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Friday, 19 May 1939

Mr HOLLOWAY (Melbourne Ports) . - I have been asked by several organizations in Victoria to raise again in this House, the subject of work associated with the Government's defence programme, particularly ship-building ,and ship repair work. For some years all the States with the exception of NewSouth Wales have been starved of this class of work, although prior to the leasing of the Cockatoo Island Dockyard they had a share of it. We can understand that when the Government entered into a contract with the company which took over that dock, it undertook certain obligations, but the conditions which dictated those undertakings no longer exist, and there is now no need to concentrate all this work in one capital city. The dockyards in New South Wales are so glutted with work that they are operating overtime. Unless the work be better distributed, and Victoria and the other States get a share of it, the defence programme must be hung up for some time. I know that plans and specifications are ready for numbers of works for which tenders are about to be invited. In reply to questions, Ministers have stated that the Commonwealth Govern; ment cannot see its way clear, even in implementing its defence programme, to assist such bodies as ports and harbours authorities and harbour trust commissioners to build dockyards suitable to accommodate capital ships.- The end of the advocacy in that direction has not yet been reached. The last reply of the Minister was to the effect that the Government was still investigating the possibilities of having a chain of modern docks in four or five of the big seaports along the Australian coast. As to work which can be done with the facilities which exist in places other than Sydney, there is no reason why it should not be better distributed. I refer not only to Melbourne; at Newcastle and other places a lot of work could be carried out. In the port of Melbourne, there are two dry docks arid much modern plant. The electric cranes and welding and hydraulic pressing plants there are probably the best of their kind in Australia. Victoria has both the plant and the men to undertake this work, for many of the expert ship-builders who came to

Australia when the present AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Hughes) was Prime Minister are still there, although, for the most part, they are unemployed except for such casual work as the building of a yacht or some minor requirement of the harbour trust. We have a 'good dock for work on small ships. As I understand that the Government intends to obtain three small twin-engined oil-burning ships almost immediately, I ask that the work of building them be given to the Melbourne Harbour Trust. It is also proposed to obtain 100 new buoys. A special hydraulic pressing plant perfectly suited for work of this kind is available in Melbourne, and I am of the opinion that these buoys could be made as efficiently, and probably as cheaply in Melbourne, as anywhere else in Australia. Ships of up to 400 feet can be built, repaired, painted and otherwise serviced in the dry dock at Williamstown, and such work was done there before the Government leased the Cockatoo Island Dockyard to private interests. The manager of that dockyard stated, on his return from abroad recently, that the Cockatoo Island Dockyard staff would be increased from 1,000 to 2,000 men immediately, and. that the whole plant would be worked at full capacity. He also said that sufficient work was in sight to maintain full capacity operations at -the dockyard for about two years. This means, of course, that some of the men will be working overtime. As a good deal of this work is of an urgent character, and as there arc men and plant idle in Victoria, I suggest that it could well be spread over two or three of the largest ports. In addition to the three small ships and the 100 buoys that are to be obtained, one new target ship is about to be built, and the old target ships have to be repaired, lt is surely not too much to ask that some of this work should be done in Melbourne, where artisans capable of doing it are out of employment or ar'e working only part time, particularly as the men following similar callings in Sydney are fully employed.

There is, of course, need for a larger dock in Melbourne. We were reminded of this by an accident that happened to the Zealandia in Hobson's Bay last week.

Some oil on board caught fire. The outbreak was quelled, but it was only in consequence of lucky, clever and quick work by the fire brigade that the vessel was able to proceed on its voyage. Had its hull been injured in any way, it would have been disabled 500 miles from the nearest repair service. Inevitably, some day a ship will be laid up in Hobson's Bay by accident; six ships could be laid up in the harbour as the result of one raid, and a deplorable state of affairs would exist if repairs could not be effected at such a large port.

My main object, at the moment, however, is to stress the desirableness of placing some of the new work which the Government is about to put in hand with the instrumentalities and firms which are able to do it in Melbourne and other ports besides Sydney. In order to be sure that in giving effect to the request made to mc by the bayside councils and the Shipwrights Association, I was not asking for something that could not be done, I wrote to Mr. George Kermode, Chairman of the Board of Commissioners of the Melbourne Harbour Trust, on .the subject. I asked him whether the trust would be willing to do such work and whether if it could be obtained casual shipwrights could be employed on it so that they, as well as the permanent employees, might reap some advantage. In the course of his reply Mr. Kermode said -

With reference to your suggestion that the Trust might make a claim for some of the defence work I may say that we would be only too pleased at any time to undertake work for the Commonwealth, but I am under the impression that when the Government sold the Cockatoo Island Dockyard to a company a promise was made that all the defence work would be given to that company.

The Cockatoo Island Dockyard was not actually sold; it was leased. The Government could not foresee at that time that so much work would be required for defence purposes. Mr. Kermode also said -

If you can suggest any method whereby we may attract some of the Commonwealth work in this way I would be glad to see that a share of such work is distributed to Victorian tradesmen.

I ask the Attorney-General (Mr. Hughes), who is in charge of the House, to ascertain whether any arrangement has been made which would prevent the

Government from allocating some work of the character I have in mind to other ports of the Commonwealth. If not, will he undertake to see that instrumentalities and firms in ports other than Sydney which are able to do such work effectively and economically shall he given an opportunity to tender for it. If that course be taken the responsibility to secure the work will rest with the public or semi-public bodies and firms concerned.

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