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Wednesday, 11 August 1999
Page: 8408

Mr LIEBERMAN —My question is addressed to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services. Can the minister advise the House of the progress being made towards achieving the government's waterfront reform objectives?

Mr ANDERSON (Deputy Prime Minister) —I thank the honourable member for his question. I am very pleased to inform the House that, having undertaken to reform the waterfront as part of its overall strategy to improve the performance of the Australian economy and jobs, we are indeed achieving some very real and ongoing results. It ought to be stated at the outset that the waterfront is a critical component of the Australian economy. Waterfront performance can act as an accelerator of economic growth or as a brake. The reality is that for 13 years the brake was firmly on. Higher waterfront productivity is reflected in improved export performance, in reduced costs for imports and in the boosting of national productivity and competitiveness. It is also reflected in a stronger employment outlook for Australia. It means jobs in our traditional export industries in rural and regional Australia, as well as in our urban centres. It also means jobs in those industries that are dependent on imports.

I am very pleased to say that the momentum of reform is being well and truly maintained. The implementation of new workplace agreements by stevedores is almost finished. P&O Ports has concluded agreements at all of their container terminal sites and most regional ports. The associated restructuring process has resulted in over 500 voluntary redundancies to date. The total of stevedoring redundancies is now well over 1,400. More than $170 million has been paid out by MIFCo, the Maritime Industry Finance Co.

We can now expect real improvement in productivity after the P&O reforms are bedded down. It is certainly my expectation that the competitive pressures between P&O and Patrick, in particular, will grow rapidly and that that will deliver increasing benefits to stevedoring customers. The reality of all of this is that, under this can-do government, the reputation of the Australian waterfront as unreliable and expensive is being replaced by one of productivity and reliability. I have recently had that confirmed in conversations that I have had with Australian and international shippers. The push by this government to capture the full benefits of waterfront reform, especially for the nation's exporters, is in stark contrast to the irresponsible actions of the Labor Party in delaying consideration of the additional $100 million required to fund stevedoring reform. All I can say is that that seems to be entirely consistent with the ALP's approach of opposing everything we seek to do that might offer benefits for the Australian economy and Australian workers.