Labor leader Bill Shorten has defended his plan to boost the number of Australian-flagged ships, through a strategic fleet the government could turn to in crisis.
The federal opposition has promised to establish the fleet, which is likely to include up to a dozen vessels including oil tankers, container ships and gas carriers if elected to government.
The Australian-flagged and crewed vessels will be privately owned and operate on a commercial basis, but could be requisitioned by the government in times of need.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the proposal was about appeasing the maritime union’s demands, pointing to the coalition’s naval shipbuilding program to show his government’s efforts on security.
Mr Shorten bluntly shot down that argument.
“If Mr Morrison wants to say that a discussion about Australian merchant marine ships is about warships, he’s even less bright than I think,” the Labor leader said.
The number of Australian-flagged vessels has shrunk from 100 to 14 over the past 30 years.