As Australia Rebuilds its Merchant Fleet, Industry Groups Want More Input

Australian flag
Christian Haugen / CC BY 2.0

Published Mar 24, 2024 8:43 PM by The Maritime Executive


Australia is currently in the initial stages of procuring a strategic merchant shipping fleet, which will include up to 12 Australian-flagged and crewed vessels. Last week, three Australian industry groups issued a joint letter asking transport minister Catherine King for more transparency and collaboration as the plan unfolds.

The industry coalitions - Shipping Australia, the International Forwarders & Customs Brokers Association of Australia (IFCBAA), and the Australian Meat Industry Council - have complained that the existing process is not transparent. The coalition noted there was no open, public, application process to apply to be a member of the Strategic Fleet Task Force, with the composition of the Task Force fully determined by the government.

Further, the coalition said that there has been little-to-no meaningful consultation with the broader industry on how the strategic fleet policy will be implemented, or how it will work in practice. Last year, the transport ministry said it would undertake targeted and phased consultation.

Another issue the coalition raised is the rapid nature of some particular consultations by the Department of Transport. The cargo owners’ consultation was to last from February 7-23, which is less than the 30-day minimum period for consultation laid out in government guidance.

“The federal government has been carrying out several maritime-related consultations in which it has followed proper process. On this specific issue, the government isn’t following a proper consultation process. Why is the strategic fleet consultation different?” said Melwyn Noronha, CEO Shipping Australia.

The industry groups implored Minister King to implement a broad and inclusive consultation process, for views of all relevant stakeholders to be captured.

Early last month, Minister King declared that the Strategic Fleet is moving ahead and expects progress towards getting the first vessels in the fleet this year. The initiative is a signature project of the Labor government. It was launched in 2022 with the aim of securing Australian supply chains, which currently are highly dependent on foreign-owned vessels.

Australia’s domestic fleet has dwindled for years, undercut by least-cost foreign-flagged tonnage. Today there are only four Australian-flagged vessels operating in international trade, and all of them are LNG carriers. 

A special taskforce appointed to guide the government on the strategic fleet policy delivered its first report last year in June. The report recommended amendments to Australia’s shipping regulations and an introduction of a levy on all vessel arrivals to help fund the policy.   

Top image: Christian Haugen / CC BY 2.0