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Wednesday, 2 November 1983
Page: 2187

Mr HOLLIS(12.16) —I am pleased to speak on this important Bill, the Australian Shipping Commission Amendment Bill, which will amend the Australian Shipping Commission Act of 1956. Australia is a major trading nation but not a major maritime nation. We carry less than 4 per cent of our total overseas trade . It is therefore important that the Government place the Australian National Line on a sounder commercial footing. It is particularly pleasing that the Government is doing this so early in its term of office. It is this Government's policy, different from that of our conservative opponents, to maintain and improve publicly owned business undertakings to provide air and surface transport services in Australia and overseas. I was interested to hear the honourable member for Hume (Mr Lusher) tell us what the conservatives would do in the unlikely event that they ever regain government. I have no doubt that they would sell off public enterprise business; that is part of their policy. It is a policy we do not go along with.

The Australian Shipping Commission, which operates the Australian National Line , is an integral part of Australia's coastal and overseas shipping services. The primary function of ANL is to provide efficient services at the least cost to users commensurate with sound financial practice. The Government wants ANL to be able to compete with private enterprise on an equitable basis. In recent years ANL has suffered from a shortage of capital funds. This has led to it being required to cope with heavy interest charges, especially in a period of economic downturn, lack of government leadership and clear policy guidelines, excessive government control over its operations-that coming from the free enterprise Government-and difficult market conditions. The policies of the previous Government did nothing to expand the share of Australia's trade which is carried in Australian flag vessels. As I have already stated, this is a dismal figure of less than 4 per cent.

In the short space of about seven months since taking office this Government has acted decisively to resolve the problems faced by ANL. It has injected $90m capital into ANL by means of $30m in cash and $60m in conversion of outstanding Treasury loans. It has obtained the agreement of ANL management to examine its internal structures and efficiencies and obtained the agreement of sea-going unions to crewing reductions and to the establishment of an on-going committee to examine shipboard practices and improve productivity. All these measures should reduce the Line's crippling dependence on borrowed funds and reduce its operating costs, thereby at least making it more competitive, even in these days of severely depressed conditions where a massive surplus of tonnage exists. The legislation introduced by the Government will be another positive step by it to improve ANL's competitive position. It will give the Commission clear guidelines as its responsibility over the line's operation and administration. It will bring into the open any government requirements for complying with policies not directly related to a shipping organisation. It will allow the Commission to respond more quickly to the demands and pressures of the market-place.

The ANL has a most efficient terminal operation at Port Kembla. This operation involves the supply of slab steel to Western Port in Victoria. Over the years there has been consultation between the unions and the Line at Port Kembla. This has been a conscious approach by the trade unions at Port Kembla, recognising that the National Line is a national asset. The facts do not justify the false stories about industrial actions at Port Kembla. There have been no major disputes for a number of years. The unions work consultatively with management. Port Kembla suffers from an unjustified reputation for industrial disputation, peddled by people such as the person who represented my electorate before me.

A concern in the Port Kembla area is that the port has been under-utilised. All too often cargo destined for this area has been unloaded in Sydney and transported by road to Port Kembla, while the local berth has been readily available. This often has led to serious accidents in the Illawarra region. A few years back a truck carrying container cargo destined for Port Kembla was involved in a severe accident on Bulli Pass. There have been accidents on Mount Ousley. This often has occurred because cargo destined for Port Kembla and which could have come to Port Kembla has been unloaded in Sydney. Port Kembla is being bypassed. Of course, this happens in the opposite direction also. Cargo leaves the Port Kembla area by road to be loaded in Sydney and the berth at the local terminal is left idle. The rostering arrangements at Port Kembla cater for 24- hour operation but rarely is the midnight shift used by the employers. I know of instances of ANL waterside workers not having worked the midnight shift for over 12 months.

But it is true that ANL has lost money. This is because of the past poor management caused through the previous Government's lack of guidelines and unnecessary meddling in the affairs of ANL. This Bill is intended to improve the management of the Australian Shipping Commission and to provide it with more autonomy in its day to day control of the operations of the Australian National Line. It will also make a number of amendments to the Act which are of a machinery nature and it will repeal some sections of the Act which are redundant . While the Bill will provide the Commission with more autonomy, it in no way reduces the Commission's accountability to Parliament for the conduct of its affairs and the operation of the Australian National Line. Unlike the last Government, which believed in a continual, dogmatic wrangle of regulation versus deregulation and which sought to hamstring public enterprise, this Government wants efficient public enterprise able to compete with the private sector to the benefit of all Australians. This Australian Labor Party Government has already in its brief period in office put ANL in a position to expand its carriage of overseas trade by becoming more commercial. It is up to management and the work force to make this work.

As part of the agreement reached in May by the Minister for Transport (Mr Peter Morris), ANL, the sea-going unions and the Australian Council of Trade Unions have all agreed to implement measures to improve ANL as a public enterprise. The five sea-going unions agreed to reduce sea-going manning levels as a first phase of their undertaking. They have also agreed, in an on-going committee, to examine further possibilities for improved shipboard efficiencies which will examine ship board practices, organisations and productivity. The Minister chairs regular meetings with the unions and the Commission together with this committee. In this way the unions now have a greater chance to contribute to the improvement of ANL than was ever possible under the irrelevant policies of the previous Government.

On taking office this Government found ANL in a mess, financially and managerially. This Government, and especially the Minister, recognised that if the process of ANL's decline were to be reversed some very necessary steps had to be taken. These steps are now being taken by the Minister for Transport. The Labor Government's policy is for Australian flag shipping, which includes ANL as the national flag carrier, to carry a greater amount of trade which this country generates. This Bill will give ANL an opportunity to gain its fair share by operating more commercially to the benefit of Australian exporters and importers and to the benefit of its own work force.