Tony Abbott has stepped into a dispute about whether North Star Cruises Australia (NSCA), the well-known luxury adventure cruise company operating in Western Australia’s Kimberley region, was advised by a government official to sack its Aussie crew and hire foreign replacements.
North Star Cruises operates the expedition ship True North. Its representative Bill Milby told ABC News his company’s research showed foreign crew were paid half of what North Star paid its Australian crews.
North Star is concerned about the type of competition it may face if Australia’s Coastal Shipping Act is changed. An uneven playing field would make it impossible for North Star to compete, Milby said.
A Senate inquiry is currently looking at the proposed deregulation of the shipping industry, which would include easing labour restrictions and letting foreign-flagged ships avoid paying local wages or meeting Australian conditions if in Australia for six months or less.
“We think that in trying to reduce red tape, the Government and the department has gone too far, and not considered the consequences of the rules and regulations that will be put in place,” Milby said.
North Star said a senior Federal Government bureaucrat had suggested it consider sacking its Australian workforce and hiring foreign labour instead.
The company’s submission to the Senate inquiry, as cited by ABC News, said a Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development official had told the company: “If NSCA wanted to remain competitive with the foreign owned and crewed ships it should … ‘consider taking our ship ‘True North’ off the Australian Shipping Register, re-register the ship in a suitable foreign country, lay off our Australian crew and hire a cheaper foreign crew’.”
“When she suggested this I told her that I could not believe the suggestion she made and she said … ‘to remain competitive in the world that is what we should do’.”
At that, Prime Minister Tony Abbott stepped in to deny the North Star allegations.
The allegations were “just not true”, Abbott said, adding that his Government was only trying to “restore the situation which operated under the Howard government and end Labor’s job-destroying, cost-inflating, coastal shipping regime”.
Abbott said the Labor changes had pushed up costs for Australian shipping by almost 65% in the first year.
North Star Cruises Australia, winner of numerous awards for excellence, is proud to be Australian.
Its ship True North travels with an on-board helicopter and the company website states: “The crew of the True North are generally young Australians which creates a truly authentic onboard experience.
“Our crew are very much part of onboard life – you may even feel as though they are having just as much fun as you are. That’s because they are – every day is an adventure for the crew as well and you will not be able to resist their enthusiasm and passion!”
Written by Peter Needham