Red Ensign - Australia.jpg

The Australian Labor Party (ALP) has unveiled a plan to establish an independent Strategic Fleet of Australian flagged and crewed vessels.

The aim is to restore Australia’s domestic shipping sector and guarantee national trading and shipping capacity in times of crisis or national disaster. Moreover, the aim is to secure “ongoing access to fuel supplies and other essential imports”. More than most nations, Australia is dependent on seaborne trade. Shipping accounts for 99 per cent of Australia’s imports and exports of goods, including fuel.

“Despite this, for eight long years the Morrison-Joyce Government has put our national security and economic sovereignty at risk by standing idle as large multinationals dumped Australian flagged and crewed vessels so they could hire cheaper overseas crews,” a statement issued by Anthony Albanese, leader of the ALP, reads. “Right now, less than one per cent of Australian seaborne trade is carried by Australian ships, forcing our nation to reply on foreign governments and companies for our essential imports.” “As a first step, an incoming Albanese Labor Government will appoint a Taskforce to guide it on the establishment of the Fleet as quickly as possible. While these ships will likely be privately owned and operate on a commercial basis, we will ensure they are available for use by the Defence Forces in times of national crisis, whether that be natural disaster or conflict,” the ALP leader explained.

Specifically, the taskforce will include representatives from the shipping industry, major charterers, unions, Australian business and the Department of Defence. The ALP also intends to close loopholes in the existing regulatory framework to help rebuild Australian shipping.

In a separate statement, the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) said that, under successive Liberal Prime Ministers, the Coalition Government has failed the nation by allowing the domestic maritime capability to be eroded to the point where Australian supply-chains are held totally hostage to decision-making by international shipping cartels and other countries’ political leaders rather than the Australian government. The MUA further said it has always believed that a vital element in Australia’s national security is a sovereign shipping capability, which is becoming even more important as the international security situation in the region becomes less certain and Australian fuel reserves dwindle to less than 70 days’ capacity. The lack of fuel security has been described as a “national security Achilles’ heel” by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

“Australia once had a vibrant national shipping industry and the MUA supports Anthony Albanese’s plan to rebuild an Australian owned, Australian crewed fleet,” MUA stated.

Cabotage, a legislative instrument to restrict the operation of coastal trading to locally registered or operated ships, is a feature of most maritime countries worldwide, particularly where the national interest relies heavily on shipping, such as China, the United States, Canada, the Philippines and Japan, according to MUA.

“A lack of Australian flagged and crewed ships, particularly on short sea domestic shipping lanes, has undermined any hope of a dynamic, resilient national supply chain and robbed us of any strategic advantage against the manipulative conduct of international shipping cartels that hold our imports and exports hostage. This has been thrown into stark focus by the massive disruptions to our national supply chains during the COVID-19 crisis.”

“Fuel security is vital to the economic and social needs of our nation and it’s reckless in the extreme to be reliant on foreign-flagged and foreign owned shipping to maintain our fuel supply. At the moment, however, even the Royal Australian Navy is ringing the alarm bell about their access to adequate fuel reserves.” “A national strategic fleet could be employed transferring our strategic fuel reserve from its current location, in the US, and bringing our fuel to Australia where it will be in high demand in the event of an international crisis or disaster.”

Maritime Industry Australia Ltd (MIAL), which represents the collective interests of maritime businesses, has welcomed the ALP’s commitment to build an independent Strategic Fleet.

“Australian ownership and control of shipping capability is as essential to our national prosperity as Australian miners, farmers, and manufacturers,” Teresa Lloyd, MIAL CEO, said. “A strategic maritime fleet provides a trifecta of benefits — security of key supply chains; jobs for highly sought-after maritime skills; and economic stimulus to the nation.”

“As an island nation, ships must form part of Australia’s critical infrastructure — this means Australian-based businesses having some level of participation in maritime supply lanes.” “A strategic fleet will help to reignite Australian maritime activity, kick start homegrown capability and assist Australian businesses to be able to compete internationally, reinforcing our supply chain and civil maritime security,” Lloyd concluded.