AHEAD of the upcoming federal election, Human Rights at Sea has reinforced its call for Australia to secure sustainable funding for seafarer welfare through a dedicated maritime levy.
The broader maritime levy campaign aims to identify potential shortfalls in coastal states’ maritime legislation which may hinder the provision of support to seafarers’ welfare facilities.
Earlier this year, the UK-based NGO published an opinion formed by an external legal counsel concerning the funding of seafarer welfare facilities in Australia.
It observed that Australia may eventually breach its welfare obligations under the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 if it doesn’t take steps to secure sufficient funding for shore-based welfare facilities.
HRAS CEO David Hammond told DCN the focus on Australia was driven by the success of a similar campaign in New Zealand last year which, according to the country’s transport minister, has laid the foundation for long-term funding for seafarers’ welfare services.
“The next natural location for scaling-up was Australia, also noting the forming of a new government this month and therefore an early opportunity for the NZ welfare precedent to be extended,” Mr Hammond said.
Referring to 2020 data from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, Mr Hammond said Australia received more than 26,000 ship visits from more than 6000 vessels despite restrictions on global shipping movements that year.
“We assess any change to Australian legislation in favour of sustainable levy funding could affect circa 250,000 seafarers per annum across the 41 ports listed by Ports Australia,” he said.
“Even conservative estimates mean that, should updated legislation be passed as suggested in our recent counsel’s opinion, then better welfare financial safeguards could be easily secured for an island nation from which reportedly 98% of goods come by sea.”
Mr Hammond said both government and industry have a role to play in safeguarding seafarers’ welfare and that responsibilities around both funding and the protection of maritime workers’ human and labour rights originate at national level, under national and international law.
“In the current matter of lobbying for a legislative amendment to assure future sustainability this matter certainly needs all hands-on-deck to establish the accurate facts, collate the positions of all stakeholders, draft the report to government and to deliver an overwhelming reasoning that simply cannot be ignored.”
Mr Hammond suggested the levy funds are already there, but issues around quantifying how much is available and how the funds can be fairly allocated and distributed remain.
“Importantly, none of those operational level issues should prevent a first step of updating primary legislation to provide the legal requirement assuring long-term change.”
Mr Hammond said the remainder of the administrative detail should not be side-stepped, framed as complex, or considered too difficult to achieve. He highlighted the risk of allowing what he described as “paralysis by analysis”.
“Every day that goes by is a day that we collectively fail those very seafarers that supply 98% of goods entering and leaving Australia,” he said.
“If the MLC can be amended for the better, so can national legislation with the addition of a few careful words and which we have taken the liberty of suggesting through leading shipping counsel’s opinion.”