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Tuesday, 23 October 1956

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) (Minister for Labour and National Service and Minister for Immigration) . - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

The bill is quite short and its purpose clear. The reasons for the proposed increase in the stevedoring industry charge from 6d. to ls. 7d. can be stated quite briefly. As from 3rd April last attendance money payable to waterside workers was increased by 50 per cent., from 16s. to 24s. That increase will add an estimated £368,000 per annum to the amounts paid out by the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority for attendance money.

Secondly, by an award of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission made quite recently, waterside workers were granted paid sick leave and pay for statutory holidays. Since there were difficulties in the way of making the employers directly responsible for these payments, as is the case at present with annual leave payments, the award of the commission directed that the authority should administer these payments. It is estimated an amount of the order of £1,078,000 per annum will be payable for sick leave and statutory holidays.

Thirdly, the administration of the press and radio system of allocating labour which has now been extended by the authority to most ports as a result of a recent award of the commission, while bringing great advantages to the industry as a whole and the waterside workers in particular, will involve the authority in greater administration expenditure.

Fourthly, the authority needs to be in a position where it can pursue a useful programme of installing necessary amenities and improvng pick-up and like facilities. Primary responsibility for amenities for waterside workers rests with the port authorities, and some of them are, in fact. doing much in this direction. Other authorities, however, are disposed to devote their resources to wharf maintenance and improvement. It is notorious that amenities for waterfront workers are in many cases much below the standard found in other industries. The Australian Stevedoring Industry Board has, over the years, spent considerable amounts in improving conditions, and the new Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority must continue this work. Necessarily, the authority must proceed on the basis of some system of priorities, for funds for these purposes are not unlimited; and, as I have said, the port authorities have responsibilities in this field as well.

Fifthly, some provision has to be made to enable the staff of the authority to be brought under the Commonwealth superannuation scheme. I have had this in mind for some time, and now that the authority has been given its charter by this Parliament, it is entirely appropriate that the benefits of the superannuation scheme should be extended to the authority's staff.

Finally, principally as a result of the increase in the rate of attendance money to which I have referred, and there being no earlier opportunity for this Parliament to review the rate of the levy, the authority's working funds have been running down at a rapid rate. It is, accordingly, now necessary to restore the authority's funds to provide a safe level of working funds for the future.

The circumstances that make necessary this increase in the stevedoring industry charge contributed to the recently announced decision by the Australian interstate shipowners, including the Commonwealth line, to increase freight rates. While the Government regrets the need for these increases, it is not without knowledge of the difficulties confronting the Australian coastal shipping lines, for it knows very well the financial position of its own line of ships. I may say here that I have just received the report of the Stevedoring Industry Committee of Inquiry on the costs and profits side of its investigations. While I have not had an opportunity of analysing the report in detail, I do notice that it bears out the difficulties which the interstate shipping lines have faced in recent years. I shall be tabling this report in the next few days.

The increase in costs of interstate shipping services and stevedoring operations, which has given rise to this latest freight increase, stems almost entirely from the incidence of a series of awards of the arbitration tribunals. I have mentioned only some of these awards. From these, in particular, our waterside workers have secured great benefits. But benefits and obligations go hand in hand. The obligation in this case is to the community - that the utmost should be done to assist in securing a more expeditious turn round of shipping; in short, to increase the productivity of the industry. We need that. The public interest requires reductions in freight rates - not increases.

The situation on the waterfront has grave possibilities for all concerned - owners and men. Already high freight rates and poor performances have led to increases in the general level of our internal costs, and, in the case of internal Australian trade, to diversion of traffic to other forms of transport. Likewise, in the case of our external trade, they have imposed great burdens on our balance of payments problems. It requires no imagination to see what will happen if there is not a marked improvement in waterfront performance. The withering away of the intrastate coastal shipping services points the lesson quite clearly: The stevedoring industry will go the way of others that have refused, or failed, to face facts. For the waterside worker, the issue is a very real one. His future livelihood is bound up with the outcome.

I commend the bill to honorable members.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Ward) adjourned.

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