An industry coalition has called upon the Federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Catherine King, to implement a more open and transparent process for consultation on the Strategic Fleet. 

The coalition is composed of Shipping Australia, the International Forwarders & Customs Brokers Association of Australia, and the Australian Meat Industry Council. 

In a cross-industry letter, it is noted that the existing process has not been transparent – for example, there was no open, public, application process to apply to be a member of the Strategic Fleet Task Force as the composition of that Task Force was determined by the government.

While there was an initial consultation with industry on the broad overall policy, there has been little-to-no meaningful consultation with the broader industry on how the policy will be implemented, or how it will work in practice, even though stakeholders were told in 2023 that there would be a transparent consultation process involving an issues paper and subsequent workshops.

At the end of 2023, stakeholders were informed (without consultation or notice) that the department would instead undertake “targeted and phased consultation”.

In a media release in February 2024, Ms King declared that the Strategic Fleet is “forging ahead” and that she expects “demonstrable progress toward getting the first vessels in the fleet this year”.

On 7 February, Shipping Australia said that the department appears to have rushed out a targeted ‘cargo owners’ consultation to hand-picked groups with very broad questions that were, or ought, to have been addressed by the Taskforce and which have some questionable presumptions.

For instance, question 3 says: “Presuming strategic fleet freight costs were competitive, what would motivate your organisation to use an Australian flagged vessel? Are there any benefits to your organisation that would be derived from using an Australian flagged vessel?”

The deadline for this particular consultation was 23 February 2024 – which Shipping Australia said is very short notice for a flagship government policy that in the long-term will affect billions of dollars’ worth of cargo, which can have an impact on employment, our international trade, and the viability of Australian businesses.

Shipping Australia also said that it a consultation process that does not follow the “Best Practice Consultation Guidance” (July 2023) issued by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, which states that policy makers should consult in a genuine and timely way with affected people and provide an appropriate time for consultation, with 30 days being the minimum. 

Shipping Australia said that there are numerous other ways in which this consultation does not follow the Federal Government’s own Best Practice Guidance.

As the Strategic Fleet policy will potentially directly and indirectly touch upon many different areas of the Australian economy, industry participants feel that it is important that a broad, transparent, and inclusive consultation process be followed so that the widest possible input – one that takes into account the views of all relevant stakeholders – is achieved.

International Forwarders & Customs Brokers Association of Australia CEO, Scott Carson, said that the industry is concerned about the lack of proper consultation with this process on this significant proposal. 

“A formal ‘call for submissions’ needs to take place, with each of those submissions to be able to be viewed in the public domain, except for those that are provided confidentially,” Mr Carson said. 

“From that process, recommendations can then be made by the Federal Government, with such recommendations needing to prove that due consideration has been given to the submissions that were submitted.”

Shipping Australia CEO, Captain Melwyn Noronha, said that the Federal Government has been carrying out several maritime-related consultations in which it has followed proper process. 

“On this specific issue, the Federal Government isn’t following a proper consultation process; it’s not even following its own Best Practice Guidelines,” Captain Noronha said. 

“Why is the Strategic Fleet consultation different? Why is the Federal Government back-pedalling from its original promise? Why is this whole policy being shrouded in secrecy? Didn’t the Federal Government originally promise openness and transparency in policy making? Whatever happened to that?”

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