Australian strategic fleet a step closer to implementation with key report delivered by Federal Labor Government

Published: 8 Nov 2023









8 NOVEMBER 2023 


Australian strategic fleet a step closer to implementation with key report delivered by Federal Labor Government 


Today in Fremantle, the Federal Labor Government and the Maritime Union of Australia joined with representatives from the Australian Strategic Fleet Taskforce to announce the crucial next steps towards implementation of the Albanese Government’s election commitment for a fleet of Australian flagged and crewed vessels operating in the national interest. 


The announcement shows the commitment shared by the Federal Government, maritime workers and industry representatives to revitalise the Australian maritime sector, strengthen our national supply chains with self-sufficiency in shipping to guarantee essential goods arrive and can be distributed throughout Australia, and to bolster our defence and strategic needs during times of crisis or conflict. 


The Taskforce has made 16 recommendations to Government, with 12 being agreed to immediately and the balance being subject to further exploration and consideration. 


“Led by Chair John Mullen, a respected corporate leader with decades of experience in transport and major corporate leadership, the Strategic Fleet Taskforce has spent the past year analysing the best ways to reverse the trend away from Australian-flagged vessels around our coastline and devising the most effective strategies to rebuild this vitally and strategically important industry,” said Paddy Crumlin, the MUA’s National Secretary and President of the International Transport Workers Federation, and a member of the Taskforce. 


Shipping is critical to Australia’s social and economic well-being; it moves 99 per cent of Australia’s goods traded by volume, and around 79 per cent by value, however, as of December 2022, there are only 11 Australian-flagged and crewed vessels over 2,000 deadweight tonnes (DWT) holding General Licences under the Coastal Trading (Revitalising Australian Shipping) Act 2012 that operate in Australia’s coastal trade. This stands in stark contrast to the 504 foreign flagged vessels which undertook 2,309 voyages to, from or around Australia during 2021. 


"We recognise the strategic importance of shipping for the Australian national and strategic interest, as well as the role of shipping and seafaring over 150 years of Australia's recent history and the significant leadership the Australian industry has played in the international shipping sector throughout that period," Mr Crumlin said. 


The Strategic Fleet Taskforce, which comprised representatives from the Australian shipping industry, unions, the business sector, and the Department of Defence, engaged in broad stakeholder consultation, including meetings with 17 ship owners and operators to test the viability of various proposals to implement and support the planned Fleet. 


During its appointment, the Taskforce was briefed by representatives from Government agencies on issues related to the establishment of the fleet, including: 

- Critical supply chains; 

- Australian Defence Force mobilisation and related shipping needs; 

- Existing and proposed skills and training initiatives implemented by the Australian Government and states and territories; 

- Liquid fuel supply chains; and 

- Decarbonisation and greenhouse-gas emissions reduction initiatives. 


The Strategic Needs identified by the Taskforce as being essential to Australia’s economic and social security were: 

- Coastal shipping of refined petroleum from Australian refineries or import terminals to Australian end-users, including to regional and remote ports in northern Australia; 

- Conducting independent cargo operations (self-load/unload) where a natural disaster or other disruption affects the supply of key goods in Australia’s regions or Pacific neighbours; 

- Enhancing capability to facilitate Defence or national mobilisation via the shipping of vehicles, equipment, and stores to northern Australia; 

- The coastal shipping of containerised cargo between Australian ports to deal with smaller short-term disruptions; 

- The movement of project and over-sized cargo domestically and internationally; and 

- The coastal shipping of dry and non-liquid bulk cargoes that are key inputs to domestic manufacturing. 


The 16 recommendations of the Taskforce are: 


1. Address the cost-gap between foreign-flagged vessels and Australian flagged vessels through taxation incentives and government assistance. 

2. Composition of the fleet to include container vessels, multipurpose vessels, RORO or ROLO vessels, liquid bulk vessels, dry-bulk vessels, and break bulk vessels; 

3. Establish a strategic fleet levy on vessel arrivals to fund the strategic fleet; 

4. Register future Strategic Fleet vessels on the Australian General Shipping Register; 

5. Improve the Australian International Shipping Register; 

6. Review the Coastal Trading Act; 

7. Increase Fair Work compliance activities on foreign-flagged vessels operating under Temporary Licence; 

8. Legislate the power for government to requisition ships; 

9. Better coordination between government and industry on maritime training; 

10. Implement a training levy; 

11. Establish a cadetship programme funded by the training levy; 

12. Mandate a minimum number of training berths on strategic fleet vessels; 

13. Align Defence and civilian maritime training and qualifications; 

14. Consider a short-term increase in migration for STCW seafarers; 

15. Monitor the outcomes through a Post Implementation Review. 

16. Other measures: 

a. Working with Defence 

b. Partnerships with other countries and companies 

c. Links to decarbonisation efforts and the use of green-fuels 

d. Ships operated by government agencies 

e. Servicing Australian External Territories 

f. Partnerships with states and territories 


“These recommendations by the Strategic Fleet Taskforce are the essential first steps towards a sustainable, secure future for Australian seafarers working on their own coastline, and we remain resolute in our commitment to the long-term viability of our industry not just for the employment opportunities it delivers the maritime workers of today but the vital social and economic importance of shipping and seafaring for all Australians – something that will endure for generations to come,” said Mr Crumlin. 


"The MUA looks forward with enthusiasm to the next stage of implementation and realisation of the Strategic Fleet commitment and to seeing Australian seafarers go up the gangway of new Australian ships to work in this essential industry for the benefit of all Australians,” Crumlin added. 




Media Contact: Tom Harris-Brassil - 0401 834 924 



Authorised by P Crumlin, Maritime Union of Australia, Sydney