OPPOSITION leader Bill Shorten has committed Labor to “making Australia a seafaring nation again”.

Speaking at the naming ceremony for new Toll ship Victorian Reliance II, Mr Shorten said Australia was “the only country in the world upon who is bestowed the great good fortune of being the custodian of a continent”.

“We are an island nation, we are a seafaring nation. We have the people, we have the skills, we have the knowhow and the get-up and go to rebuild an Australian merchant fleet, a national strategic reserve,” he told the gathering.

“And if we are elected, just as the company [Toll Group] and the workforce have shown the confidence to launch two ships, I promise you that the next Labor government, if we are elected, will make Australia a seafaring nation again, with many more Australian ships.

Mr Shorten said Australia had 100 vessels sailing under the red ensign 30 years ago, but that number had plummeted.

“This magnificent ship today will be just one of 14. It does not have to be this way,” he said.

“America (US), Japan, Germany, Greece, Norway, Italy, Belgium, Great Britain. They all have many more registered ships than Australia. Switzerland has more registered ships and it doesn’t even have an ocean.”

As guest speaker, Mr Shorten said he came from a family of seafarers and visiting the ship brought back memories.

“Once upon a time, the launching of Australian ships was far more common than it is today.

 “I remember as a little boy my brother and I coming down to the docks. We would visit my father at his work,” he said.

“I remember falling in love with the ships, the sheer scale of the machinery, the energy and the productive nature of skilled workers going to work every day.”

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Mr Shorten noted “the colourful characters” on the wharves and learning “a few new words” but “most of all the pride of the maritime industry”.

 “I congratulate everyone who works at Toll from the chairman and the managing director through to every participant.

“I congratulate you in particular for supporting Australian shipping, Australian seafarers and Australian jobs.

Maritime Industry Australia chief executive Teresa Lloyd welcomed Mr Shorten’s commitment.

“We need harbour masters, marine pilots, safety inspectors and environmental regulators to keep our economy moving. Skilled seafarers are critical to filling these roles,” Ms Lloyd said.

“Developing seafaring skills in Australia is difficult when there are a limited number of ships available to train and work on,” she said.

“The creation of a Strategic Fleet has potential to solve our skilled seafarer shortage, create jobs, and secure supply chains and critical infrastructure.”

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