THIS issue is no novelty for any readers or for myself. The question has been asked of me why this is considered by me to be so important. Why not just leave it like any other Armchair General stuff for “them” – the Federal Government – to sort out? The problem is that “they” have a whole list of other and more popular priorities, be it pet projects or political issues.
So, my answer is that I care very much about this and any other problem affecting Australia and its welfare. As a very proud Aussie since 50 years back I love my wonderful country dearly, as most of us do, whether our immigration dates back 50-60 years like mine or go back even further to the deportee shipment days 150 years. Unless, like some evidently lead us to believe, that these generations fell out of a gumtree.
I have travelled more than most, to about 130 countries and all of them close up, and it makes me wish that us Australians would achieve whatever we are still missing and need, so that we are second to none globally. We may not totally get there, but we should certainly try.
In my mild soapbox oratory ways I would refer to things like we, as the world’s largest uranium producer and exporter don’t have nuclear power, placing us behind countries like Slovakia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam etc. The refusal to go nuclear on environmental or moral grounds doesn’t ring true, since we evidently happily accept that our exports create the same problems as our governments envisage, except that it is away from our shores. That is, until we proceed with the proposed return of the wasted uranium for our underground storage. And in the meantime we suffer the world’s highest energy costs and risk severe rationing due to excessive and uncontrolled gas exports.
That we no longer can build cars, like Slovakia, Thailand, Iran, Romania, Morocco and Serbia and 80+ other countries do. And that we are behind 150 nations operating 50,000 merchant vessels internationally and employing a million seafarers of virtually every nationality.
Except Australia. Our coastal shipping is in the hands of foreign companies providing vacant slots, and the Australian National Line identity and naming rights are owned by the French CGM. There are virtually no Australian ships lifting any cargo, domestic or internationally. It leaves us exposed in case of a global shipping downturn, when our exports and imports flow could be severely impacted with huge negatives for our national economy, employment and cost of living.
Strategically it is also very unsound that we are not masters of our own destiny in terms of our transport seaborne links as distinct from air transport. Can you imagine all our domestic and international flights being carried out by foreign companies, maybe just leaving a hypothetic Sydney-Lord Howe island being run by Australia?
Australia used to be a seafaring nation, offering training like any other country and employment and indeed a culture segment that we should value. This is all gone. My approaches to Canberra have achieved nothing. On ministerial level I was told that we have “a vibrant maritime industry participation”, when only 2% of our international cargo is carried by Australian flag: just four vessels carrying LNG exports from the NW Shelf to Asia. My contact with a shadow minister’s minders was received by a suggestion that I was “a journo looking for trouble”.
The responsibility clearly rests with our two opposing top leaders, and I feel they have an obligation to tell their countrymen and women what is in store for us in this area, what their planning and target dates are. Or if there are no such plans at all, meaning that the status quo would remain forever?
So I have written the below polite Open Memo addressed to both Mr Turnbull and Mr Shorten and asked for a reply before the next edition of Lloyd’s List Australia. We will see what happens. The memo is a one-off effort of desperation.
Do you agree with Captain Harry’s assessment of the state of Australian shipping? Leave a comment below or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
From the print edition October 5, 2017