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Wednesday, 26 November 1986
Page: 3742

Mr HOLLIS(11.50) —I thought I was going to speak in a cognate debate, but I am now speaking only on the Bounty (Ship Repair) Bill. Nevertheless, I am quite pleased to speak on this Bill. I might say as an aside that last night there was in this chamber a debate about giving back bench members more opportunity to speak. The nonsense that went on here this morning is just what part of that report was about. What the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr N.A. Brown) did was to deny some back bench members an opportunity to speak. We could have dealt with the four pieces of legislation in a cognate debate, each speaker dealing with the aspect he was particularly interested in.

I turn to the Bill under question which, as I said, is the Bounty (Ship Repair) Bill. Had I been an Opposition member, especially a senior Opposition member, I would have done what I did as an ordinary back bench Government member this morning when I knew I was going to speak on legislation which had been introduced in the other place; that is, I would have acquainted myself with the second reading speech. Here it is in Hansard. It was not difficult. If members of the Opposition were really interested in this legislation and wanted to acquaint themselves with it, there was no difficulty in obtaining that speech.

The primary objective of the ship repair package of measures is to improve the competitiveness of the Australian ship repair industry. What this Government wants is to make the Australian ship repair industry more competitive. We want to win that work on our merit, not through industrial action or any other measures. As honourable members would be aware, the ship industry has been the subject of a number of government inquiries over the past 10 years or so. They commenced with a reference to the Industries Assistance Commission as far back as 1976, the most recent being an examination by a working party on ship repair which comprised representatives of the ship repair industry, the unions, ship owners and government and which reported in May 1985. This very broadly based working party concluded that there had been a substantial decline in the work available to the industry. This was due in part to major structural problems in the industry and the working party recommended that financial assistance by way of a bounty should be provided to the industry to assist the process of rationalisation and restructuring.

The honourable member for Ryan (Mr Moore) was quite critical of the unions. He said that this Government measure was an attempt to bribe the unions. I would not see it as an attempt to bribe the unions. I wonder whether he said the same when the Government gave money to assist the steel industry. Was that a bribe to the unions? I would say no, and I represent a steel producing area. That measure revitalised the Australian steel industry. I hope that this bounty will revitalise the Australian ship repair industry. I must admit that there has been union activity. I am familiar with the fact that unions have delayed some ships in Australia. This has led to complaints to the Government by international ship owners, business people and various other people. It has not done our reputation abroad any good. Having said that, it is very easy to criticise unions, and I have no doubt that people, especially those honourable members on the other side who will speak on these pieces of legislation, will have a bash at the unions.

Part of the area that I represent covers the industrial waterfront of Port Kembla, one of the areas where unions have held up ships. When I was elected to this Parliament I met the unions involved and I said to them: `If you are going to hold up any ships, will you at least let me know about it. If you are going to block any ships, I will come and look at them'. I have visited every ship that has been delayed in Port Kembla. I have inspected some of them. I have said this in the House before and I say it again: Some of them are no more than floating rust buckets and there is no way I would have travelled on them. If members of the Opposition are going to stand here and give the unions a bash, I ask them to prove their credentials by telling us whether they have actually inspected any of the ships they are talking about as having been delayed. I have inspected every ship that has been delayed in Port Kembla. I have gone on board and inspected each of them. We will hear a lot today about International Labour Organisation Convention No. 147. There is no way in which most of those ships which were delayed would have met ILO Convention No. 147. That Convention deals with health and safety at sea and living accommodation. In no way could most of those ships have met the terms of that Convention.

This Government's package is based on the working party report and includes a $6m bounty for ship repair. It will involve an examination of the employment arrangements of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union and there will be an extension of the Department of Transport ship inspection system to cover the health and welfare criteria under ILO Convention No. 147. I welcome this move by the Government because I think there is a lot we can do in the ship repair business in Australia. I would rather see ships repaired in Australia than in some of our neighbouring countries such as Singapore. I accept that if we expect ships to be repaired here we have to give certain guarantees that there will not be unnecessary delays or unnecessary union activity. I commend the Government.

I heard the honourable member for Ryan say that this was a bribe to the unions. What I would put to him in all sincerity is that it is not a bribe to the unions at all but is a measure designed to try to bring more effectiveness and more competitiveness to the Australian ship repair industry so that we can go out and win contracts on our merit and have ships that are brought to Australia repaired here. I commend the Bill to the House. I congratulate the Government for introducing this measure. It is typical of this Government that, rather than coming forward with a heavy-handed, confrontationist policy, we have endeavoured to work with the ship owners, the unions and everyone involved in the industry. As I said before, I will not accept all this criticism of the unions which I know is going to come from the other side. I invite any honourable member to look at some of the ships. Perhaps it will not be necessary in future to do so, but 12 months ago in this chamber I offered an invitation-this matter was being discussed and the unions were being blamed-to any honourable member to come to Port Kembla. I said that the next time a ship was blocked at Port Kembla I would give an open invitation. I think I sent a telegram to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, who is at the table, inviting him to come to Port Kembla and inspect the ship that was being blocked there. No one from the opposite side-and very few on the Government side, I might add-took up my invitation. Had they taken up my invitation to go over some of those ships and seen what rust buckets they were, they would not be as critical of the union movement as I know they are going to be here today. I commend this Bill to the House.