Incoming Australian government should not kick the can on sustainable funding for seafarer welfare

The incoming Australian Government’s opportunity to assure long-term seafarer welfare funding and sustainability with minimal legislative amendment must not be derailed, side-stepped, nor the proverbial can kicked-down-the-road through paralysis of internal decision-making.

The NGO Human Rights at Sea on May 4 reiterated that Australia should amend the relevant legislation accordingly to secure long-term sustainable funding to support shore-based seafarer welfare services throughout the country.

Human Rights at Sea has undertaken a legislative review and issued a supporting counsel’s opinion identifying the need for legislative update. It has included suggested text and regulation amendment.

Meantime, stakeholder positions which articulate deflecting narratives that such a change is; “complex”, requires “significant buy-in” to work, “is not currently needed”, requires “standing up a new committee” or requires “pilot initiatives” to be successful, must be called out for what they truly are; a selfish apathy masquerading as due process – in failing to assure the welfare of seafarers and their families ashore.

Human Rights at Sea urges Australia and all coastal states to reinforce political will and national legislative pathways to assure sustainable and long-term welfare support in law through existing maritime levy structures.

Seafarers’ working lives, wellbeing, and the upholding of a fair and reasonable recuperating environment ashore pivots on this much needed but simple development to use existing maritime levy funds for good.

A core interest of both coastal states and the multi-trillion-dollar shipping industry must be the seafarer, associated supply chain workers and de facto support to their respective families; not a primary focus on profit or deliberate and/or inadvertent absence to be party to the upholding of access to sustainable welfare support.

Strategically, state-level opportunity for both national and regional leadership in terms of a concerted focus on legislative surety for welfare needs through assured access to, and use of, existing maritime levy funding must not be ducked through lack of coordinated action or failure of political will.

This issue is relatively low hanging political fruit with global consequences for the improvement of worker’s lives especially as the world recovers from the COVID pandemic and more than ever, goods must travel by sea while finite natural resources must be both conserved and carefully exploited. This requires not just vessels, platforms, and associated technology, but people to operate, maintain and sustain them.

Precedent 

“The challenges of providing welfare services in a COVID-19 environment have highlighted the need for a more secure funding approach.”  New Zealand Minister of Transport, the Honorable Michael Wood said in April 2021.

The precedent set by the New Zealand Government in July 2021 in amending and enacting primary legislation, the 1994 Maritime Transport Act, resulted in a unique state-level pathway to assure that seafarer welfare needs, and associated costs can now be sourced from the existing maritime levy funding stream.

“insert: (c) the facilitation of, or support for, seafarer welfare services.”

New Zealand grasped the seminal opportunity in 2020-2021 following justified lobbying by the NZ Seafarer Welfare Board in turn supported by Human Rights at Sea’s March 2020 report “New Zealand: Under-Funding of Seafarers’ Welfare Services and Poor MLC Compliance” and Counsel’s opinion.

In doing so, coordinated advocacy efforts delivered a minor drafting update to primary legislation resulting in a historic change that ongoing outlays for seafarer centers, staff and associated costs would no longer be borne through fundraising, dedicated pro bono local community volunteering efforts, or the seemingly perpetual requirement to ‘shake the can’ at donors for much-needed dollars.

Next steps 

The new Australian government and associated stakeholders must be publicly committed to, willing and be accountable for:

  • Updating current legislation to require explicit use of maritime levy funds for welfare purposes thereby assuring long-term sustainability in law, not just policy.
  • Driving internal co-ordination and accountability for change across applicable government departments.
  • Resourcing and empowering the required staff to co-ordinate funding administration and its fair allocation year-on-year, and
  • Delivering the necessary long-term change – just as the New Zealand Government did.

Photo credit: iStock/ atlantic-kid

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