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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 1803
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Senator Gietzelt —On 19 February 1987 (Hansard, page 265) Senator Hamer asked me, as Minister representing the Minister for Transport, the following question without notice:

Has the Minister representing the Minister for Transport seen reports that crew levels in some Australian-manned ships are to be sharply reduced to levels only slightly higher than international standards? Though this would be a welcome improvement, is not the problem of crew numbers only one of the man-power problems which seriously affect the economic viability of Australian-manned ships, which have very high total manpower costs? What is being done to ensure that Australian crews do the same amount of maintenance work as the smaller crews from countries which have a higher standard of living than ours? Does not this failure of Australian crews to do reasonable maintenance work impose heavy additional ship costs on Australia? Is not the third problem the extraordinary leave entitlements of Australian seamen-6 months a year-so that in Australia one needs 48 men to fill 21 places on a ship? Why should Australian seamen have by far the highest leave entitlements in the world, double those of Norway, West Germany and nearly four times those of Japan? What is being done to stop these outrageous rorts, which are doing great harm to the Australian economy?

The Minister for Transport has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

Senator Hamer clearly has not appreciated the significance of recent industry and Government initiatives to improve the competitiveness of Australian flag shipping.

The Report of the Maritime Industry Development Committee ``Moving Ahead'', recently endorsed by the Government, represents a major breakthrough. Through that Report the industry has re-examined traditional shipboard organisation and work practices and proposed a radical, new approach for Australian ships. The key element of that approach is the introduction into the industry, for the first time, of multi-skilled ratings, i.e. ratings capable of working both in the engineroom and on deck. This will add flexibility to the way labour is used on board ship and will permit full advantage to be taken of the productivity of high technology ships.

This represents what is probably the single largest advance ever made by Australian shipping. That it has taken so long to get there is a condemnation of decades of neglect of shipping by previous Governments.

As an immediate benefit, the MIDC proposals allow, as Senator Hamer has correctly acknowledged, crews in new Australian ships to be reduced significantly. More importantly, they will put in place a system of shipboard organisation that will allow Australian shipping to improve its competitive position over time, in step with the best of international practice.

In assessing the overall efficiency of Australian shipping what matters is total operating costs not, as Senator Hamer suggests, merely crew costs. It is deliberately misleading to describe award conditions as ``rorts''. Senator Hamer would also be well aware that leave conditions are only part of the overall conditions and costs of employment of crews. These costs in turn can be offset by reductions in the non-crew component of total ship costs, which are up to 86% of total costs, and by higher payloads. Contrary to Senator Hamer's assertions, on a berth by berth basis, Australian costs are presently of the same order as those of German and Norwegian crewed ships, and considerably less than Japanese crewed ships. With lower crew sizes, the right design and operating * the proper market niche, Australian flag shipping can hold its own internationally. BHP's new bulk carriers, the ``Iron Pacific'', ``Iron Newcastle'' and ``Iron Kembla'', prove that. The MIDC proposals represent a remarkable industry achievement, an effective blueprint for the future of Australian shipping. They deserve the full support of all who want to see an effective industry providing long term, worthwile economic benefits to the nation.

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