NEED FOR CHANGE: Flag of Convenience tanker Tintomara was detained off the Queensland coast in Gladstone due to alleged labour breaches in February last year.
NEED FOR CHANGE: Flag of Convenience tanker Tintomara was detained off the Queensland coast in Gladstone due to alleged labour breaches in February last year. Matt Taylor GLA250218

INQUIRY: MUA urges Rio Tinto to use more Australian ships

MARITIME workers will rally in Gladstone today to call for a raft of changes to Queensland legislation to help save the state's shipping industry.

The first of three public hearings for the Inquiry into a Sustainable Queensland Interstate Shipping Industry will be held in Gladstone today where the Maritime Union of Australia will push for industry reforms.

Large ships make more than 11,000 voyages a year, carrying 23 million tonnes of cargo between Queensland ports, yet the majority of these voyages take place on international "flag of convenience" ships.

MUA Queensland branch secretary Bob Carnegie said skilled Australian crews are disappearing to be replaced by flag of convenience ships with "exploited" foreign crews paid as little as $4 an hour.

The MUA has called on the Queensland Government to introduce legislation to force companies to use Australian ships for regular routes.

Mr Carnegie said some of the biggest mining companies, including Rio Tinto were "shutting out" local seafarers.

He said the percentage of Rio Tinto's bauxite cargoes carried on Australian-crewed ships had declined to about a third.

The union will today take aim at Rio Tinto, Orica and Origin Energy for their use of international ships to import and export goods through Gladstone.

"We should be using Australian-crewed ships to transport our natural resources inside Queensland, and we want our politicians to act to revitalise the shipping industry and get Australian ships back on our coast," Mr Carnegie said.

In Rio Tinto's submission to the inquiry, aluminium managing director Bruce Cox said the Australian shipping industry had to be competitive to ensure Rio Tinto's assets - including Queensland Alumina Limited, Rio Tinto Yarwun and Boyne Smelter Limited - remained viable.

"Legislation or regulations intended to boost one sector of the economy could have unforeseen impacts on Queensland competitiveness in the global marketplace with ultimately detrimental implications for Queensland workers, goods and services," it said.

But he said with the Australian shipping fleet dropping from 75 vessels in 1996 to 14 in 2016, competitiveness continued to be an issue.

"The cyclical nature of the commodity business results in our Gladstone alumina refineries operating under tight margins for extended periods," he said.

"As part of our response to this ongoing challenge, Rio Tinto has been engaging with industry stakeholders to identify productivity improvements and cost-saving initiatives."

It said the company operates four Australian-crewed vessels on the Queensland coast with 130 Australian seafarers.

But it said it also chose to use foreign-crewed vessels to avoid cost pressures of using Australian-crewed vessels on coastal shipping routes.

The submission said all Rio Tinto owned, operated and chartered vessels operating in Queensland comply with the Australian and international shipping standards and regulations.

MUA members will rally outside the Grand Hotel this morning.

The committee will also hold public hearings in Cairns and Brisbane before reporting in May.