that many operators could not provide sufficient detail for ten voyages and that five voyages was more practical.
However, the same objections from industry that applied to the 10-voyage minimum threshold apply to the five-voyage threshold. Whist it is true that most industry participants that would be applying for a temporary licence to engage in five or more voyages per year is not the case for everyone, the bill in its present form would see that the smaller operators would be unable to comply with the new regulatory arrangements. There is almost universal agreement in the industry that this requirement should be removed. As Caltex notes in its submission to the House committee inquiry:
Implementing a minimum voyage requirement on TL—
that is, a temporary licence—
applications is not practical or reasonable. The requirement places unnecessary restrictions on shippers who undertake less than five voyages in a 12 month period and disadvantages these stakeholders whose trade is not likely to encourage investment on the coast due to their variable needs and low demand.
The prospect of temporary licence holders making up fictitious or spurious voyages to meet the five-voyage minimum is discussed in many of the submissions to the House and Senate inquiries into the legislation. The regulatory system is obviously deficient and clearly does not meet its objectives if, in order to comply, applicants are forced to make up fictitious voyages—which is what I mentioned at the start. Not only would this undermine the integrity of the system; it would waste industry and department time and resources in processing applications for voyages that will never occur.
Additionally, general licence holders who are given the option of objecting to a particular voyage listed in a temporary licence, if they are believed to be unable to take the cargo or passengers, may needlessly spend time objecting to voyages that a temporary licence holder has no intention of undertaking but is just using to make up the numbers and reach their five-voyage limit. Shipping Australia comments on the five-voyage limit in its submission, stating:
… the minimum of five voyages, which in our view, discriminates against the smaller coastal shipper who may, for example, have two or three voyages per year …
The department states in its supplementary submission to the House committee inquiry, in response to the industry's concerns about the five-voyage limit, that the vast majority of shippers undertake in excess of five voyages per year and so would qualify under the new temporary licence. However, they acknowledge:
For the small number of operators requiring fewer than five voyages, the new arrangements may require some reconsideration of their operating arrangements.
These small operators will no longer be able to operate in the Australian coastal trade without significantly changing their operations. Additionally, the five-voyage minimum will stifle the ability of start-up routes by new entrants into the market who are not on the Australian register. You will not be able to test a market and see whether there is a demand for a particular route if you are unable to commit to five voyages in a 12-month period. One such example of this is raised by Sucrogen in their submission to the House committee inquiry. They explain in their submission:
The bioethanol business was recently re-structured to provide only fuel grade ethanol into the Queensland market with industrial markets served by product imported to the Port of Melbourne.
Under recently changed market conditions, Sucrogen BioEthanol intends to restart closer to the transfers of ethanol from North Queensland to Melbourne rather than important it from overseas. One would suggest that this would probably be very good for the ethanol industry of North Queensland—and I am glad to see Senator Bernardi and Senator Cash are here to listen to this, because I know they have an intense interest in the good people of North Queensland; it is a shame that at the moment they are not sitting on our side of the chamber!
I will take opposition wherever I can find it! However, Sucrogen believe this is made more difficult because of the bill. They say:
It might be that from time to time depending on the market situation the business needs to only move one cargo. It may be that it needs to move four and this cannot be predicted over a 12 month period.
That applies to the businesses beholden to this bill. This shows the impediments that happen when we have to, in some way, predict the next 12-month period. As I said in my speech in the second reading debate this morning, it is very hard to predict with market based things precisely what product you are going to be moving and when.
In summary, what we are trying to do with these amendments is remove some of the cumbersome items that are so obvious in this legislation. We have got to try and get the wheels of commerce turning in some form that deals with the issues that are before us in this nation. It is absurd to think that this is happening at a time when Europe is going through the obvious dilemmas that we see on the television every hour of every day, in every news brief. When we see the issues that have been brought up lately in Queensland—with its debt about to go past $1 billion, thanks to the Labor government and the parlous financial state it left its Treasury in; when places such as South Australia are losing their credit rating; when we find the debt of New South Wales going through the roof; and when we find that our own nation’s debt is at $231 billion and heading north, we have to try and do everything we can to make sure that we can export product at a rate which makes it competitive on the global market so that we can basically pay our way in the future. We always seem to be coming up with impediments in this chamber. In the next couple of weeks, we will have the lunacy of the carbon tax coming in. Everyone is going to have to pick up the tab for that. Why? Who knows why. It is because we do not like having people employed in Australia, apparently. This legislation is yet another addendum to that. It is another mechanism that basically makes it harder for our industry to compete. On the back of this, we have to try and do something to streamline this legislation in such a way that it keeps Australia in the ballpark, that keeps Australia competitive. This amendment is part of a process of trying to deal with the legislation and in some form to streamline it.
These are the same amendments that were proposed in the House by the Leader of the Opposition. We did not support them during that debate and we do not support them now. I repeat: the industry wants certainty and these amendments would undermine that. They create ambiguity. Senator Joyce's specific concern is about temporary licences being valid for 12 months. He suggests that applicants will not know in advance the number of voyages they require for an entire 12-month period. The temporary licence is valid—he is right—for 12 months. The bill provides that the applicant only applies for those voyages which they know the details of. For example, if a company's planning horizon is for three months, they can submit an application with the detail of those voyages for this period, with a minimum of five voyages of course. The applicant then applies for the next package of voyages when they are known. This issue was raised during the exposure draft consultation, and the government amended the bill to provide this flexibility.
Where the general licence holder does not have sufficient knowledge to know whether to nominate to undertake voyages, as is being proposed by the opposition, these amendments would serve, if accepted by this chamber, to maintain the current situation whereby there is a lack of transparency in the coastal trading arrangements. This would continue the status quo, as I said in my previous contribution, of an unlevel playing field for Australian vessels. Australian goods carried by ships with an Australian flag and crewed by Australian workers on the Australian coast is what we are seeking to achieve, and we would ask the opposition to reconsider their position. We certainly call on the chamber to reject these amendments.
It is always interesting to hear the Labor government talk about a level playing field. I suppose that is why we are about to get ourselves a $23-a-tonne carbon tax when the vast majority of the world does not have one at all. That is an awfully level playing field! I can understand why they talk about a level playing field when even those who are trading in carbon as a product are basically doing their dough—the carbon price is about six or seven bucks. These people who talk about a level playing field like to talk about it, but they are not too good at delivering it. They do not even consider delivering it to our own people. The reality is that we are talking about products where many of them, especially agricultural products, do not deal on a level playing field. We are having to deal, for instance, with grain markets that are some of the most corrupt markets in the world. The National Party believes in the orderly marketing of grain because of the discrepancies that are abundant there.
However, if you believe in a level playing field then you have to also believe that other people are just going to take advantage of our cost structure when it is in excess of theirs. They will just buy products from somewhere else. We are basically putting ourselves out of our own markets. Why this is so important is that there is no railway line to Indonesia and there is no bridge to China—there is coastal shipping. If we want to put ourselves out of a market or create a distinct disadvantage between us and the markets we need to get to, we will never find a better way than by creating a disadvantage in our coastal shipping areas.
Far from reconsidering our position, I would like the government to answer some of the issues. The government's justification for this package was uncompetitive labour laws on the international stage. That was part of the minister's justification. So I ask the minister: what are the trade exposed industries that the government is considering exempting from Australian labour laws and what impact have Australian labour laws had on the shipping sector?
There is nothing further to add to this question. Senator Joyce can go on at length about any other extraneous issue. There is a fundamental question here: do you support this bill or not?
You get the distinct sense that the minister did not actually listen to the question, don't you? But that is not surprising. To help the minister out, let us ask him the question again—and this time, Minister, face the front. Given that part of the government's justification for this package was uncompetitive labour laws on an international stage—that was part of your justification, Minister; over here, eyes front—what other trade exposed industries is the government considering exempting from the Australian labour laws and what impact have Australian labour laws had on the shipping sector?
Senator Joyce, it is pretty clear that this government strongly supports Australian wages and conditions. You may not agree with that approach, and I presume that is the basis on which you are seeking to gut this bill, but that is not going to be the position this government adopts. We are allowing international shipping companies to participate in the trade but we are saying that preference has to be given to Australian ships and Australian crews. We see no reason to move away from that proposition.
The sections of my question were, first, what other trade exposed industries the government is considering exempting from Australian labour laws—and it appears there was no answer to that—and, next, what impact Australian labour laws have had on the shipping sector. There was no answer to that either. Maybe if the minister has a bit more time he might be able to find an answer. While he is considering that, he might consider another issue. You say you want to protect Australian labour and their jobs on the factory floor or in the agricultural sector or the mining sector, but that philosophy you are laying down here about protecting Australian jobs seems completely incongruous with the philosophy behind your introduction, in two weeks time, of a $23-a-tonne tax on Australians competing in these markets, which is putting Australian workers at a complete and utter disadvantage. Minister, are you saying that there are no other trade exposed industries the government is considering exempting from Australian labour laws?
There is no departure from current arrangements in regard to that. We are encouraging, however, an opportunity for further investment by Australian companies to employ Australian crews on Australian conditions.
Under the Coastal Trading (Revitalising Australian Shipping) Bill 2012, an application for a temporary licence requires detailed information for each voyage. Do you believe that, as your bill is currently structured, there is scope for this to be manipulated—with people contriving voyages or being put in a position where they have to make the number five? What is so impressive about the number five that is not impressive about the number six, the number four, the number seven or the number three? How did you come to the number five?
Proposed section 61 requires voyage notification and proposed section 62 requires giving a report after every voyage. You will be aware, Senator, that this is not a new requirement. The voyage notification process is to meet customs requirements and merely codifies an activity that currently occurs automatically when an SVP is applied for. The information will be provided directly to Customs and applicants for temporary licences only need to identify voyages, not ships, to enable Customs to undertake its legislative and operational responsibility. Customs also needs to be advised of movements of all non-imported vessels.
On page 23 of the explanatory memorandum to the Coastal Trading (Revitalising Australian Shipping) Bill 2012, it says that only voyages where the required information is known—including expected loading dates, loading, discharge ports and cargo types and volumes—will be counted. Is that not completely inconsistent with the answer you just gave?
These bills are about transparency. They are about ensuring there is a codification of the detailed requirements currently in ministerial guidelines. I am advised that these are matters such as publishing requirements, voyage notification—a whole range of other issues. The current practice had not previously been articulated in legislation. So this bill actually makes things clearer and more transparent. The decision to incorporate these measures into legislation was in response to longstanding industry concerns that the reliance on ministerial guidelines for decision making has resulted in a lack of transparency and a lack of certainty for industry and has contributed to the decline of the industry. These were key findings of various parliamentary committees, including House of Representatives committees, as far back as 2008.
Once more that is waffle, not an answer. How is it that, in your own words, someone will determine for the next 12-month period what their expected loading dates will be, what their loading and discharge port will be and what their cargo type will be? Where will this information come from for the next 12 months? Is it through divine inspiration in the quieter moments of the darkest night that this information will come to them? Since we have such perfect knowledge of the next 12 months, do we also have perfect knowledge of the next 12 years? Can we plan that far out knowing the uncertainties, given the fact that in the current economic climate it is a surprise from week to week where we are? Can you explain to me how people are going to go about assessing their expected loading dates, loading and discharge ports, cargo type and volumes?
You made some indication before that you thought people were not listening to you. I am surprised that you were not able to pay attention to the previous answer I gave you. In regard to the temporary licences: while they are valid for 12 months, the bill provides that the applicant need only apply for those voyages that they know the details of. For example, if a company's planning horizon is three months, they can submit an application with the detail of these voyages for this period. Of course, there must be a minimum of five voyages. Senator, you are making presumptions about people that run these companies and you talk as if they do not know their business. You are talking as if they have no idea about what is actually going on within the trade. These are applications that allow for people to make licensing arrangements for voyages when they are known. I would suggest that we get on with the bill rather than trying to waste the Senate's time.
In your answer you said that they can have a three-month planning horizon. Even with that, since there are four lots of three months in a year, if they can find two voyages, will that suffice? Are we able to take that as the equivalent of five voyages over the year if they do two voyages over three months?
If the company has a planning horizon which is only over three months, they can submit an application with the details of those voyages for that period of time. It does not require them to have full knowledge of what their details will be over a 12-month period.
So they submit their application for the next three months. Correct me if I am wrong: there are four lots of three months in a year, so if in that three months they say, 'There are two voyages in the coming three months,' then four twos are eight, which is greater than five. Will that suffice or do they have to show five voyages in that three-month period?
Senator, you are making a presumption about the question that there is no flexibility in these arrangements. The company will make its licensing arrangements based on its belief that there will be five voyages, and it is able to amend those applications in light of experience.
Good; so this will clarify it. In that case, if the company supplies two voyages in three months and they say, 'We expect that to be how it will progress through the year,' you will accept that as covering the criteria for five voyages for the year?
I am not certain if I have been clear enough for you. The advice that I have been given—this is the fourth occasion on which I have given it to the Senate—is that there is a requirement for applications to be for five voyages.
He is right, Madam Temporary Chair: he has not been clear at all. So the purpose of the analysis of the three-month term in the assessment of a 12-month period is what? If we cannot basically pro rata the three-month period over the 12 months, what is the purpose of the assessment over the three-month period?
So you are basically saying that, to be honest, you are completely and utterly confused about what the three-month period is about. Nonetheless, what led you to the five-voyage assessment as opposed to four or six? What was so special about five?
As a result of conversations with industry, there was feedback from industry, and I am advised that that was the advice that came from industry. It was not as if the government went there and said, 'You will have five voyages.' This is what the industry, in conversations with government, indicated they wanted.
Madam Temporary Chair, this is abuse of the committee system of this chamber. There has been a full legislative process here involving detailed Senate committee consideration of these matters. These questions, I presume, have been canvassed through that process. I frankly cannot offer much more advice.
It is not an abuse of the process for me, on behalf of the Australian people, to ask questions of the minister and to have some expectation that we will get an attempt at an answer without a groan or a moan of frustration. If you do not know where that reference is then just say, 'I am unaware of where that reference is; I will take it on notice and get back to you.' That is a much more simple and polite way to go about it rather than to yack-ai on. The rationale for the 12-month period as explained by the department is as follows:
Extension to a 12 month period—
for a temporary licence as opposed to a continuing voyage permit, which lasts for three months—
will provide holders of these licences with greater certainty regarding their shipping arrangements.
How does this take into account the commercial reality in many parts of the shipping industry, where a 12-month schedule is not possible to predict?
You refer to the detailed extrapolation of this, as evident in the Senate inquiry. Can you please now tell us where industry says that this is the case and give us some direction as to where you got that information from?
The advice I am given is that it was an original arrangement put forward in a discussion paper for two years at a roundtable with industry and that, as a result of those discussions with industry at that roundtable, it was changed to 12 months, and the five-voyage licensing arrangements arose from that process.
I have just been talking to my friend, guide and philosopher, Jess Findlay, who has managed to supply me with the document I have here. It seems to run contrary to what the minister has just told us. It is the Australian Shipowners Association submission. I refer the minister to items 5.9 to 5.11 under 'Minimum number of voyages'. Item 5.10 is interesting. It says:
… Applicants who genuinely require fewer voyages than the minimum set will be forced to provide spurious information to make up the set number required. This is not in the interests of the applicant, GL holders who may wish to nominate or the Department—who will be processing the application. This is an example of red tape which must be avoided.
This is their recommendation:
… It is recommended that a sensible solution be found to deal with situations where fewer than 5 voyages are required …
Minister, why did you just tell me that it was the Australian Shipowners Association's submission which suggested five? You have put it on the record of the Hansard. Do you now wish to correct the record or would you like me to send Ms Findlay over to work for you?
I am advised that I do need to correct the record and that the submission from the association was that but that a number of their members had indicated to government, through the roundtable, that they preferred the approach that was adopted.
Thank you, Minister, and it is adult to correct the record and I appreciate that. Well done. Which members of the association had a view different from that in the Australian Shipowners Association submission?
I want to go to another thing. Shipping Australia says in its submission to the House committee's inquiry:
It is impossible to forecast the movement of such cargoes over a twelve month period in terms of expected loading dates, kinds and volume of cargo, type of vessel and the ports of loading and unloading of the cargo.
This will be a particular problem for break-bulk and bulk industries. How do you see them dealing with the issues of assessment of the cargoes they have in the bulk industries? What is the process that the department has gone through for assessment, which is going to be an obvious dilemma for bulk industries? In the collection of this data, did we do any analysis of what the possible upstream effects would be for those supplying those bulk commodities? Have we done an assessment as to the sensitivities in the coal industry and the grain industry and how this will affect them? Was this decision made in light of what the effects on the industries involved would be or was it made with the exclusion of what the effects on the industries involved would be?
I am advised that there is no difference between the treatment of bulk cargoes and that of other cargoes—five voyages a year is the requirement—and that the bulk of the industry or shippers actually have more than five voyages a year. We are actually talking about a very small number of people on the edge of these arrangements.
Minister, obviously this has a cost effect on the transportation of goods. In light of this legislation was any study done into what the effect will be on the competitiveness of the industry? Transport is a major component of the cost of some of these items. Have we done any assessment of what the effects will be and what the sensitivities will be with this legislation vis-a-vis competition, for instance, in coal as to Indonesia? As you know, the Indonesians are coming into our coal markets. I think they are now a bigger exporter of coal than we are. So have we done any assessment of that and of grains? Have we done any assessment of whether this affects our competitiveness in the grain market and whether the costs will then be taken back to growers, especially those in the grain market? These people do not have the capacity to absorb costs. That is especially so given that regionally based monopolies are now predominantly involved in the exporting of grain. So will they just therefore put the costs back onto the grower? By reason of this legislation will there be a reduction in return to wheat growers and barley growers and to the coal industry?
Minister, I want to quote to you something that Caltex said:
Given the variable nature of our operations it is not possible for Caltex to nominate its coastal trade for the coming 12 months because this is not known nor planned more than three months in advance. This has been the normal operating practice of Caltex, which will be adversely impacted by the requirements of the TL—
Shell backed this assertion. It said:
Overall the Temporary Licence system appears more complicated and burdensome to both the oil industry and the Department than the existing Permit system, and in our opinion, will fail to deliver any of the objectives of the Act in respect to the oil tanker segment of the Australian shipping industry.
Seeing that we currently have immense pressures that are currently being put on the refining industry and seeing that we are talking about the most effective large-scale movement of their product between major capitals—given that we are probably going back to one or two refining capacities on the eastern coast so this is about bulk movement and refining capacity—do you see that the pressures from this could be part and parcel of a cost position that means ultimately we start to put out of business our own refining capacity, to be replaced with the importation of refined fuel, and as such more Australian workers will lose their jobs?
Senator, I think Caltex's statement may well have appeared prior to the bill being amended, prior to the exposure draft consultations. The government amended the bill to provide the flexibility for the three-month period.
Minister, in your analysis of the Australian Shipowners Association submission—because you keep quoting it as the relevant source of consultation in not agreeing to these amendments—do you believe that you have given an accurate assessment of what the Australian Shipowners Association submission says and what they wish in trying to convert this bill into something that is more palatable, or are you relying predominantly on what you perceive to be sections, or what some people at some roundtable have said? Do you wish to stand by your views that the Australian Shipowners Association back your position to reject these amendments, or are you saying that it is sections of the Australian Shipowners Association that may be onside with your amendments?
Senator, I think you have misrepresented what I actually said. I was asked about a specific matter. I incorrectly, on advice, provided that information to the Senate. I have corrected the record in that regard and indicated to you the process by which the government sought to ensure that there was appropriate industry consultation.
On the general issue of consultation, this is a package of measures which has had a long and thorough process of consultation and review through this parliament, starting back in 2007. There was, of course, a House of Representatives committee. There was bipartisan support through a bipartisan report in October 2008 recommending a policy framework to revitalise the shipping industry. In 2009, the government convened the Shipping Policy Advisory Group, comprising shippers, industry and unions, to advise on the best means to implement those recommendations. In 2010, there were election commitments for a discussion paper, which was released and there were public comments on the proposed reforms. In 2011, the government established three industry reference groups to work through the details of these reforms. These included two roundtables which were attended by Minister Albanese. Again, these groups comprised a cross-section of the industry. In 2011 and early 2012, exposure drafts of the bill were released for public comment and a further roundtable was held in February to enable industry to work through the details with officials. That is hardly what I would say would reflect a lack of consultation with the industry.
These amendments—and the proposal which we have already seen defeated in this chamber for further delays in the introduction of these measures—in my view, are not a genuine reflection on these questions but in fact are a means by which to maintain the existing uneven arrangements, unfair arrangements, within the industry.
The government's view is that these issues are urgent. Despite the amazing amounts of consultation that have been engaged in, there is always going to be someone who will say, 'Give us more time to delay these measures.' That is not the position the government holds. We are seeking to have these measures introduced as quickly as possible.
There is always a vast difference between consultation and dictation. What people believe is that, when you enter into consultation, their views, which they have given, will be incorporated in the outcome that you propose in some way, shape or form. But, when there is a discussion but it is a waste of time because you end up in the position that the government wants rather than the position that industry wants, that is not consultation. That is a process that is rhetorical but it is not consultation. Consultation somehow works on the premise that the other person gets heard and not only heard—and I have no doubt you did hear them—but actually responded to in such a way that the outcome is seen in the legislation provided.
Minister, in a submission to the House Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications inquiry, Shipping Australia said, of the five-voyage minimum limit to the variation process:
This simply does not make sense. If an applicant does expect to have five voyages over the twelve month period—
of a temporary licence—
but then finds he has seven voyages he can’t seek a variation to the temporary licence?
Is that correct?
If, therefore, they presume that they need three and find out later that they need seven, can you please spell out the process of how they get themselves a temporary licence in that 12-month period?
I might just drill down into that. Let me restate the question that I am asking. A person says, 'I need three voyages'—they cannot get a temporary licence—but later on says, 'Hang on, I need seven'. Let us make this easy for everybody; let us say it is over the July to June period. In July they say, 'We need three'. They get to September and a big wheat crop is coming in, and they say, 'Hang on, we had better book a couple more boats. We'll need seven.' Can they then go back and get a temporary licence? Or do you say, 'Sorry, mate, you only applied for three, so you are not going to get seven' and you do not get a temporary licence—is that the deal?
I am advised that, in 2010-11, 97 per cent of permits were issued to operators who used five or more permits. For a small number of operators requiring fewer than five voyages, the new arrangements will require reconsideration of their operational requirements. That is the basis on which this legislation has been put together following extensive consultation with industry.
As I stated before, we have talked about the extensive consultation and we have already quoted back the Australian Shipowners submission. We have already got a correction from the minister on an issue, because the proposal was not a clear reflection of the consultation with or the recommendation of the association he quoted. What we are trying to do now is delve into the issue—just to show you how Kafkaesque and ridiculous this is—of an organisation which honestly says they only need three voyages. They are not trying to be spurious or ridiculous; they tell the truth by saying they only need three and so they cannot get a temporary licence. Then a massive wheat crop comes in and they say, 'We have a chance to make some money here. We have a chance to go from that three per cent of shipping into a big shipper.' No-one ever becomes a big shipper without starting as a small shipper. We have to remember that. They say three per cent, but it is a wonder that three per cent exists, when you have something as cumbersome as this. This is probably why there is only three per cent, because you are not allowing people the capacity to grow. You are saying, 'You're a five or you're zero'.
Let us put this on the record. They start in July and they say they only need three. They find out later on they need seven, and if they had put that information in at the start they would have got themselves a temporary licence. But they are stuck in September without a temporary licence. Can they go back and say, 'Look, we said three. We now realise that it is seven. Therefore we need a temporary licence.' Can they get that temporary licence or is it no go and they have to wait for the next period? And when is that next period?
My advice is that there is no date on which the applications are made. Companies can make applications throughout the year to meet their operational requirements. The bill aims to encourage greater planning in the industry and to provide greater visibility of the trades around the coast. By setting a minimum number of voyages, both the shippers and operators can enter into commercial negotiations based on longer-term business arrangements, which of course provides greater certainty for both parties. The policy intent of these measures, after consultation with the industry, is to provide a better operating basis for the industry as a whole. Senator, you are obviously concerned about very small numbers of people in, given all the advice that has been put to me, very unusual circumstances. I suggest that it might pay you to look at the 97 per cent of permits that are being issued to operators who use five or more permits.
Thank you. I think we are getting somewhere now. The minister has now answered 'Yes'. We all heard that. It is in Hansard; we can all read it. It changes things for that coastal shipping operator who starts their 12-month period only needing three, but gets to a point where they say, 'Hang on, that's changed. We need seven.' I asked the question—I am sure the people in the gallery will remember this—does that mean that they can go back and get a temporary licence in September to deal with the seven? The answer came back, 'Yes, they can'. We are on the record now. That is now the position of the government. The minister must realise that. He has answered the question and the answer is yes. That changes things a bit, doesn't it? This was the position: if, for example, an applicant wanted to add two new voyages to their temporary licence in a 12-month period, they were unable to do so. If no other vessel was available, the goods would have to travel by road or rail or not at all. Now the case has changed. So, we have been very successful in the chamber today, because we have now changed a position of government. Thank you, Minister, for that. I appreciate that. It is a big win. It was not that hard, was it, Ms Findlay? We got there. If that is the government's position, I suppose we should go to a vote.
I have indicated, Senator, on numerous occasions that there is a minimum requirement of five, and companies can seek additional licences. As to beyond five, they are not required to have only five but I have made it very clear that the policy position is to encourage longer-term planning, and the minimum requirement can use a shipping agent to reduce the number of licences. Of course, Senator Joyce's proposal would take us back to a system which undermines the efficiency of the industry. This is about trying to reduce the process of single voyages and of single shippers trying to game the system. Senator JOYCE (Queensland—Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (13:44): It is quite obvious that this is mass confusion. This is how the government works. In the last 10 minutes we have had three different government positions.These are the same people running your debt, by the way. This is the same group that is apparently going to cool the planet. It is a very interesting day when, in 10 minutes, I can have three different positions.
You all heard it. We had a position at the start where you could not go beyond five—and then the minister answered that you could. Now we are back to the confusing position of not knowing whether you can or you cannot. We now have two completely different positions. We have the position, 'We'll just file it under the answer yes'. And we have the palaver we heard about three minutes ago. So I do not know the position. Who would know? Who out there in radioland would know what the government's position is? This is a quite simple question. There was nothing Socratic about what I asked. Let us have another crack at it. Let us refer to your answer 'yes'. Is that answer now really supposed to have been no?
I have nothing further to add, Senator. You are going around in circles. You are obviously seeking to filibuster this issue. I presume your intention is not to get a vote on this matter before question time. I am afraid I cannot add anything more to what I have answered. I answered the word 'yes' to a specific question in relation to specific measures on the advice of the officials. I have no reason to change that.
If you do not change it then the position stands. If you have three voyages planned and you find out through circumstances that come before you that you need seven—I asked the question, 'Could you change it?' and you answered yes. That is the position you have. You have now confirmed that you are not changing that position, so that is the position of the government. That is where we are. That is why we have a committee stage. It is now clearly on the record that this is the position. You have reaffirmed it. We needed five. Then we did not need five because we had three and needed seven. You can apply for it. The answer was yes.
Then you went back to a generic statement about five. Now you have gone back and confirmed your agreement to the statement 'yes'. Now we have four positions in 15 minutes. This is why you have to keep the committee stage going—because who would know your position? How is it that you are running the country? This is a simple piece of legislation. It is not that complicated. We are looking for a simple answer to a simple question. In 15 minutes we have had four different positions. It goes beyond comprehension. When are we going to get some competency? You now have two different positions before you. You have given them both. You have the position of, 'Yes, you can change to seven voyages through the middle of the year and that is all right'—even though you knew at the start that it was only three. Then you said, 'No.' Then you were back to yes. Which is it, Minister?
Senator, we know why you are keeping the committee stage going; it is because you want to filibuster this bill. It has nothing to do with any of the specifics of your question. I restate: there is a requirement under this bill for a minimum of five voyages. A shipper may apply for any number above five and may apply for that at any time throughout the year.
It is not Phil or Buster who is going to help you here. The issue is this. It may be that you do not want to answer—after the issue of having to retract your statement on the position of the Australian Shipowners Association after it was quoted back to you. That is thanks to Ms Finlay who managed to dig it out. She is obviously a very capable lady. You have five staff here in the chamber. We have one. Now we have a position where you are accusing us of filibustering when really the way to get yourself out of this hole is to answer the question.
To answer the question is quite simple. We set down clear criteria at the start. We gave a little story to go with it so that there was no way you could be confused. We asked quite clearly, 'If they started the year and they needed three ships and then the wheat harvest came in and they needed seven and it was in the 12-month period, could they apply for a temporary licence?' You stood—looked straight across—and said the answer was yes. I was happy because we had just changed government policy. It took 20 minutes. You started off by saying, 'No, you could not,' and then you gave me the answer yes. I thought: 'Beauty. We'll go to the vote. That's it. Locked in. Job done.' Then there was panic, and in panic he said 'We'll go back and give the generic "Let's talk about the number five"'. Just like Sesame Street. This really was not an answer or a non-answer; it was a nothing.
Then you confirmed, Senator Carr, that the answer you gave was the right answer. And so we are happy again. It means that we can apply for a temporary licence midway through the year. We are happy again. But we are oscillating around—that was the fourth change in position. Now we are back to the statement about it having to be five. So now we are unhappy. We do not know whether we are happy or unhappy. We are totally and utterly confused. You really need to go back to the question that we asked you—that is clearly on the record—and give an answer to the scenario that we laid down. That encapsulates the question. It was quite clear. They start the year and only need three. They find out later it is going to be a busy year. The wheat harvest comes in. They are going to need seven and will therefore need a temporary licence. Can they get one: yes or no? The answer you gave was on the Hansard: 'Yes'. In fact, you said it again.
Now we have the position of the government saying yes. In answer No. 5, you confirmed that the answer is yes. Now we are in a position where we really do not know the position. This is important. I bet you there are people listening to this trying to work out what on earth the government's position will be next.
We are only too happy to cease the debate when we get some sort of answer out of the minister that is comprehendible. What we have had today is complete absurdity. If we can get a straight answer, we can bring things to a conclusion. Just go back to the scenario and answer the question. You might want to say, Minister, that when you answered with the word 'yes' you actually meant to say the word 'no'. You made a little mistake—you said yes and you should have said no. But you are trying to get around it by not actually answering the question. Do you want to reflect on your answer now and say, 'Excuse me; when I said yes, I actually meant to say no'?
The natural state of affairs for the National Party is confusion. The natural state of affairs for you, Senator Barnaby Joyce, is of course confusion. You are seeking to filibuster this bill because you do not want to face up to your responsibilities to this country. You wrap yourself in the flag at every opportunity, but you refuse to actually do anything to defend Australian workers or defend Australian jobs. You have one interest, and that is to serve foreign interests. That is the name of the game, Senator. You are a disgrace.
That is a lot clearer now! Was that a yes or a no? Apparently, the problem is that I am wrapping myself in the Australian flag—why didn't I think of that? That was obviously the answer we were looking for, Ms Finlay!
The problem is that it is not about an answer of yes or no, it is not about the fact that we cannot get a straight answer; it is about some clandestine plot, personally orchestrated by me, to bring down the nation! I knew that that was what we were looking for! This is absurd. This is a senior member of the government of Australia. What a joke. What a ridiculous state of affairs. They are so utterly incompetent, so totally bereft of any capability whatsoever that they cannot read their own submission. Their own quotes are handed back to them and proved to be wrong. They end up with four, five and then six positions between five and 20 minutes. They are supposed to represent the government.
They get frustrated. They cannot answer the question. The minister cannot even correct himself and say, 'No, I made a mistake'—I am sure there is a less genteel way to put it—'I made a big boo-boo and I really should correct the record.' Does he correct the record? No. He goes into some diatribe about wrapping people in the Australian flag, traitors, Prince Philip, a one-world government and who knows what else, but he cannot actually give an answer. The thing about this is that it is such a classic exemplar of what this government is. These are the people who, in a couple of weeks, are going to cool the planet. Honestly, it is Pythonesque.
What exactly was that about me wrapping myself in the Australian flag and being the servant of foreign interests? Where does that sort of tripe come from? Why don't you just brief yourself on the legislation that is before you? Can't you understand how totally and utterly foolish saying that makes you look? Do you even comprehend how absolutely ridiculous you looked then? Does it make any sense to you? Do you care? Why don't you just go back to the record and correct your position? I am going to hold you to it. You have said the word 'yes'.
Madam Chair, I am going to hold him to it. His position is on the Hansard. He is a minister representing the government. He was given a direct question. He was asked to elucidate and he was given a framework in which to give a position, to answer the question. We even gave him a little story so he would not get confused. He gave the answer that, yes, people can get a temporary licence. It is on the Hansard; the answer is yes. That is the position he has given. That is now the position of the government. He was given the opportunity to retract it. He refused to retract it. Instead of retracting it, he told a story about me, by myself, somehow orchestrating from this side of the chamber a plan to bring down Australia, about me being the servant of foreign interests. And of course that is so logical!
Now we are sitting around waiting for an answer from the minister representing the Crown, the Hon. Kim Carr, who has accused me of being an agent of foreign governments and disguising it by seeking the refuge of a rogue, wrapping myself in the Australian flag. All I am really looking for is an explanation of the answer he gave, when he said yes. That was it, a monosyllabic 'yes', which was supposed to be a monosyllabic 'no', and he just does not have the capacity to go back to his position and correct the record.
I will take the interjection. The answer is not yes or no; the answer is actually that I am a secret service agent working for another government! I know this to be the case because Minister Carr has told me. I am a secret service agent. He is a complete and utter fool. This man is a clown.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: The question is that the amendments moved by Senator Joyce be agreed to.