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Thursday, 4 April 1957

Mr POLLARD (Lalor) .- The submission of this proposal to the House for discussion is prompted by the fact that there is undoubtedly widespread resentment amongst every section of the Australian people at the progressively increasing charges levied by the overseas shipping lines, not only on Australian exports, but also on Australian imports. The position has been accentuated by the fact that within the last twelve months or thereabouts - it might be slightly longer - two substantial increases have been made in the shipping freight rates. Australia and its people are in the grip of a monopolistic monster with a jaw like a hippopotamus. It is consuming an undue and unreasonable proportion of the reward and the return which the people of this country, directly through the producers and manufacturers and indirectly through the consumers sub sequently, should be receiving for the good; which they export. It is also reducing the quantity of imports available to the people because the prices of imported goods an affected by the increased freights.

Some time last year, in another place, a question was asked regarding overseas freights, and a return was presented by Minister indicating that freight increases have been going on for years. I shall quote only a few of them. In 1949 the general freight paid on exports was 154s a ton. By 30th September, 1956, it had risen to 224s. a ton. But more recently are announcement was made that the shipping companies proposed to increase freights or exports by 14 per cent. Another announce ment was made that a similar rate would apply also to imports. This prompts the question, " Who are these people? Who are the shipping companies that are imposing this additional charge on the Australian community? " It is disclosed in official documents that they comprise 22 operators - minor operators in the main - who are organized into seven British and five European lines as a group called, for reasons of respectability, the " conference " or " conferences " instead of " organizations "or " unions ". This great and powerful organization of overseas shipping interests is always referred to in those terms.

If anybody has any doubt as to what this means to our economy, let me cite the relevant figures. I speak from figures supplied in official documents. The" PrimeMinister (Mr. Menzies), on Monday last circulated a document to honorable members in which they were informed that our imports this year could amount to, I think. £779,000,000. But the cost of freight or our imports was £115,000,000. We know from the stevedoring industry report tha; our freights on exports amounted, untila recent date, to £100,000,000. With a14 per cent. increase, they now amountto £114,000,000. Combine the two, and the total of freight charges on the Common wealth of Australia and its people is £229,000,000. An honorable gentleman shakes his head. I assure him that they are official figures. I have been very careful not to use other than official figures and estimates. It is no exaggeration to say that at least £30,000,000 or £35,090,000 of that £229,000,000 amounts to downright extortion. This is known and recognized not only by the Australian Labour movement, but also by the whole of the Australian community.

Mr Cope - And by the press.

Mr POLLARD - It is known and recognized by the whole of the Australian community, including the press and those engaged in every exporting primary and manufacturing industry. To remove any possible doubts, and so that the House and the people may know that this is not merely Pollard speaking as a member of the Australian Labour party and putting up this case alone and unsupported, I shall read to the . House reports of some of the protests that have been made by all sections of the community. On 4th October of last year, the " Sydney Morning Herald " stated -

It is shocking to hear overseas shipowners saying in advance that freight between Australia and Europe will have to rise by IS per cent, in the new year.

Such a rise would stifle some new export projects at birth.

There have been many excellent leading articles on this subject in the Melbourne " Age ", which declared on 10th January of this year -

There seems no reason why some stand should not be taken by the Government against the increase.

Government intervention two years ago was successful in winning a reduction in the demands of shipping companies.

There is no reason for an attitude of submission; of fatalistic acceptance of whatever rises or formulas the ship-owning .monopoly decided to impose. \

Here are some of the protests made on behalf of the producers. The " Age " reports the views of Mr. Blake, of the Egg and Egg Pulp Marketing Board of Victoria, as follows: -

Because of the Boards' 'refusal to sign the new freight contracts it would be penalized by a further 10 per cent, freight, making the total rise it would have to pay 25.4 per cent.

The demand for a 14 per cent, rise would hasten the extinction of the Australian egg export industry.

Last year's exports were worth £3,379,000. Shipping cost £540,000. The new freight bill would increase this by £75,000.

The opinion of Mr. T. C. C. Sanger, president of the Graziers Federal Council of Australia, was reported in the "Age" of 19th January, 1957, in these words -

The proposed formula for fixing freight rates on Australian exports was wrong in principle as it was a cost-plus arrangement.

He added that representatives of the Graziers' Federation and Wool Growers' Council had very satisfactory talks with Mr. McEwen.

I comment that they brought no concrete results. The "Age" in a report of the proceedings at a meeting of the Chamber of Agriculture of Victoria, held earlier this year, stated -

The Chamber yesterday entered a strong protest against the proposed freight increase of 14 per cent.

The President of the Victorian Dairymen's Association said dairy farmers would have to pay an additional £250,000 and would have to bear the increase directly.

Sir SamuelWadham said at this meeting that in any future agreement it was essential that some one representing the exporters should have the right to examine the books of the shipping companies and should not be expected merely to accept a certificate from a firm of accountants. He stated also -that a director of a large British Shipping company had gone to gaol in the early 1930's for .misrepresentation of books that had been audited. I emphasize that comment by Sir Samuel Wadham, because the Australian Overseas Transport Association, in an apologia that it had published in the press explaining why it had agreed to these freight increases, stated that on its behalf a London firm of accountants had examined the figures given by the overseas shipping lines in support of the freight increases. Of course, that was not worth twopence. ] do not want to misinterpret the remarks made by Sir Samuel Wadham. Apparently he had that in mind when he added that it would be fatuous to accept the mere say-so of some firm of accountants as to a percentage of profits. Mr. Bryant, of the Victorian Wheat and Wool Growers Association, was reported by the Melbourne " Herald " as saying -

Failure to make public the figures could only result in increasing support for a plan to give Australia her own fast cargo ships.

I say: Why not? Mr. Bryant was reported further as follows: -

We told the Federal Government this country -should not be enslaved by overseas shipping companies who charge whatever freight rates they wish. Australia should have its own ships for oversea* trade.

There were many similar protests from the Graziers Association of Victoria and other -organizations.

I come now to the manufacturing interests. The Melbourne " Argus " reported, on 5th December of last year, that Mr. Latham Withall, Federal Director of the Associated Chambers of Manufactures of Australia, had said that the 14 per cent, increase would press severely on Australian manufactured exports. He added that the new freight agreement was being negotiated by a body on which the Australian exporters were not fully represented, and that representation had been sought for many years. The " Age reporting the views of spokesmen for the export interests, stated -

Export interests to-day severely criticized the Australian Oversea Transport Association which they said had ratified a cost-plus formula without giving it a proper consideration.

They said the formula had been railroaded through the Committee in December after the shipowners threatened to increase freights from January 1st if it were not accepted.

That is a clear indication of the impudence of the shipping companies.

I am embarrassed by lack of time, but I should like to ask what the Government is doing about this.

Mr Luchetti - Nothing!

Mr POLLARD - It is doing exactly nothing. We have just concluded the debate on the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply to the Governor-General's Speech. In the Speech, there was not one specific reference to this unreasonable impost on the Australian people. The Government chose to ignore the whole problem completely. His Excellency's Speech contained reference to some piffling concession that the Government proposes to give to Tasmania by providing a ferry for transport between the island State and the mainland. But the Government has done, and proposes to do, nothing about an unreasonable financial burden of more than £30,000,000 that has been placed on the shoulders of the Australian people.

Mr Edmonds - The fact that it has done nothing indicates that it supports the increased freights.

Mr POLLARD - That is so. Where does it stand? It had a look at the matter, of course. The " Sydney Morning Herald " -reported, on 15th January of this year, that the Cabinet had had a general discussion about the problem at its first meeting in -1957, and that the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) had explained the Government's position, lt added' that the Cabinet expected to receive a more complete report at its next meeting. The public has heard nothing further. lt is all very well to be destructive. I have not tried merely to be destructive. I have stated the general view of the Australian people about this problem, lt is the view, also, of the Australian Labour party, and it has been stated in every Labour journal in Australia. I know the excuses that the Minister will advance. He will say that in 1930 - some 27 years ago - Mr. Scullin had the Australian Industries Preservation Act amended so as to exempt the shipping companies from the control of that act, which was intended to prevent and control monopolistic practices. That action was taken at the request of the Australian primary producers. The Australian Overseas Transport Association was given statutory standing, and it was believed by the primary producers who were responsible for haying the act amended that the association would prove a useful instrument for ensuring that ships arrived on certain dates and that representatives of the exporters would from time to time negotiate satisfactory agreements at fixed and adjustable rates. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since 1932, and it is no exaggeration to say that it is long past the time for that exemption to remain in the Australian Industries Preservation Act. I am not sure that its removal would solve the problem, but it would at least enable an attempt at a solution to be made. It is a fact that, with the passage of the years, that exemption affords the ship-owning monopoly ever greater opportunities for extortion, particularly when conservative governments are in office, and that the shipping companies are thumbing their noses at governments.

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