THE federal government has reaffirmed its commitment to overhauling Australia’s coastal shipping regulation, after releasing a new research report demonstrating how Labor’s shipping regime is uncompetitive, inefficient and has led to a decline in local ocean freight.

Speaking at a recent Shipping Australia Luncheon in Sydney, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development Warren Truss, released the Australian Sea Freight 2012-13 report, compiled by the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics.

“Unsurprisingly, the report indicates that the vast majority of Australia’s international trade, by volume, is transported by ship… 99.5 per cent in fact,” Mr Truss said.

“Over $400 billion worth of international cargo moved across Australian ports in 2012–13, and some 4,900 cargo ships made almost 14,000 visits from overseas to Australian ports.

“Those numbers are ever-growing. So it is clear that the ocean will always be our key export and import gateway to the world, but it is domestically where we need to refocus our attentions.”

Minister Truss said that while freight movements continued to play an important role in Australian exports and imports, a fall in freight tonnage reflected the impact of a poor policy framework.

“Under Labor’s flawed, bureaucratic and protectionist tiered licencing system, there were almost 1,000 fewer coastal voyages and almost 2 million fewer tonnes of freight moved by foreign flagged temporary licenced vessels in its first year of operation,” he said.

“While the number of vessels has marginally increased in the last year since the period of the Report, the deadweight tonnage, or carrying capacity of the coastal fleet, is a shadow of its former self, plummeting by 64 per cent over the two years of Labor’s Coastal Trading Act.”

Emphasising the need to globalise Australia’s economy, Minister Truss said the federal government had commenced consultation with industry for reform.

“I want to reaffirm that the government is committed to a viable and feasible coastal shipping framework that enables the industry to operate effectively and serves the national interest,” he said.

“Our response will be consistent with the guiding principles of the Coalition Government to reduce red tape and increase productivity and international competitiveness.”

Welcoming the minister’s comments, AMMA chief executive Steve Knott said Australia’s ‘coastal highways’ should be a competitive advantage for the nation, not a major cost drain on local employers.

“More effective and efficient coastal shipping regulation will better support Australian businesses competing in the global marketplace,” Mr Knott says.

“Labor’s changes to Coastal Shipping were a sop to maritime unions and this protectionist dogma, masquerading as saving Australian jobs, actually has and is costing jobs in the broader Australian economy. This needs urgent redress.”

Following the repeal of the carbon and mining taxes and slashing red tape for project approvals and exploration, Mr Knott said coastal shipping is another important step in removing key impediments to doing business in and with Australia.