Tony Martin

Shipping icon slams Abbott Government shipping plans

IT HAS been 23 years since Peter Morris delivered the Ships of Shame report, a dossier so damning that it drove widespread change in the shipping industry worldwide.

On Tuesday, the Hawke-era Transport Minister sat in the gallery of the Glebe Coroner's Court to hear evidence of how three men came to die aboard the Japanese owned Sage Sagittarius, a coal-carrying merchant vessel now dubbed the "death ship".

As the inquest broke for lunch, Mr Morris told Australian Regional Media "little had changed" since his 1992 report outlined widespread abuse against seafarers.

"It's just the era that has changed," he said outside court.

"Listening to some of the proceedings today just confirmed my worst fears of yesteryear that while the conditions of the ships have improved -- we're seeing the best -- for the crew and the exploitation of crews, little has changed.

In the years that followed the Ships of Shame report and his stint as minister, Mr Morris has become a respected figure in international shipping. In 2001 he chaired the international Commission on Shipping which produced the report, "Ships,  Slaves and Competition".

Mr Morris also weighed in on a looming Senate Inquiry into international shipping which will consider what has changed since the Ships of Shame report.

The Inquiry was announced following a major investigation by ARM into the deaths aboard the Sage Sagitttarius.

It also follows proposed reforms to Australian shipping by the Abbott Government, that would allow foreign ships and crews to enter the domestic shipping trade.

The changes would mean foreign shipping firms could use their own crews in place of Australians without having to abide by rules that apply to Australian workers unless they operated for more than six months a year.

Mr Morris said the reforms were about targeting the maritime industry to protect its land-based competitors.

"It's critical to the future of this nation that we have a presence in international shipping as the main way to build a strong maritime skills base," he said.

"We're never going to be a major shipping country, but we need to have a strong maritime skills base."

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