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Well … that’s it, then

By Tony Andrews

28 years of working on the seas around Australia and beyond are over.

As John Howard proudly boasted, “we’re going to destroy the livelihoods of Australian seafarers”. That’s not an exact quote, but I don’t really care, it’s done and it’s all been done because of ideology.

Because of an aversion to unions and the supposed political necessity of removing the ability of working people to bargain collectively with their employers, our elected representatives in government, our government, have overseen the destruction of my career and the careers of thousands of other tax paying voters.


Why have they allowed, actually, not just allowed, openly conspired with the giant, profit-driven overseas interests to condone the removal of our participation in this industry.

A highly profitable industry. An industry that until recently was considered vital to the economic security of our nation.

Our taxpayer roads are being destroyed daily by big business using thousands more trucks than are necessary to carry goods between Australian states, all to destroy Australian shipping.

There is no other reason.

It’s not cheaper to haul goods by road. It’s not more economical or safer.

It’s all about profit … and revenge.

The destruction of my industry has taken years. Years of planning. Years of removing, incrementally, the abilities of our representative unions to negotiate “in good faith” on behalf of the workforce.

Millions of dollars in contributions from workers spent fighting our own governments from legislation passed to increase the profit of overseas interests at the expense of their own tax paying citizens.

When the workforce defeats these changes, often all the way to the high court, “ministerial determinations” are enacted so the legal requirements and enforcement of the rulings can be ignored.

The worker cannot win.

All the years of training and certification, now useless.

All the experience on different types of commercial vessels, now of no practical use whatsoever.

What am I going to do? What are my mates going to do? How are we all meant to feed, clothe, and continue to provide a home for our families?

No one even seems to care …

It’s the sneakiness of it that really appals me.

Over time, our government removed their oversight of the industry. Once upon a time they controlled the labour, then forced everyone into company employment.

It was going to be better for all of us, more efficient for the industry and would also provide “job security” …

That worked out well.

Now no one has work, but the ships still keep coming in. We’ve been replaced with overseas labour on $2 an hour …

In our own country.

Our qualifications were for life, just like university degrees … except for registered nurses, their degree now has a 5-year expiry date, just like ours.

We went from having official, federal government issued, certificates of proficiency, with no expiration date and that carried a status similar to a passport, to a 5-year high risk style licence.

They even looked similar, with the Australian crest proudly displayed on the cover.

And we only needed the one certificate … it took 6 years of college and on the job training to acquire though. This allowed us to work on any ship and operate any machinery necessary for our operations.

Now we need shore-based certificates as well. Each one with a 5-year expiry.

We need 4 yearly security checks from the federal police and ASIO, we need 2 medicals every 2 years, if you’re over 55, you need 2 medicals every year.

Was it to increase safety?


It was a long-term plan to remove the participation of Australian workers from the lucrative offshore oil and gas industry and coastal shipping trade.

That is the only reason.

This is not some sort of conspiracy theory, big government and big business acting in concert with evil intent …

It’s commercial reality. Good or evil don’t come into it, only profit and the pursuit of free market ideology.

Many of my friends have been “on the beach”, that is, unemployed, for a few years now. I’m to follow them just before Christmas.

With no income, many highly skilled and highly qualified Australian men and women have been forced to allow their certificates to expire, with no hope of ever getting them back because, without current “sea time” you cannot renew them.

That, my fellow Australians, is the long-term plan.

With no qualified Australian seafarers left, the importation of foreign labour will be considered of vital importance to ensure our offshore resource industries and their economic importance are not compromised.

Our livelihoods and economic contributions (in taxes, skill set and experience) are not considered important.

My family is not considered important.

I’m a 50-year-old man with a young healthy family, a blessing in itself, after many years of waiting, but what now?

The way things are going it will be 20 years before I can draw on my superannuation.

After entering the workforce full-time at 16, my options for pursuing higher education are limited, and not just by time or money.

How has this been allowed to happen?

Who exactly do our elected representatives in government represent?

It certainly doesn’t feel like it’s me.


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  1. Robert

    It’s not just you… Years ago I’d hear “why do the whiteys get paid so much more than us”. Increasingly we don’t.

  2. Adrianne Haddow

    It seems as if any lucrative industry in Australia is up for grabs by the mates of the government.
    It is beyond belief that a country surrounded by sea would put its maritime industry into the hands of foreigners.
    But then the entire attitude of this government toward it’s citizens and it’s economy is beyond belief.
    So sorry for you, Tony.
    Another qualified Australian forced into unqualified work or the centrelink snare.

  3. Matters Not

    While rewarding mates may be part of the motivation, I suspect the real driver is the Government’s obsession with destroying unions at every opportunity. The MUA’s been a particular target over the decades. Let’s remember also:

    APRIL 7, 1998: In the dead of the night, security guards locked dock workers outside the gates. What followed was one of the biggest industrial disputes in Australian history.

    Unions that were once very powerful are now in decline. But not quick enough apparently.

  4. john ocallaghan

    Sorry to read about what these bastards did to you and your family, another example is the auto manufacturing industry which they refused to help purely because it employed a unionised work force.
    These people are insane and ruled by there equally insane ideology!

  5. amethyst3009

    My late mother was incensed when the Australian National Line was sold (I don’t remember to whom). She snorted and muttered about an island country without its own shipping. Of course she was right! She was particularly concerned from a defence point of view, as well as other countries owning the shipping and could direct shipping, not necessarily in Australia’s interest. There was also the economic argument. Money for Australian workers and Australian companies.

    My heart goes out to you Tony. You had a career and a future. The current Govt have no idea beyond a short term balance sheet. They have no vision, no plan. I can’t decide whether I’m more sad or angry.

  6. Stephen Bowler

    The memo by Lewis Powell Jnr in 1971, created the Neoliberal Agenda, it was not called that then but that is what has developed.

    Tony is one of many artisans, who’s security in employment has systematically been destroyed with the sole purpose of rich, wealthy individuals who want more than their lives could ever spend.

    Lets not forget, it is individuals who run corporations and businesses, so we should not blame them but the blame is surely the individuals who control the dorections of these identities.

    And while we recall identities who are ultimately responsible, in the UK it was Maggie Thatcher, in the USA it was Ronald Reagan, both Right Wing. But here in Australia it was Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, who set us on the path of neoliberalism, for that I will never forgive them untill they admit their culpability.

    Let all of us on the Left, make sure that the ALP never forgets their role in bring Neoliberal ideology into Australia, it is the ALP that sold out the working man to the Right Wing!

    Keep reminding the ALP is there not by their own volition but by the blood sweat and tears of the workers.

    I am sure there are good decent business owners and executives out there. But after 47 years work, and 14 employers in two countries and 5 States, I didn’t find too many.

  7. Yvonne Robertson

    I have to agree Stephen Bowler. It is an inconvenient truth to those of us who have been Labor devotees all our lives but the Accord and Enterprise Bargaining were the start of the decimation of unions and with that the only protection workers have ever had. Often in history I see well meaning measures which had unintended consequences. I like to think this is the case with Keating in particular but there’s a reason why the Liberals hold the Hawke and Keating up as the best Labor leaders of all time. I have no such misgivings regarding the intentions of any Liberal government however, past present or future. It’s more than the money. It’s the divide that’s important to them. They want the teaming masses under the boot beneath them so that they need not fear falling into it and also so that they can live with a sense of not only superiority but also entitled privilege.

    Excellent article. So sorry – for all of us.

  8. Kaye Lee


    We can only hope that a change of government will stop this lunacy. Labor MPs must be made to realise the loss of skilled people and industry from our country is not in our best interests. They stick to the neoliberal assertion that skilled migration is good for the economy because they only look at the financial side and never the social cost. We are losing the expertise of experienced workers. We are condemning our children to unemployment or exploitation. And yes, they are targeting unionised labour. Unions are the only group that can give a collective voice to workers, the only group that can challenge the power imbalance. So they must be destroyed.

  9. New England Cocky

    The rot started back in the 1930s when the then Federal government sold out the Australian Shipping Line to the London Conference. The then conservative Prim Monster was rewarded with a peerage and a seat in the House of Lords.

    The case of Tasmania is difficult because all trade requires shipping, yet from the 1890s Victorian bank crash caused by speculation on suburban Melbourne real estate bubble, there has been little if any support for Tasmanian shipping. Indeed, Union Steamships NZ purchased Tasmanian Steam Navigation Company in 1891 for a giveaway price due to the Melbourne Royal Sovereign Bank foreclosing on loans to to TSN to purchase new state of the art coastal ships.

  10. Keitha Granville

    The whole notion of imported foreign workers is a complete mystery to me. If we have an unemployment rate of anything more than about 2% what the hell do we need any foreign workers for ? Train people ! Employers MUST be forced again to take a minimum number of apprentices into their industries. We are constantly being told that skilled workers are needed, then SKILL them.
    We must all push the Labor party to do the right thing. Get more people upskilled here, make it more and more expensive to bring in foreigners ( who should never be allowed to accept less the local rate of pay for the job) and attractive to hire apprentices. We cannot let the ruling class take any more than they already have.

  11. diannaart

    Compelling writing, Tony Andrews.

    Labor MUST differentiate itself at every opportunity from the COALition – “wedge politics” is just a bullying tactic to prevent Labor from standing true to its people.

    The war on unions started when I was very young. Even though I was a naive creature I could see that privatisation coupled with attacking union power had a single objective: limiting people power.

    I along with many others, have fought back, protested, written many, many letters, stood up when I should’ve kept my head down… no point in rehashing that time of my life.

    Tony, I wish you and your family all that is good, thank you for enlightening me – I had no idea that years of study can now be dumped like garbage due to the imposition of an expiry date. What nuff-nuff thought that up? Someone who knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

  12. Andreas Bimba

    Johnny Howard did the same thing with the car industry. He set it up to fail by implementing the Thailand Australia FTA and cutting the tariff for other countries cars to a meaningless 5%. It then simply became more profitable for the multinational car companies to import rather than manufacture locally even though productivity and quality had never been higher.

    The car industry supported a considerable supply chain and this also has national defence implications just like that of the Australian shipping industry.

    Yes Labor are also to blame but the hard right of the conservative parties were the main drivers.

    I now wave a paintbrush for a living as I have had no luck with rejoining the engineering profession. Neoliberalism will eventually turn everything into shit.

  13. Matters Not

    Andreas Bimba, if you had your hands on the nation’s economic levers or had access to a squillion dollars or whatever – what would you do in terms of industry policy? More or less technology in the labor displacing sense? Predict the future with the manufacturing of less polluting vehicles (electric/battery powered) for example? More or less tariffs? etc

    Further, does the call for more STEM courses (as the way of the future) cause personal outrage? (The gulf between the espoused theory and the lived reality?) Should government be visibly proactive in the economic world or let the market take its course. etc. etc.

    Would like to hear your perspective. (But please don’t make it an advocacy of MMT. Assume I understand that – just for once.)

  14. wam

    What a sad story of government by profit seekers and so oft repeated by this sick side of politics.
    When pyne ignored the opportunity to build subs in Australia for $20b and awarded a $50b contract to france for a downsized diesel version of an atomic sub not built and years behind schedule. Why was there no uproar in SA? My nephew is a gun welder and will get a FIFO job, but it would have been great if the subs were built here. Note the new army vehicle are to be built in germany.
    The government through the media tells us that when we have the expertise they will then be built in Australia and such bullshit is believed.
    The tertiary institutions and vice-chancellors have discovered that nursing, teaching and bridging courses are bums on seats cash cows. The theory tests reinforce the acceptance of paper over practice and entrenches the crap of those who know why but have no effing idea how.
    When Robb erred in his signings and the rabbottians lauded I wrote:
    Do you think the rabbott lied to get elected? Do you trust the federal government to accept an agreement that they have kept secret?? Do you trust an FTA that allows China to keep tariffs till 2024 and Australia till 2015. Do you think you will remember or care about these incidents by the election? Does it bother you that the clp has leased the port to the Chinese? Do you know any tradie with these qualifications -Automotive Electrician, Cabinetmaker, Carpenter and Joiner, Diesel Motor Mechanic, Electrician, Motor and Motorcycle Mechanic? Any of the 1.5 billion chinese has access to a two year visa without any skill testing or direct government testing the Aust labour market? Sit back or do some research for yourself.
    I did get an answer to my left wing lies and they still revere the chief arsehole of union hating and blindly support the rabbott..

  15. Jon Chesterson

    I haven’t lost my career for being Aussie, I lost it for being professional, ethical and caring about the people I managed and who they cared for… Aussies. If you don’t play to the institutional fiddle of corporate neoliberalism and narcissistic executive management, then you are branded a heretic and excommunicated, abandoned and thrown on the heap to the mercy of the wolves. And that too is the fate of health and our public health system in Australia and many who work in it – Counting buttons instead of people, bad mouthing hard working people who believe in putting something back instead of bleeding people dry, and then insulting those who genuinely care with fake corporate ideologies and slogans such as zero tolerance, excellence, productive wards, random acts of kindness, crucial conversations that all dovetail with trickle down economics, smashing unions, calling people lefties, socialists while stealing from Australians everything that should rightfully be in the public domain, the common good, fair go. Work hard all your life and take it away from you, your career, your dignity, your income, your home, your land, even your pensionable years of existence – HMS Australia, good ship on-shore sharks and sociopaths of Liberalism.

  16. Andreas Bimba

    Matters Not, one cannot slow the advance of technology and full employment is possible in any case. We all benefit from improved productivity and this drives higher wages. As jobs are displaced many more can be created. If there is a problem or an opportunity there is a job. The MMT economists have proven that it is possible for the federal government to use fiscal stimulus and a job guarantee to ensure full employment.

    Automated manufacturing still employs many in engineering, construction, programming, maintenance, the supply chain, marketing, administration and so forth. It is not a sunset industry and is the core of the German, Japanese, Korean and many other economies. I think Australia should have retained a more balanced economy instead of foolishly concentrating on raw materials, bulk agriculture, real estate speculation, financial services, gambling along with the government sector and similar.

    I think the Japanese approach to industrial and commercial development is a good fit for Australia. Japan does restrict import competition from low cost competitors like China when necessary, especially during the formation phase of new industries.

    The time has arrived for New Energy Vehicles and these should be manufactured here along with much of the equipment and systems needed by a modern sustainable economy. It is not essential that Australian manufacturers be the world’s cheapest, close to world’s best practice should suffice as our raw material exports are competitive enough to pay for essential imports.

    Education has been heavily damaged by neoliberalism and a return to the 70’s standards with modern advancements would deliver better results. STEM competence is important but many more well paid jobs that use these skills
    are needed.

  17. Ruth Fletcher

    So to hear of your plight, Tony. I have quite a few merchant seaman in my family and worry about what will become of them and their families.All the best to you and yours.

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