Australia’s Labor Party Revives Call for a National Shipping Fleet

tasmanian achiever
The 12,000 dwt ro/ro Tasmanian Achiever II and her sister ship are Australia's largest remaining cargo ships (Gary Houston / Public Domain)

Published Jan 6, 2022 12:21 AM by The Maritime Executive

The Australian Labor Party has revived plans for the creation of an Australian flagged “strategic fleet” of at least 12 ships to shield the country from supply chain disruption, especially during times of natural disaster or international conflict.

The opposition leader and head of the Labor party, Anthony Albanese, said Monday that the creation of the fleet should be guided by a taskforce, which would determine the number and mix of vessels required. The vessels could include tankers, cargo, container and ro/ro ships.

While the fleet would be privately owned, the Australian Defense Force could requisition it in times of need.

“In times of conflict and crisis, our economic sovereignty and national security are dependent on Australian seafarers working on Australian ships. Right now, less than one percent of Australian seaborne trade is carried by Australian ships, forcing our nation to rely on foreign governments and companies for our essential imports,” said Albanese.

This is not the first time that Labor has proposed the idea of creating an Australian “strategic fleet.” In 2019, just before the national elections, Bill Shorten - then the party leader - lamented that it was disgraceful that the Australian-flagged fleet had shrunk to just 14 vessels over the past three decades.

Under the proposed plan, Australia would also enforce strict cabotage laws to favor Australian-flagged vessels for shipping between Australian ports. Further, companies would be required to use Australian vessels for their cargo before opting for foreign vessels.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has dismissed Albanese’s proposal as a project of Australia’s trade unions. But Morrison has also been facing pressure from MPs within his own party to enlarge Australia’s merchant fleet. According to an article by The Australian last year, Liberal MP Russel Broadbent warned that the nation risks “sleepwalking to chaos and further vulnerability” without a dedicated domestic fleet.