Shorten pledges on Aussie ships and crew

Nationalised fuel reserves to protect local supply

• Labor leader Bill Shorten makes his pitch for a bolstered Australian merchant navy to union members in Fremantle on Thursday.

LABOR would create nationalised fuel reserves to ensure local supplies don’t run dry during times of global insecurity.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten announced Labor’s plan at the state conference of the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining Energy Union at the Esplanade Hotel in Fremantle on Thursday.

His appearance continued Labor’s blitz in WA where it hopes to pick up several seats in the looming federal election.

Earlier in the week Mr Shorten’s deputy Tanya Plibersek also addressed the unionists about Labor’s labor relations platforms.

Mr Shorten said Australia had fallen behind in its international obligations to keep 90 days’ worth of fuel in reserve.

“Right now for jet fuel we have 23 days; diesel 22 days, automotive gas 19 days,” Mr Shorten said.

Biofuels

“If a Labor government is elected we will create a national fuel reserve, we will establish an Australian fuel security corporation to purchase and manage our national fuel reserve and help drive research into biofuels,” he said.

Research into hydrogen would also be ramped up.

Australia became a net importer of oil in 2012, which he says puts it at the wrong end of the international supply chain.

“This puts our country and our people at the mercy of events beyond our shores,” Mr Shorten says.

“If other nations need their fuel supplies, we will be forgotten.”

He didn’t put a figure on what the reserves would cost to purchase, store and maintain, but claimed it could be done without hitting the budget.

The Opposition leader also received rapturous applause when repeating his promise of earlier this week to bolster Australia’s merchant navy.

Many in the crowd were members of the Maritime Union of Australia, which recently merged with the CFMEU.

“Thirty years ago Australia had 100 vessels in our merchant marine … flying the Australian flag,” he said.

“Today we have 14.

“In times of global uncertainty and tension and insecurity, we do not have a merchant marine commercial fleet of any size which we control to move cargo; iron ore, coal, fuel, oil and indeed troops around our coastline to other parts.”

Foreign vessels

The announcement was good news for MUA member Allan Kellman, who the Chook found looking somewhat forlorn outside the conference a few days earlier.

Mr Kellman was a victim of rule changes which have allowed shipping companies to sack Australian seafarers and take on international crews who’ve been reportedly paid as low as $2 an hour.

“I worked for 14 years on the MV Portland carrying cargo for Alcoa, and we never lost a single day over an industrial dispute,” Mr Kellman said.

“But four years ago they sacked us and let a foreign vessel to take over the route.

“I’ve had just a couple of weeks of work since then.”

Mr Shorten promised Labor would crack down on “dodgy licences” that have allowed ships to operate under the international rules despite spending most of their time in Australian waters.

by STEVE GRANT

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