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Wednesday, 1 June 1994
Page: 1050

Senator GIBSON (12.27 p.m.) —I support my colleague Senator Crane on this matter. He set out very well the opposition's objections to parts of this bill and flagged our amendments that we will move in the committee stage. At this stage of the debate I want to register my concern at the lack of speed in changing the waterfront in Australia. It was not that many years ago that the Australian waterfront was regarded as the worst in the world. I applaud the moves that have taken place to improve that situation. I understand that the figures show that there has been a 57 per cent reduction in numbers of people employed on the wharves. That is a very good sign of substantial change, but it has been done at a very substantial cost, and I think the aggregate number, which my colleague mentioned before, is $420 million. But things have slowed down a bit in recent times.

  This industry has been inquired to death. There are many reports—I think there has been a total of 26 reports since 1986. So it is quite clear what needs to be done to face up to being internationally competitive, which the rest of industry has had to do in Australia. The Bureau of Industry Economics report of 1993 found that non-terminal charges for vessels calling at Australian ports were, on average, twice as high as in overseas ports. Another example is given in a recently released index of comparative ports costs by Liner Shipping Services. It reaffirms that Australian ports are amongst the most expensive in the world still, in spite of the good progress that has been made to date, but not fast enough. For example, the German port of Hamburg just edges out Melbourne as the most expensive in the world.

  Japanese port authorities charge less than half the cost of their Melbourne counterparts. Korean, Hong Kong and Taiwanese ports all charge a quarter of the costs charged by Melbourne ports. In the European and New Zealand trade comparison from the same report, Australia fared a little better but costs were still significantly higher. For example, Melbourne port charges were about three to four times those of Auckland and one and a half times those of Tilbury. Sydney port charges were two and a half times as high as those in Auckland and one and a half times as high as those in Tilbury.

  Coming a little closer to home, let us look at the comparison between here and New Zealand. One shipping company which trades across the Tasman advised me that to understand the comparison between the ports in New Zealand and here we need to segregate those costs into two components: first, the stevedoring costs—that is, the loading and unloading; and, second, the use of port facilities. In respect of stevedoring costs, the comparisons are three to one in New Zealand's favour. In other words, it is three times more expensive for stevedoring in Australia than in New Zealand ports.

  With regard to the use of port facilities, there is a very big range in the comparison here in Australia. If we compare Melbourne and Sydney with the New Zealand port of Taronga, the comparison is five to one—it is five times more expensive here in Australia than in New Zealand. There is some progress, however. If we compare Brisbane with the same port in New Zealand, the ratio is two to one. It is twice as expensive in Brisbane as in New Zealand. I am delighted to say that in my home port of Hobart the ratio is 1.5 to one. I am also pleased to say that Tasmanian ports have made substantial progress in port reduction costs. I cite two examples: the Burnie and Hobart marine boards have enterprise agreements which allow the port authorities to supply supplementary stevedores when and if required.

  However, the main point I want to stress is that Australia still has a long way to go to be internationally competitive. We have to keep pushing for enterprise agreements and competition in that industry. Hence, as my colleague Senator Crane said earlier, we have to make sure that the Australian ports end up being internationally competitive.

  It is from that sort of background of the need for everything in Australia to be internationally competitive that we in the opposition oppose this idea of a register, because we do not want any chance of a return to the bad old days of pooling of labour, which we believe is behind this move in this legislation. It may not happen immediately, but it is there as a potential threat. As Senator Bell said, many employers in the industry and users of the industry are very concerned about this proposal, either rightly or wrongly. We should take note of their concern. Hence, we are opposing the establishment of the register as set out in this bill. Also, as Senator Crane has signalled, we have a couple of other amendments to the bill, and they will be discussed in detail at the committee stage.