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Wednesday, 16 November 1938

Mr BEASLEY (West Sydney) . - I draw the attention of the Government to the long delay in arriving at a decision in regard to ship-building in Australia. As this matter has been the subject of discussion for some time it is needless for me to recount the many requests made by the many deputations that have waited upon the Government and urged it to compel commercial and manufacturing undertakings in this coun try, the proprietors of which I consider to be very unpatriotic, to have vessels which they require for use on the Australian coast, built in this country and not purchased, as is mostly the case to-day, from a place 12,000 miles away. I understand that a report was recently submitted by officers of the Department of Trade and Customs, and I have asked a number of questions on the subject urging that that report be made available, or, at least, that the Government indicate its intentions in respect of this matter. My reason for raising the subject to-night is because I ascertained over the week-end that no less than 157 ironworkers and 53 boilermakers were discharged from their employment at Mort's Dock, Sydney, between the 24th October and the 11th November. These dismissals have been going on in a systematic way for the last six or seven weeks, and the management of this company has been forced, over the whole of that period, to discharge nearly 500 men in all sections of the iron trades which are associated with ship-building. At Cockatoo Dock, between the 31st October and the 15th November, 74 iron workers and engineers were dismissed, and, on the evening when I made inquiries, twelve fitters and ten iron workers were discharged. There was every indication that further dismissals would take place from day to day.

It may be thought that an appeal such as I am now- making is prompted by my personal interest in the matter, and 1 admit that to be the case, because, in common with several other honorable members, I represent a constituency bordering upon the waterfront of Sydney where this class of employment is of great importance to the people. When shipbuilding is at a low ebb, and the yards are discharging men, apart from the hardship experienced by the men who are left without employment, there are also serious repercussions upon business people who depend on the workers for their livelihood.

Tho Government should do something to force those who require new ships to have the vessels built in Australia. Metal Quarries Limited, I understand, is about to obtain an additional vessel to meet its transport requirements. The vessel needed is one of about 500 or 600 tons, and I believe that the company has asked for prices from local ship builders ; but the indications are that it proposes to purchase a vessel, or have one built, overseas. It is true that this might result is a slight reduction of the cost of the vessel.

Mr Prowse - Only slight?

Mr BEASLEY - Even if the difference were considerable-

Mr Prowse - The price in Australia would be double the overseas price.

Mr BEASLEY - I deny that. The point I make is that Metal Quarries Limited obtains its profits from the people of Australia, and, if it supplies metal to municipalities, the residents on the waterfront who pay municipal rates also pay for the metal supplied. It is time we had a government in Australia big enough to tell those in charge of these undertakings that, since they depend on the people of Australia for their income, they should be forced to secure their requirements in this country. Within the last four months, the Port Jackson and Manly Steamship Company has bought to Australia from overseas a vessel which could have been built here.

Mr McCall - The new Manly ferry?

Mr BEASLEY - Yes. The honorable member has a personal interest in the welfare of the ship-building industry, because his electorate adjoins my own on the waterfront at Sydney, and I hope that he will help me in my efforts to have something done in the matter. This company went overseas to purchase a new steamer for its transport services between Sydney and Manly. It depends largely on the workers for a return upon its outlay} but it is unpatriotic and unjust enough to disregard the interests of its patrons by purchasing a vessel overseas.

Mr Mulcahy - A similar policy was adopted by Burns, Philp and Company.

Mr BEASLEY - Yes. The Colonial Sugar Refining Company, too, went abroad for the additional vessel required for its coastal trade. It "walked out" on the Australian ship-building industry. A couple of years ago, the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited had two ships built overseas, although they might well have been constructed in this country. When I have witnessed the launching of vessels in Sydney, I have listened to the speeches made, and their general tone has indicated that Australian artisans can do work of a high standard and that the metals and other materials necessary for ship construction are obtainable in Australia. The ships built here are equal in every respect to any built in other parts of the world, but those in charge of business undertakings requiring vessels are still allowed to go outside for their requirements. If this country were governed on the lines of the United States of America, action of this kind would not be tolerated for 24 hours. Irrespective of the cost, it is regarded as of national importance in that country that the people should be provided with employment. The youths are given opportunities to learn trades, and the various industrial activities of the country are fully developed in all directions. That is the policy and the guiding spirit of other countries, but in Australia the opposite course is taken. A dozen times, I have drawn attention to the neglect of the interests of the local shipbuilding industry, yet it appears that this Parliament will pass into recess without action being taken by the Government to alter the present position.

Obviously, Metal Quarries Limited proposes to go overseas for its new vessel, and, in order to bring this matter to a climax, the metal trades organization proposes next year to boycott all ships that have not been built in Australia, if they could reasonably have been constructed here. It should not be necessary for any section of the workers to be forced to take this course. Surely, the Government is big enough to look after the interests of Australian workmen without forcing them into such an action. Any person who stands for Australia must support the metal trades organization in this matter. I now urge the Government to take immediate action. In the light of all the talk .heard in recent months of the necessity for making Australia selfcontained in regard to defence requirements and affording employment it is essential that something practical should be done. In the light of various reports made recently in respect of defence, and of the admitted necessity to train artisans in this country, it becomes more and more important that complaints, particularly those in regard to ship-building, shall be rectified. More than 500 men associated with the ship-building industry are out of work on the Sydney waterfront, and although the putting in hand of a ship of 500 or 600 tons would not meet all our requirements, at least it would mean a great deal, and it would be a step in the right direction. I therefore trust that the Government will declare that ships needed in Australia for Australian undertakings must be built in this country.

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