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Monday, 4 May 1987
Page: 2511

Mr PRICE(5.25) —I am pleased to support the Minister for Transport (Mr Peter Morris) and the Ships (Capital Grants) Bill 1987. As has been pointed out by previous speakers, the Bill is based on recommendations of the Maritime Industry Development Committee-the MIDC-as set out in its report entitled `Moving Ahead'. The MIDC is a tripartite committee of Australian ship operators and seagoing unions chaired by an officer of the Federal Department of Transport. Basically, the package consists of shipboard productivity and capital assistance measures. I do not want to go over all that has been said by previous speakers, other than to acknowledge the powerful contribution made by my colleague the honourable member for Grey (Mr O'Neil), but I do want to dwell on some of the ironical aspects of this legislation and the speeches made by members of the Opposition.

This Bill represents the input of a concerned Minister and the output of three groups of people: Firstly, the trade unions, secondly, the ship operators and owners and, thirdly, the Federal Government. I think it is fair to say that the shipping unions-there are currently five-have a very strong history of concern about their members' interests. Others might say that they have been very militant. The whole industry has a very bad history of industrial disputation.

What is this Government doing and what is the Opposition supporting? The Opposition supports the process of the three groups getting together, looking at the industry's problems and coming up with a solution. I have not been in this place all that long but I find the Opposition's approach very ironic in the light of contributions such as the one we heard from the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party (Mr N.A. Brown) when he was spokesman on industrial relations. Opposition members consistently say: `This is the wrong approach. You have to crash through. Unions are only greedy. They are keen only to promote their own self-interests. A mechanism such as this Bill will be totally useless'.

We have had two speakers from the other side. First, the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd), the then shadow Minister for Transport, speaking on behalf of the coalition, totally supported the process and suggested that we could go further. He commended the process on behalf of the coalition. We have now heard from the honourable member for Bass (Mr Smith). I happen to agree with him. I believe that if we want to tackle work practice problems, if we want to tackle industrial relations, and if we really want an industry to move together, an essential ingredient is to get all the players talking together. We can have the Dollar Sweets dispute and we can have the Mudginberri dispute, but in the longer term such disputes do not fix anything and often leave a legacy that is very difficult to repair.

This process has been used by the Government consistently. It has been used, as has been acknowledged by the honourable member for Murray, in the steel plan, in the car plan and in the Government's other plans such that for heavy manufacturing, the communications plan, which has been released, and the information plan, shortly to be released. I am very pleased to see the Minister for Transport, who has a deep commitment to transport issues and to bringing all forms of Australian transport up to the 1980s with a sound future for the 1990s, sponsoring this Bill.

I thought it was important that I should point out what I feel is an apparent irony in the Opposition's approach to this Bill. As I have said, in terms of rectifying productivity, and rectifying work practices that need to be changed, the Opposition is supporting the proposition that all parties should sit down together and thrash things out for their mutual benefit. I am pleased that Opposition members are seeking to avoid confrontation and crash-through approaches but, given their support for the Bill and for other plans, perhaps they should re-examine their whole industrial relations approach. They should be suggesting that at the enterprise level this can be done in other areas, though not perhaps in such large sectors. It is a process of consensus. It involves a recognition of the fact that people have concerns and fears that need to be met and that significant improvements can be made. As the honourable member for Murray pointed out, obviously the Government cannot get involved in each and every one of these areas but the process is valid. Not all industries will have the benefit of this financial contribution which the Minister for Transport is making in this instance over a five-year period in order to set up this scheme and to make it an attractive additional investment.

Let us look at the advantages on the industrial relations side. This industry is beset by many problems, but there is an emphasis on multi-skilling. Multi-skilling will be a more and more important area in our economy. It will have to be addressed not only by the Opposition, the Government and the nation but also by the unions, and it is being addressed by them. This matter is being addressed by unions which many Australians would not think would be prepared to sit down and undertake this exercise, but it is happening. It involves a new training regime for new entrants. It also envisages a retraining scheme for existing workers to enable them to be skilled up to high technology, which will be a key feature of these new ships. Perhaps most importantly it will involve a new social environment on the ships. Often the social environment that exists in our factories and offices is most counterproductive to increased productivity and job satisfaction.

In addition, there is the issue of how many unions are to be in the industry. Not so long ago there were seven unions in the industry. There are now five unions and if the industry's hopes are realised, following delicate negotiations and the encouragement that is being given to those unions by the Minister and the Government, the industry will be down to two unions. There is no more debilitating an industrial dispute than one that involves the question of which unions should cover what job. I congratulate the Minister on what the Bill seeks to achieve and this legislation should be supported in the wider sense.

I know that my colleague the member for Charlton (Mr Robert Brown) intends to take part in this debate, but I want to make a few remarks on the balance of payments. It is important to understand that we can no longer rely on our traditional exports that have served Australia so well. Although many members, including myself, seek to suggest what further steps can be taken in manufacturing industry, it is true to say that the service industries are the most rapidly growing. Therefore, we cannot afford to neglect any opportunity to increase our exports. One of the great aspects of this Bill is that for a modest investment of $18m by the Commonwealth and a huge investment of goodwill by the unions and employers, it looks as though there will be a net saving of $40m to $50m a year. Some honourable members may say that that is not very much, but it will be the $10m, $40m and $50m in savings that we make in each and every sector, whether in industry or manufacturing, that will have the effect of hauling down our balance of payments. We cannot afford to waste any more opportunities. Unfortunately, we no longer have the opportunity for the wide-ranging entry into shipping that perhaps we had back in 1929 when the Commonwealth shipping service was sold off, but we do have marketing opportunities. We need to seize those opportunities, and I am pleased that this legislation will assist. It is interesting to note that Australia has some 260 million tonnes of trade worth $56 billion. We are fifth largest in world terms in that respect, but less than 5 per cent of our trade is carried by Australian flag carriers. We carried only some 10 million tonnes in 1985-86 which contributed some $900m out of a total of $6.7 billion worth. I am pleased that there are real prospects that this trend will continue.

I have spoken about the industrial relations record and I want to put some figures before the House. Through this process, which the Opposition is endorsing, the Government has reduced the number of days lost in industrial disputes. In the period 1982-1986, which includes the last full year of the Opposition being in government, the number of stoppages has been reduced by some 50 per cent. In 1986 210 days were lost compared to 485 previously. That is commendable, although I do not think that we should be complacent. I understand that in regard to the new ships being pioneered by Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd-not that I feel very comfortable giving BHP some raps-the company is doing good things in shipping transport. This year BHP has new vessels including the Iron Kembla, the Iron Newcastle and the Iron Pacific and the company is making a real contribution to our exports. I understand that it has won an exporters award for developing a trading route from Australia to Japan. I commend BHP for that effort.

I hope that the investment opportunities presented by this Bill to Australian industry will be taken up. I feel confident that if they are taken up it will prove profitable to the companies concerned. Certainly it will help the Australian economy, and thereby the Australian people, in the area of our balance of payments and will provide job opportunities for those in the unions. I commend the Minister for bringing this legislation before the House. I am a little puzzled, as I have already said, by the attitude of the Opposition, nevertheless I commend Opposition members for their support of the Bill.