Sunday 18th Nov, 2018

THE SHIPPING LIFE: All quiet on the coastal front


IN THE October 5 issue, we included a polite Open Memo for Mr Turnbull and Mr Shorten calling for a response on the matter of Australian restoration of its long gone international shipping, which is so essential for the sake of our economy, security, maintenance of maritime skills, employment, etc. The list is almost indefinite. The document was copied to the offices of both persons, but the PM’s staff advised that they did not know if he would ever see it, and they did not know when they may know if he would ever see it, and in any case nor would they indicate if or when any response at all would be forthcoming. “Yes Minister” springs to mind. But it would be filed away safely, which is comforting to know. Mr Shorten has not replied either.

It may be timely to draw to their attention part of the Parliament’s Infosheet #15: “A key aspect of communication from a Member is keeping constituents informed of developments of policy and the implications of government’s decisions and activity”.

It reminded me of the circa 24 repeats of our recent and futile requests to a minister for a reply to his office’s statement that Australia’s flag carrying of maximum 2% of its international trade was a sign of “a vibrant Australian shipping”. Still no reply, which is why I wrote to the PM, asking for a reply by October 13, which we didn’t get either.

It was then drawn to my attention that an important Green Paper covering Australia’s proposed entry into International Trade had been submitted to the new transport minister Darren Chester in December, 2016 but had been totally ignored and it so remains today. Another minister told me years ago: “Dealing with the mob (means the Australian taxpaying public paying politicians’ wages and perks) is easy – just ignore them, and what can they do about it”.

Maritime Industry Australia Limited (MIAL) CEO Teresa Lloyd has tabled a recent economic analysis on the contribution of the industry showing that improving the regulatory and fiscal settings for Australian based operations provides the following benefits:

  1. Increase GDP to more than $25 billion;
  2. Increase employment to over 54,000;
  3. Increase tax revenue to a total of $2.154 billion.

Most importantly, these economic benefits can be achieved at no net cost to the Australian economy. But it seems that the Federal Government and the Opposition don’t want to have a bar of it. MIAL point out, that 2016 is also classified by the Chinese as The Year of the Monkey. That the monkey symbolises cleverness. And that clever is not always simple or easy. Well said.

I often reflect how lucky the Americans are, where cabinet ministers (US “Secretaries”) can be drawn from any field or profession, with no need to involve politicians at all. Ideally, in Australia a minister for shipping should be a successful ex-shipping industry executive; Health to a doctor; Defence to ex-senior military people; Treasury to an ex-finance notable, and so on.

A gaffe by our then Environmental Minister was to refer to the need for “Australia to protect the (nonexistent) walruses in Antarctica”, in this case having omitted to check up his facts on Google and Wikipedia, as is his stated custom! He was moved from walrus issues to humans as our new Health Minister.

In Australia it is just an eternal internal political numbers game of reshuffling, often of just promoted ex. party hacks, who never held a commercial job, let alone having active experience from the respective ministerial fields. It is like trying to grow mangoes on the Moon.

I have also had some very constructive discussions with the Australian Maritime Officers Union, which represents all Australian Merchant Navy Captains and Officers, whose ranks are now rapidly diminishing with the disappearance of the vital Australian International Shipping.

AMOU’s Industrial Officer Jarrod Moran advises that a meeting was held with Transport Minister Darren Chester in April, 2016. Furthermore, that despite indications of future consultations, nothing was heard until a legislative change bill was dropped into the Parliament on 13th September, 2017, some 18 months later! Jarrod goes on to say that during that whole period nobody from the ministerial office or the Department ever contacted AMOU to ask for their views on any issues.

All requests for meetings have come from the AMOU. He says “In our view the Government’s proposals will do nothing to arrest the decline in local content in [Australian] shipping. These proposals will not provide one extra Australian job in our maritime industry or put one extra Australian flagged ship on our coast. In fact they will make it easier for foreign ships with foreign crews to operate on the Australian coast and even extend foreign involvement into our offshore oil and gas industry”.

I share the principle of his concluding remarks that we need:

    • –   A vision for Australia’s Maritime industry and an appropriately significant role for Australians;
    • –   Places for Australian seafarers to gain sea-time;
    • –   Support for the Australian Government’s vision for the 50 year naval build, which requires local seafarers for trials.

And finally, an Australian strategic fleet and which boosts national security, specifically including fuel supply security. The AMOU shares my concern over the possibility of hostile foreign terrorist nations and their intelligence agencies realising and acting on the vital importance of Australia’s reliance on uninterrupted supplies. The RAN undertaking to keep the sea lanes protected is of little use if the ships are blown up mid-ocean by pre-planted limpet mines!

In conclusion, all parties I have spoken to, and each one of the very many who have written to me are of the same views as myself, with not a single objector; the consensus is “that it is a travesty for Australia to squander the opportunity we have to become a great maritime nation!

How any political party of any colour can allow itself to remain silent on this vital issue doesn’t speak highly of them!” Perhaps this general attitude of incommunicado helps to explain why both political leaders enjoy a net approval rating in the mid 30% range – just one in three Australians. One Australian industry group informed me that they had decided that further contact with the Federal Government was useless.

Australian flag oil tankers

I have since been informed by the AMOU, that there is a further problem if early steps are not taken.

Australian mariners with tanker endorsements are currently unemployed, and without sea-time on tankers their endorsements will laps in around four years.

This would mean an important loss to Australia of hundreds of skilled maritime specialist ships commanders, a loss that may never be recovered. Surely this must be considered an important Australian asset, like losing a whole swag of specially trained airline pilots if we gave preference to foreign carriers, as now is the deplorable case with the international shipping.

The AMOU wrote a submission to Minister Chester’s Department dated 21st March, 2017. No reply has been received from anyone, six months later.

The Lloyd’s List Australia change of name to DCN – Daily Cargo News

The DCN was Australia’s first newspaper in 1891! For myself and my ex-colleagues, this brings us around a full circle to the early 1970s, when the DCN was a vital part of the daily life for “anyone who was anyone” in Australian shipping.

We as Orient Shipping were initially perceived as an “underdog taking on the Mighty Poms” in the ancient shipping scenario with Asia, and in true Aussie tradition we did get some nice editorial support to back up all the popular welcomes we got from the long suffering and exploited (through overtonnaging) trade’s exporters and importers.

The DCN individuals became great friends from publisher Maxwell Newton down, so much so that Max, totally without my approval, arranged for me to be a guest speaker at the Sydney Rugby Club on the matter of Aussie rugby. Problem was that I knew very little of the game, didn’t have time to follow any team, but he insisted and said I would be all right, since I could “sell ice to the eskimos”.

I may as well have been writing about the love life of scorpions or bulls (there are similarities in the game), but I drafted and gave a speech, which I largely didn’t understand myself, but I was saved at question time by Max, who took it upon himself (“with your permission, Harry”) to reply in my place. I was given an honorary club member pullover.

A regular DCN staff visitor would come in to our office for Friday 5 o’clock drinks, and one time he complained that he had to go to the Opera House with his missus, who was heavily into the religious singsongs scheduled that night.

To brace himself, he downed a quite excessive number of G&Ts, so much so, that we couldn’t allow him to go to the Opera House, even assuming he could find it from our Bridge Street office.

So I drove him home and had him start to get ready for bed, and I called the Opera House and paged his wife. I then told her that her husband had had a small fatigue collapse due to overwork, as diagnosed by our fictitious company doctor, but that he was quite OK now, only needed uninterrupted sleep over the weekend, thoughtfully with no more garden work thrown in (he hated it) until he volunteered himself for it.

Our friend didn’t help the phone call by insisting on singing seamen’s ballads in the background.

All this was believed, and he was treated as a king the whole weekend and the next few days. Until he came home a bit under the weather, and so it was the end of a beautiful dream. Back to the weeds.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish Paragon Media well as the new owners of the DCN.

From the print edition October 19, 2017

* Captain Harry Mansson AM is a Master Mariner, a retired ship’s Captain, with a subsequent varied background as an international consultant to the United Nations/World Bank to a shipping management entrepreneur. He has enjoyed a stellar career at sea and onshore.

Starting with the Swedish Merchant Navy, he also served as an officer in the Swedish Royal Navy sweeping active mines. In 1972 he established Orient Shipping Services Pty Ltd as the general agent for the entry of the Orient Overseas Line (now OOCL) into the Asia/ Australia trade. In 1993 he was deservedly awarded the Order of Australia for services to shipping and international trade.

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