Maritime authority knew Australian workers would be replaced with foreign workforce on Alcoa’s MV Portland, Senate committee hears
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) was aware an Australian crew would be removed from the cargo ship MV Portland three weeks before they were escorted off and replaced with foreign workers, a Senate committee has heard.
The workers were replaced with a foreign crew last month, ending a lengthy standoff with the ship’s operator, Alcoa.
AMSA CEO Mick Kinley told a Senate estimates committee that Alcoa submitted paperwork for the foreign workforce on December 21.
“And so they clearly indicated to you that they were going to replace the Australian crew with a foreign-sourced crew?” Labor senator Stephen Conroy asked.
“That’s what we understood from why they were applying for those certificates of recognition,” Mr Kinley said.
Mr Kinley told the committee he assumed AMSA would have notified the Infrastructure and Regional Development Department at the time, but he took the question on notice to check.
Workers and the Maritime Union of Australia were involved in a two-month standoff over Alcoa’s decision to switch to a foreign ship and crew.
Earlier, officials from the department told the committee they were not aware of the Australian workers being removed from MV Portland until it was reported in the media in January.
Dispute over Alcoa’s temporary licence intentions
Labor and the Greens questioned whether the department knew Alcoa was planning to sack the Australian crew when the company applied for a temporary licence to use a foreign-flagged ship to transport alumina between WA and Victoria.
Departmental official Michael Sutton granted the 12-month licence in October last year.
“Are you putting to this committee that you did not know that an Australian ship would go out of service when you issued that temporary licence?” Senator Conroy asked.
“The short answer is … I did not know it was going to go out of service,” Mr Sutton said.
Department secretary Mike Mrdak said it had not been practice for Australian operators to disclose they were removing a vessel.
The Government said it was unfair to expect the department to ask if the temporary licence was to replace a current Australian ship.
“No-one else asked the same question, including the MUA [Maritime Union of Australia], who were advised as part of that process,” duty minister Richard Colbeck said.
“If the MUA don’t ask that question or raise that concern why would you expect the officer to?”
But Senator Conroy dismissed that reasoning.
“You’re the delegate, you can’t shift it on to people who might reply to you or not,” he said.
The committee was also told the Government did not question whether Alcoa had a genuine commercial reason for needing the temporary licence, because the relevant legislation doesn’t act in that way.
Greens senator Janet Rice questioned the process.
“They don’t have to justify that to you, they just made a decision to do it,” she said.
“That’s correct, Senator, that’s the whole premise of the Act,” Mr Sutton replied.