CREW change restrictions during COVID-19 risk becoming an economic issue as well as a human rights one, Ports Australia believes, with seafarers refusing to sail if they know they cannot safely get home.

Ports Australia CEO Mike Gallacher and director policy and operations Margie Barbouttis recently addressed the parliamentary Joint Committee Inquiry into the implications of COVID-19 for Australia’s foreign affairs, defence and trade.

“Crises such as the restrictions on crew-changes and shore leave across Australia are going to become far worse if their criticality is not recognised quickly,” Mr Gallacher said following the hearing.

“The hardships will begin to extend beyond human rights of seafarers being threatened to dire economic consequences, as we see more crews refusing to continue work, leaving ships at port unmanned and their cargo halted.”

Prior to the hearing, Ports Australia lodged a formal submission to the inquiry, outlining recommendations for governments to consider to improve supply chain integrity and flexibility.

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The submission recommended governments consider coastal trading to enhance supply chain flexibility while commonly used land freight routes were burdened by COVID-19.

According to the submission, Ports Australia believes there are opportunities along the “blue highway” where cargo usually hauled for trains and trucks can be transported.

Ports Australia also noted efforts to strengthen regional relationships, with reference being made to their newest members from across the South Pacific, including New Zealand.

Mike Gallacher believes the pandemic increases the need for more coastal shipping. Credit: DCN

Mr Gallacher said he was encouraged by the committee’s engagement with the various challenges facing the ports sector.

“Ports Australia welcomes the wide lines of questioning posed by the committee as it crystallises their engagement with industry and willingness to take recommendations on how to better prepare Australia’s supply chain for future challenges like COVID-19,” he said.

“Our interaction with the committee is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to our constant collaboration with governments across Australia and advocacy for the ports industry, which has and will continue throughout the pandemic period.”

Mr Gallacher said the committee also listened to the PA call for governments to consider a single “source of truth document” produced and routinely updated by the Australian government, for communicating all pandemic-related policy and regulatory changes and a single contact point for all pandemic related matters.

This call for greater transparency comes after several months of what PA said was the Australian states and territories “failing to align” under the National Cabinet agreed class exemption for non-cruise maritime crew.

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